Ph.D. candidate Kara Donnelly discussed the role of Irish literature relative to other literary genres in the lecture “Contemporary Irish Novels and World Literature in English: The Case of the Irish Booker” at Flanner Hall on Friday.
Donnelly said she wanted to examine specifically the influence of Irish literature on the world stage.
“Today I’d like to ask the following question: ‘What is the relationship between Irish literature and world literature in English?’” she said. “This question isn’t simply, ‘Can I get a job in one of those fields?’… Rather, my question is when an Irish author is active in international literary culture, how is she perceived and classified?”
Donnelly said addressing this question requires an awareness of the role of Irish literature in commonwealth and post-colonial literature, both of which were intrinsic to the development of world literary studies.
Irish literature was an antecedent and “role model” to commonwealth literature, which in turn was a “precursor to post-colonial studies and then to global Anglophone literary studies,” Donnelly said.
Many of the anti-imperial and anti-establishment themes of modern Irish literature were embodied in commonwealth and post-colonial literary studies, and Irish literature contributed to the development of world literature as a whole, she said.
“Indeed, the Irish authors were part of the internationalizing trend,” she said.
Donnelly said part of the international success of Irish literature can be attributed to the Man Booker Prize, an award which “aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland,” according to the prize’s website.
The significant number of Irish novelists who have won the award have enhanced the presence of Irish literature in international circles, a demonstration of “the globalization of the publishing industry,” Donnelly said.
Irish literature is fundamentally distinct from commonwealth and post-colonial literature, as well as the broader category of world literature in English, however, Donnelly said.
“In the discourses about world literature, Irish literature appears both too early and too late,” she said. “It’s too early in the sense that the oppositional models of world literature look to Irish modernism as antecedents for their anti-imperial politics and aesthetics. It’s too late in the sense that, on the international stage, it loses its national specificity in such a way that it comes across as unmarked.”
Originally published in The Observer, November 10, 2014