Prompted by students on my MA class at St Mary's University last week, I have put together these notes and suggestions for further reading on this topic.
My take on the idea of an Irish imaginary is drawn from several sources, some from anthropologists like Ulf Hannertz Transnational Connections (1996) or Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large (1996), but see also Charles Taylor Modern Social Imaginaries (207) and Paul Connerton’s How Modernity Forgets (2009). Appadurai – it seems to me – has given us a rich way of conceptualising things that recognize the huge human movements and the cultural baggage that they trail with them and that collides with where ever they ship up and settle down, even if temporarily to move on, or in putting roots down and bearing another generation.
Appadurai posits the idea of different “- scapes” to explain and analyse the way the people (ethno-scape), ideas (ideologies/concepts = ideo-scapes), images/stories (media-scapes), technologies (techno-scapes) and finance (dosh-o-scapes!) materially circulate in a global cultural economy under what what we can designate the conditions of modernity. Understanding the overlaps and conjunctions of the different “scapes” conjuncture helps to define a particular shared set of narratives, ideas and images by people – an “imaginary” - who affiliate as Irish or who are designated as such by others who are not ‘Irish’. It is akin to a collective unconscious, but without the Jungian psychology. It isn’t fixed; far from it: it shifts over time, and is accented in different locations, and there are dominant, residual and emergent (to use Williams’ famous formulation of analyzing culture) forms of it coexisting at any one moment and the argument is, I guess, that we can “read off” a group of cultural texts or events and trace the outlines of the “imaginary” manifest on stage, on screen, and in the words and talk about what’s on stage or screen, tracing the breaks when one component of the imaginary loses purchase, gives way to competing elements, new forms of the imaginary that seem to answer to – or is it enable? - people’s experience as they migrant, settle down, return, mutate, embed and mature and reflect.
See also Salman Rushdie’s essays collected as Cross that Line. It would also make sense to look at the various works of the philosopher and critic Richard Kearney – e.g. Navigations, The Irish Mind, Migrations and so on.