Seamus Heaney and the Place of Writing

Eugene O'Brien

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"An original and innovative study of Seamus Heaney's poetry and prose, an overdue and welcome addition. . . . the first piece of groundbreaking scholarship that I have read on the subject in years. [It] should convince many that Heaney has been working toward an imaginative expression of Irishness that rivals that of James Joyce."--Michael R. Molino, Southern Illinois University

"Exceptional. . . . With a mixture of insightful literary theory and first-rate scholarship, O'Brien breaks new ground. . . . [This] is one of the best books I've read in a long time and deserves to be on the shelf of anyone who values Heaney, Irish literature, or contemporary poetry."--Shawn O'Hare, Carson-Newman College

Eugene O’Brien's critical study examines the attitude toward place and home in the works of Seamus Heaney. He looks at the political role of Heaney's writing and argues that his complex engagement with these issues creates a pluralist and emancipatory sense of Irish identity predicated on the future rather than mired in the past.

O’Brien's is the first book to trace an isolated theme in Heaney's work, in this case its creation of a politics of place, language, and identity. Unlike chronological studies of Heaney's poetry, O’Brien explores important elements in his entire oeuvre, from his poetry and prose to translations, such as the recent best-selling edition of Beowulf, that relate to the issue of writing and identity--strident nationalism, tribal identification, political ideology, and postcolonial poetics in particular. The first sustained engagement between literary theory and the work of Heaney, the book connects the ethical projects of Heaney and Derrida in terms of their views on the relationship between self and other, and between the present and the past.

O’Brien's close reading of Heaney's poems results in a wealth of original arguments; for example, his examination of the Irish poet's most famous book, North, views it as opening a dialogue with other traditions. Another unique emphasis is on the Viking influence on his work. Finally, O'Brien examines the relationship between Heaney's texts and the violence in Northern Ireland that has been the environment of much of his writing.

The most contemporary study of Heaney's writings to date--it extends to Electric Light and The Midnight Verdict--this book weaves critical theory and criticism, breaking with previous scholarship to present a reading of Heaney that extends far beyond moments of inspiration and symbolism to reach the very notion of identity and the individual's relationship to the past and present.

Eugene O'Brien is professor of English at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.

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Choice Outstanding Academic Title - 2003

"a useful contribution to the field of Heaney Studies."
--Irish Studies Review

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