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Home Uncategorized Irish Modernism: Still an Oxymoron?

Irish Modernism: Still an Oxymoron?

John Greaney
A History of Irish Modernism, by Gregory Castle and Patrick Bixby (eds), Cambridge University Press, 442 pp, £79.99, ISBN: 978-1107176720 Once an oxymoron, Irish modernism has become a commonplace descriptor in both academic and public discourse for twentieth century cultural production in, and in relation to, Ireland. The wide popularity of the term is in immediate evidence today in Dublin and beyond. For example: the Freud Project at IMMA, 2016-2021, promises to pay attention to Lucian Freud’s relationship to Ireland and Irish modernism; an exhibition entitled “The Birth of Modernism in Irish Art 1920–1960” was held between April and August of 2019 in Dublin Castle; and on September 25th, 2019, the Irish Cultural Centre in London hosted an evening dedicated to the theme “Irish Modernism ‑ A Brief History”. Similarly, the term has gained traction in print and internet media: Irish writers Eimear McBride and Mike McCormack have respectively been described as reviving and resurrecting Irish modernism (The Independent, New Statesman); and similarly, Irish painter Mary Swanzy has been denoted as Irish modernism’s unsung hero (The Independent). Both igniting and responding to the critical cachet of the term, various academic publications, often in the form of edited collections of essays, have treated Irish modernism as a central theme in recent years. Those include: Irish Modernism: Origins, Contexts, Publics (Peter Lang, 2009), The Cambridge Companion to Irish Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2014); Science, Technology and Irish Modernism (Syracuse University Press, 2019), as well as the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion to Irish Modernism (Edinburgh). Corresponding to this critical upsurge is A History of Irish Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2019), perhaps the most significant publication to date in the study of Irish modernism. The history presents twenty-three chapters which both interrogate, and align with, the collection’s titular term. In their introduction, the editors trace an academic history of that term noting, in consulting the Modern Language Association Bibliography, that the first uses of “Irish modernism” appeared in publications in 1995, whereafter it appeared “no more than twice a year until 2010”, when its usage increased, “later peaking at eighteen results in 2015”. The reason for this increase, as Castle and Bixby acknowledge, is undoubtedly linked to the rise of the new modernist studies, an endeavour of literary and cultural criticism which has sought ‑ successfully it must be said at this stage ‑ to expand the remit of the modernist canon beyond, broadly speaking, a white, male, Eurocentric formulation. The rise of the new modernist…



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