Structures of belonging: the poetry of Seamus Heaney

Williams, Kirsty (2003) Structures of belonging: the poetry of Seamus Heaney. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis is divided into three parts – Word, Body and Transubstantiation. Collectively these are the central motifs of Catholicism’s Eucharist. According to Scripture, Christ is the word made flesh. The Eucharist recalls his words and actions at the Last Supper when he shares bread and wine with his disciples and tells them that they are his body and blood. In the Catholic faith partaking of wine and bread during the communion of mass is believed to be a partaking of the real presence of Christ. By consuming the body (bread) and blood (wine) of Christ, the participating community symbolise their collective belonging in and to Christ. The Catholic Eucharist consequently explodes difference in a utopic leap of faith whereby transubstantiation conflates and reconciles language and physical being, sub specie eternitatis.

Whilst it is a religious formation, a relationship between word and body and their overlap also maps into preoccupations in recent philosophical and cultural theory which bear on Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Rather than converging word and body through a utopic leap of faith (transubstantiation), poststructuralism (following Saussure) posits an irreconcilable interstice between signifier and signified and (in the language of Derrida) infinitely defers meaning. Psychoanalysis (following Lacan) suggests desire is a consequence of the space between signifier and signified. Anthropological and sociological body theories (following Foucault) propose a disparity between corporeality and discursive constructions of bodies. Questions of a persistent gap in secular philosophy are therefore opposed to a sacred structure (converging word and body in a utopic leap of faith) that is most clearly marked and symbolised in the Catholic Eucharist. By appropriating this religious structure and these cultural theories, an ongoing secularisation of belonging in Heaney’s poetry emerges.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Carruthers, Gerry
Date of Award: 2003
Depositing User: Elaine Ballantyne
Unique ID: glathesis:2003-1748
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:46

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