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Celtic Arrivals: Globalization and Irish Literature, 1907-2007

  • Author(s): Townsend, Sarah Lynn
  • Advisor(s): Banfield, Ann
  • Bishop, John
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation constructs a literary history of global aspiration in twentieth and twenty-first-century Ireland. I show how the sense of having arrived at global modernity recurs in the literary record, emerging during periods of economic expansion and generating feverish anticipatory desires. Narratives of arrival coincide with the physical arrival of foreign goods and people to a long-impoverished, insular Ireland: imported commodities enter the marketplace, former emigrants return home, or new immigrants arrive. Yet the expectations unleashed in these moments of possibility consistently outstrip what the material landscape can sustain. In my readings of fiction and drama, I examine arrival as a structure of feeling whose fitful longings are as fundamental to Irish modernity as are its certain letdowns.

Arrival narratives assume various forms over the twentieth century as they become implicated in discourses about sovereignty, social reproduction, domesticity, and multiculturalism; yet they are united by a common sense of historical "catch up." If belatedness is a persistent condition of the colony and postcolony, then arrival offers to remedy the effects of uneven development in a manner that seems miraculous. The narrative of miraculous arrival extends from literary works to literary-critical, cultural, and economic interpretations of Irish modernity. The literary scholar Pascale Casanova considers Irish modernism a "miracle" and a paradigm for minor world literatures because its emergence from peripherality to world renown occurs so rapidly. Casanova's account of unlikely literary triumph echoes with the diffuse proclamations of economic and cultural triumph that emerged during the Celtic Tiger boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Celtic Tiger was championed until the recent financial downturn as a sudden, unprecedented developmental telos; but as my dissertation shows, the narrative structures underwriting the period's expectations and subsequent collapse have a long literary history that must be excavated.

In titling my dissertation "Celtic Arrivals," I call attention to the global-capitalist interests of the Celtic Revival and its heirs, thereby challenging the exceptionalist claims that appear in many nationalist accounts of Irish literature and in more recent postcolonial interpretations of Irish culture as a site of alternative modernities. My dissertation shows instead that the spasmodic desires unleashed by the prospect of global arrival are crucial to understanding the Irish national narrative, as are the failures of those desires to materialize. In Irish literature's many thwarted hopes, I chart another national narrative that develops dialectically with the narrative of arrival. It articulates modernization's ruptures, exclusions, and manifold violence. In my dissertation's trajectory from J.M. Synge's 1907 premiere of The Playboy of the Western World to the play's multicultural centennial adaptation, I engage with theories of nationalism, globalization, and transnational agency to chart the evolving fictions and failures of Irish arrival.

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