Asymmetries: South Africa, Ireland, and Postcolonial Comparison
In introducing this special issue on South African and Irish literature and culture, this article offers a critical overview of the field of comparisons between these two former colonies. Though the cultural output of both sites is often figured as exceptional or incomparable, there is a constant drumbeat of popular comparisons between South Africa and Ireland, and the disciplines of history, political science, and conflict resolution have long compared Irish and South African trajectories in the twentieth century. Comparisons often rely on an assumed solidarity or affinity based on a shared colonial history, but the radically different economic and political realities of the two sites make such assumptions unstable. This introduction suggests that it is time for a more nuanced set of comparative studies that recognize the profoundly asymmetrical relations between South Africa and Ireland, as well as the potential limits of comparative practice, and yet the gains from bringing together two anomalous postcolonial case studies. Drawing on the work of Peter D. McDonald, the essay makes a case for listening carefully to the idiosyncrasies of a “tangled archive” of South African-Irish relations in order to shed light on what postcolonial comparison might look like in the twenty-first century.
Taylor and Francis
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