Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Maureen O'Connor
Reading Animals: An International English Studies Conference
Myth and Mutation in Edna O’Brien’s Fiction’
University of Sheffield, UK
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
I will discuss shape-shifting and of human-animal hybrids in O’Brien’s’ fiction, a figuration that effects, inter-alia, a kind of auto-ethnography, an ironic exoticizing of not just Irishness but Irish femininity. Mythology and folklore is a ‘nonmodern’ motif available to Irish writers, a store of imagery and narrative which links many contemporary writers and which has become a distinguishing feature of texts produced by Irish women. This material not only addresses Ireland’s oblique and fragmented accession to the modern, but also offers multiple possibilities for cultural negotiations. Angela Bourke has observed of fairy tales that they ‘carry the potential to express profound truths and intense emotions’ and ‘are particularly well-suited to the expression of ambivalence and ambiguity’. Fairy and folk lore, like the figure of the animal they revolve around, give voice to those outside the operations of power, but these are potentially ambivalent sites of enunciation, and this paper will address the rebarbative equivocacies of such imagery, particularly in an Irish context in which the distinctions between nature and culture, between human and non-human seem especially nebulous, as evidenced in Irish myths of shape-shifting, an ability attributed to the devious and deviant Irish since the twelfth century. Animals often function as fairies in Irish folklore, perhaps due to the way in which they can act as a hinge between what appear to the ‘civilized’ as disparate realms, specifically the land of the living, what we call the ‘real world’, and Tír na nÓg, land of the dead and land of the sidhe. David Lloyd maintains that this kind of ‘myth and folklore are not simply sedimented popular versions of outmoded philosophies, but function, rather, as the names and screens affixed by historians in those openings where there might be a way into alternative logics of time and space’