[Un]succesful "Metabolization" of the Northern Irish War: The Post-Troubles Trauma in Glenn Patterson's Writing

By Bartnik, Ryszard | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

[Un]succesful "Metabolization" of the Northern Irish War: The Post-Troubles Trauma in Glenn Patterson's Writing


Bartnik, Ryszard, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


ABSTRACT

Northern Irish literature of the last decade illustrates an arduous effort of the Ulster men to break down the walls of political and cultural partition. Yet, even though the Northern Irish community tends to present itself in terms of a variety of images, the ultimate impression is that the recent novelistic and critical productions resonate with past antagonisms and the post-Troubles trauma. It is so since the North, as many a scholar indicates, is as if fated to continually recompose its past. This paper then, set against the background of the civil war experiences, discusses Glenn Patterson's excavation of individual and collective memories which prove that the dead are constantly materializing in today's Northern Irish reality. Hence, Glenn Patterson's accumulation of voices by means of which the author ponders over the politics of memory and imparts knowledge of the characters who, on a long journey out of the darkness into the space of light, find some vestiges of the old conflicts still echoing and rather difficult to hush up.

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The aim of this article is to discuss Glenn Patterson's writing set as it is against the backdrop of the Northern Irish conflict; yet an adjoining question which resonates here is to what extent a post-Troubles Northern Irish novelist is still inclined to write about the Protestant-Catholic war as well as its consequences, and whether he is capable of abstaining whatsoever from thematizing this issue. As some believe, a pressing need for a new imaginative narrative drifting away from the revolutionary turmoil Northern Ireland found itself in is a fact, and as such must be acknowledged as well as endorsed. Interestingly, Nadine Gordimer in her book Living in hope and history, though in a different cultural setting, takes a critical stance on the above assumption. She does admit that a new political context, by and large, has the potential to encourage, even compel writers to release themselves from the imposed obligation to debate over reality which, seemingly, is no longer the reality of war. To write "imaginatively", as she indicates, is often considered a prerequisite for grasping "the fullness of human life" (Gordimer 2000: 13). Gordimer, however, finds this argumentation hard to comply with.

She perceives authorship through engagement with either political or cultural issues. According to her, the writer cannot eschew touching upon the complexity of the time and place in which he/she happens to exist. Given her viewpoint, engagement is not "set apart from the range of the creative imagination; [nonetheless], comes from within the writer ... living in history" (2000: 31). As she emphasizes, everyone must respond to their "cultural matrix" since books are created from "... life experience" that takes into account "political, economic or social" determinants (2000: 41). Apparently, Northern Irish literature has been stigmatized by such socio-political conditioning, namely the Troubles. In confirmation of Gordimer's stance, Glenn Patterson claims that it is of course fiction he gives considerable attention, still a fictional construct must stem from the cultural and political background he recognizes as his own (Patterson interviewed by Hogg, 2004). My intention here, thus, is to use Patterson's texts Lapsed Protestant and That which was as examples displaying his interest in the Northern Irish consciousness as still submerged in a deep state of national strife.

Harvey Cox, for that matter, points out that it would be inaccurate to state that due to the peace settlements the Northern Irish war is over. Since there is no mention of "a great act of peace and reconciliation [which has] wind[edi up the war", it would be more preferable to say that the conflict, being a result of the received mind-set, still flickers in the North, only its character has changed from military to "political" (2007: 159). Individuals in Ulster do not seem to have ceased to live too local a life in the world of resonant prejudices; wherein identities still have an antagonistic flavor and political standpoints are characterized by ideological insularities anchored to the troubled past. …

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