The Troubled Workings of Multidirectionality: Reading Seamus Heaney's Intertextualities
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This thesis aims to illustrate how poetry can be read as a genre of Cultural Memory. Specifically, it tests whether Michael Rothberg's influential theory of Multidirectional Memory can be felicitously applied to the poetry of the Irish contemporary poet Seamus Heaney. I focus solely on three of Heaney’s several poetry collections, namely North, Field Work and Station Island as I believe that these provide the most diverse and insightful responses to The Troubles. Additionally the close-readings allow me to observe certain emerging patterns in the poet’s engagement with cultural recollection and traumatic remembrance. They also offer a comprehensive corpus for Heaney’s intense intertextual practices. My main suggestion in this dissertation is that Multidirectional Memory needs to be more overtly associated with intertextuality and its specific manner of linking texts from “foreign” cultural spheres and bringing them into the public arena as a means to stake new memory claims. Although Rothberg uses intertextual clues to demonstrate his thesis on the inter-relation of memory discourses in the public sphere, he never genuinely theorizes the modes in which a text can be multidirectional. As a secondary aim, my thesis bridges more explicitly Rothberg’s theory which emerges from Comparative Genocide studies and Trauma studies with the Cultural Memory school of thought pioneered by Aleida Assmann and Jan Assman. I go on to suggest that Ann Rigney’s theory on the textual dynamics of memory and Astrid Erll’s concept of remediation should be more explicitly connected to Rothberg’s important contentions about the relatedness of memorial discourse: in other words, theories on the circulation of memory discourse should be put in more productive dialogue literary approaches studying the blockages of memory and the way in which these are worked through and emerge in the public arena. With these preliminary questions in mind, I proceed to analyze the types of multidirectionality in Heaney’s poetry in part one of the study. The introduction gives a short overview of the main debates in Memory Studies with significant emphasis on Maurice Halbwachs’ lasting impact on the present state of the field. A close-reading of Rothberg’s theory thematized and reinforced through discussions of Rigney’s methodological proposals is undertaken in this section. In chapter one I focus on the way in which objects become media for intertextuality (and multidirectional memory) in poetry. I analyze the function of ekphrasis as a means of multidirectional remediation (cf. Astrid Erll) in chapter 2 and meditate on its privileged relation with poetry and memory. In chapter 3, the role of translation as a springboard for intense intertextual multidirectionality is assessed in several of Heaney’s poems. Chapter 4 marks a shift of emphasis for my study: it goes on to analyze the ethical effects of multidirectionality in Heaney’s poetry, rather than interrogating the forms that it takes. In this section I propose that Heaney’s poetry builds a multidirectional aesthetics of artistic complicity which adds “gray zones” to the rather sparse nuances of victimhood involved in The Troubles and in Trauma Studies in general. In the same chapter, it is concluded that Rothberg’s theory would benefit from being framed within Derrida’s concept of “work of mourning”. In lieu of a conclusion to this study, I briefly reflect on the advantages of studying poetry from the perspective of Cultural Memory studies and the specific hurdles with which a researcher is faced when doing so.