The new imprint from Rodopi Publishers by Edward Hagan entitled “Goodbye Yeats and O’Neill: Farce in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Narratives,” may as well have been called The Irish Dilemma or Staring Into My Irish-American Writers Navel. Edward Hagan deftly builds up cases made by many of this past century’s most prolific Irish and Irish American writers and then skillfully, brick by brick, tears them back down. The irony in his harsh critical analysis is that Edward Hagan’s infatuation with the Irish experience is palpable. Edward Hagan just won’t tolerate haphazard apathy when only concise excellence will do.
Overview: Reading an Edward Hagan book, is much like sitting in an Edward Hagan lecture. Professor Hagan was my teacher for a number of years during study at Western Connecticut State University and his passion for linguistic laziness shone through always in his attention to even the smallest detail and even the largest incorrectness. One day in particular stands out in memory and it was he broke off an entire class to go over the “subject-preposition-verb” agreement. It’s that same level of detail which Edward Hagan affords the subjects in his book. Hagan begins his book with the opening chapter “Defining the Object for Struggle: Epistemology in The Age of Autobiography – Frank McCourt Angela’s Ashes and Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark.” If you thought you could just pick up Goodbye Yeats & O’Neill for a fun beach read, you are sorely mistaken. Hagan doesn’t stop with just the two texts in the title (in this chapter) he goes on to talk about the “current fear of, even embarrassment about, Irish Nationalism among the intellectual elite,” “invasion of the social and behavioral sciences into literary theory,” ” McCourt’s “recognition of the bewildering bleakness, the blankness of the human position” and “the narrow notion of truth as a tangible term.” Among other things. It’s this energetic zeal for the subject and rich dialogue of debate which Hagan relishes and which colors his entire text.
Belfast & South Boston: Hagan brings up interesting arguments which were reflected in our collective past and current attitude towards recent messes in the Gulf Coast. While talking about the “middle-class preciousness about the focus of discussion of Irish identity,” Hagan brings up the fact that Belfast & South Boston have been feeding grounds for all manner of tension and unrest in Ireland for some years. In South Boston, Hagan portrays an “embarrassing remnant of the Irish-American working class.” This elicits another truth from the author; “the situations of poor people do not arouse sympathy for their plight.” So it goes that just like after Hurricane Katrina when the cameras had left New Orleans, so had all the effort towards rebuilding. Now BP’s at it again with its recent news that they’re ‘scaling back’ the relief effort. It’s the ugliest kind of truth; it’s the complete truth.
Conclusion: Edward Hagan is a really smart man. To try and deduce his admittedly dense read to a few short lines wouldn’t be doing Goodbye Yeats & O’Neill justice. The depth of the language and his references just demand an educated audience; it’s a dense read but it’s also a satisfying one. There was one observation which I felt best captured the essence of what Hagan was going for in Goodbye Yeats & O’Neill. It was a line in Chapter 8 talking about Seamus Deane’s excoriation of Yeats for “the conversion of politics and history into aesthetics.” Hagan goes on to lament the fact that Yeats “mythic imagination kept him aware that his heroes just might be buffoons.” But still Yeats day-dreamed and imagined some of the most fanciful heroes or buffoons in literary history. “Dean himself,” says Hagan, “…has been a well-known socialist republican.” That’s where the ‘goodbye’ is in the title and where the goodbye went in Irish American literature; at least, it seems, by Hagan’s summation. He draws a pretty good case that these sluggards will have their way as the identity of the Irish American and former writers, artists, and intellectuals all over the world take their turn in slouching towards an enlightened, vacuous Bethlehem to be born-again.
promo copy: “Goodbye Yeats & O’Neill”