Routledge International Handbook of Irish Studies and New Irish Studies

We all have our own locking distractions, from online yoga to Zoom quizzes and baking banana bread. Writing about the impact of the pandemic on the study of Irish culture may seem like a more minority quest, but, in June 2020, Malcolm Sen sat down to write An Ordinary Crisis: Sars-CoV-2 and Irish Studies, which concludes the Routledge International Handbook of Irish Studies.

Reflecting on how “pandemics, like famines, are not just biological crises with pharmaceutical or economic solutions,” Sen’s rich chapter has an extraordinary and immediate buy on the present. And the collection as a whole, along with The New Irish Studies by Paige Reynolds, provides an unmissable opportunity to examine the state of an energetic and dynamic field of scholarship in the context of what may prove to be a moment of transformation.

Instead of old benchmarks (Union, Great Famine, War, Troubles), the editors of these books review the current state of Irish studies from new angles. For the editors of the Routledge Handbook, this means the end of the Celtic Tiger in 2008; for Reynolds, this is the repeal of the Eighth Amendment on May 25, 2018.

These choices have consequences: The Handbook takes a broad and deep socio-political approach to a culture characterized by economic upheaval and ongoing crises, while Reynolds places his faith in a longer arc of gradual changes brought about and observed by the literature. and cinema. None of the collections turns its back on the past and both offer a calibration of the new which takes place at the rate of weighing and screening of the old.

Guy Beiner’s chapter on disciplinary training among Irish historians defends the precociously interdisciplinary methods of 18th and 19th century antiquarians, the first adopters of what we now call the studies of memory. Mike Cronin speculates on Irish commemorations and their future: What will the 2060s do with our present and “will the centenarians and the history they celebrate-they seem unimportant as Ireland grapples with a half-life? century from repercussions of the Irish economic collapse to generational debt? ? “

In The New Irish Studies, Reynolds reflects on his own mediated access to Irish culture through portrayals, conversations and chance encounters. Her opening thoughts on “real-time access provided by digital media and technologies” punch up her introduction: written as the self-conscious reflections of a culturally aloof US-based scholar as she studies, they now read as a commentary on an experience we all share – forced separations as we watch worlds unfold onscreen.

In fact, all of the editors of these two books are employed by American universities, and all seek to find ways to present to international students and scholars a rapidly evolving cultural, political and historical present while basing these understandings on an understanding of the pass.

In the Routledge International Handbook, Liam Kennedy’s discussion of the persistence of Irish-American identities (“a stage of last generation ethnicity, which is no longer fueled by new emigrants”) could be interpreted as an invitation to readers. undergraduates in the United States to situate their answers. to Irish culture in broader schemes. Both collections house a striking openness to a range of political positions across colonialism and postcolonialism, migration and citizenship, sexuality, biopolitics and the environment.

Ironies and tensions are unavoidable: everywhere, New Irish Studies highlight the contrast between the poverty of our current society and the richness of our literature. Margaret Kelleher insists commemoration must come with ’embarrassing questions’ about inclusion and diversity, while analysis of work by migrant artists prompts Charlotte McIvor to call for better funding and better physical infrastructure.

In Intimations, the collection of essays written and published by Zadie Smith during the first wave of Covid lockdowns, she noted that “there is no big difference between novels and banana bread”; both, she said, help fill in and mark out time frames.

The Routledge International Handbook of Irish Studies and The New Irish Studies certainly evoke limits, but they also take time in special ways, tracing their own timelines and shaping history on unexpected scales. In the process, they recruit to their aid not only novels, but also poems, plays, historical events, performances, paintings, media, sports, buildings, music, animals, sexualities, emotions, environments and disabilities.

The diversity of views expressed in these volumes may confuse readers nostalgic for a mode of literary or historical scholarship capable of naming and calling known enemies, be it a heartless empire, greedy owners, of a cruel church or of the capitalist market. And aspects of both books, with their repeated insistence on the heterogeneity of Irish culture, could be accused of falling into what Reynolds calls a “liberal fantasy” of difference and multiplicity.

Yet I would prefer to understand these critical new dynamics as riveted to a moving ground beneath our feet, guiding us to a fuller understanding of a vital and relentless culture on the move.