Accepted paper:

Speaking truth to power: the role of public intellectuals in Ireland and beyond

Author:

Helena Wulff (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

Taking Edward Said´s idea of writers as public intellectuals who speak the truth to power as a point of departure, this paper explores the social world and work of Irish writer-public intellectuals in Ireland, Britain and the United States.

Paper long abstract:

On a recent upswing, the anthropology of literature and writing goes a long way back. In a study of the social world of contemporary Irish fiction writers and their English-language work, a number of these writers such as John Banville, Colm Tóibín and Fintan O´Toole stand out as public intellectuals. In addition to writing novels, short stories, and plays, they write journalism commenting on Irish political and cultural affairs. Many of them come out of journalism, and this continues (even for those who acquire a transnational reputation) to be one way of making a living. As they do not only write for Irish Times, but are also regular contributors to British and U.S. newspapers and journals, primarily The Guardian, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, they write and are read also as public intellectuals, across borders. Taking Edward Said´s idea of writers as public intellectuals who speak the truth to power as a point of departure, this paper explores how Irish public intellectuals form an eloquent ethnographic case that illuminates theoretical issues of emigration and exile, postcoloniality, the conflict and post-conflict in Northern Ireland, and sudden prosperity followed by a dramatic downturn. Because the Republic of Ireland is a small country, there is a sense on certain occasions that a public intellectual can summon his or her compatriots over a national predicament, perhaps identifying alternative perspectives and a way forward.

panel P019
Writing across borders: textual mediation and collaboration in an interconnected world