This Guide to Essential Criticism of twentieth-century Irish literature written in English necessarily addresses issues pertaining to a nationally specific culture. However, while Irish literary criticism permits us to think deeply about Ireland and nationality, it is, equally, not bound by the nation as an already agreed concept or a homogeneous entity. In fact, Irish literature continually rethinks the parameters of its own national context in terms of ideas of identity, culture, gender, social class and so forth. The global scope of Irish writing makes plain that it harbours an international range of important themes that cannot be simply reduced to a hermetically sealed nation. This guide seeks to deal with Irish literary criticism in its specificity without peculiarizing it or cordoning it off from the rest of the world. The wilful internationalism of writers such as James Joyce (1882–1941) or Samuel Beckett (1906–89), the internationally informed debates within Irish Studies itself, together with the engagement with Irish writing by a host of internationally renowned scholars such as Edward W. Said (1935–2003) and Fredric Jameson (born 1934), all affirm that Irish literature is able to think about its borders, boundaries and divisions and simultaneously to think beyond them. In tracing the paths of Irish literature and literary criticism in the twentieth-century, the highly charged contexts and debates which emerge are given specific forms by Irish society but they are also shaped by, and indeed help to shape, international dialogues concerning tradition and modernity; war and social conflict; profound economic change; nationalism, colonialism and postcolonialism; emancipation projects of class and gender; and the onset of a global age.
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