, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 165-176
Date: 04 Sep 2009

“Only Not beyond Love”: Testimony, Subalternity, and the Famine in The Poetry of Eavan Boland

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Abstract

The poetry of Eavan Boland, Ireland’s leading woman poet, is marked by an acute awareness of the problems attendant on the recovery of the experience of subaltern or oppressed women. Rather than usurping the place of the other and presuming to speak for her, Boland’s work stages the poet’s attempt to gain access to the experience of the other and ponders the difficulties and contradictions involved in this endeavour. It does not so much perform an act of ventriloquism—it does not make the subaltern speak, to invoke Gayatri Spivak’s notorious question—as interrogate her silencing and bear witness to an experience that remains fundamentally irrecoverable. Through an analysis of a number of poems which commemorate the victims of the Famine (“The Achill Woman,” “Outside History,” “The Journey,” and “Fever”), I argue that at the heart of Boland’s testimonial project is an ethics of love—love, not as self-serving benevolence, narcissism, or fusion, but as a non-appropriative encounter with the other which calls the self into question. This ethical love manifests itself not in the poet’s recovery of the voices of subaltern women, but in her invention of a mode of writing that bears witness to its own incapacity of recovering what lies outside history.