One anOther: Englishness in Contemporary Irish Short Fiction1

By Palacios, Manuela | Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

One anOther: Englishness in Contemporary Irish Short Fiction1


Palacios, Manuela, Postmodern Studies


Abstract. Reaching out toward the Other has been rendered problematic in communities where colonialist and nationalist discourses have had contesting and contested views on difference. This essay discusses the extent to which Britain has featured as an inspiring Other in Irish short-fiction written by women since the 1970s. An important contribution of Irish women's short stories resides in the way they bring the encounter with the Other to the domestic sphere. But is there a place in this Irish domestic narrative for the representation of Englishness? The stories by Fiona Barr, Anne Devlin and Mary O'Donnell deploy alternative domestic spaces for the female subject with the help of an inspiring Other. Women's subaltern position and their disaffection with normative identities make the feminine world an especially propitious one to bridge the gulf between the Irish and the English, but this is an emotional realm besieged by xenophobia and a long history of hostilities.

Keywords: national identity, otherness, gender, domesticity, Fiona Barr, Anne Devlin, Mary O'Donnell

National Identity, Foreignness and Gender

Anna Triandafyllidou has suggested that we revise dominant notions of otherness as threatening and negative by considering the possibility of an "inspiring Other" (34). In this essay, I would like to discuss the extent to which Britain has featured as an inspiring Other in Irish short-story writing since the 1970s. Of particular relevance to the notion of alterity analysed here is Julia Kristeva's suggestion, in Strangers to Ourselves, that the frequent occurrence of foreignness among the very founders of the nation could explain why foreignness is part and parcel of our identity; as Kristeva says, "Strangely, the foreigner lives within us" (1). Although the Irish have certainly had a number of foreign founders, it has been their long experience of migration which has both brought about their encounter with the Other and placed them in the position of the Other." Ireland has been subject to important migratory flows for economic reasons: mostly emigration but also, in the last two decades, immigration. Past exile due to hostile political and socio-cultural conditions and present-day travel practices have also favoured proximity to the foreigner. However, reaching out toward the Other has been rendered and remains problematic in communities where colonialist and nationalist discourses have held contesting and contested views on difference. The foreigner is often seen as a menace to a stable national identity, although the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are far from having homogeneous and inalterable identities. The expanding European Union and the relative flexibility - at least for some groups and ideologies - of migration within its borders also provoke a necessary reflection on national identity and its compatibility with a transnational one.3

I introduce the gender variable in my research because women have often been construed as subaltern citizens, and are reputedly in a good position to understand disaffection with normative identities.4 A number of scholars have engaged in a critique of that kind of patriarchal and Catholic nationalism in Ireland which has rendered women as Other within the nation. Irish women have become, according to Ailbhe Smyth, "Other of the ex-Other, colonized of the post-colonized" ("Floozie" 9-10) and they are expected to subordinate their claims to couch them under the totalising umbrella of the national cause. The nation itself has been feminised by both colonising and nationalist discourses, in order to justify the need to protect this vulnerable entity,5 but it is feminism, as a transnational discourse of modernity, that puts women's rights and interests first. However, even feminism has had an uneasy relationship with difference. In the 1970s, critics like Shoshana Fe Iman denounced Western oppositional and hierarchical thinking that defined woman as a subordinate Other, while writers and philosophers like Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray celebrated woman's difference along with those features which had been denigrated in women for centuries. …

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