Discourse and the Body

Velocity and Power
  • Jennifer M. Jeffers


In this chapter the body becomes more difficult to chart because fictional bodies whirl out of control and confound customary narrative, and produce another kind of sense. The body blurs the power grid, challenges our ability to understand and makes nonsense out of accepted or normal ways of acting and agency. The idea of velocity and power concentrates on three of the most bizarre, often comic, sometimes violent and unstable narratives in the contemporary Irish novel. These novels are John Banville’s Book of Evidence (1989), Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy (1992) and Breakfast on Pluto (1998). Politically demarcated, the gauging of velocity of the body is always coupled with the power grid, which attempts to sensor or squelch the very physicality of the body. After our focus on gender and bodies, especially with the topic of bodies over the boundary in chapter 3 and bodies that undergo erasure at the very point we attempt to interpret them in chapter 4, this chapter more exclusively concerns power and bodies, which, perhaps stereotypically, involves male-centered narrative discourses. The unusual and interesting aspect of each of these novels is that the male-dominated discourse is also a discourse outside the boundaries of a male power structure territory. Instead of the narratives reterritorializing power by validating traditional sense-making capabilities, each text utilizes different prose strategies that deterritorializes traditional sense through the movement both mimetically and stylistically. Thus, the novels formally produce a power and velocity that match the events and movement of the narrative mimetically.


Power Grid Biological Father Reading Strategy Narrative Technique Captive Bolt 


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  1. 1.
    See John Banville, The Book of Evidence (Warner: New York, 1991), p. 16. All subsequent page references are to this edition.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Tony E. Jackson, “Science, Art, and the Shipwreck of Knowledge: The Novels of John Banville,” Contemporary Literature, vol. 38, no. 3, 1997, pp. 510–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Brian Cosgrove, “Irish/Postmodern Literature: A Case of Either/Or?” Studies, vol. 88, no. 352 (Winter 1999), pp. 381–388.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 387. The interview was conducted by Hedwig Schall, “An Interview with John Banville,” The European English Messenger, vol. VI, no. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 13–19.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Joseph McMinn, “Versions of Banville: Versions of Modernism,” in Contemporary Irish Fiction: Themes, Tropes Theories, eds. Liam Harte and Michael Parker (St. Martins, 2000). See also McMinn’s John Banville: A Critical Study (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) and The Supreme Fictions of John Banville (Manchester UP, 1999), along with Rudiger ImhoFsJohn Banville: A Critical Introduction (Wolfhound Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Patrick McCabes The Butcher Boy (Warner: New York, 1997), p. 75. All subsequent page references are to this edition.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See John Scaggs, “Who is Francie Pig? Self-Identity and Narrative Reliability in The Butcher Boy.” Irish University Review, vol. 30, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2000), pp. 51–58.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    See Patrick McCabes Breakfast on Pluto (Picador: London, 1998), pp. 35–36. All subsequent page references are to this edition.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    See Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (Routledge, 1993), p. 96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 13.
    See Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow’s Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (U of Chicago, 1982), p. 171.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    See Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, trans. Robert Hurley (Random House, 1978), p. 153.Google Scholar

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© Jennifer M. Jeffers 2002

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  • Jennifer M. Jeffers

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