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Contagiously Irish

Contagiously Irish

(p.95) 4 Contagiously Irish
Weak Planet
Colm TóibínW. B. YeatsGish Jen Infect Henry James
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 4 explores a weak Irishness, derived not from one’s nationality, but from contact with others, an induced effect. Drawing on scientific work on viral infection as variant-producing as much as life-threatening, the chapter proposes a way to think about global ecosystems through communicable diseases, highlighting side effects, both good and bad, that go hand in hand with our susceptibility to harm. With an eye to pandemics, such as HIV, literature is imagined here as a contagious site, a risky symbiosis necessitating adaptive hybridization. Beginning with Henry James’s sojourn in Colm Tóibín’s The Master, this chapter traces a hazard-filled arc extending across the Atlantic and from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. Putting James in the company of Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, as well as Nicholson Baker and Gish Jen, the chapter also brings into play the Abbey Theatre, World War I, and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Irish suffragette and anti-war activist, whose book, British Militarism as I Have Known It, was banned in Britain during the duration of the war. In such unsafe company, Henry James’s less-than-complete naturalization as a British citizen emerges as a weak Irishness, a contagious effect, but far more dynamic than his actual Irish descent.

Keywords:   pandemics, risky symbiosis, Henry James, Colm Tóibín, W. B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Nicholson Baker, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Gish Jen, HIV

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