Irish History, Ethics, the Alethic, and Mise En Abîme in John Banville’s Fiction

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Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó
A controversy within John Banville scholarship focuses on his seemingly ambivalent relation to his Irishness. The dominance of Banville’s philosophical topics has seemingly rendered the specifically Irish issues redundant. However, there are Irish traits that have significance for more subtle themes or motifs in certain novels. These passages often appear as side-paths in the eccentric protagonists’ meandering narration. In The Blue Guitar, Oliver Orme mentions that his “namesake Oliver Cromwell” attempted an attack upon the town in which his childhood home is situated, but eventually “the victorious Catholic garrison hanged half a dozen russet-coated captains” on the hill where the house stands and where “the Lord Protector’s tent” had been erected. Such casual remarks on violent historical incidents harbor a key to a particular Banvillean ethics. The frequently recurring prose structure of thematized mise en abîme and the mazes of signifiers indicate that no historical ontology in terms of a meta-narrative seems to exist. However, many of Banville’s novels revolve around the disclosure of a truth. This alethic element questions an all too convenient reliance on a completely constructivist understanding of history and thereby of Irish historical events appearing in the Banvillean oeuvre. (JW)
Banville, ethics, aletheia, Irish history, conflict, mise en abîme