ABSTRACT This essay shows how the Irish Famine (1845–1851)constituted a crisis of representation and memory not only for those who underwent and witnessed it but also for those who live in its wake. The Famine and its untold victims project specters that haunt the processes of modernization and progressive rationalization that catastrophe is often held to have enabled. For contemporary observers, the scenes of mass starvation produce the effect of an “indigent sublime”; the spectacle on a vast scale of humanity reduced to “bare life” exceeds the possibility of realistic representation, but the excess of representation is not accompanied by an enhancement of the powers of the subject.

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