1There has been very little research into Tom Mac Intyre’s short stories to date. One of the most significant references to his approach to experimentation in short prose is from Seamus Heaney who states, “in the context of this writer’s later work, we can also see, twenty years and a wilderness of short stories later, why his name figures in the very short list of Irish writers who have set out to make it new” (8). A recurrent topic in Mac Intyre’s prose and drama is the theme of “the hurt mind” which refers to the trauma associated with colonialism in Ireland and how this pain is historically manifested in Irish political identities. In his work Mac Intyre tends to traverse this complex history associated with Irish selfhood by focusing on the tragic nature of his characters who, in a revivalist sense, despite their many efforts, remain alienated from the fulfilment of their desire for a pre-colonial Ur-Irish identification.
2Mac Intyre has published four collections of short stories. In terms of experimentation the most significant is The Harper’s Turn, published by Gallery Press in 1982. Seamus Heaney wrote the introduction for the collection and provides an interesting insight into Mac Intyre’s disruptive prose: “I have not grasped the full import and inner logic of all the stories in this book and cannot, indeed, be sure that ‘stories’ is the word to use about all of them. […] Language left to play so autonomously is reaching for the condition of ‘poetry’” (8-9). The complexity of Mac Intyre’s experimental prose style resides in his refusal to tell a story, as he instead creates a vast array of multivalent images which are thematically connected.
- 1 This monograph was the end-product of my PhD research into the prose and drama of Tom Mac Intyre. S (...)
3In Border States in the Work of Tom Mac Intyre: A Paleo-Postmodern Perspective (2012), which addresses Mac Intyre’s experimental short prose and drama, I explored the complexity of Mac Intyre’s aesthetics in terms of paleo-postmodernism. My concept of paleo-postmodernism helps theorize the uniqueness of Mac Intyre’s aesthetics, as it conjoins a Yeatsian revivalist romantic vision with postmodern deconstruction.1 Paleo-postmodernism has two aspects:
41. Yeats’s paleo-modernism which deals with Yeats’s early modernist revivalist interest in the past, particularly Celtic history and mythology. Frank Kermode first coined the term paleo-modernism in the sixties to describe early modernism. In the late nineteenth century this was characterized by “formal desperation and an apocalyptic vision” (2). Yeats’s paleo-modernist vision in the late nineteenth century reflected the wider European fin de siècle anxieties about man’s existence. His interest in Irish history and mythology is a major influence on Mac Intyre’s work.
52. Jung and Lacan are central to the paleo-postmodern analysis of Mac Intyre’s short story. Though Lacan’s theories are different to Jung, the former offers a way of studying Mac Intyre’s use of Jungian imagery through the Real and the Symbolic, which provides a better understanding of how Mac Intyre combines deconstruction with an archetypal sublime Yeatsian desire for a pre-colonial identity. Jacques Lacan’s concept of language is relevant to Mac Intyre’s work as it provides a useful framework for understanding the writer’s deconstruction of language and how that relates to the psychological motives of his protagonists. Lacan’s concept of the Real, the imaginary and the Symbolic aspects of language is based on Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex. Mac Intyre was never influenced by Lacan, but the incorporation of the theorist’s ideas is useful in a paleo-postmodern reading of Mac Intyre’s prose in order to explore the complexity of the Irish author’s language deconstruction. According to Lacan, it is the construct of Symbolic language that structures a subject’s identity, and in Mac Intyre’s short prose, the Lacanian Symbolic may be seen as a metaphor for the alienated Irish subject whose identity is bound up in the colonially-imposed language of English. The Lacanian Real in Mac Intyre’s story can be read as a representation of the mystical unconscious archetypal feminine domain of the Irish language.
6The main attribute of the Lacanian Real is its link to the subject’s unconscious desire for the maternal body. In Jungian terms the Real shares similar characteristics to the anima. Both are unconscious drives that have a gendered feminine attribute. According to Jung the unconscious is made up of archetypal male and female qualities known as the animus and the anima. The animus is stereotyped masculinity characterized as the subject’s dominant and rational side. The anima is essentialized as a feminine archetypal form (Jung 168). In Jung’s view the goal of individuation is the subject’s integration of both the anima and animus. Mac Intyre’s story concerns the male protagonists over-identification with their animus natures. The Jungian anima in the story is symbolized by an inaccessible unconscious mythopoetic maternal force which is rooted in an idealized representation of Irish identity; the Lacanian Symbolic language of English is represented by the animus.
7The analysis of Jung in this paper is also Yeatsian, as Yeats’s paleo-modernist association of the Irish mythological past is based on the archetypal world of the anima mundi or, in Jungian terms, the mythopoetic imagination. Therefore, in this context the Yeatsian dimension to the mystical ideology associated with the eternal feminine is rooted in the revivalist fascination with ancient Irish mythology and the Irish language. The significant link between Jung and Lacan in this analysis of “The Hurt Mind” is rooted in the representations of the archetypal eternal feminine and its association with the maternal space of the Lacanian Real.
8This story is one of the most elliptical pieces in The Harper’s Turn. The concept of the hurt mind runs through all of Mac Intyre’s work as it is “a metaphor for a whole range of conflicting psychological states, suppressed sexuality, pain, joy, fear, bitterness, aggression, jealousy, regret, the ‘hurt mind’ epitomises the masculine self, damaged by centuries of hostility, repression and war” (Kelly 149). Dermot Healy reiterates this idea in his assessment of Mac Intyre’s aesthetics where “there seems to be something irreparable in the Irish psyche” (9). The structure of the story in “The Hurt Mind” is non-linear. The language is like a cryptic crossword where the author refuses to develop a narrative and the reader is forced to work hard to decipher its meaning. Diverse images are strewn throughout the story, which provides clues to various interpretations:
The boys who beat the black and tans the boys from County Cork–not quite true, not quite true, what about Lord what about Lord Doneraile and his bucks and his blades? I read books, what about the rights of the Big House?
[…] and all join in now please and thank-you, we’re a musical nation, a-a-a-nd The Boys Who Beat The Black And Tans Was The Boys From The County Cork! (25-6)
- 2 The “black and tans” were English ex-army recruits who were sent to Ireland to combat the IRA in th (...)
9This excerpt is the beginning and end of a very short prose piece. It opens (and closes) with the name of an Irish folksong consisting of references to the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. There are images of the “Big House,” the reference to the aristocrat Lord Doneraile whose lands were based in Cork, and the quintessentially English portrayal of a foxhunt. There is no narrative development, only the uncontrolled rhythmic spatiality of sentences. Phrases such as “black and tans” and “big house” in the above quotation identify different historical periods in Ireland.2 At the beginning of the story the narrator expresses a point through the musical rhythm of an old folk song. He states the Catholic “boys from County Cork” were not the only representatives of the Irish nationalism; some sectors of the Protestant community in the south would have been part of the Irish nationalist protest. The central concern in “The Hurt Mind” is the conceptualization of Irish identity as represented by the Irish nationalist rebel song. The “hurt mind” is the author’s reference to the traumatised Irish psyche that has endured colonialism and the consequent postcolonial struggle for identity both north and south of the Irish border.
- 3 In a personal interview Mac Intyre stated that the “adversarial stance” in his experimental work re (...)
10As an Irish Protestant writer, Mac Intyre has stated that his aesthetic approach is to always take the “adversarial stance.”3 The concept of the “adversarial stance” in his work translates aesthetically through experimentation, as a subversion of conventional political notions of Irish identity. Such disruption manifests an attempt to articulate an archetypal unconscious Ur-Irish identity that transcends political boundaries. According to Lacan, a subject is structured by Symbolic language, and Mac Intyre’s Irish characters are often portrayed as individuals who are isolated within the language of English. This alienation in “The Hurt Mind” may be read from the perspective of a southern Irish Protestant. By incorporating images such as the “Big House” and references to aristocrats on a fox hunting expedition, the Protestant subject is portrayed in colonial terms. Mac Intyre frames this stereotype within the musical score of the rebel song. Though this song uses the English language, it is a language that has been absorbed into a Hiberno-musical rhythm and language. According to George Denis Zimmerman, there were two nationalist traditions of Irish folk song at the turn of the twentieth century: one was pioneered by the vision of George Moore, which tended towards a revivalist interest in Celtic mythology. The other was the kind of Irish nationalist rebel songs advocated by the young Catholic Irish men, which were published in the Irish nationalist paper, The Nation, and focused on the British Empire as the enemy (60). The song, “The Boys who Beat the Black and Tans,” conveys the subjective voice of Irish Catholic nationalism.
11In a Lacanian sense the Symbolic construct of the Protestant subject is caricature which is due, firstly, to the musical rhythm of the rebel folk song that reinforces the stereotyped representation of a Protestant subject as being void of subjectivity. Secondly, Mac Intyre is highlighting how an Irish folk song in Hiberno-English language alienates the Protestant subject in two ways: 1. He can’t fully identify with the colonial English language dimension of Hiberno-English because of his Irish heritage. 2. He is alienated from his Irish cultural dimension of Hiberno-English due to his Protestantism that is historically associated with British colonialism. Therefore he is trapped. The caricature of the Irish Protestant represents the author’s first reference to the tragic status of his protagonist’s unfulfilled desire for an Ur-Irish identity. He is a hyper-masculinised caricature whose animus nature lacks subjectivity due to the absence of the anima or the maternal space of the Real. As the story progresses, the author’s exploration of alienation intensifies in a gendered mythopoetic context.
12The key part of “The Hurt Mind” is when the fox chase escalates:
The Lord and Captain Buck and Major Blade, now they’re lifting their croobs, now they’re flying, now whose tongue’s hanging out? Listen to the beagles, where’s the fresh young slip?, lying low by the river is the fresh young slip, Listen to your beagles Two to one The Captain Evens The Major they’re neck and neck in the straight, where’s the fresh young slip?, she’s in there hooped in the stink and the sweat and she’s all thump-a-thump Come on the Captain Tight Lines Major…The Captain’s down! He’s down, The Major’s away, wins pullin’ up, not pullin’ up either, he’s ploughing through the scrub, wait, wait, Major gone to ground, n’er a sound n’er a sound Ate up Major stop licking your chops and all join in now please and thank-you, we’re a musical nation, a-a-a-a-nd The Boys Who Beat The Black And Tans Was The Boys From The County Cork! (25-26).
- 4 The word “croob” comes from Slieve Croob which is the anglicized translation of the Irish name Slai (...)
13The point of chaos in this excerpt occurs when the pursuers lift their “croobs.” The intensity of the chase causes them to fall and the Major undergoes a theriomorphic transformation into a beagle. The word “croob” means “mountain of the hoof” and has a number of different connotations.4 It is a Hiberno phonetic English interpretation of the Irish word “Crúibé.” This word has an explosive effect on the whole prose piece revealing the heart of “The Hurt Mind” which is rooted in the conflict between the languages of Irish and English.
14The implied reference to the “mountain of the hoof” relates to the feet of the characters, but on a metaphorical level it reveals how the linguistic burden of Irish history is part of their identities. The image of the foot has often been used as a metaphor for Irish culture in terms of the mythological significance of Achilles’ heel. In his essay, “The Irish Language Revival: Achilles’s Heel,” Liam O’Sé laments the disappearance of the Irish language, the Achilles heel being the general lack of interest in its revival (26-49). The Irish mythical figure, Cuchulainn, has been associated with the Greek hero Achilles, as Cuchulainn’s weakness was similarly exploited by his enemies who destroyed him (Nutt 1-52). Cuchulainn is linked to the use of the early written form of the Irish language known as Ogham (Monaghan 108). All of these hermeneutical associations with the word “croob” highlight the status of the Protestant “other” as an outsider in an Irish cultural narrative. This multivalent approach is typical of Mac Intyre’s style where a linear narrative is replaced by complex images that place an onus on the reader to work hard at finding coherence. In much of his work Mac Intyre uses the presence of the Irish language as a strategic deconstructive force to defamiliarize the language of English. According to Mac Intyre:
Well, the world around me was alive with performers, with the extravagances of language, especially in east Cavan, with our strange version of English which was riddled with Gaeilge. I mean the Irish just have to be writing plays. I would argue that one strange result of the English taking our language from us was to set up a fiercely competitive revenge campaign, directed towards achieving more eloquence than Standard English will ever achieve. (Keating)
15Generally Mac Intyre’s “revenge campaign” has been to subvert the language of English, using the Irish language, in order to reveal some semblance of the unconscious Ur-Irish nature of his characters (Ryan 18). This is evidenced by his use of Hiberno-English in “The Hurt Mind.” Hiberno-English is a form of the English language that has undergone a cultural change due to the influence of the Irish language. The subversive impact of the hidden presence of the Irish language through the word “croob” may be seen as a disruptive literary device which has a domino effect on the language of English throughout Mac Intyre’s experimental narrative. Terry Eagleton identifies a similar strategy in James Joyce: “Joyce’s writing is the non-Irish-speaking Irish writer’s way of being unintelligible to the British. By subverting the very forms of their language, he struck a blow for all his gagged and humiliated fellow country people” (24). Mac Intyre has often noted that his literary lineage is derived from Yeats and not Joyce (Ryan 221-22). But the evidence in this assessment shows that Mac Intyre (through his experimentation) is as much a Joycean as he is a neo-Yeatsian revivalist.
16In “The Hurt Mind,” the object of pursuit symbolises what is common to all of Mac Intyre’s fictional characters, namely the search for a feminine Ur-Irish identity. This is obvious when the Lord Doneraile and his companions are chasing a fox: “now The Lord, now Captain Buck and Major Blade, the beagles sniffin’, there’s sight for you-three scents for the beagle, hare, red herrin’, aniseed oil-they’ve picked her scent, they’ve a trail, we’re away, north with her, south with her, east with her, west with her, wasting her time and she knows it” (25). The fox is portrayed as having the smell of the hare. The hare is a Yeatsian paleo-modernist vision of that boundary between life and death. In another story, “Mother Silence,” Mac Intyre describes the hare as being part of the primal Irish mythological self associated with the search for maternal oneness (144-47). The hare is a Yeatsian mythological symbol which, in poems like The Wanderings of Oisín, is portrayed as a magical being that exists on the border between two worlds:
The hare grows old as she plays in the sun
And gazes around her with eyes of brightness;
Before the swift things that she dreamed of were done
She limps along in an aged whiteness (Yeats 318).
17In this part of the poem Oisín decides to leave the Celtic underworld of Tír na nÓg where he lived a hundred years in order to return to the mortal world.
18In Mac Intyre’s work the unconscious Celtic archetypal maternal feminine force is bound up in a mythical Ur-Irish identity, the attainment of which is the sole motivation of most of his characters. In “The Hurt Mind,” the fox, with its hare smell, carries these attributes. She is an externalization of the revivalist Protestant desire for an Irish identity that transcends political boundaries. It is a desire for a primal identitarian union which may be seen in terms of the Jungian anima. Mac Intyre is very influenced by Jung’s ideas on the archetypal nature of the unconscious and his concept of the anima. In Aspects of the Feminine, Jung defines the anima:
Every man carries within him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or “archetype” of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman-in short, an inherited system of psychic adaptation. Even if no women existed, it would still be possible, at any given time, to deduce from this unconscious image exactly how a woman would have to be constituted psychically. [...] since this image is unconscious, it is always unconsciously projected upon the person of the beloved, and is one of the chief reasons for passionate attraction or aversion. I have called this image the “anima.” (50)
19The core of Mac Intyre’s aesthetics is this search for his anima nature:
The truth we’re talking about for me brought up in Gestapo Ireland of the thirties and forties where you were told you had no permission to think. […] And women don’t exist by the way. […] The Catholic Church was leading the Gestapo attack. […] If you are interested in quality story-telling you have to […] shed everything you have and follow the star that is your star and you will come back to the Goddess; […] the aisling figure; or put it another way to the conversation with the form interior. […] But if I say what I just said to you, to most of my male colleagues of my generation, they say, spare us really. (Mac Intyre, “Interview”)
20The anima, in “The Hurt Mind,” represents the feminine side of the male characters; their search for transcendant Ur-Irish unconscious identity which is always elusive. In a Jungian sense such an attainment would represent individuation. But the tragedy lies in the impossibility of fulfilling the protagonist’s desire for this goal. As already noted, Lacan’s version of the anima is the pre-linguistic maternal space of the Real. The Lacanian Real is where the subject as an infant totally identifies with its mother and, through the maturation process, is continually trying to return to that original union. The term “croob.” as a combined representation of the Irish language and the symbol of the Achilles heel, is significant here as, according to Clare Buck, the idea of the Achilles heel may also refer to Achilles’ unconscious sexual desire for his mother (136). Since the Real is a pre-linguistic space that transcends the language conflict represented by the term “croob,” it becomes part of that primal oedipal desire which the Protestant characters subconsciously seek in their pursuit of the female fox who is always elusive. Hence the tragic nature of the Protestant sense of alienation and failure to achieve a fulfilled Ur-Irish identity (despite their attempts to create such a union through the metaphorical fox chase) is further accentuated through metaphorical associations with the Jungian anima and the Lacanian Real; both illustrate unconscious mystical dimensions of the eternal feminine and their anagogical links to a pre-colonial Irish language which remains inaccessible.
21The representation of Protestantism in this story symbolizes the motives of the Irish literary revival whose members, led by Yeats, were mainly from the Protestant tradition. In the late-nineteenth century Protestantism in Ireland was a minority culture. Irish identity was monopolized by a Catholic culture that regarded Protestantism as being part of British colonialism. The literary revival was a cultural response to this isolationism by the Anglo-Irish community, which also sought to anchor its marginalized sense of identity within an Irish heritage. Mac Intyre was very influenced by Yeats; but where Yeats and Mac Intyre hold the same aesthetic aspirations, Mac Intyre uses postmodern deconstruction to convey the tragic unfulfilled desires of his protagonists.
22In Mac Intyre’s “The Hurt Mind” the deconstruction of form reflects the defamiliarization of the fictional characters who, as caricatures, are trapped (through Hiberno-English language folksongs), and furthermore caught in the repetition of that essentialist ascendant trope: “seed and breed of the carriage-and-four staring from the ditches at the carriage and four as the carriage-and-four swept by” (25). The lyrical nature of the musical folk rhythm heightens the Catholic nationalist communal presence which erases the possibility of Protestant subjectivity, the construction of which has been deconstructed through stereotyped repetition.
23Gerard Dawe, in his essay entitled “The Bleak Inspiration of the Protestant Imagination,” makes the point that a mark of Protestant subjectivity in Irish literature is “having to think of one’s cultural position, of being literally self-conscious” (22). Dawe explores the work of Samuel Beckett in this context. In Mac Intyre’s work such self-reflexivity is evident, and it manifests itself in experimental terms. Mac Intyre’s experimental structure in his stories reveals a Beckettian postmodern non-linear approach to plot. Unlike Beckett’s nihilism, Mac Intyre’s paleo-postmodern work represents his protagonist’s revivalist sense of waiting for an authentic identity of an Ur-Irish self which is rooted in Irish language and myth but is tragically elusive.
24As shown above, Lacan’s concept of language is a useful lens for analysing Mac Intyre’s paleo-postmodern deconstruction. In a Lacanian sense, the maturation process for a child from the space of the Real is literally signified by the imposition of a patriarchal Symbolic language which, in “The Hurt Mind,” is the language of English. This alienates the Irish subjects from the object of their desire; the maternal space of Ur-Irish identification. The English language in Mac Intyre’s work is often deconstructed due to the author’s strategic placement of an Irish linguistic or mythical source. Literary subversion is commonplace in Irish literary history. Stephen Dedalus, in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, highlights the Irish writer’s sense of being marginalized using the language of English (189). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Gaelic poets used subversion to attack the dominant colonial regime as they grieved for their lost culture: “coded into every one of their lyrics, was the memory of a Gaelic order which they hoped to see restored” (Kiberd x). In the twentieth century, Irish writers are the “most politically subversive when they deal with the matter of literature itself, that is, form, genre and language” (Ross 6). Seamus Deane describes the language conflict experienced by Irish writers:
We’ve got essentially a colonial heritage that’s had some very deep effects on the language. We write English, but we write it haunted by the ghost of a lost language. When you write in English or in Irish, you are, in fact, involving yourself in some kind of political statement. The linkage between language and politics is more incestuously close in such a situation than it is in a more settled society. (29-30)
25Mac Intyre often refers to the “haunted” nature of his writing that represents the autochthonous unfolding of his ancient Celtic heritage. The “ghost of a lost language” refers to the Irish language and in Mac Intyre’s work its presence is central to his work: “Irish has given me a bed to play in, it’s a wilder bed, it’s a more essential bed, it is an infinitely more haunted bed” (Ryan 225).
26The tragedy for all of Mac Intyre’s characters in that they always fail to fulfil their unconscious desire for an Ur-Irish identity. This is the paleo-postmodern dimension to Mac Intyre’s work where he incorporates a Yeatsian paleo-modernist vision through linguistic deconstruction. The revivalist paleo-modern archetypal romantic desire is always present with his characters, but a postmodern fragmentation takes place where the desire becomes unfulfilled and the tragic destiny of the protagonists fulfils its vision. After the word “croob” is used in “The Hurt Mind,” the characters disintegrate and one actually transforms into a beagle. The term “beagle” refers to a breed of dog which is part of the Protestant stereotype of the colonial hunter. The theriomorphic transformation simply re-essentializes rather than liberates the Protestant caricatures who are eventually all erased through the musical nationalist refrain, the “Boys Who Beat the Black and Tans Were the Boys from County Cork!”
27To conclude, in “The Hurt Mind” Mac Intyre portrays alienated Irish Protestant characters who seek an Irish identity which is rooted in a Jungian/Yeatsian archetypal feminine Irish trope. Their sense of entrapment is vivid within the English language play where their subjectivity is lost. The Lacanian poststructuralist theoretical framework helps to mirror that alienation which is linked to unconscious drives. Mac Intyre’s experimental short prose defies the idea of a traditional short story form with a beginning, middle and end. His experimentation is unusual in the Irish literary canon where literary disruption is normally associated with a Beckettian rejection of revivalist idealism. Mac Intyre’s paleo-postmodern vision is very unique in Irish literature, as he combines postmodern rupture with a Yeatsian romantic vision. As in all his work, the tragedy for his characters is the inaccessibility of that vision of a fulfilled identity. Paleo-postmodernism, in Mac Intyre’s work, identifies desires that are impossible to realize within the space of the English language, and it is in this context that most of his work may be regarded as tragic. The author’s unique experimentation with language indicates that he really is one of those innovative Irish writers who “set out to make it new.”