Rethinking Transnational Ireland

Friday 25th November 2022, 9:00am – 6:00pm
William MacMahon Ball Theatre, University of Melbourne, and on Zoom
Re-thinking Transnational Ireland: A one-day symposium and roundtable

The node of multi-disciplinary activities known as ‘Irish studies’ has been transformed over the last generation and not just by the social and cultural revolution that has taken place in Ireland itself over the last 30 years. Any contemporary scholarly reckoning with the state of the field needs to engage with the so-called ‘transnational turn’ in historical studies, with the rise of global frames for understanding national culture (as in ‘world literature’), with the sheer size, cultural impact and diffuse nature of the Irish diaspora, with the impact of new technologies on the sorts of questions that can be asked and answered. This symposium will take stock and reflect on how a field of study with a national identifier might think beyond the nation, with an emphasis on the Australasian and Pacific regions.

William MacMahon Ball Theatre,
Level 1, Old Arts Building,
University of Melbourne, Parkville.

Register to reserve a spot, and for Zoom link.

> Ghosts of Catholic Ireland


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9:00 – 9:05am | WELCOME and Opening
Ronan McDonald, Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies, University of Melbourne
9:05 – 10:30am | Close Relations: Irishness in Australian Literature
Katherine Bode, Ronan McDonald, Maggie Nolan

The nascent collaborative project grows out of earlier work by McDonald and Nolan on ‘Irish-Australian’ Literature (see Australian Literary Studies (vol 36, no 2, Sept 2021). Irishness is both ubiquitous and critically neglected in Australian literature. Many iconic Australian characters have strong Irish associations, and many Australian authors either claim an Irish-Australian identity or write an ‘Irish work’. Yet Irishness frequently disappears in Australian literary studies, or is folded into the categories of Britishness, through a process that is yet to be well understood. Recent computer-enabled modes of enquiry reveal a previously lost archive of ‘Irish’ works, including in 19th and early 20th century Australian periodicals. Using these digital resources, and critically reexamining the Australian literary canon, this  project seeks to enrich our understanding of Australian literature, and the evolution of the Australian imaginary. Our paper here will raise some initial research questions and methodological challenges – which we will open for discussion. It also presenting some preliminary findings from digital research on Irishness and the figure of the bushranger.

Katherine Bode is Professor of Literary and Textual Studies at the Australian National University and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

Ronan McDonald is Gerry Higgins Chair of Irish Studies at the University of Melbourne. He is Vice President of the Irish Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand.

Maggie Nolan is an Associate Professor in Australian Studies on the Brisbane Campus of Australian Catholic University. Her research focuses on representations of race and ethnicity in Australian literary culture. 

10:30 – 11:00am | BREAK
11:00 – 11:30am | Between the Colony and the World: Nationalism, Modernism and the Settler Revolution
Jeremy George

Since the publication of Edward Said’s essay ‘Yeats and Decolonization’ in 1988 the Irish Literary Revival has often been proposed by critics, especially those associated with the recent ‘transnational turn’ as an early and exemplary instance of the generative relations between nationalism, literary modernism and postcolonialism. And yet the cultural nationalist ambitions of the famous Anglo-Irish set who converged around the Abbey theatre remained plagued by precisely that ‘painful accusation’ which marked them as beneficiaries of the English settler-colonial project. This paper explores some paradoxes of the Irish Literary Revival through a comparative reading with the 1890s Bulletin school, a contemporary movement of white Australian cultural nationalism, rethinking the innovative and retrograde tendencies of both movements in the context of what historian James Belich has theorized as the nineteenth century ‘settler revolution’. If Irish literature in English is an especially hybrid affair, some elements of it sharing family resemblances with other imperial and settler colonial literatures, while other features closer to those of decolonizing national literatures, once placed alongside the Bulletin school in the transnational context, these two apparently opposite tendencies can be reassessed as instead dialectically entwined, and perhaps even mutually supportive. 

Jeremy George is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne. His thesis explores the relationship between nationalism, modernism and settler colonialism in Irish and Australian literature. 

11:30am – 12:00 noon | Renegotiating Histories of Transnational Activism, Ireland and New World Settler-Colonialism
Jimmy Wintermute

Efforts to transcend island histories in Irish historiography have predominantly centered a narration of white settler national pasts as an outer boundary of Irish history. This paper works through the disjunctions between differently situated transnational turns in Irish and Australian historiographies by interrogating metaphors of extension, including “Greater Ireland” in the former historiography. It proposes that to decenter the nation as a historical unit, transnational Irish history requires a critical tension with white settler, and not only Irish, methodological nationalisms. The paper engages in an affirmative deconstruction of the transnational turn in Irish historiography, with attention to the ambivalence of ‘anti-imperial’ selfhood in early twentieth century settler political imaginings of Ireland. It then flags possible directions for a closer dialogue between transnational Irish history and postnational historiographies of white settler colonialism, including a proposed special issue of Irish Studies Review on histories of transnational activism in Ireland. An unsettling of discrete historiographical boundaries remains a necessary condition for tracing histories of Ireland beyond, below, and outside the nation.

Jimmy Wintermute completed a PhD in History at the University of Melbourne in 2022. His research examines the ‘Ireland Question’ in the pollical imaginary of early twentieth century social movements in Australia. He is a non-Indigenous person on Wurundjeri land.

12:00 noon – 12:30pm | Eironesian Island Others: Irish Islands within Pacific Waters
Maebh Long

When are early-twentieth-century depictions of Ireland not depictions of Ireland? When they’re depictions of the Pacific Islands. If this question is surprising, no doubt the answer is even more so: the Pacific is not a major point of reference in representations of Ireland. However, in the spirit of recent calls within modernist studies to realize the reconfiguring potential of the seemingly minor, in this talk I trace the ways familiar depictions of rural and urban Ireland are interrupted when we consider some of the rare co-imaginings of Irish and Pacific islands. With an eye to the fecundity of uncommon connections and the fissures caused by unusual overlaps, I map out how images of twentieth-century Ireland are disrupted when Ireland is recognized as Eironesia; part of a global archipelago of islands of discounted, debated or nascent modernity. To do so, I put into conversation two films and the (auto)biographical accounts of their filming, and a novel and its adaptation.

Maebh Long is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato. She is the author of Assembling Flann O’Brien (2014). Her work on Pacific literature includes New Oceania: Modernisms and Modernities in the Pacific, co-edited with Matthew Hayward. She is currently funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand to examine modern narratives of immunity.

12:30 – 1:15 pm | LUNCH
1:15 – 2:15pm | KEYNOTE: Global San Francisco and the Irish of the New Pacific
Malcolm Campbell

In 1854 Samuel Sinclair, an Irish Protestant who was born in Sixtowns, County Londonderry in November 1830, described the inventory of his San Francisco grocery store. “Our potatoes came from Sydney; our flour, bran, short beans, walnuts, raisins and green apples came from Valparaiso; our meat, sugar and preserved eggs, live pigs and live poultry came from China; oranges and coconuts from Tahiti; a few ripe mission grapes from Los Angeles.” As Sinclair’s description intimates, mid-nineteenth century San Francisco, where in 1870 one-in-six residents was Irish-born, constituted perhaps the most globally oriented city of the Irish diaspora and served as a critical hub in what the historian Hubert Howe Bancroft subsequently termed “The New Pacific.” Praised by contemporaries for its unusually cosmopolitan cast, including its sizeable Asian population, San Francisco’s disposition contributed to the city’s self-assured immigrant Irish experience. This paper analyses how San Francisco’s stature as a global city affected the outlook and experiences of its Irish population, and how this global city’s immigrant culture informed developments in cognate Irish communities around the largest of the world’s oceans.

Malcolm Campbell is Professor of History at the University of Auckland where he teaches Irish and Australian history. Malcolm has written on the Irish experience in nineteenth-century San Francisco and of the city’s connection with the Pacific in his recent book Ireland’s Farthest Shores: Mobility and Migration in the Pacific World.

2:15 – 2:30 | BREAK
2:30 – 3:00 | Time after National Time
Matthew Ryan

This paper takes up some stimulating ideas presented in Prof. Chris Morash’s recent lecture, ‘The End(s) of National Literatures: The Case of Ireland’.In the lecture, Prof. Morash recalled Daniel Corkery’s critical categories of an Irish national literature: land, nationalism, and religious consciousness. Contention over these categories informed Irish literary discourse in the twentieth century, influencing cultural argument even amongst avowedly anti-nationalist writers. Now, in the twenty-first century, it may be that writing by Irish authors has moved beyond the ‘poles’ of this argument, on to a genuine post-national culture. Corkery’s categories might have ceased to be meaningful but the problems of forming identity persist in ‘place, time and being’, which Prof. Morash transposes from Corkery’s schema. This paper, ‘Time after national time’, focuses on the literary presentation of time after national temporality appears to have ceased to hold. The paper discusses Sara Baume’s novel Seven Steeples as a significant recent example of time narrated after national time. 

Matthew Ryan is Senior Lecturer in Literature at Australian Catholic University.

3:00 – 3:30pm | Faustian Meditations: W.B. Yeats, C.G. Jung, and Transnational Discourses of Self-Cultivation
Chris Murray

W.B. Yeats’s reading on Asian self-cultivation practices had a practical aim: for much of his life he attempted to meditate. In 1938 he lamented that he had lacked adequate instruction for many years. Two texts changed that. First, The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Daoist meditation manual translated to English in 1931 and including a commentary by C.G. Jung. The second was a new version of Patanjali’s Aphorisms of Yoga (1938), for which Yeats wrote an introduction which responds to Jung. For Jung, the psychological unsuitability of the European to undertake Asian meditation practices was a fact. As evidence for this conclusion, Jung derived a paradigm for the European psyche from a play that Yeats knew well, Goethe’s Faust. In his Aphorisms of Yoga introduction, Yeats too uses Faust as a model for the European subject, but to opposite effect: Yeats takes Faust as a paradigm for self-cultivation. My emphasis is that Yeats didn’t simply read about enlightenment, he dedicated himself to it in physical practice. This effort led the poet to revisit longstanding concerns, such as what it is to be Irish, as kinds of enlightenment. This talk is part of a new project which might look specifically at European receptions of Daoism, but might instead pursue my suspicion that a literary discourse – which comprises authors such as Yeats, Isherwood, and Alan Watts – is fundamental to modern Anglophone comprehensions of Asian self-cultivation practices.

Chris Murray is Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies at Monash University. He has published widely on transcultural aspects of nineteenth-century literature and is currently editing a volume on Religion for the series Cambridge Themes in Irish Literature and Culture.

3:30 – 4:00pm | Studies of the Irish Famine, Melbourne, 1995-1997: Christopher Morash, Chris Watson, Patrick O’Farrell and others
Val Noone

As a tribute to the visiting McGeorge Fellow, Christopher Morash, this paper discusses his influence on two Melbourne scholars in the years 1995 to 1997 through his books on the Great Irish Famine, An Gorta Mór. Firstly, talks and a published article by Chris Watson, a specialist on Donne and Marvell, and at that time a lecturer in English Literature at Latrobe University, are analysed with reference to Watson’s reliance on Morash’s 1989 book, The Hungry Voice: Poetry of the Irish Famine, and in the light of Watson’s own research in locally available primary sources. Second, my conference paper (for the transnational 1997 Scattering Conference at University College Cork) challenging doyen historian Patrick O’Farrell’s views on Australia and the Famine is revisited to highlight its debt to Morash’s 1996 co-edited book, Fearful Realities: New Perspectives on the Famine. A note on the Australian and international context of this Melbourne interest concludes the paper. 

Val Noone is a Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. In 2013 the National University of Ireland awarded him the degree Doctor of Literature honoris causa for his contribution to Irish Studies in Australia.

4:00 – 4:30pm | Break
4:30 – 5:30pm | KEYNOTE: Entangled: Ireland and the Spaces of Data
Chris Morash

The Republic of Ireland contains just over 1% of the total population of Europe, but is home to more than 25% of its data centres.  This simple statistic gives us an indication of the extent to which Ireland has become a nexus point in the flow of global data, a key site for an infrastructure whose materiality is masked by terms such as ‘the cloud.’  The Irish pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, States of Entanglement, created by the collective Annex, took the materiality of data in the Irish landscape as its starting point.  States of Entanglement centres around an installation that takes as its guiding metaphor the heat generated by the flow of data as a kind of digital-age campfire, around which stories are told.  Involving thermal imaging, heavy steel infrastructure, and A-I generated text, the piece also conjures memories of earlier moments in Ireland’s imbrication in the wired world, with the first trans-atlantic telegraph cable of the 1850s, which ran from Valentia Island, on Ireland’s extreme south-west coast.  Prof. Morash was involved with the publication that formed part of the work as a whole, and he will introduce the artwork, and speak about some of the ways in which it allows us to rethink Irish space for a digital age.

Chris Morash is the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing in Trinity College Dublin.  He has published widely on Irish literature and culture, most recently Yeats on Theatre (2021) with Dublin: A Writer’s City (2023) forthcoming (both Cambridge UP).  He is currently the Macgeorge Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

5:30 – 6:00pm | ROUNDTABLE: New Directions for Irish Studies