A Postmodern Crisis of Irish Masculinity — Patrick McCabe’s Winterwood (2006)

  • Annabel Sheehan


A sense of liminality, strangeness and dread permeates Patrick McCabe’s 2006 novel Winterwood, a dark tale of nightmarish beasts, fantastical doubles and disjointed scraps of memory. In Winterwood, Freud’s concept of the return of the repressed and the indestructible nature of the unconscious2 is reflected through a fractured, hallucinogenic narrative of uncanny despair, where McCabe lays bare the impact that institutional sexual abuse, in tandem with rapid social change, can have on individual subjectivity. In this chapter, I wish to argue that this novel can be framed within the gendered reading of the cultural condition of postmodernism articulated by several contemporary feminist theorists who argue that the overwhelming masculinity of Enlightenment reason, which identified femininity and homosexuality as ‘other’, previously precluded the evolving, variable identity scripts common to postmodern texts.3 Luce Irigaray, for instance, compares the masculinity of Enlightenment discourse with the ‘temperamental, incomprehensible, perturbed and capricious’4 nature of femininity; characteristics that in postmodernism are frequently bestowed on the masculine subject. Stripped of his clearly defined place in a rapidly changing, post-feminist society, the masculine subject lacks agency and drive and reflects Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘schizo-subject’ — multiple, decentred and often ‘refusing to speak the word “I”’.5


Childhood Sexual Abuse National Identity Rapid Social Change Individual Subjectivity Irish Masculinity 
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    Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey (London: Penguin, 1919; 1991 edition), 217.Google Scholar
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    Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 103.Google Scholar
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    Nik Farrell Fox, The New Sartre: Explorations in Postmodernism (Bath: Bath Press, 2003), 30.Google Scholar
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    Patrick McCabe, Winterwood (London: Bloomsbury, 2006). Further page references to Winterwood in this chapter will be made in parentheses in the body of the text.Google Scholar
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    As suggested by Shirley Peterson. ‘Homeward bound: trauma, homesickness and rough beasts in O’Brien’s In the Woods and McCabe’s Winterwood’, New Hibernia Review 13 (4) (2009), 40–58.Google Scholar

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© Annabel Sheehan 2014

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  • Annabel Sheehan

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