Neither new historicism nor cultural materialism have yet dealt with decolonisation from the perspective of the colonised. The problem for both critical practices is that decolonisation presents an epistemological dilemma, insofar as it usually entails a successful process of resistance to power. It may ultimately succeed only in replicating structures of power after independence, but initially decolonisation is a process of activating and articulating dissent and subversion. Edward Said sees Yeats as a poet involved in this process of bringing about the downfall of imperial domination in Ireland, and Said implies that poetry can have a crucial role in the business of politics. Yeats is not alone in delineating the ‘contours of an “imagined” or ideal Community’ (Said 1990, 86). His poetry is in circulation with other cultural representations, political documents and speeches, or social and political acts. Said’s view of Yeats is just one example of a number of interpretations which have brought a historical perspective to the study of Yeats’s poetry, and in this chapter I will demonstrate how we might read Yeats’s poetry from the vantage-point of a form of historical reading which does not replicate the faults of new historicist and cultural materialist practices.
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