Alterity, literary form and the transnational Irish imagination in the work of Colum McCann
Garden, Alison Claire
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This thesis explores selected texts by the contemporary author Colum McCann (b.1965), situating his work within a larger transnational Irish canon. The project traces how notions of Irish identity interact with experiences of diaspora, migration and race; throughout the thesis, close attention is paid to the role and function of literary form. After an introduction which maps out the material covered in the thesis, the project opens with a contextual chapter entitled ‘Deoraí: Exile, Wanderer, Stranger: (Post)colonial Ireland and making sense of place’. This chapter sets up the methodological frameworks that guide the thesis through a meditation on exile in an Irish and postcolonial context. My second chapter, ‘Deterritorialised novels: McCann’s short stories as Minor Literature in an (Northern) Irish Mode’, focuses on McCann’s short stories, paying particular attention to those set in the North of Ireland. Invoking Thomas MacDonagh’s notion of an Irish Mode and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of Minor Literature, I argue that the rejection of the novel in favour of the short story is a form of literary politics inflected with anti-colonial sentiment. Continuing my examination of literary form, my third chapter, ‘Nomadism and Storytelling in Zoli: oral culture, embodiment and travelling tales’, highlights the ambivalence of orality within McCann’s novel Zoli and works towards establishing what a textual practice of storytelling might be, in addition to probing at the representation of nomadic peoples across McCann’s work. The next chapter is entitled ‘Topography of Violence’: race, belonging and the underbelly of the cosmopolitan city in This Side of Brightness’. This discusses the cosmopolitan ethics that underpin McCann’s novel and how these are grounded by the close attention McCann pays to the experiential realities of America’s (often racialised) underclass through McCann’s depiction of interracial love. My final chapter ‘TransAtlantic: Frederick Douglass, the Irish Famine and the Troubles with the black and green Atlantics’, maps out the overlapping histories of the black and green Atlantics, tests the validity of the ostensible affinity between the two groups and asks how useful conventional chronological narratives are in the representation of their histories. Finally, I finish with ‘Minor Voices, race and rooted cosmopolitanism’, which concludes that McCann’s fiction articulates a need for rooted cosmopolitan and critically engaged nomadic thought which embraces Minor Voices and rejects exclusionary politics.