Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Challenging History: Past Reconstruction in Colum McCann's Songdogs

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Challenging History: Past Reconstruction in Colum McCann's Songdogs

Article excerpt

Abstract. The present paper analyses the way in which Colum McCann's novel Songdogs (1995) constitutes an attempt at reconstructing and reconciling oneself with the past, a theme that a number of contemporary critics perceive as characteristic of the Irish literary experience. It will be argued that via the novel's non-linear, fragmented narrative structure, on the one hand, and its frequent use of static images reminiscent of photography on the other, McCann engages the concept of memory and translates its founding functional principles into a personal literary technique. The task of recovering significance from distinct media--be it still images or the novel's texture--will be construed as operating on two levels. The novel's mixed plot lines constructed out of apparently unrelated clusters of images and the reader's efforts at organising them into larger meaningful compositions will be understood as parallel to the protagonist's attempts at forging all the stories embedded in Songdogs into a master narrative of his family's history.

Key Words. Memory, reconstruction, photography, gaze, contemporary Irish literature.

Resumen. El presente ensayo analiza la manera en la que la novela de Colum McCann Songdogs (1995) constituye una tentativa de reconstruir y reconciliarse con el pasado, un tema considerado por un gran numero de criticos contemporaneos como caracteristico de la experiencia literaria irlandesa. Se propondra que la estructura no-lineal de la narrativa por un lado y su uso frecuente de imagenes estaticas reminiscentes de la fotografia por el otro le permiten a McCann adentrarse en el concepto de la memoria y traducir sus principios funcionales en una tecnica literaria personal. La tarea de recuperar significados de distintos medios -- sean imagenes fijas o la textura de la novella -- se observara en dos niveles distintos. Los varios argumentos, construidos a partir de grupos de imagenes aparentemente independientes, y los esfuerzos por parte del lector para organizarlos en unidades significativas mas grandes seran paralelos a los intentos del protagonista de aunar todas las historias incluidas en Songdogs en una narracion completa de su historia familiar.

Palabras clave: Memoria, reconstruccion, fotografia, mirada, literatura irlandesa contemporanea


One of the major difficulties anyone interested in investigating contemporary Irish literature encounters is the ephemeral, undefined status of that literature; on the one hand, Ireland has undoubtedly produced fine and by now well-recognised authors whose names can be found in any literary encyclopaedia, but, on the other hand, these texts somehow fail to give account of recent Irish literature as a coherent and structured phenomenon. Looking through some of the volumes devoted to literary history, both world and European, one cannot fail to notice an absence--it appears that Irish literature is a series of particular figures, Joyce, Heaney, McCourt or O'Brien, to name just a few, who produce, or have produced, exceptional literary works that are, nevertheless, suspended in a contextual void. Rather than forming a continuum that would emphasize structural, linguistic or thematic similarities and respective influences, recent Irish literature is summarized by a handful of names and titles. In a lecture on contemporary Irish fiction delivered at the Irish Writers' Centre, Derek Hand asserts that: "Contemporary writers are thus disconnected from a literary tradition and have no points of reference or models that they can look to for guidance", and emphasises how numerous critics argue an almost palpable tension existent within that literature between the somehow discarded, remote and inaccessible past and the novel present obliged to affirm its novelty exactly by disconnecting itself from its possible traditions (1) That tension, the critics maintain, is a pre-requisite for any contemporary writer to engage seriously in Irish literature. …

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