A Brief History of Ricorso
This website consists of a body of biographical records, bibliographical listings, and textual extracts from primary works and commentaries on them. Its contents have been compiled through a variet of methods including systematic surveys of existing reference works and a constant process of record in relation to a range of book notices, reviewing organs, and academic journals as well as routine reading, with - whenever possible - key exemplary passages from key texts and commentaries on them.
In addition, the opportunities of teaching and examining have allowed me to accrue a good deal of more focussed information in relation to some authors, while very many texts on a given author have rendered information or opinions about another, and these have always been recorded as far as possible (being, as James Joyce might say, the most evanescent of moments and, for that reason, often the most valuable.
Together with the compulsive urge to lose nothing and include everything that has been met with in the course of a reading life - an urge which seems even less sane at the end than it did at the beginning - the hope has always been to arrive at a synopsis of the findings of Irish literary scholarship since that field of enquiry grew into a distinct area of interest and attention within the wider discipline of English literary criticism with the emergence of the distinct field of Anglo-Irish studies.
Hence the name RICORSO. For, while this is a twenty-year-long compilation which might best be considered as an electronic scrapbook - as worthwhile and no more so than that suggests - it is also a homage to the achievement of Irish writers and literary critics along with their international counterparts in turning Irish studies into the highly-developed and fully-theorised area of cultural and intellectual research that it is today. An even deeper bow is made in these webpages to the membership of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures which came into existence in 1970 and especially to its founding genius, A. N. (Derry) Jeffares (See IASIL - online).
Irish literature, as a literary-historical entity, can be taken as referring to the literature of Ireland from the advent of letters in the fifth century to the present time. As such, it embraces two languages and their corresponding records: Irish and English. For the former the term Gaelic is sometime used, if thought derogatory in some quarters as belittling the older tradition and injuring its claim to primacy in national (or, at least, nationalist) terms. For many years the latter formation was known as Anglo-Irish literature - a term more recently restricted to a body of writing that more exactly pertains to the Anglo-Irish class during the colonial epoch - that is, a body of cultural representations produced by the politically-dominant class in the period before and after the Williamite War and ending with the formation of the modern Irish state.
RICORSO covers as much of both these bodies of writing as the ability of its editor permits, admitting a limited grasp of Gaelic in spite of - or perhaps because of - the Irish school-room and a glaring mismatch of mentalities involved in that encounter (mea culpa). It nevertheless reflects the supposition that older Irish literature either feeds into Anglo-Irish writing - as the leaders of the Irish literary revival liked to think - or that modern Irish literature significantly conforms, both in genres and substance with the general character of modern European literature which was primarily made manifest in Ireland through the medium of English, the majority language of the country if not the first national language in the eyes of the Constitution.
RICORSO is, above all else, an attempt to gather an encyclopaedic volume of information about Irish writing and Irish writers on the basis of a continual qui vive as regards literary sources of all kinds. It is also the result of a confessedly personal response to the amazing potential of information technology as this became manifest in the late 1980s. At that moment it seemed as if the use of electronic memory and digital recall, whether on hard-disk or in internet, would revolutionise the way in which we do scholarship, as to some extent it has - as, pointedly, it has revolutionised the way in which we do teaching and learning.
The website is divided into four main regions: Authors AZ, Bibliography, Library and Gateway. Of these, Authors AZ is the largest region by a long measure, containing more than 5,000 folders devoted to individual Irish writers, and often linked to longer extracts or even whole texts. Within each folder the information on each writer is set out under separate sections named Life, Works, Criticism, Commentary, Quotations, Reference and Notes. These correspond to biography, primary bibliography (works), secondary bibliography (criticism), actual remarks, representative extracts, scholarly citations, and miscellaneous information.
The Bibliography region contains the titles of books and journals listed annually and by topic. The Library contains a growing number of Classic Irish Texts - some protected by password. Also held there is a growing collection of reviews, interviews, and essays scanned from older sources, captured on internet (frequently from subscribed journals) or else supplied by their authors. The Gateway region is a rudimentary digital hub for Irish studies - that is, a hold-all of links roughly organised into classes such as Irish-study Centres, Libraries & Catalogues, Bibliographical Resources and subdivisions of the same.
In first launching RICORSO, the supposition was that a simple and traditional structure based on the alphabetical scheme of biographical dictionaries, with sub-divisions under each entry for the well-tried categories (Life, Works, Criticism, &c.) would serve to tie down everything in regard to classic texts and their authors considered needful by the interested reader and the student. Soon however both the methods of compilation and the kinds of copying involved led to the creation of separate regions in which records not subject to the law of the biographical dictionary could be conserved, and this resulted in bibliographical listings, digital collections, a portal giving access to other sites, and a website bulletin (now defunct) - all browsable in the same fashion.
The great strength of databases is their instantaneous return of data in response to given questions applied to the said fields. However, a browsable dataset was considered more suited to the purpose on the grounds that the kinds of information (or simply language) embedded in such a compilation was not intrinsically susceptible to categorisation by field - although the categories already mentioned might be regarded as fields just as well as headings. However, the installation of a powerful search engine aimed separately and jointly at each of the designated regions of this website, together with the addition of frequent links from one region to another (especially in connection with new research outcomes or discoveries), more than adequately makes up the deficit of a non-database design while retaining the browsing aspect of the whole collection.
Sources & copyright
The majority of texts excerpted or represented in full within RICORSO have been manually copied from printed works even if, inevitably, an ever-rising proportion is being captured from digital sources on internet today. No payment is sought from visitors for access to these records and, where a given text is known to be in copyright, it is protected from access by password pending negotiations with its owner(s). In general the RICORSO website is subject to the principle of fair use as laid down by the Society of Authors - i.e., 400 words by way of illustration in a secondary work without copyright liability attaching thereto.
In view of the difficulties involved in such practices, it is envisaged that - subject to the necessary funding and management conditions - a régime of permissions and commissions will be established enabling all such contents to be made available on the basis of payments to their legitimate owners. Pending such arrangements, those visiting RICORSO are asked to comply with the Terms & Conditions set out at the entry-point to the website. In brief, these stipulate that any infringement will be remedied as soon as notification is received via email and that no visitor to RICORSO will take legal action against its owner without a reasonable opportunity to rectify any known errors and eliminate any perceived cause for offence.
Lastly ... why Ricorso?
RICORSO takes its name and motto (eclectrically filtered for all Irish earths and ohmes) from Finnegans Wake - James Joyces encyclopedic masterpiece in which all of human culture is woven into a pattern that strangely emulates the Great Memory of the Kabbala remodelled in the pattern of a universal history under the tutelage of Giambattista Vico. (In this case, of course, a peculiarly Irish universe.) In a similar spirit - though without any pretensions to such an imagination as Joyces - I have attempted to mirror the owl globe of Irish culture as it stands in my own time on the website with an unmistakeably Joycean name.
Such a claim immediately raises questions of methodology and value. Is the resultant corpus truly representative, and - if not (as I believe) - what might a systematic survey of any literature look like? What guiding principles are involved in the process of selection? What conception of canonicity, of major and minor literature is involved? What are the cultural and political implications of a chronological and alphabetical surview of Irish (or any) literature, and what philosophical presuppositions are hidden in it, or revealed by, such an undertaking? Does every literature capture or reflect a national essence, and is nationality an important and defining characteristic in relation to the thing that literature really is?
These are far from imponderable or uninteresting questions but they have little bearing on the actual structure of the website, or - rather - with the way in which it came about and functions on a day-to-day basis. The actual method of compilation has been dictated by its origins as a means of recording and consolidating the findings lodged in a wide range of existing reference works, literary histories, key monographs and articles, review organs, as well as the original texts themselves. The result is a kind of rationalised scrapbook organised horizontally by regions and vertically by types of information.
It is also a monument to the belief that the gift of electronic technology has afforded a unique means of recording a personal odyssey in Irish literature, without contesting the idea that the analytical and intuitive response characteristic of the capable reader and the complete critic is always superior to any form of encyclopaedism (aspired to or achieved). RICORSO is both a summation and a point of departure. In Joycean terms - once again - a cropse and a seedfather at the same time. As such, it is only of value in so far as it permits interpretative ideas to sprout and grow, to seek affinities elsewhere in the literature and to carry forward the tradition of though which is Irish criticism today.