Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination

Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination

Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination

Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination

Synopsis

Gerry Smyth reconstitutes the category of "space" as a crucial element within contemporary cultural, literary, and historical studies in Ireland. This book is based on the dual premise of an explosion of interest in the category of space in modern cultural criticism and social enquiry, and the consolidation of Irish studies as a significant field of inquiry across a number of institutional and intellectual contexts. Besides a methodological-theoretical introduction and two case studies, the book includes an auto-critical dimension which extends its interest into the fields of local history and life-writing.

Excerpt

In an essay written at the beginning of the 1990s the historian Kevin Whelan suggested that ‘[the] last decade has seen a surge of interest in Irish local places’ (1992: 13). in this book I would like to suggest that such an interest has continued into the new millennium. I submit further that a concern with ‘local places’ has in fact been extended to the wide range of spaces which bear upon experiences and practices across the island. This study is premised on the impression – anecdotal and observational in the first instance, scholarly and critical at a later stage – that modern Ireland is in fact obsessed with issues of space, and that this obsession may be understood to function at a number of interrelated levels.

In geopolitical terms it registers in issues such as the Republic's role within the European Union, the relations between the northern and southern parts of the island, the status of its huge emigrant population, the increasing interpenetration of island and global economics, and the crisis of the nation-state as a unit of international territorial organisation. Emigration, for example, has created a situation in which, as Fintan O'Toole puts it, ‘the people and the land are no longer co-terminous. in this sense, the map of Ireland is a lie’ (1994: 18–19). Or again, the population of the Republic awoke one morning in January 1999 to find that as citizens of a state which had signed up to the single European currency, they had suddenly become inhabitants of a new geographical entity called ‘Euroland’. This entity was related in many complex ways to other spatial units which already impacted upon Irish life. As a result of ideologically motivated decisions, and without any corresponding shift in the earth's tectonic plates, the relations between (and hence meanings of) places such as Dublin, London and Brussels had altered significantly overnight.

At an interim level, there is much concern about urban and rural development, and also about the impact of infrastructural changes on established practices. One thinks of the controversies surrounding the construction of bungalows in (environmentally and economically defined) ‘sensitive’ landscapes, or the erosion of small-farm culture and its subsequent impact on the landscapes which sustained it and were in turn sustained by it. in an urban context, it would be an understatement

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