You know I've been reading Roy Foster; here's why
And that brings up (again) Roy Foster, this time his book of essays called The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland. Are you fed up with theoretical gobbledygook? You might like this bit:
“As a general rule, the more hermeneutic and convoluted the post-colonial theorizing in the text, the more reductionist, naive and reactionary the political views expressed in the footnotes.”
Tired of the sentimentalization of victims? You might like
“One of the fundamental stories of the Irish diaspora is of Irish emigrants choosing to do unto others what others had already done to them. In neither case was that a matter of kind and tender mercies.”but only not if you’re an unreconstructed Irish nationalist.
Wary of touchy-feely microhistory but wish your unease had an empirical basis? How about
“The dangers of new, deconstructed history, with its stress on the personal and the unmediated, include complacent anti-empiricism and aggressive sentimentalism, often reinforcing each other, and often relying on assumptions that actually contradict recorded experience.”or
“The process has also led to some well-qualified scholars endorsing (intentionally or not) an odd view of the historians' task: redefined as a duty to reinforce the self-understanding of a `people', no matter how it relates to the historical record (or the self-understanding of other people).”or
"But the effect of the [Famine] commemoration year (or years) was to highlight the issues of guilt and pain, driven by the idea that some sort of empathy could be achieved, and a therapeutic catharsis brought about. The language of popular psychotherapy replaced that of historical analysis. This was popularized by a strange alliance of populist journalists, local political wheeler-dealers, erratic rock stars and those born-again newly Irish Eng. Lit. academics again. Performance artists staged presentations where they wept for hours in public to demonstrate what they felt about the Famine."
Looking for thrill of new light cast on an intractable problem you'd taken for granted (I could use more of that every day)? You can't do better than
"It was not simply a `Protestant' versus `Catholic' tradition: varieties of identification certainly took religious labels, but as often as not the religious identification was simply a flag for a whole range of attitudes and values."I know little to assess the validity of Foster's judgments about Irish history. (Read Terry Eagleton's review of The Irish Story for a dissenting judgment.) But my first experience with that history predisposes me toward Foster's approach. Like many in America, especially those who had not thought carefully about Ireland or its history, I had a vague idea that Irish = Catholic = Republican = good, and English = Protestant = Unionist = bad. I knew nothing of the Irish Civil War, nor did I know there had ever been such thing as Irish-speaking Protestant nationalists. Then a friend took me to the Irish Republican Museum off the Falls Road in Belfast, where I saw mentions of Wolfe Tone but nothing about Michael Collins, and I thought, "Aha! This is an interesting country." I think the same when I read Foster.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014