Tearing Down the Walls That Hold Them Inside: U2 and the Irish Desire for Transcendence

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“In Race of Angels: The Genesis of U2, rock critic John Waters insists that, because two of the band’s four musicians were born outside of the country to British parents, there is nothing fundamentally Irish about the band from Dublin. Subsequently, in their critical essay “Irish Culture: The Desire for Transcendence,” literary theorists Walentina Witoszek and Patrick E. Sheeran argue that Irishness is characterized by the longing for and rejection of transcendence, a quest that is responsible for much of what is compelling and influential in Irish art and life in the twentieth century. The pair contend that the Republic’s post-colonial condition drives the Irish need for autonomy, that insanity and religion are the only acceptable forms of escape from oppression, and that the barren landscape of western Ireland inspires passive creativity rather than active discovery. When examining Waters’ allegation through the lens of Witoszek and Sheeran’s theory, one can argue that, on the basis of U2’s work for universal human rights, Bono and Edge’s early “residence” in the fictional Lypton Village and later religious conversion, and the quartet’s lyrical inspiration vis a vis the American west, U2 is a logical manifestation of the Irish fixation with rescue and redemption and, therefore, demonstrates an Irishness in which transcendence is not only possible, but one that also stretches the limits of modernism in the late twentieth century.”

This paper was presented at the U2: TRANS Conference held in conjunction with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in April 2013. Please contact Arlan Hess for a hard copy of the text.