A virtual Ireland : approaches to the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing
The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991) is a three-volume, 4044 page collection of Irish literary, political, religious, philosophical and cultural texts, spanning the period of 550 AD to 1990. Its publisher, the Field Day Theatre and Publishing Company, stresses the need for an interventionist theatre and critical discourse, which has the aim of representing and interrogating the current condition of Ireland, particularly that of the North of Ireland. Basing its analyses of the Irish/British situation on a belief that it is a colonial problem, Field Day, throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, produced plays and published pamphlets in which various aspects of Ireland's colonial experience were interrogated. The idea of an anthology was raised formally in 1984 as a way of constructing a narrative out of the cultural production of the various groups and sects that have inhabited the island. Such a collection would be a syncretic statement of Irish written culture and could contribute towards debates on the questions of identity and cultural/religious/national affiliation facing the people(s) of Ireland. The Field Day Anthology's publication in November 1991 was greeted by the type of criticism rarely encountered by any text. The loudest voices of opposition came from critics angry at both the text's sins of omissions and its perceived ideological baggage and agenda. The text was characterized as a nationalist narrative, as antagonistic towards or ignorant of the particular circumstances and traditions of the North, and as a monocular colonially-obsessed production. Foremost among the criticisms was the perception that the text did not adequately represent women's writing. Following the storm of protest, Field Day announced that a volume devoted to women's writing would be produced. At the time of writing, this volume has yet to appear. While I am sympathetic of many of the criticisms, I also believe that the production was attacked for reasons other than its own particular merits or demerits. I argue in Chapter 4 that it is essential to retain a view of the anthology as a multiple and complex production, rather than as a wholly coordinated programme. While I am interested in the institutional background of the anthology, and in the controversies it provoked (I devote Chapter 2 to these issues), my chief concern is to analyze the anthology as a text that engenders questions on, for example, on the nature of the canon (Chapter 3), on questions of post-colonial agency (Chapter 6), and on writing's relationship to Irish history and historical revisionism (Chapter 5).