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Professor explores Irish-English homosocial diction

| Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies presented a lecture on Friday by associate professor of Irish Literature and Language Sarah McKibben on the queering of early modern Irish colonial encounters with the English.

“Queering early modern Ireland … provides a common grammar of disparate material in multiple languages that has not heretofore been read together or understood as part of the same political dynamic,” McKibben said. “It discloses the common motivations of heretofore isolated genres, such as love poetry and so-called political poetry, … offers new insights into familiar material, recovers an Irish iteration of what has long been grasped in contemporaneous England … and enables new forms of comparison and offers an early model of a pattern and process found elsewhere.

“By in turn queering modern Ireland, that is unsettling and perturbing it, reading it athwart and critiquing prior assumptions to discern the non-heteronormative nature of its very texts, encounters and ideologies across discursive communities, we can recover a lost cultural logic of the period.”

McKibben said the male-male bonding typical of a male-dominated society, though it may not have all been considered homosexual, was identified and observed in some of the works from author Gerald of Wales, whose propaganda-laced works depicted the Irish harshly for being homosexual, among other things.

“Put simply, colonialism queers pre-existing male homosocial bonding, that is, it dislocates, unsettles, spoils, renders strange native homosocial bonding,” she said. “Because such bonding is so central to native Irish society … this prompts a correspondingly vehement response that shapes early modern anti-colonial rhetoric and lives on in the Irish.”

Years later, once Irish resistance to English colonialism had begun to boil over, Irish poets turned against the English through their own literary works, which McKibben said was a return, “back to Gerald, but viewed from the other side.”

The Irish resistors wrote “acts of violence as the underlying truth, …‘The English are treacherous, not to be trusted, and when they offer bonds of friendship, you should not be misled.’”

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