Academic journal article Hecate

Body, Violence and Space: Anne Devlin's "Naming the Names"

Academic journal article Hecate

Body, Violence and Space: Anne Devlin's "Naming the Names"

Article excerpt

Even though women's participation in the Irish Republican struggle has a long history, women were often disembodied as cultural symbols in the nationalist imaginary, and the multiple forms of their political agency overlooked. Anne Devlin's short story "Naming the Names" is a first-person narrative which portrays a woman protagonist who is also a member of the Irish Republican Army during the Northern Irish Troubles. Building upon feminist conceptualisations of corporeality and space, including the feminist phenomenological approach adopted by Iris Marion Young, I suggest that the narrative's foregrounding of a woman's embodied, political agency complicates the homogeneous category of the Irish nationalist "woman" as a disembodied, cultural signifier and throws into sharp relief the normalised associations between the nation's spaces and women's embodiment. I contend that "Naming the Names" indicates that women's political agency is enacted by both transgressing, and reproducing normative associations between feminine bodies and the spaces they occupy. Women's narratives such as "Naming the Names," I finally suggest, do not merely contest the silencing of women's involvement in nationalist struggles, they also destabilise the material and symbolical spaces that women's embodiment occupies in violent resistance.

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    Naming is a form of rewriting "history," erasing traces of
past
   lives, burying dissenting versions, and refashioning memory.
   This is often the prerogative of those holding economic and
   political power; a prerogative, however, that seldom remains
   uncontested.
                   (Begona Aretxaga, Shattering Silence
 43)
   Wounded bodies, tortured bodies, defiant bodies, bodies that
   confront repression, bodies that protest in surprising ways,
   and out of place bodies shape both the political landscape and
   the embodied consciousness of participants.
                     (Barbara Sutton, Bodies in Crisis
 161) 

Irish writer Anne Devlin's short story, "Naming the Names," published in 1986, is presented in the form of protagonist Finnula McQuillen's (Finn's) first person narrative, and is set in West Belfast during 1960-1970, a period of heightened violence and the beginning of the modern Troubles in Northern Ireland. Earlier on in the short story Finn appears to be a "typical" and "ordinary" girl in love (McDonald 257), but with her revelation of her involvement in Republican politics and a young man's murder she gradually transforms into a murder accomplice. (1) A striking aspect of Finn's narration is her response to the police interrogation: when asked to reveal the names of her co-conspirators, instead of individuals' names Finn responds with lists of street names. I argue that this is a deliberate act of defiance. While naming the militarised spaces in West Belfast, Finn also draws attention to her embodied political agency in those spaces, stating that she "walked through all those streets at night ..."(104). Drawing upon the feminist phenomenological approach adopted by Iris Marion Young, I suggest that the narrative's foregrounding of Finn's corporeal, political agency complicates the naturalised and homogenous category of the Irish nationalist "woman" as a disembodied, cultural signifier in the Republican imaginary. Moreover, I contend that by centring its focus upon the gendered embodiment of Finn's agency and the social spaces in which she enacts that agency, "Naming the Names" indicates that the associations between gendered spaces and bodies, as Nirmal Puwar argues in Space Invaders, are not "natural" but constructed and contested (8). (2)

In her engagement with the phenomenological approach of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, that perceives the centrality of bodies to space, Young suggests that women's bodily relationships to space are far more complex (12). (3) Drawing upon Merleau-Ponty's definition of "body spatiality" as realised through bodily comportment, "action" or "movement" (Young 11), she argues that women's body spatialities and comportments which are neither inherent nor biological are determined by "the particular situation of women" and the power structures underlying those situations (13). …

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