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Empire's WakePostcolonial Irish Writing and the Politics of Modern Literary Form$
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Mark Quigley

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823245444

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823245444.001.0001

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Modernity's Edge: Speaking Silence on the Blaskets

Modernity's Edge: Speaking Silence on the Blaskets

(p.25) Chapter One Modernity's Edge: Speaking Silence on the Blaskets
Empire's Wake

Mark Quigley

Fordham University Press

This chapter examines the Gaelic autobiographies emerging from the Blasket Islands in the late 1920s and early 1930s and argues that they offer a crucial reassessment of the modernist aesthetic framework developed by Yeats and Synge for the Irish Literary Revival. Focusing on The Islandman (An tOileánach) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Twenty Years A-Growing (Fiche Bliain ag Fás) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, the chapter explores how the Blasket writers dismantle the Revival’s concepts of Gaelic primitivism while developing a remarkably thoroughgoing late modernist critique of subjectivity. The chapter also traces how the Revival’s geographic, linguistic, and class categories shape political and intellectual discourses in the postcolonial era as elements of the Gaelic periphery are re-worked into fetishes of “tradition” by the postcolonial state. Reconsidering how the Blasket texts have historically been mobilized in support of this vision of an authentic and unconscious “tradition,” the chapter shows how careful attention to autobiographical form reveals the Blasket writers’ remarkably insightful interrogations of this elaboration of “tradition” in ways that carry significant implications for our understanding of Irish modernism’s development and for a broader understanding of how primitivism helps to anchor conventional notions of a modernist artistic consciousness.

Keywords:   Blasket Island literature, Gaelic autobiography, J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, primitivism, subjectivity, Irish Literary Revival, Late modernism, The Islandman (An tOileánach), Twenty Years A-Growing (Fiche Bliain ag Fás)

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