Sacred Weather
: Atmospheric Essentialism in the Fiction of John McGahern

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Is there such a thing as essential Irishness, something which can be encountered, on the one hand, as affect, and standardised on the other by political economy? A considerable number of artists, writers, theorists, critics, and citizens think so – even if they do not always phrase it in this way – and ‘Sacred Weather’ takes this possibility seriously. It also presents this possibility literally, in the sense of proposing an objective correlation for national feeling in national Stimmung, configured here as what Gayatri Spivak has called a ‘strategic essentialism’ in the rhetorical economy of postcolonial nationalism.
All ideological edifices, including nationalism, require a measure of affection to appeal to the would-be national subject: such a reliance on enjoyment leaves this edifice vulnerable to both the excessive play of enjoyment as a force which evades stable signification, and, paradoxically, to the ossification of affectionate identification as kitsch. Atmospheric essentialism is imagined literally as meteorology and metonymically as that which presents in cultural production as ‘ambient poetics’; Stimmung as affective and enjoyable encounter. Jouissance, or pure enjoyment, is the site of the decoupling of affect and ideology, and I am interested in exploiting this moment of decomposition, wherein the undertow of affection licensing an ideological position develops in excess of it. This theoretical position is outlined in Chapter One.
With this project, I propose to make a persuasive intervention in Irish literary and cultural studies by analysing the work of the novelist John McGahern (1934-2006) as it reacts with this libidinal investment in aesthetic Irishness. Subsequent chapters stage experimentally ambient and psycho-analytic readings of McGahern’s work to this end.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Kirkland (Supervisor) & Jane Elliott (Supervisor)

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