Michael G. Cronin
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Brendan Behan
Eros and liberation
in Revolutionary bodies
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Behan’s only novel, Borstal Boy (1958), unites two traditions of prison writing – Irish republican and queer male – which were already merged in Wilde’s De Profundis (1897/1905). As in Wilde and Jean Genet, in Behan’s novel the humiliation and pain of imprisonment is transformative and radicalising – a central trope of Irish republican prison writing – and this radicalisation is given narrative and imaginative form through the narrator’s erotic encounter with the male body as desirable and vulnerable. In Wilde the male body is that of Christ, in Genet and Behan it is that of youthful fellow prisoners (their youth taking on a symbolic significance as a rejection of development and ‘mature’ conformity to the performance principle). This style of writing homoerotic relations, as a bodily encounter of pleasure and solidarity rather than as an expression of identity, creates a literary space for imagining utopian possibilities. Echoing the narrative conjunction of two types of (republican and queer) prison writing, we can conceptualise those utopian possibilities as a political conjunction of Behan’s contemporaries, Herbert Marcuse and Frantz Fanon – the transformation of sexuality into Eros as correlative of the transformative leap from decolonisation to liberation.

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Revolutionary bodies

Homoeroticism and the political imagination in Irish writing


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