The Battle of the Books
The war of words between critics and writers is no paper conflict but affects daily life where literature and politics interact. The twentieth-century concern is nowhere more evident than in Ireland today where the growing 'Troubles' in Ulster gave critical debate particular focus. In this clear-eyed survey Bill McCormack assesses the alliances, the animosities, the factions, seeking to show the common ground they share even as they dispute its possession.
In his analysis of individual writers, journals and larger enterprises, McCormack raises some unexpected possibilities: Is Conor Cruise O'Brien best understood as a Catholic mystic? Should Field Day be seen as a depoliticising force in Irish culture? What truly distinguishes the manoeuvres of Seamus Heaney, Terence Brown, Edna Longley and Denis Donhgue from each other? Have critics begun to learn from historians, or have historians begun to fight shy of culture? Is the British "Literary Left" imperialist? Is there a non-sectarian art?
Underlying this polished and stimulating critique is a sombre awareness of literature's contribution to political malaise, and a call for an engagement with the real forces that govern people's lives.