ACIS Logo The Human Body as “Elsewhere” in Seamus Heaney’s North

In “The Frontiers of Writing‚” Seamus Heaney defines Northern Ireland as an “elsewhere‚” a partitioned frontier whose inhabitants must “live in two places at one time” (190). Heaney further explores this concept as a definition of the self within Northern Ireland according to “all the multivalent possibilities of Irishness, Britishness‚ planetariness, creatureliness, whatever” (200), configuring his memories of a hunger striker’s corpse as a site of identity contested by local ties and national politics to express the multivalence of Northern Irish identity. For Heaney, therefore, the Northern Irish body becomes an embodied “elsewhere‚” and this paper uses this concept as an interpretive tool in reading Heaney’s controversial North. In this collection, Heaney re-imagines the Northern Irish body, including bog bodies and the victims of twentieth-century terrorist violence, as an artifact or “thing‚” as contested territory consumed and digested by the colonizing narratives of mythology, history, and archaeology. Reading “The Frontiers of Writing‚” “Belderg,” “Funeral Rites‚” and “Punishment” alongside studies of the Boyne Valley’s Neolithic passage tombs, P.V. Glob’s The Bog People, and the Icelandic Eddas, this paper argues that Heaney excavates and inhabits disarticulated human forms to envision the Northern Irish body as a frontier composed by conflicting historical identities, terrorist violence, and voyeuristic objectification. Ultimately, I suggest that Heaney reinvents the body as a colonized “elsewhere‚” forcing the reader to inhabit an embodied border-zone of “tribal, intimate revenge” wherein definitions of identity are suddenly fluid and unknowable.

Published on: March 31, 2020