Nationalism in Exotic Clothes? Postcolonial thinking, gender and translation in the field day anthology of Irish writing
Title: Nationalism in Exotic Clothes? Postcolonial thinking, gender and translation in the field day anthology of Irish writing
Author: O'MALLEY, Aidan
Citation: Ilha do Desterro, 2008, 54, 19-37
The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing was a massive undertaking that looked to compile and rethink 1,500 years of Irish writing. When the first three volumes of the Anthology were published in 1991 the egregious lack of women’s writing in their 4,044 double-columned pages, and the fact that not one of the editors of the 44 different sections was a woman, were immediately noted. In an embarrassed response, the editors commissioned a second instalment, which was entirely edited by women and devoted to women’s writing and was published in 2002 in two volumes. The focus of this article is on the modes of postcolonial thinking that informed these two instalments. The first three volumes were clearly influenced by thinkers such as Said, who considered Field Day an archetypal postcolonial enterprise. Indeed, Field Day is credited with having introduced postcolonial thinking into Irish Studies, a move that was by no means uncontroversial. For many critics, theories emanating from African, Caribbean and Indian colonial experiences had no relevance in an Irish context, and they strongly suspected that Field Day’s investigation of postcolonial thinking was little more than an attempt by the group to re-dress nationalism in exotic clothes. The blindness to gender evidenced in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing was taken as confirmation of this, as it showed that Field Day could not see beyond the ‘national’ question and engage with other urgent issues. Particularly in the Republic of Ireland, Field Day was characterised as a group of middle-aged, patriarchal Northern Irish men, who could not provide a viable narrative for Ireland at the end of the twentieth century. However, volumes IV and V of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (devoted to women’s experiences) are even more overtly postcolonial in their outlook than the first three volumes. But rather than looking to Said, Fanon and Memmi, this second instalment was indebted to Subaltern Studies. Through giving an account of this episode in contemporary Irish cultural history, this article thinks about the problems and possibilities that attended upon this translation of postcolonial thinking from a non-European to a European setting.
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