Between words and meaning: The translations of Brian Friel, Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is concerned with the 'decolonisation of the imagination' as represented in two original plays by Brian Friel and his three translations of Chekhov and Turgenev. In various ways these five works reflect upon contemporary Irish experience and the history which influenced it. The study focuses upon Friel's strategies of decolonisation, particularly the role of translation as enquiry in relation to human communication and understanding, and explores how the language of his plays contributes to a proposed aesthetic independence of the Irish. I maintain that Friel' s advocacy of a critical aesthetic of differences has not been adequately recognised by critical authorities. This assertion is developed throughout the analysis of these five plays, which examine recurring paradigms, and forces of change. In 1980, Friel's dramatic grasp of the conflict engendered by inherited and imposed paradigms found its fullest expression in Translations. Dealing with the forces of change, and especially the effect of the English language and the comprehensive re-naming of Irish localities, Translations suggests that the wasting of the local represents the wasting of a national being unless, through transformation, accommodation of differences is embraced. Intent upon encouraging aesthetic independence and a critical climate within which to interrogate the contemporary crisis in Ireland, and privileging Hiberno-English over 'standard' English, Friel re-presented the enquiries of Chekhov and Turgenev into conflict engendered by change. Then, examining the same forces in Dancing at Lughnasa, Friel created a play showing an affinity with Chekhov but radical in its critique of and departure from the Irish dramatic tradition and fundamental Irish values. Friel maintains that English aesthetic conventions (including the notion of 'standard' English), while rich in themselves, are redundant in relation to Irish experience and counter to independent Irish representation. How he proceeds to re-appropriate Chekhov and Turgenev from 'standard' English conventions, re-creating them as 'stepping stones' in a decolonisation process, forms not only an important part of this thesis but also part of the wider recension of the writing of Ireland.