The Irish mind has enabled the Irish to balance and accommodate imagination and intellect, emotion and reason, poetry and science. The notion of cultural difference is not just an Irish story, but a story of nations and ethnic groups all over the world. The story of modernity revolves around people coming to see and understand themselves as belonging to nations. Although there were other European nations that made Catholicism a keystone of national difference, there were many factors that made the Irish project different. The idea of creating a society that had a collective vision and commitment without being socialist became an ideal of the Catholic Church during the latter half of the twentieth century. The Church did, nevertheless, have a profound influence on Irish society and culture. The extent to which the Catholic Church shaped and influenced Irish politics has been the subject of much research and debate. The power of the Catholic Church in politics stemmed from the power it developed in the modernisation of Irish society and, in particular, the controlling of sexuality, marriage and fertility. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Irish developed a particular aversion to marriage. For many nations and ethnic groups, what binds people together is that they speak the same language. It may well be that for generations many Irish people identified the Irish language, music and sport as an inhibitor in embracing a less insular and more urbane, cosmopolitan disposition.
John McGahern's writings and stories, the characters and events he describes, provide us with clues about cultural changes in Irish society. These writings and stories can be seen as cultural data that can be interpreted and analysed using a variety of theories and concepts. In this chapter, the author develops a more sociological reading of some of McGahern's writings on sex and love. From The Pornographer, The Leavetaking, Memoir and some of McGahern's short stories, we get insights into sexual innocence, ignorance, frustration and abuse, particularly in the country. The Pornographer, The Leavetaking and some of his short stories provide key insights into the shift from rural to urban society and the decline in the importance of the Catholic Church in everyday life. It is possible to think of McGahern as one of the major chroniclers of cultural change in twentieth-century Ireland.
This chapter provides some of the insights and understandings about Irish difference. The notion of cultural difference is not just an Irish story, but a story of nations and ethnic groups all over the world. The story of modernity revolves around people coming to see and understand themselves as belonging to nations. When it comes to national difference, the Irish may then be the same as the French, Dutch, Spanish, Italians and every other nation but we make mountains out of a molehill when it comes to cultural difference. Although there were other European nations that made Catholicism a keystone of national difference, there were many factors that made the Irish project different. The legacies of the colonial strategies were imprinted on Irish minds, bodies and souls for generations, particularly in relation to the way the Irish related to sex and alcohol.
This chapter focuses on Irish difference in terms of sexuality and the harsh regimes of bodily discipline and control instituted over centuries. It also focuses on the different technologies and strategies that were developed to create disciplined, docile, and compliant bodies. A focus on the body helps us to think imaginatively when it comes to the understanding of Irish difference. The chapter analyses how the penitential approach to the body became infiltrated with the neo-Jansenistic teachings of the Catholic Church that became dominant in the nineteenth century. This analysis helps to shine a light on the Irish attitudes and practices in relation to desire, pleasure and sexuality. Michel Foucault emphasised how the creation and maintenance of social order was dependent on building a scientific knowledge of what bodies did and how they could be regulated.
This chapter argues that when it comes to describing and analysing Irish difference there is a limited range of theories and methods used. It suggests that greater emphasis be given to the body, emotions and the strategies in which people use Irishness to create their own identities, sense of self and cultural distinction. A coercive view of social action would see Irish cultural difference as a myth, a form of symbolic domination that creates an illusion of collective responsibility and papers over social and economic inequalities. Instead of seeing the Irish as indigenously different, it might be better to focus on how Irish people construct their sense of difference through combining global cultural elements with local and national elements of culture. Irish cultural difference has always been created and maintained through mixing and matching the local with the global.