August 2017 Scholar Spotlight

Claire Bracken & Tara Harney-Mahajan

Posted by Nicole on August 6, 2017

Claire Bracken & Tara Harney-Mahajan

Claire Bracken & Tara Harney-Mahajan

Claire Bracken and Tara Harney-Mahajan are co-editors of the LIT:Literature Interpretation Theory double special issue “Recessionary Imaginings: Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland and Contemporary Women’s Writing,” LIT 28.1 and 28.2 (2017). Claire Bracken is an associate professor in the English department at Union College in New York, where she teaches courses on Irish literature and film. She has published articles on Irish women’s writing, feminist criticism, and Irish cultural studies. She is co-editor of Anne Enright (with Susan Cahill, Irish Academic Press, Spring 2011) and Viewpoints: Theoretical Perspectives on Irish Visual Texts (with Emma Radley, Cork University Press, 2013). Her book, Irish Feminist Futures, was published by Routledge in 2016 as part of the Transformations series. Tara Harney-Mahajan received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut and she is currently the co-editor of LIT. Her research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century Irish and South Asian literature with a focus on women writers. Her scholarship has been published in Women’s Studies, New Hibernia Review, and the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies.

How did the LIT collection come about? Was there any particular inspiration?

The LIT double special issue considers the dynamic momentum in recent women’s writing. The idea for the collection came about as we witnessed the publication successes of writers like Eimear McBride, Belinda McKeon, and Louise O’Neill as well as seeing established women writers such as Anne Enright, Paula Meehan, and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin garnering key public roles. Thus, in the special issues we wanted to explore the post-Tiger period’s palpable surge in visibility and publication of women’s writing. Viewing these exciting developments in terms of feminist energies that build upon decades of work by Irish women writers and scholars, we discuss this in our first introduction as a non-linear continuum of connections across time and place. We are grateful to our contributors for excellent pieces that cover a variety of genres and topics. In the first issue, we published an interview with Claire Kilroy by Mary Burke, as well as articles on Anne Enright, Christine Dwyer Hickey, and Claire Kilroy by Mary McGlynn, Emma Donoghue and Marian Keyes by Margaret O’Neill, and Belinda McKeon by Patrick Mullen. In the second special issue, we featured pieces on Anne Enright by Rachael Lynch, Waking the Feminists by Emer O’Toole, Susan Cahill on Eimear McBride and Louise O’Neill, and an interview by Sara Martín-Ruiz with Nigerian-born writer Melatu Okorie. The second special issue concludes with a short story by Okorie titled “This Hostel Life.” Featuring a piece of creative writing was a first-ever for LIT, and we give our thanks to Melatu for allowing us to include her work.

We curated the special issues to interrogate many of the dominant narratives proliferating during the twenty-first century.  One of these is the hyper-masculinity of the Tiger period and the supposed disenfranchisement of masculinity in the post-Tiger. We share with other feminist scholars a desire to critique this gendered narrative and we wanted to connect women’s voices as counterpoint. Another key narrative we wished to question was the periodicity between the Tiger and post-Tiger periods. What we see in much women’s writing is an interrogation of the before/after narrative of the boom and bust, proferring instead a recognition of the continued landscape of a powerful neoliberal regime. As we write in the introduction to the second special issue, for writers representing marginalized experiences, things were bad during the Tiger period, and then with the austerity measures that were ushered in by a powerful political elite, things were worse. Indeed, as the recessionary period is deemed to be “over” for certain segments of the population, austerity measures have become the new normal for the most disadvantaged portions of the population. Writers like Rita Ann Higgins, Rosaleen McDonagh, and Melatu Okorie register the terrible irony at work when the most vulnerable individuals must pay for a period from which they were marginalized in the first place.

What are some of the trends developing in feminist Irish studies at the moment?

In the contemporary period, there are intensifying connections among social media, artistic engagement, activist scholars, cultural criticism, and community activism as seen in recent and ongoing campaigns such as the Marriage Equality movement, Waking the Feminists, Repeal the Eighth, MASI, and #coponcomrades. Irish feminist queer studies is a vibrant part of this, with trends that are widespread and inspiring in a confluence of social activism, ethical concerns, and literary and cultural scholarship. Comparative studies, children’s and YA literary studies, critical race studies, disability studies, digital humanities, eco-criticism, legal studies, migration studies, queer theory, and transnationalism are some methodologies informing the ongoing shaping of Irish feminist queer landscapes in ways that increasingly intersect. Alongside these varied methodological framings an affective turn more frequently infuses analyses in the field, engaging critical proximities between forms of representation and the material realities of lived bodies and sexualities — past, present, and future. These trends are especially imperative when we consider the gendered and class-based traumas of Ireland’s past and present, as well as how the endemic apparatus of institutionalization persists in Ireland’s contemporary immigration regime.

What are some of the trends you see in contemporary Irish women’s writing?

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the boundaries of genre and literary classification are increasingly porous.  We see outstanding work in forms such the short story, novels, plays, performance art, poetry — in fact one of the trends is the formal hybridity of much of the work being produced. One brilliant example is Sarah Maria Griffin’s poem “We Face This Land,” which figures as a collectively orated performance in the Repeal the Eighth’s video, and one of the centerpieces for the Repeal project’s campaign. Indeed the politics of the gendered body operate as the nexus for thematic, stylistic, and formal experimentation — consider, for example, the ground-breaking work of Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, June Caldwell’s short story “SOMAT,” and Alvy Carragher’s YouTube-released poem “Numb.”

Alongside these experimentations, some thematic trends we would identify include the representation of sexual violence, rape, and assault; critical portrayals of recession and austerity; the figuration of the home as commodity and the domestic gothic; ethical considerations of precarious living conditions; representing queer sexualities; the interrogation of neo-liberal heteronormativity; class-based interrogations of late capitalism in Ireland; stark portrayals of the Direct Provision system and immigrant life; representations of Irish girlhood and trauma; and feminist politics and digital media. All of these themes are evident in the contributors’ essays of the double special issue.

Our two introductions consider these questions and trends in more depth and we share them as free eprints here:
“A Continuum of Irish Women’s Writing I: Reflections on the Post-Celtic Tiger Era.” LIT 28.1

“A Continuum of Irish Women’s Writing II: Reflections on the Post-Celtic Tiger Era.” LIT 28.2

What are you both working on at the moment?

TH-M:  I have a few conference papers in progress.  The first paper, which I’ll present as part of a panel with Claire and Emily Bloom at the Mid-Atlantic ACIS conference at Georgetown this fall, is a comparative analysis of Ifedinma Dimbo’s novel She Was Foolish? (2012) and Edna O’Brien’s most recent novel The Little Red Chairs (2015) in the context of displacement and migration. The second paper is one Claire and I are presenting together (at MLA in January 2018 — a roundtable organized by Mary Burke) that will discuss our experience of co-editing the LIT double special issue. I’m also working on my first book, a comparative project that considers the politics of inheritance in modern and contemporary Irish and Indian women’s writing.

CB: Like Tara, I’m working on some conference papers. One is on literary and visual representations of direct provision in the work of Ozutu Rosemary Abu, Ifedinma Dimbo, Vukasin Nedeljkovic, and Melatu Okorie, for the Mid-Atlantic ACIS being held at Georgetown University this coming November. Tara and I will be co-presenting on the LIT double special issue at an MLA roundtable in January 2018 in New York, which is so exciting. I’m also working on two book chapters, one on post-feminism and Celtic Tiger culture and the other on twenty-first-century Irish feminism, literature, and culture. I’m also at the very early stages — with Susan Cahill — of work on a book about Susan (Lily) Yeats and Elizabeth (Lolly) Yeats.