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

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). Young contends that women experience their bodies in a doubled form: because they continue to be conditioned by oppressive patriarchal structures, women experience their bodies simultaneously as "objects" (immanence) and as "capacity" (agency, or "transcendence" in phenomenology) (7). The spaces that the feminine body occupies are therefore dually structured: as women enact agency ( "transcendence"), their bodies constitute space, but as women also experience their bodies as "things" ("immanence"), they are simultaneously constituted by space (12). She maintains that this results in women typically experiencing space as enclosed: they use less space than that physically available to them, and inhabit a relatively limited space. In her analysis of British women suffragists' political agency, Wendy Parkins draws upon Young's analysis to argue that women's bodies are integral to their political identities, and that feminine political agency is enacted through bodily comportments that redraw the traditional feminine body spatialities that Young critiques ("Protesting" 73). My contention is that women's political agency is enacted by both transgressing, and participating in normative, feminine body spatialities. …

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