Language, Class, and National Identity in Irish Literature

The development of national identity is a product of a worldview born relatively recently. In the following article, Elizabeth Gilmartin discusses linguistic identity and reclamation, while Markus Kornprobst discusses the role of the social and economic elite in the development of nations. In conversation with one another, the two pieces highlight the tensions between English and Irish, the lower classes and the elite, and tradition and modernity in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

In “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” (2004) Elizabeth Gilmartin maps the tension between the Irish and English language during the Victorian era, the period where the most common language spoken at home in Ireland transitioned from Irish to English. Gilmartin argues that this linguistic tension resulted in the “Anglo-Irish” dialect, which was “‘sufficiently Irish’ [enough] to give appropriate voice to the identity of the new Irish nation that was emerging early in the twentieth century” (Gilmartin 2). This “new Irish English,” termed “Hiberno-English or Anglo-Irish,” followed distinctly Irish syntax and accent while using English vocabulary (Gilmartin 2-6). This dialect became the result and marker of class, as Irish-speaking parents encouraged their children to learn English so that they could access social and economic status that would otherwise be denied to them (Gilmartin 4). This trend is representative of “auto colonization,” a process in which the “punishment for using the native language does not come from the colonizer but from the colonized themselves” (4). Therefore the dialect that emerged from Irish speakers imposing English on their own children was distinctly Irish in syntax and accent (Gilmartin 4). Anglo-Irish therefore gave authors a language adequate for describing the culture of the Irish Renaissance, as it was an english adapted for the use of the lower class Irish (Gilmartin 13).

In discussing the linguistic trends of the lower classes, Gilmartin also describes the linguistic nationalists and english-supporting modernists elites who were debating the linguistic path of the nation during the Victorian period, and who gave Anglo-Irish legitimacy through their works. In “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Markus Kornprobst focuses on these literary and political elites, analyzing their desire to create a national identity and the process of doing so. Kornprobst presents Foucault’s understanding of “the episteme [as] an ideational force that makes us interpret the world in a certain way, often without an active interpretation process,” and expands upon it, drawing on similarities to “theory” as a whole (Kornprobst 408). Episteme becomes important in delineating “which identity narrative is plausible,” therefore validating the elite’s understanding of nation (Kornprobst 409). Kornprobst connects strategies of episteme to Eamon de Valera, revolutionary and later Taoiseach (Prime Minister); and literary figures William B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde directly (410). For these early elites “gaelic language and culture, Roman Catholicism and the rejection of modernity were constitutive to identity” (417). Kornprobst argues that immediately following British occupation, Irishness was created with the understanding that to be a nation was to be homogenous, unique, and fighting against intervention by colonialists, however the elites of the nation began to see plurality in identity and motivation as non-threatening to the Irish state beginning in the 1970s (417)

The useful past of Kornprobst argument in conversation with Gilmartin, is his belief that elites recognized the “uniqueness” and “difference” of the Irish population to the English colonizers. The elites therefore inact rhetoric reinforcing this difference, even though the Irish population had taken aspects of English culture and restructured them to make them distinctly Irish—as Gilmartin argues that the lower classes did with the english language. These articles highlight the importance of language and commerce in the creation of culture, yet challenge the concept of a “worldview” that is central to the nation-state. Both pieces present academic elites who wish to impose an episteme on the greater population, without understanding the full nuances of local identities. Moving forward, their works will be useful in understanding how this tension gets translated to the page, using language not created for or by the literary elite.

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Gilmartin, Elizabeth. “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” Victorian Literature & Culture, vol. 32, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-16

Kornprobst, Markus. “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Nations & Nationalism, vol. 11, no. 3, 2005,  pp. 403-421.

Biracial Identity and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Studies

To gain a better a understanding of the multiracial experience and identity in the U.S., I focused on doing some brief background information by reading “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth” in the Journal of Asian American Studies. Published by Grace Kao, an assistant professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, this article examines the experiences of young biracial Asian and African Americans to determine if they suffer the psychological difficulties that have been mentioned by past social scientists. Kao highlights how biracial youth members face various challenges that other people do not, such as choosing one racial status on official documents, feeling marginalized by not being fully welcome in either racial group, physical appearances, ambiguity over racial status, isolation, and having two racially & culturally different parents. While these difficulties can certainly cause biracial youth members to struggle, Kao concludes that this does not prove that biracial children are more prone to problems of low self-esteem, emphasizing how each person has their own experience, depending on their circumstances.

With this knowledge in mind, I then specifically focused on biracial struggles in Asian American literature by reading the chapter entitled “Ambiguous Movements and Mobile Subjectivity: Passing in between Autobiography and Fiction with Paisley Rekdal and Ruth Ozeki” in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Written by Jennifer Ann Ho, an associate professor in the English and comparative literature department at the University of North Carolina, this book chapter explores the theme of “passing” and how such movement is a strategy for biracial people to “dislocate one’s racial and ethnic identity” because “to be mixed race and hence racially ambiguous means that passing is a strategy of identification as much as disidentification” (Ho 97). Ho argues that people of mixed race can choose multiple identities of race and ethnicity, highlighting how biracial writers such as Rekdal and Ozeki use the theme of passing to challenge and reimagine racial identification. For instance, Rekdal “writes about her many different selves growing up mixed race in Seattle” in her collection of autobiographical essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (Ho 98). Such works bring attention to the theme of not fitting in and how this feeling of isolation reveals racial ambiguity in both fiction and nonfiction.

Both of these sources highlight the struggles of being biracial and the challenges that come with creating an identity. Kao and Ho focus on similar themes of marginzaliton, isolation, physical appearances, and racial ambiguity. However, Kao is addressing these issues from a sociological perspective while Ho delves into these matters through a literary lens. Ho in particular chooses to examine a specific theme (passing) to challenge. By reading these two sources, I am able to understand how different academic perspectives function within the same field of Asian American Studies. I am now more aware of the common topics of this field and the problems that it faces, such as how there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the psychological and socioeconomic outcomes of biracial people in America and if such realistic struggles are properly portrayed in literature.

After reading these two sources, I now want to gain more relevant information on my focus of studying the biracial experience in literature and its relationship to real life issues. While I am aware that there needs to be more of a literary focus, I wish to continue to look at sources such as the one by Kao to understand the relatisc struggles of people of mixed race. Reading the chapter in Jennifer Ann Ho’s book has also made me wonder if there are other specific themes and tropes in Asian American literature that can help contribute to my research.

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Works Cited

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Kao, Grace. “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 2 no. 3, 1999, pp. 223-249.

The Intersections of Trauma Theory Post Colonial Studies

I choose to root my understanding of Trauma theory in the seminal work Trauma: Explorations in Memory edited by leading trauma theory scholar, Cathy Caruth. The book is divided into two sections titled “Trauma and Experience” and “Reclaiming the Past” which contain articles from a wide array of scholars. In Caruth’s introduction to “Trauma and Experience” she claims that “The aim of this volume… is to examine the impact of the experience and the notion of trauma on psychoanalytic practice and theory, as well as other aspects of culture such as literature….”(4). Within the first section of the book, the topics of the scholarly essays range from the proper way to teach trauma narratives in an academic setting to the lasting effects of trauma on the human psyche. Further, this book introduces key terminology to the field of trauma theory such as “belated”, “intrusive”, and “repetition”. Each of these words are essential in understanding the ways in which trauma manifests in the human psyche as well as the ways trauma is written about in literature. These grounding terms and theories provide a scaffolding for what to look for in novels about trauma. Furthermore, they allow for a new set of guidelines with which to analyze literary devices, word choice, and more.

The second section of the book titled “Recapturing the Past” wrestles with the impact of traumatic memory. This section introduces the idea that trauma is “largely inaccessible to conscious recall and control” (151). The scholars in this section of the book focus on a range of topics such as traumatic memories inability to be incorporated into “narrative memory”, the conditions that evoke traumatic memory, and the phenomenon of “depersonalization”. However, the two sections of the book are united by the key claim of the importance of telling owns one and witnessing other’s traumatic stories. On this topic, Caruth states that “the history of trauma…can only take place through the listening of another” (11). In general, this book introduces key scholars and terminology in this field and has given me a foundation for how to view trauma in literature. However, one blind spot I noted in this book was the lack of diversity in experience of trauma represented. Though the book does introduce a feminist understanding of trauma, none of the essays deal with colonial or racial traumas besides the Holocaust.

In an effort to find links between trauma theory and post colonial studies I conducted a year long survey of The Journal of Post Colonial Writing focusing on the year of 2016. This volume contains 6 separate editions titled “Beyond Britishness”, “Al-Andalus” ,“The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature”, “Trans/Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial Identity”, “Asian Australian Writing” and one untitled edition. Each of the editions explore different specific facets of post colonial literature, however each mention key thinkers such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, and more. Additionally, almost every article in the year long survey utilizes key terms such as “Cosmopolitanism”, “multiculturalism”, “migration”, “globalization”, “racism”, and “hegemony”. One facet of the year long survey that struck me was the breadth of scholarship that exists within incredibly specialized fields. For example, the special edition “The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature” contains many distinct scholars speaking to numerous different novels using a huge variations of lens. The huge diversity of study within this minute subdivision of study communicated to me the vast potential that post colonial studies allows and hasinspired me to find a specialized topic.

Though each edition contains useful information for my exploration of the post colonial studies, the special edition “Beyond Britishness” is particularly relevant to my interest in the novel White Teeth and the concept of transgenerational trauma. One article in this special edition titled “Tell me a story Dad: (Post)memory and the archeology of subjectivity in Hanif Kureishi’s My Ear at His Heartfocuses on transgenerational trauma and explaining the complex effect cultural trauma has on the identity formation of second generation migrants. This edition also includes an article titled “Coming unmoored: Old and new ways of belonging in Caryl Phillips’s In the Falling Snow” that explores the progression of British national identity across generations of immigrants in England. Finally, the edition contains an article titled “Approaching space: Zadie Smith’s North London fiction” that analyzes the shifting use of North London as setting in Smith’s novels. These essays both validate my interest in exploring the work of Zadie Smith and give examples of transgenerational trauma and post colonialism coexisting in analysis.

Further, an essential take away to the year long survey was the importance of telling post colonial stories. In the special edition “Al-Andalus” scholar Tariq Ali explains his project of post colonial scholarship as an effort to tell “the whole bloody story” (189). This statement invokes that similar sentiment in trauma theory of bearing witness to horrific moments of the past, whether they be colonial traumas or intimate personal traumas. Both lens communicate that it is only through telling stories that one can begin the healing process. However, an important question still looms at the intersection of post colonial studies and trauma theory. In my further research I am interested in discovering what the limitations of trauma theory may be in relationship to post colonial studies, as Caruth’s books lays out theories largely based in the work of Freud. Many of Freud’s theories have been proven false today, and often do not account for the complex and intersectional identities that are at the center of post colonial novels. Therefore, I will be interested in exploring how trauma theory must be reconfigured to meet the specific needs of post colonial studies.

 

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Works Cited

Athanasiades, Andreas. “Tell Me a Story Dad: (Post)Memory and the Archaeology of Subjectivity in Hanif Kureishi’s My Ear at His Heart.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 26–37.

Cilano, Cara. “Highlighting the Sceptical Strain: An Interview with Tariq Ali.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 2, May 2016, pp. 189–194.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special issue of Beyond Britishness vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Al-Andalus, vol. 52, no. 2, Jun. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature , vol. 52, no. 3, Aug. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Trans/Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial Identity , vol. 52, no. 4, Nov. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Asian Australian Writing, Migration and Postcolonial Identity , vol. 52, no. 5, Dec. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 6, Dec. 2016.

Pirker, Eva Ulrike. “Approaching Space: Zadie Smith’s North London Fiction.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 64–76.

Tournay-Theodotou, Petra. “Coming Unmoored: Old and New Ways of Belonging in Caryl Phillips’s In the Falling Snow.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 51–63.

Trauma: Explorations in Memory, edited by Cathy Caruth, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

 

Richard’s Love (?) of Kainene

Before there is love, there is the preliminary stage of infatuation.  It is in this stage where attraction and affection are first carved out between two people, as they navigate these feelings both together and as individuals.  In Chapter Three of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, readers are introduced to this stage of infatuation and navigation within the budding romance between protagonists Richard Churchill and Kainene, recalled in the perspective of Richard.  Romantic love plays a vital role in the dynamics between several of the novel’s characters, however, it is Richard’s recollection and interpretation of his early stages of love with Kainene that stand out in its unmistakable intensity.  

Meeting for the first time at another nondescript cocktail party they were both brought to- Richard by his cavalier girlfriend Susan, Kainene by her enterprising father Chief Ozobia- they share a brief moment of connection.  Following this brief meeting at the party, the two transition towards regularly meeting in a private suite of a hotel owned by Kainene’s father. And it is Richard’s experience of these private meetings that resonated particularly with me, as their dynamic seems to be completely established after only a few meetings.  “Her silences were brooding, insular, and yet he felt a connection to her,” the passage reads, “Perhaps it was because she was distant and withdrawn.  He found himself talking in a way he usually didn’t,” (Adichie 78) Initially, we are given an instance where Kainene’s detachment and indifference from others isolates the people around her, as viewed through the eyes of her twin sister, Olanna.  However, for Richard, Kainene’s disposition is something he connects to and is animated by, allowing him to change. Yet it is the lack of change in Kainene’s disposition that highlights the lack of balance between the two, and makes Richard’s infatuation appear all the more intense and engulfing.  

Source: 123RF.com

To illustrate Richard’s perspective more effectively, Adichie employs two literary devices following the quote from above.  The first is an example of hyperbole and continues, “and when their time ended and she got up, often to join her father at a meeting, he felt his feet thicken with curdled blood,” (Adichie 78)  This sentence evokes a sense of dread from the reader, as Richard’s emotional state catalyzes into this description of his physical state.  There is the automatic association between Kainene’s departure and a feeling of being immobilized by dread at this. The image of Richard’s feet being thickened with blood is a grim, dramatic one, with ‘curdled blood’ sticking out in its extreme usage in a passage that has been relatively composed until this point.  Through Richard’s physical state seeming to reflect his emotional state, however, we begin to understand his increasing dependence on Kainene, as he is both upset and physically feels like he cannot move his feet when it is time to leave their meetings. Soon, Richard reveals another layer to his infatuation with Kainene as he becomes absorbed in their meetings.

Through the specific diction chosen to describe Richard’s changing relationship with Susan, readers can begin to see how Richard’s meetings with Kainene have created a division between his reality with Susan.  “He did not understand why Susan suspected nothing,” Richard continues to reflect, “why she could not simply look at him and tell how different he felt, why she did not even notice that he splashed on more aftershave now,” (Adichie 78)  Previously, Richard indifferently notes his status as an outsider and keeping his emotions on the inside, but here, he appears to be perplexed when Susan does not notice his transformation since meeting Kainene. The specific words Richard uses to explain his confusion, however, only raises suspicion on his own mental state.  He expects Susan to simply ‘look at him’ and smell that he has put on ‘more aftershave’ and automatically assume how he ‘feels’. However, looking and smellingare two actions that can only be applied to the external, therefore, by using these words in conjunction with an internal action, feeling, Richard contradicts himself. His infatuation with Kainene has led him to know a transformation has occurred within himself, however his investment in this transformation and in Kainene cloud his perception of how the rest of the world interprets this transformation.  And as shown by Susan, they can’t interpret something that occurs within the mind of someone else, no matter how different they think they look or smell. Through Richard’s interactions with Kainene, he assumes his exterior reflects his interior, highlighting the general way this dynamic has absorbed him to the point that he does not understand other perspectives. His consciousness is suspended in a dream-like state, focusing on their private suite, his memories of Kainene, and his inner self. This, in conjunction with his dependence on Kainene already established, illustrates Richard’s absorption into their relationship.  As the novel progresses, we see how this dynamic allows Richard to transform into a more established ‘man’. However, it is important to note that a transformation of this nature does not occur within Kainene. It highlights the imbalance in their relationship, and almost makes Kainene a method for Richard’s personal growth, rather than an individual he’s come to love over time. And this imbalance, while mainly innocent in this passage, sees itself transform into tension between the two as the novel progresses.

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Source:

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi.  Half of a Yellow Sun.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.  p. 78