Louis MacNiece: anomalous displacement and post-colonial identity

Satisfactory Essays
Louis MacNiece: anomalous displacement and post-colonial identity

I was the rector’s son, born to the anglican order,

Banned forever from the candles of the Irish poor


Ireland inhabits a unique position within the current framework of post-colonial literature and theory. The history of Ireland and it’s relationship to England, from the twelfth century (when Henry II was decreed feudal lord of Ireland by the Pope) to the present day, is the history of a divided colonial nation synonymous with ideas of displacement, identity and culture.

Indeed, Ireland may be understood as both colonial and post-colonial, sitting uncomfortably on the fence between labels of post-colonial discourse such as first and third world. Stephen Slemon’s evocative essay, “Unsettling the Empire: Resistance Theory for the Second World”, suggests the notion of a ‘second world’, or a semi-periphery in post-colonial theory, as a method of transcending myopic binarisms (104 - 110). Slemon argues that the critical and theoretical space created by the alternative of a second world accommodates the difficult examples of the post-colonial, white, settler cultures of Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and Canada. Ireland, with regard to both the historical experience and to Irish cultural expression and production, is a further country which may be fruitfully situated in this space.

The requirement of a ‘second world’ in post-colonial theory becomes glaringly obvious in a consideration of Ireland. As Liam Kennedy concludes, in a comparative analysis of Ireland to Asian and African post-colonial nations on economic grounds, “attempting to place Ireland in a Third World perspective turned out to be a largely empty enterprise” (Modern Ireland 114). The attempt to propose Ireland as a Third World nation has been common amongst various scholars. For example, in a Field Day pamphlet, Frederic Jameson claims the Dublin of Joyce’s fiction to be “an underdeveloped village” (Kennedy 107).

Kennedy’s study clearly emphasises the fact that Ireland is economically a member of the First World, comparable to Western European countries as opposed to those of the developing world. Ireland’s Gross Domestic Product per head of population in 1913 was valued at US$655 compared to the 1960 figures of US$198 for Ghana and US$74 for India (Kennedy 110). To take a more contemporary view, the World Bank’s World Development Report 1991 shows that in 1989 Ireland was not a member of the Third World. The report, drawing on accepted measurements of wealth and social conditions such as GNP, diet, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, reliance on agriculture and illiteracy, demonstrates the incongruous nature of claiming a Third World status for Ireland.
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