While foregrounding decolonial/Gaelic responses to this traidic project, the thesis shows how it has had enduring effects on the perception of cartography, visuality, sonority and the construction of aesthetic hierarchies in Ireland in terms of anglocentrim and predatory extractivism of the knowledge of the colonized.
Eóin Ó Cuinneagáin
Dr Barzoo Eliassi, Linnaeus University
Prof Madina Tlostanova, Department of Thematic Studies and Department of Gender Studies, Linköping University
Prof Lillis Ó Laoire, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, National University of Ireland, Galway
1 September 2018 – 31 December 2022
More about the project
This doctoral project aims to interrogate from where and how the antiquarians and folklorists of the 19th century appropriated Gaelic knowledge and policed the perception of cartography, visuality and audibility in Éirinn* and how the antiquarian and folklorization movements' location, reorientation and reformulation of power are inscribed within aesthetic and epistemic production today.
It identifies three co-constructive operations arising therefrom: anglocentrism, predatory extractivism and the coloniality of perception (Tlostanova), where anglocentrim refers to the imposition of English language, naming and systems of knowledge as the only available to be legible in modernity/coloniality; predatory extractivism denotes the drive for the non-reciprocal appropriation of colonized people’s energy, knowledge and intelligence; and coloniality of perception refers to a way of sensing the world through the vision, taste, categories and sensibilities of the colonizer.
In this doctoral project I recentre and reveal different forms of resistance and response of the cosmhuintir* to antiquarianism and folklorization from the 19th century onwards in the form of decolonial aesthesis (Tlostanova; Gómez; Vázquez; Mignolo), a process which desettles the anglocentric/eurocentric, modern/colonial aesthetic, marked by the intervention of Gaelic epistemologies into zones from which they have previously been excluded, in order to reclaim space, taste, land, language, identity and dignity. As a link in the reproduction of Gaelic oral knowledge, I demonstrate how a decolonial/Gaelic method and attitude can be practiced to disrupt the theory/practice dualism of modernity/coloniality by drawing on the cartography, visuality and sonority that are embodied in Gaelic epistemologies and what I call decolonial/Gaelic sensing in such practices as amhránaíocht*, scéalaíocht* and sean nós* rhythms.
*Éirinn – one of the Gaelic names used to describe the island of Ireland
*cosmhuintir – the ordinary people, the downtrodden, “the wretched of the earth” (Fanon)
*amhránaíocht – the practice of singing orally transmitted knowledge
*scéalaíocht – the practice of storytelling orally transmitted knowledge
*sean nós – the traditional ways of making knowledge and performing
Extended Project Description
The chronology of this project begins in the aftermath of Éirí Amach*, a major rebellion against the English colonial regime in Éirinn in 1798. One of its diverse aims was the end to na Péindlíthe*, a series of laws which excluded majority of the population, Catholics, from a plethora of domains including property rights, education, political representation and voting. These laws also curtailed the rights of Presbyterians in terms of limited land ownership. After the defeat of Éirí Amach, along with mass political repression an executions, the British regime removed the Protestant ascendancy parliament and subsumed Ireland into the United Kingdom in 1801. This signaled the beginning of various projects designed to homogenize, anglicize, and standardize Irish life, designed to make it conform to universalizing systems of anglocentric and capitalist monitoring. Meanwhile calls for Catholic emancipation continued while the British regime sought new technologies for the management of these trajectories of emancipation.
In the early 19th century the British regime commissioned the triadic projects of mapping, painting and annotating melodies in Ireland. The regime established the Ordnance Survey in order to produce highly detailed maps of Ireland, consisting of elaborated descriptions of local sites, townlands and mountains amongst other geographical and historical features. When it came to naming these sites and towns not only were thousands of Gaelic villages excluded from the maps but Gaelic place names were anglicized in order to create new names that would conform with English lexicology, while obscuring their denotations. On top of this, the highly contested information written down in the Ordnance Survey Letters was the result of interaction between the cosmhuintir* and the cohorts of British military officers, engineers, antiquarians and ‘native-informant’ translators who were co-conscripted to complete the project. These maps resulted in an increase in the British administration’s technological power to rule and name Ireland and it later manifested in the deontologization of many Gaelic communities, many of whom within the space of 20 years of the project’s initiation would face the metaphysical catastrophe an Drochshaol*.
For the first time in the English settler-colonial project in Ireland, the regime began to see the knowledge of the cosmhuintir as a productive site for the development of colonial technologies and the reassertion of dominance in the sphere of space and taste. Extracting their knowledge became tool for writing universal anglocentric cartographies of the land. Likewise, the annotation of sonority and the painting of landscapes in Ireland were undertaken by some of the same networks of antiquarians and folklorists who were involved in the Ordnance Survey. In the former project, antiquarians interacted with the cosmhuintir who were practicing Gaelic modes of being in their vernacular environments. The collectors wrote down in annotated form the melodies they heard, while in large part excluding the often rebellious, anti-capitalist and decolonial content of the songs. In the latter project, antiquarian painters traversed the island of Ireland painting idyllic and romanticized visions of Ireland, which contrasted with the economic realities faced by the cosmhuintir as well as with the visions of Éirinn that are embedded in Gaelic modes of knowing such as amhráníocht and scéalíocht. As such, this project enacts and practices a decolonial move by recentering the resistance that the cosmhuintir were enacting through their continued practicing of Gaelic modes of knowing and Gaelic sensing.
In previous research in the westernized/anglicized university these three projects have not been examined together, as a triadic project that co-constructed and reformulated power in the domain of aesthetics and epistemology. Rather they have been studied separately with a dearth of research on how they mutually informed each other. This project investigates their linkages. It views the triadic projects as having an effect on the structures of knowledge, art and taste that are still unfolding within present Irish space and aesthetics. Furthermore, this project demonstrates that it is imperative to understand the technological shifts in how the Gaelic Irish were seen in this period of time in order to fully understand the power dynamics unfolding around how Irish literature was constructed in the late 19th century and to understand the contexts that precede the current treatment of Gaelic epistemologies in the North and South of Ireland.
This project calls into question the way in which postcolonial studies on Ireland have tended to legitimate English letters and anglocentric/eurocentric epistemology as the entry points into questions about Irish history, how they have not taken seriously Gaelic epistemology and how they have reframed Irish literature to signify English-language literature written in Ireland. The thesis emphasizes that decolonial aesthesis, the reclaiming of the sensibilities of our colonized ancestors through the practicing of Gaelic oral knowledge can be a valid research method for studies that bear witness and testify about the coloniality of perception in Ireland.
*Éirí Amach – The 1798 rebellion
*na Péindlíthe – The Penal Laws
*Cosmhuintir – The ordinary people, the downtrodden
*an Drochshaol – The period of time between 1845 and 1852 in which millions of people starved and died on the island of Ireland.