Heaney and the neighbour: poetry between politics and ethics
Carville, C. (2014) Heaney and the neighbour: poetry between politics and ethics. Textual Practice, 28 (4). pp. 571-592. ISSN 1470-1308
To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2013.858069
In this essay I argue that Heaney uses the figure of the neighbour to examine questions of otherness and cultural difference and their relationship to history and politics. The neighbour is of course a figure that has played a central role in Western philosophy and theology for centuries, from the Gospels and Kant to Freud and Lacan. It is also a concept to which Western poetry often returns, particularly in the work of Herbert, Clare, Eliot and Auden. Heaney too belongs to this tradition, in that his oeuvre contains many poems which consider the relationship between neighbours, and do so in ways profoundly suggestive for consideration of the relationship between historical events, social structures, cultural difference and psychic affect. In my essay I argue that Heaney sketches a profoundly materialist conception of subjectivity in its relationship with the Other. In doing so I contrast Heaney’s treatment of the neighbour, with its emphasis on questions of politics and locality, to the treatment of the neighbour in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.