Declan Kiberd: Commentary


Inventing Ireland [Convergences: Inventories of the Present, ser. ed., Edward W. Said] (Harvard UP 1996), 736pp.
Short critiques

Harvard UP publisher’s notice: ‘In a book unprecedented in scope and approach. Declan Kiberd offers a vivid account of the personalities and texts - English and Irish alike - that reinvented Ireland after centuries of colonialism. The result is a major literary history of modern Ireland, combining detailed and daring interpretations of literary masterpieces with assessments of the wider role of language, sport, clothing, politics, and philosophy in the Irish revival.’

Brian Friel: ‘An act of exuberant Creativity. Nimbly, skillfully, and almost with a sense of near-wonderment at his own discoveries, Kiberd explores the continuities between Irish past and Irish present.’

Seamus Deane: ‘The most comprehensive critical account of Irish writing yet written ... It is a highly contemporary document that helps to establish the way in which the category of Irish Studies could be comprehended and understood.’

Philip O’Leary: ‘This ia a marvellous and seminal book by one of the most important and influential critics of Irish, and indeed now post-colonial, literature currently at work ... There is simply nothing quite like it available in the field.’

Edward Said: ‘A highly readable, joyfully contentious book whose enormous leaming and superb understanding of the literary text will introduce readers for the first time to a remarkably lively panorama of Irish culture during the last century ... A dazzling, bravura performance.’


W. J. McCormack
Suman Gupta
David Krause
Peter McDonald
Gerry Smyth
Brian Fallon
Ulick O’Connor
Denis Donoghue
Colin Graham
Thomas Flanagan
Patricia Craig
Alan Titley
Joe Cleary
Vera Kreilcamp
Shaun Richards
Morrison & Fadden
Alan Roughley
Liam Harte
Roy Foster
John Killeen
Claire Connolly
Lachlan MacKinnon
Justin Beplate
Lawrence Osborne
 
See also Paul Murphy, ‘J. M. Synge and the Pitfalls of National Consciousness’, in Theatre Research International, 28 [Cambridge Online Journals] (28 July 2003) [link].

W. J. McCormack, ‘Terence Brown and the Historians’, in The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput 1986): Declan Kiberd is more secular [than Richard Kearney]. Ireland and England are his juggling toys. Wilde and Shaw the jugglers. Kiberd is strongly against the antithesis whereby people make “absolute divisions” not just between English and Irish, but also between men and women, good and evil. … (p.7.) His characterisation of ulster Protestantism as “barbarous vulgarity and boot-faced sobriety” (p.22) belies this incipient dialectic.’ (McCormack, p.57; note that ‘boot-faced’ is also instanced in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, 24.)

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Suman Gupta, ‘What colour’s Jew Joyce …: Race in the Context of Joyce’s Irishness and Bloom’s Jewishness’, in Bullán, 1, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.59-82: ‘This is where the recent introductions for the Penguin edition of Ulysses written by Declan Kiberd (1992), and for the section on Joyce in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing written by Seamus Deane (1991), come in. These are both attempts at asserting the Irishness of James Joyce. […] However, whereas Gorman and Duff asserted Joyce’s Irishness on national-racial grounds which were not ostensibly political, Deane’s and Kiberd’s assertion is clearly based on an understanding of Irishness as political consciousness. […] With these arguments Deane and Kiberd hope to settle the debate on Joyce’s Irishness - and they may well have done so.’ (p.65; see further under Joyce.)

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David Krause, ‘The De-Yeatsification Cabal’, rep. in Jonathan Allison, Yeats’s Political Identies (Michigan UP 1996), pp.293-307: [after quoting Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s exoneration of Yeats from the charge of fascism, :] ‘Although these enlightened comments absolve Yeats of the taint of racial discrimination, Declan Kiberd, borrowing [Seamus] Deane’s charge of colonialism, joined the de-Yeatsification cabal by accusing the poet of a “racial slur” against the Irish themselves. In 1986 when he was the director of the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, Kiberd, in his opening talk, ‘Why the Irish Are Still Searching for Themselves’, reported in The Irish Times (12 Aug. 1986), told the group of international students assembled to study and celebrate the poet’s work, that Yeats had prevented the Irish people from becoming themselves. As a “colonialist,” he claimed, Yeats had “denied the Irish personality the right to know itself,” as a result of his “idealisation of the past and the revival of ancient traditions”.’ Quotes: ‘Nowhere is this more evident than in Yeats’s hopeless rehabilitation of the modes of Irish deference. The English had deemed the Irish backward, superstitious and uncivilised, but Yeasts said that for “backward” read “healthily rooted in tradition,” for “superstitious” read “religions”, for “uncivilised” read “instinctive”. Thus the sracial slur was sanitised and worn with pride.’ Krause remarks: ‘it is ludicrous to blame Yeasts for centuries of British domination and discriminations, and Kiberd’s catalogue of deferential and demeaning euphemisms is drawn from typical British and Irish Protestant prejudice, not from Yeats’s poems and plays. This is crude and transparent trickery aimed at Yeats’s affected aristocratic manner, which in Kiberd’s manufactured phrases becomes an unconscionable parody of the poet’s genuine attempt to idealise and the ancient Celtic traditions … Kiberd is trying to mock, an aim he shares with Deane.’: (pp.299-300; for Cullingford, see Yeats, supra.)

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Colm Tóibín, ‘Playboys of the GPO’, review of Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, in London Review of Books (Nov. 1995), pp.14-16: ‘[...] Kiberd loves playing with paradoxes, oppositions and juxtapositions. Whenever the word “periphery” appears in this book, it will almost certainly, by the next sentence, have become the “centre”, and the past the future (“The past is the only certifiable future we have,” Kiberd quotes Carlos Fuentes as saying), just as women will become men and vice versa (this is a major theme), Protestants will become Catholics and vice versa (one chapter is called “Protholics and Cathestants”) and, of course, England will become Ireland (Chapter 1 is entitled “A New England Called Ireland?”). This results in a good deal of fine writing and exciting analysis, but the playing with fixity is, at times, a mask for some very old-fashioned views on Irish nationalism and Irish history. / Kiberd tells us that Clontarf in Dublin is “the site of a famous victory by which the Irish had terminated Viking power in Europe”. There is a good reason why there is no footnote here: there is no evidence for this statement. It is the sort of thing which was included in school history books up to the Sixties, but even using the term ‘the Irish' here is misleading. / In a book so concerned with flux and non-binary systems, such phrases fall with a dull thud. Later, without explanation or justification, Kiberd uses the phrase “occupied Ireland” about Ireland in 1907. This is a phrase which might appear now and again in IRA propaganda, but it cannot be thrown casually into a book full of sophisticated distinctions. Elsewhere, Kiberd refers to the Dublin of Ulysses as “an occupied city”. It is hard not to feel that it was occupied by Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan and others too numerous to mention. Later, he writes: “After all, one of the first policies formulated by the Norman occupiers was to erase Gaelic culture.” Once again, there is no footnote, no explanation. A few hundred pages earlier, through the medium of Joyce, he had acknowledged that “the Irish” had roots all over the place (he lists Scandinavia, Normandy, Spain, England): how come the Normans, then, were “occupiers”?’ (Available at LRB - online.)

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Peter McDonald, ‘The Function of Criticism at the Present Time: Arnold and Irish Culture’, in Irish Review, 23 (Winter 1998), pp.94-104: ‘[…] somehow, in Irish literary discourse, a sense of Arnold’s relevance persists, and expresses itself in a rejection or an indignation that ought to be, by now, redundant.’ (p.96; goes on to make a critical analysis of Declan Kiberd’s use of Arnold in Inventing Ireland, 1995; p.30); comments on Kiberd’s ‘conviction that Irish history - now and for ever - boils down to one “revolution”’, and calls the ‘attack on Arnold .. curiously unconvincing’ (p.97); ‘critical questions must be asked of such positions as Kiberd’s, and they will continue to be asked even when no replies seem to be forthcoming.’ (p.96); ‘Critical questions must be asked of such positions as Kiberd’s, and they will continue to be asked even when no replies seem to be forthcoming. In what sense, for example, is ‘first-hand experience’ a criterion in discussing Irish matters? Does ‘first-hand experience’ of Ireland and the Irish (even the ‘real’ Irish) help or hinder a just critical approach to (say) literature written in Ireland or by Irish people? What is literature if it requires a particular, localised, historicised and politicised ‘experience’ in order to be rightly understood? If criticism cannot operate without ‘first-hand experience’, what can it do? While Arnold had no ‘first-hand experience’ of Celtic literature, he never visited (even as a ‘tourist’) the times and places of Dante, or Sophocles, or Shakespeare; just as Declan Kiberd can enjoy no ‘first-hand experience’ of Arnold, or of Dublin or London in 1867; just as, in fact, we have no ‘first-hand experience’ of the nineteenth century, and as the end of the twenty-first century will have no ‘first-hand experience’ of us.Whatever arguments critics may have about the notion of posterity or the history of that concept, it is clear that literature in some sense persists, sticks around, while its circumstances fall away and can be only imperfectly recovered. It is for this reason, at least, that criticism is something other than contemporary comment, and this is why criticism cannot allow ‘first-hand experience’ to become in itself a sign of critical value.’ (p.96); cites Arnold’s response to Adderly [giving the passage on Wragg], and comments: ‘The Anglo-Saxon race is a particular target at this point […] it is all the more remarkale, then, to find Declan Kiebrd including among “Arnoldian ideas”, “the more insulting clichés of Anglo-Saxonist theory”. This is to confuse Arnold with Adderly, and to read against the grain, not only of Arnold’s essays and works like Culture and Anarchy, but of On the Study of Celtic Literature itself. There is no sense, that can be arrived at by alamost any tortuous twist of interpretation, in whcih Arnold’s writings promote an “Anglo-Saxonist” ideology; but they do, undoubtedly, speak from a specificaloly English context, and speak also, on occasion, form that context about the Irish, but this is quite another matter. For Kiberd, “English” becomes “Anglo-Saxonist” by a process of natural association, and this process, while it ideologically sanctioned and conditioned, owes nothing to “criticism”, and is ultimately vulnerable to the approaches of “criticism”.

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Gerry Smyth, ‘Irish Studies, Postcolonial Theory and the “New” Essentialism’, in Irish Studies Review, 7, 2 [Irish Studies and Postcolonial Theory Issue] (August 1999), pp.211-20: ‘[…] comparing Declan Kiberd’s 1984 essay “Inventing Irelands” with his blockbusting Inventing Ireland published just over a decade later.In the arlier piece Kiberd emerged as a fierce opponent of that version of nationalism which at the time was still colouring every aspect of post-Partition Ireland. It was in this context that he criticised Yeats’s [214] continuing hold on the Irish imagination (as well as academia’s support of that hold), and the derivatiness of those nationalists who ‘found nothing better to do with their new freedom than to duplicate the British system. (‘Inventing Irelands’, p.21). In this manner he invoked (albeit non-systematically) a argument that would become postcolonial orthodoxy later in the decade. / As revisionism began to register in Irish life throughout the 1980s, however, Kiberd has been forced to backtrack somewhat so that his angry queries from within the fold are not mistaken for an assault from without. The analysis of Translations (pp.614-23), in the later text, for example takes place in the contexst of reviionsist critques (for which he was partly responsible) which see Friel’s work as symptomatic of Field Day’s misguided nostalgia. [214]; ‘here and throughout the volume, Kiberd is in fact forced to walk a very thin line between disavowal and identification: disavowal of the misconceptions and blindspots of that particular form of Irishness which emerged from (or as a result of) the revolutionary period; identification with the fundamental aims of the revolutionary project itself. As a consequence, Inventign Ireland takes as its focus not what is wrong with nationalism but what went wrong with the Irish version of nationalism, and what cause the misprisions and mirecognitions that so blighted the post-revolutionary era … his essentialism is not so much strategic as pragmatic.’ (p.214-15.)

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Brian Fallon, ‘What we did when the colonists left’, review of Inventing Ireland, in The Irish Times (, 25 Jan. 1997): ‘Though written by a respected Eng. Lit. academic, this is not at all an academic book; it is rather a work of sustained polemic, almost wilfully prolix, often hunting hares to left and right, and thought-provoking in many of its intelletual and criticial stances’; notes that he treats Behan as an important writer; gives space to ‘currently fashionable trio of poets, MacGreevy, Devlin and Coffey’, but ignores F. R. Higgins, Patrick MacDonagh, Donagh MacDonagh, &c., ‘who do not fit into the present revisionist canon’; a sort of personalised thesis … [it] bristles with intellectual vitality.’

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Ulick O’Connor, review Inventing Ireland, in Sunday Independent, ‘Leisure’ (4 Feb. 1996) L8: ‘Declan Kiberd explores the reason for [this] dominance of Irish writers in the twentieth century in the English language’; Kiberd maintains that the English assessment of 1916 ‘as a poet’s rebellion conceals the fact that it was an assertion by a modernising élite that the time had come to end such stereo-typing’; sees Yeats as ‘simply the first major intellectual to lead his followers in darkness down the now familiar road of de-colonisation’; makes no claim for nationalism itself as a fruitful stimulant to the imagination; ‘the reactive nationalism that saw Ireland as not-England would have to give way to an identity which was self-constructed and existentially apt’; O’Connor compares Kiberd to Dr. Roger McHugh, ‘his only peer’; judges that Kiberd has now ‘taken the whole floor show, so to speak, in this splendid book […] a brave wee task […] More power to him!’

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Denis Donoghue, review of Inventing Ireland (Irish Times, 1. Nov. 1995), p.8; ‘this book is a manifesto in the form of a treatise […] claiming to apply to modern Irish culture the theory of decolonisation in Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961)’; quotes Kiberd’s measure and means of liberation: ‘by performing their own acts of translation and retranslation […] by writing their own histories and then rewriting them.’

[See also under Donoghue, infra - and Donoghue’s ‘Fears for Irish Studies in an Age of Identity Politics’, in Chronicle of Higher Education, 44, 13 (21 Nov. 1997) - taking post-colonialist critics to task for inappropriate application of ‘identity politics’ to Irish literature; attached.]

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Colin Graham, ‘Post-Colonial Theory and Kiberd’s “Ireland”’, Irish Review, No. 19 (Spring/Summer 1996), pp.62-67; characterises the work as worthy accomplishment in bridging a gap between academic and public discourse in ther field of post-colonial criticism, but inadequate in regard to current developments; notes use of post-colonial theory, notions of hybridity and highlighting his frequent reference to works by Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi and Edward Said. [Graham participated with Edna Longley, Chairperson, Carla di Petri, Robert Tracy, and others in a living review of the work at IASIL 1997]

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Thomas Flanagan, ‘The Literature of Resistance’, review of Inventing Ireland [1995] (New York Times, 17 March 1996), p.6: quotes [on the slums of Dublin], ‘Such a setting dictated the controlling mood of the Dublin plays, each of which is a study in claustrophobia, in the helpless availability of persons, denied any right to privacy and doomed to live in one another’s pockets. many of O’Casey’s poetic speeches are attempts by characters to create a more spacious world in the imagination than the drab, constricted place in which they are expected to live. In that respect, O’Casey is an heir to Synge, who had found the rich idiom of the peasantry an implicit critique of a monochrome world.’; A literature doesn’t become post-colonial only when the occupier has withdrawn, ‘Rather it is initiated at the very moment when a native writer formulates a text committed to cultural resistance.’ It is well to recognise - despite current critical fashions - that certain masterpieces do float free of their enabling conditions to make their home in the world. Ireland, precisely because its writers have been fiercely loyal to their own localities, has produced a large number of these masterpieces, and in an extraordinarily concentrated phase of expression.’ Flanagan holds that Kiberd’s wit, paradox and almost indecent delight in verbal juggling places Mr Kiberd himself in a central Irish literary tradition, a tradition that also includes Swift, Joyce and Beckett. He resembles that stereotype of the Irish writer “invented” by Ireland’s imperial masters - [‘]impudent, eloquent, full of jokes and irreverence, by turns sardonic and conciliatory, blithely subversive but, without warning, turning to display wide and serious reading, generosity of spirit, a fierce and authentic concern for social and political justice.’ He also points out errors such as the confusion of Cavendish with Burke, and the contention that charges of homosexuality were brought at Casement’s trial. Ends. ‘Mr. Kiberd’s reamarkable achievement may seem to fall within the modish academic enterprise “cultural studies”, which too often seems a kind of same house where theorists with tin ears can give solace to one another. But his own ear is splendid, and he is careful to place a distance between himself and fashionable cultural theorists in words that a few years ago would have been unnecessary, but in the present climate are almost flamboyant: “It is wise to recognise - despite current critical fashions - that certain masterpieces do float free from their enabling conditions to make their own home in the world. Ireland, precisely because its writers have been fiercely loyal to their own localities, has produced a large number of these masterpieces, and in an extraordinarily concentrated phase of expression.” It is heartening to find an academic critic talking about masterpiefes and writing in celebration of them.’ [Update 2000.]

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Patricia Craig, ‘The Republic of words’, review of Inventing Ireland (Cape [1995]), 719pp.; comments that Kiberd is better at ‘locating them [classic Irish revival texts] within an historical an cultural context than he is at bringing an inspired understanding to bear on individual texts’; takes Kiberd to task for failing to assign to its author, Hubert Butler, the aperçu regarding Elizabeth Bowen that ‘her truest sense of herself may have come when she was in motion, crossing from one country to the other’; laments exclusion of literature of northern Troubles, and the omission of Louis MacNeice, and Michael Longley, though Heaney, Montague, and Brian Friel are mentioned; Paulin is altogether excluded: ‘The north is badly served, and this indicates a certain bias, an editing out of whatever can’t be fitted into the “decolonialisation” theme’; Craig goes on, ‘the modern nation basically boils down to the 32 counties’ [err. for 26] and Kiberd provides among other things an exemplary summarising of events in the republic since partition (Guardian Weekly, 3 March 1996, p.29).

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Alan Titley, review of Inventing Ireland, in Books Ireland (April 1996), remarks, in the course of a thorough endorsement of the central thesis and an emphatic response to the rhetoric of the book, ‘This book is based on the eminently sensible premise that all colonised countries have a great deal in common and their literatures will therefore be forged out of roughly analogous circumstances’ (p.100.)

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Joe Cleary, review of Inventing Ireland (1995), in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1996), pp.19-20: The ambition, some would say the hubris, of Kiberd’s 700-page volume is that, despite these divisions [viz, foregoing discussion of ruptures in colonial interpretation of Irish history and society] it is determined to go beyond the essayistic raid into this deeply fissured cultural landscape in order to forge some kind of metanarrative capable of encompassing the totality of modern Irish literary production’; ‘In a sense Kiberd “solves” this particular difficulty [which model of colonialism and decolonialisation to chose] without ever directly addressing it, by drawing on the work oof Franz Fanon […] whih sets out a seires of theses concerning the different phases oin the development of revolutionary national consciousness in decolonising societies’; ‘With Synge, the mature Yeats, and Joyce - the real heroes of Kiberd’s narrative - we enter the most radical phase of revolutionary consciousness, the moment when the native artist is content neither with metropolitan nor with traditional forms and instead, responding to the passionate intensity of the colonised people’s struggle, works with native subject matter to forge entirely new aesthetic styles’; ‘Ireland in the 1990’s is sometimes presented, in a manner which recalls his presentation of the Ireland of the 1890s, as a phrase of groping renewal’; ‘Even on its own terms, the conceptual apparatus that - informs Inventing Ireland is not without its difficulties. On a literary level, the modernist aesthetic which allowed some of the major Irish writers to remain at a rather oblique angle to national politics is more difficult to reconcile with Fanon’s call for a popular revolutionary art than Kiberd admits. […] On a more political level the Fanonian model of decolonization that informs Inventing Ireland was developed with African and Algerian struggles in mind. But these were for the most part administrative colonies, exploited but relatively settled, whereas Ireland was the site for mass settler colonialism where neither settler nor native community fully gave way before the other, and which consequently generated, somewhat like South Africa or Palestine, problems of decolonisation, democratization and postcolonial state-building of a much more intractable kind than Fanon addresses. […] One symptom of this problem is that [19] Inventing Ireland has surprisingly little to say about Northern Ireland and that state and its literature are poorly integrated into the larger narrative. […] Kiberd seems content to sketch parallels between Ireland and elsewhere in a somewhat cavalier manner’; ‘Its limitations notwithstanding Inventing Ireland is a maor contribution to Irish studies’; ‘Irish studies, he argues, must also come to terms with the fact that Ireland, initialy because of its incorporation into the UK state system, later by virtue of its close links with its diaspora community in the US, has fould itself in an unusually intimate relationship with the two major imperial powers in modern history […] imbricat[ed] in the wider imperial cultures of modern times.’

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Vera Kreilcamp, review of Inventing Ireland [printed in tandem with Cleary], in ILS (Fall 1996), p.20: […] Kiberd develops and interrogates a reading of Ireland as another subject country, the periphery territory colonised, suppressed, feminised, and infantilised by an imperial system operating from a distant metropolitan centre’; ‘Kiberd’s title gets to the heart of his thesis. As members of a country colonised for seven hundred years, the later nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century writers of the Irish cultural revival literally invented their nation, forming a vision of autonomous identity decades before political independence from England’; ‘Kiberd locates Irish post-colonial theory in writing occurring not only after independence but in “the very moment when a native writer formulates a text committed to cultural resistance”’ [Kiberd, p.6]; ‘By placing the Irish predicament in a comparative context, Kiberd subtly undermines a contemporary Eurocentric Ireland’s uneasiness with its history of decolonisation’; ‘The writer’s task in the late-nineteenth century was to contest and offer alternatives to the imperial definition of the Irish’; ‘In Synge’s play, Kiberd identifies a revolutionary vision of androgynous gender roles, and a radical image of individual rebellion and self-creation […] if the themes and language of The Playboy embodied the literary revival’s capacity to inscribe liberation [sic; no object], the riots […] underscored the inability of a nationalist audience to transcend a reactive identity’; ‘Kiberd illustrates how the inferiority complex instilled in a subject population about its own traditions was aggressively contested by Irish-speaking cutlural nationalists in the Gaelic league or alternatively, by attempts to impose the patterns of Irish on the English languge through the creation of a Hiberno-English dialectic’; ‘Kiberd speculates that in the light of post-colonial failures in Africa and elsewhere, the loss of the Irish language may well account for recurring periods of stagnation and cultural confusion in the nation’s history’; ‘Inventing Ireland will displease those committed to condemning all nationalism out of hand but this bold but scrupulous cultural history suggests the complex sources of Ireland’s impressive contemporary achievements.’ [END.]

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Shaun Richards, ‘Starting Bloch’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp.93-96: ‘While Kiberd provides trenchant readings of many canonical authors such as Shaw, Lady Gregory, Joyce, Bowen, Beckett and Behan and delivers a penetrating critique of Sean O’Casey, it is Yeats and Synge, the twin strike force of the Literary Renaissance, who pervade the text, not only through their own substantial chapters but rising again in those on more recent moments where their example becomes a touchstone of critical, decolonising practice. This creates a disappointment in readers hoping for more than a mention of Tom Murphy and a fuller appreciation of the richness of contemporary Irish poetry; indeed the critical years 1960-90 are covered in just over twenty pages which have to do service for all the genre current in that period, including film. That this chapter also includes the book’s only substantial section on Heaney is indicative of the general orientation of the seven hundred or so pages. It is only Friel from the contemporary moment who is accorded chapters largely dedicated solely to his work. The relative paucity of coverage of the contemporary is created by Kiberd’s basic premise that the texts of the past are “signposts standing on a shattered road to a future”. Friel is then in part as much exemplary as exceptional in that he, like Benjamin’s “angel of history” to whom he is compared, is always turned against the future into which he is propelled. But it is part of the book’s political and theoretical position that it should be so, for despite the forward impulse of the critical narrative, this constant circling back to “the source”, namely the promises and expectations of the Renaissance,creates a sense that there is unfinished business on the agenda.’ [94]; ‘Inventing Ireland is a book whose pages appear unproblematic to traverse but whose sometimes complex thinking lies deeply buried, found often in brief references which echo within the writing of the Subaltern Studies Group as much as that of the Frankfurt School. Frequently, as in a reference to an internal Field Day debate on the role of history and memory, Kiberd suggests in a sentence possibilities that would take a chapter to adequately analyse. The originality, and value, of the book lies not so much in its frequently insightful readings of individual texts, nor in its synoptic coverage, through inter-chapters, of the material realities of the Ireland within which art functions. Its main contribution to Irish Studies lies in its commitment to a methodology of textual interpretation based on the social efficacy of art and a faith that possibilities can be realised, promises can be redeemed, and that the repository of national potential lies in the art of the past, not as exhibits in a museum to be visited and genuflected before, but as in a foundry where all individuals and all aspects of Ireland are still like soft wax, ready to take as many multiple shapes as they determine.’ [96]

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Andrew Morrison & Aidan Fadden, interview with Declan Kiberd, Matrix [QUB] (April 1999), ppp.10-18; argues that the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t pay enough attention to culture; ‘I think we need to took at the document as a postcolonial document where we’re admitting for the first time, formally, that identity is hybrid, dialogic, a matter of perpetual negotiation.’ (p.11); politicians should look to writers like Synge, Wilde, and Yeats; ‘historiains, who are undeniably a very powerful shcool of writers, have, in the last forty years here in Ireland, underestimated the importance of culture just as the politicians have done.’ (p.11); ‘research should always be put at the service of the community’; regards ‘jargon-ridden language, including postcolonial writing’ as ‘a tragedy’ (p.12); adverts to his father as a sort of ‘typical reader’ (pp.12); ‘the greatest single mystery [of the literary renaissance] to me remains the fact that it was conducted on a shoestring, that the main protagonists were very poor - or at least most of them were.’; ‘the Irish case is very peculiar because you had awesome cultural self-confidence, such as Joyce, in a small bedsit with two noisy kinds, who began to create the cathedral like structure of Ulysses . Or, people in the Gaelic League saying there is a demonstrable link between speaking your own language, economic activity, and self-confidence. Yet, we know that though these people tackled and removed the greatest Empire the world had every known [12], and though they created one of the great renaissances of art, they did not achieve economic self-sufficiency. Something as bland and limited as that eluded them, even though they did all those other great things. There are various reasons …’ (pp.12-13); ‘What may actually happen, and this is pure speculation, is that there will be another cultural revival but this will be based on economic success rather than economic stringency in the way the last one was. / You can assign a set of motives to people like Joyce, that would be similar to what you would assign to the rebels of 1916 - that they all had a good education under the colonial system but then they did not have career outlets commensurate with their education, and that is a formula not just for uprising but for literary modernism.’ (p.13); questions Gerry Dawe’s concern that the current ease of access to publication is bad for Irish writing (p.13); refuses to distinguish between Ireland north and south: ‘I don’t ever make that distinction. I suppose I’m a United Irishman of some kind, and it would be against my principles to do so.’ (p.14); ‘I think that Conor Cruise O’Brien was right, that even if there isn’t a single Irish mind there is certainly a predicament that produces common characteristics in those caught up in it.’ (p.15); cites Andrew Carpenter’s [here Cartner] phrase, “a literature of double vision”; ‘I’m not in the business of dividing what is already a very small island’ (p.15); ‘One of my theories that I’ve been working on recently is that Nationalism made more ground in areas which were English speaking, because it was what filled the void after the evaporation of the Irish language. […; 15] It was in places like Meath and Kildare that the IRA, in the early twentieth century, made gains and took recruits. There are very interesting accounts of how the IRA made no recruits in the Irish speaking parts of Connemara, but there were dozens in Meath and Kildare. What this shows you is that nationalism in the latter nineteenth-century filled the vacuum left by the Irish language.’ (pp.15-16); also refers to his own experience in Gaeltachts; takes credit for inviting Said, Spivak, and Eagleton to Sligo Yeats Summer School, 1985-87; criticises Deane’s view of Yeats’s so-called pathology of literary unionism’; ‘it was very important for Said to come in and say “No”, that Yeats was regarded as exemplar by third world writers, as someone who would show them how to learnedly decolonise the mind through poetry. This project caused internal debates within the Irish left, if you want to call it that, or the Irish Nationalist movement or whatever it was’ (p.16); discusses opposition to postcolonialism in UCD in the early 1990s: ‘We had a real struggle to keep it alive’; shares in criticism of American tendency to ‘use it as a career move’ (p.17); quotes Luke Gibbons’ account of Ireland as “a First World culture with a Third World memory” (p.17); similar remarks on Roddy Doyle, mentions Jesse Jackson’s observation that the Third World coexists alongside ultra-development in parts of the USA; ‘this is a problem for people who wish to keep it simple and would like to think that all European, white males were part of the exploitation, rather than being some way being part of the solution. We have to keep chipping away […] ’ (p.18).

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Alan Roughley, review of Inventing Ireland: The Literature of a Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), in Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 1998), pp.198-200; p.199: Kiberd’s willingness to exploit the formal structure of the kind of joke made at the expense of the Irish in the all-too-common, poorly informed, English stereotypeing of the Irish character attests to his genuine affection for, and belief in, the strength of the Irish imagination he expores and defines. It also suggests some of the wide range of styles he utilises in revealing the history of the growth and liberation of the Irish imagination [198] in the development of her history, social structures, politics and literature. […] He is as skilled at turning the forms of the oppressor to subversive and liberating ends as the Irish writers who reread Shakespeare with an Irish imagination, adapting the English Renaissance forms for its own expression.’ (1998-99); ‘Inventing Ireland’s panorama view of the history of Irish politics and literature is sustained by a rare combination of stylistic acumen, impressive scholarly research and a judicious use of various political and literary theories which are made accessible to readers who are not academic specialists.’ (p.199); ‘Without the sort of Hegelian sublation which could enable the English to recognise the feminine and child-like qualities in their own psyche and then incorporate them within a conscious recognition of their own identity, the English projected these qualities upon the people they enslaved in the name of colonial “civilisation”. [p.199; … &c.]. Also quotes, ‘Sinn Féin … as synonymous with the movement for national independence’ (Kiberd, p.1); ‘the English helped to invent Ireland, in much the same way as Germans contributed to the naming and identification of France.’ (Idem.)

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Liam Harte, reviewing Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics (2000), in The Irish Times (2 Dec. 2000),writes: ‘One of the chief strengths of this book is Kiberd’s treatment of Ireland’s two literary traditions as part of a cultural continuum rather than as oppositional entities. Such an approach is itself part of a critical continuum that incorporates the writings of Vivian Mercier, Daniel Corkery, Thomas MacDonagh, and Charlotte Brooke, each of whom argued for the essential continuity of the two traditions. […] One notable by-product of Kiberd’s bicultural approach is to make us reconsider our accepted notions of what constitutes originality in Irish writing. In his paradoxical scheme of things, the shock of the new has already been anticipated by the modernity of the old. For example. those archetypal works of 20th century modernism, Ulysses and Malone Dies, are here show to have precedents when located within a native frame. In the same way, Kiberd detects all kinds of intriguing pre-echoes in many of his classic subjects. Dáibhí Ó Bruaidair is cast as a Gaelic precursor of Baudelaire, Maria Edgeworth’s Thady Quirk becomes a distant forerunner of Joseph Conrad’s Marlow [… and] Wolfe Tone is installed as the first professor of Anglo-Irish literature and Drama. / Such sensitivity to the “promissory note” within Irish writing informs the foundational thesis of Irish classics, which is that since the collapse of the Gaelic system of bardic patronage in the 17th century, Irish culture has provided a test-case for an advanced form of modernity. The dispossessed bardic poets were the first inheritors of this “modernity avant la lettres” and since then, “for writers as disparate as Ó Bruadair and Yeats, to be Irish was to be modern anyway, whether one liked it or not”, since each artist “has had to cope, in his way or her way, with the coercive onset of modernity”. / The main way in which Irish writers have dealt with this enforced modernity, Kiberd claims, is by becoming conservative revolutionaries, at once defenders of tradition and agents of innovation. “Tory anarchism” is the quality that unites writers as diverse as Burke, Tone, Hyde, Somerville & Ross, Flann O’Brien, and the Blasket autobiographers, all of whom have created narratives that seek “to salvage something of value from the past, even as the forces of the new world are embraced”. The formal corollary of such radical traditionalism is the ability to express new ideas in time-honoured forms and to allow ancient idealisms to permeate new forms … This propensity for dialectical thinking goes to the heart of one of Kiberd’s central contentions, which is that “all truly vibrant cultures are Janus faced, capable of looking backward and forward at the same time.”. Such double-mindedness is inherently inimical to fixed borders and mutually exclusive identities, preferring instead the inclusive freedoms of multiple, plural states. It is Kiberd’s contention that Irish writers have been exploring such liminal zones for centuries, bearing in their texts “blueprints for possible worlds”, anticipating, and in some ways enabling, the creation of futures not yet fashioned.’ Notes that Kiberd believes the Belfast Agreement embodies the ideals of hybridity in its [implied] statement that ‘an unprecedented knowledge is possible in zones where cultures collide.’ / Harte concludes that Irish Classics is a ‘magnificent embodiment of this profound truth’ and calls it ‘literary criticism of the best kind: enlightening and entertaining, authoritative and accessible, committed and inspiring.’

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Roy Foster, review of Irish Classics (2000), in Times Literary Supplement (12 Jan. 2001), remarks on resemblance to ‘personally inflected, wide-ranging Irish literary history written in the previous century by engagé critics like Stephen Gwynn, Aodh de Blacam or Douglas Hyde who interpreted Irishness through literary classics for their own purposes’; notes that in Inventing Ireland, ‘for all his invocations of Frantz Fanon, Edward Said and Frederic Jameson, Kiberd tended to fly by the nets of enveloping theory and jargon in an enviably sprightly way.’; ‘But while relishing parallels with ex-imperial literatures, he also came close to accepting for literature the kind of Irish exceptionalism which economists and political scientists would claim for the country’s postcolonial experience in other spheres.’ Quotes W. J. McCormack, review of Inventing Ireland, in Yeats Annual, No. 12: ‘It is an axiom of Kiberd’s that no greater galaxy of genius was ever born in (or to) Ireland than the generation of Joyce, Synge, Yeats and Wilde. This is a proposition made all the more plausible b y a refusal to look any earlier. For surely, the generation (just as loosely defined) of Burke, Edgeworth, Malone and Sheridan deserves consideration’; Foster notes new essays called ‘Sheridan and Subversion’ and Burke, Ireland and Revolution’; ‘Kiberd is impressively empathetic as a listener no less than a reader’; quizzical about the ‘alluring’ notion of the language shift and the rise of modern Irish literature as ‘a massive attempt at psychological compensation’, noting the lack of supporting analysis; ‘Bilingualism lies at the heart of this book […]; why it does not lie at the heart of modern Irish society exercises Kiberd, and sometimes propels him into counterfactual speculation. Ireland, he bracingly and insistently asserts from an early stage, is “a crucible of modernity” - a concept he seems to be applying to the sphere of history, especially economic history, as well as literature. But show to be modern does not seem to automatically go with speaking Irish, though he thinks it should. This disappointment lies very near the heart of the book, especially in its latter chapters. […].’ Notes his characterisation of Lady Gregory as ‘the Mina Harker of Celtic Studies’ using her male intelligence to held her male companions to track down mythic undead heroes; quotes Kiberd on Yeats as surrealist avant la lettre: ‘Yeats had long taken the view that genius was a process by which the buried self was joined to one’s everyday mind; it was that deeper self that restored the old, wild energies of a lost, pre-Enlightenment world. Dreaming was one way of restoring contact between the conscious and unconscious elements of a persona, but the great artists was one who could achieve that while still waking. Every dream constructed itself, however, on the understanding that such an awakening was the outer limits of its organising wish. Freud had joked that the sleeper abandoned himself to the ranks of the dead with high hopes of a daily reprieve. This was the very paradigm of all poetic creation for Yeats and the explanation of his much-abused celtic twilight phase. The wavering rhythms of his early poems were intended to render a world caught in the zones between wakefulness and sleep. / Poetry as imagined by him took the form of near-death experience, indefinitely prolonged. His early lyrics tended to evoke fading and tired life on the edge of unconsciousness, and his later poems captured the experience of waking up. Whatever their direction, they were validated by the nearness of the sleeper’s brush with death. It was that which heightened their celebration of life: “we begin to live when we conceive of life as a tragedy”.’ Calls this ‘a little coat-trailing’ since no one has abused Yeats’s early poetry for some time; critical of the citation of Kingsley’s and Carlyle’s remarks on racial inferiority of the Irish as indications of the universal reaction of ‘the English in Ireland’; generally critical of a ‘Fenian’ view of Irish history and points to several instances of a ‘capacity for cutting a corner of literary history in order to score a glancing point’. (p.9-10.)

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John Killeen, review Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics (Granta), speaks of ‘this might volume’ as ‘nothing less than an attempt to establish a canon of Irish literature’ which ‘goes somewhat against the grain of its subject, which is notoriously non-canonical, tending to rebel against the kind of fixity and closure [of] the word “classic”’; further, ‘As one reads on […] a somewhat deadening and dispiriting uniformity begins to declare itself: many of the writers [sic] seem to be saying much the same thing. For some readers […] the effect is to reduce the specificity of each author and incorporate them in a national narrative which is, at best, only one of many.’ Killeen concludes, ‘it is hard not to been that the works of synthesis such as this are not really Irish literature’s cup of tea.’ (Irish Times, [15 Sept. 2001], Paperback Notices).

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Claire Connolly, ‘Theorising Ireland’, in Irish Studies Review (Dec. 2001), pp.301-330, espec. p.308: ‘A good example of the continuing debate is the evident disappointment felt by Colin Graham in his response to Declan Kiberd’s landmark book, Inventing Ireland (1995). In what is essentiall a call for more attention to work by postcstructuralist-leaning postcolonial critis such as Homi Bhanba, Gayatri Spivak and Robert Young, Graham chides Kiberd for his application of the principles of postcolonial literary criticism and invocation of “post-colonial analogies” in the absence of a commitment to more recent postcolonial theory. Graham’s sense that it is postcolonial theory which may posses the power to alter received patterns of thought is connected to his belief that “contemporary postcoloniality has the potential to shatter the self-image of nationalism rather than to radicalise it”. […] Shaun Richard’s review of Inventing ireland implicity opposes Colin Graham’s strictures against Kiberd and uncovers a network of allusion to the critical theory of the Fankfort School, filtered for Kiberd through his reading of Frederic Jameson’s work.’ (p.308.)

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Lachlan MacKinnon, ‘A Wet Night at the Classics’, in Times Literary Supplement (29 Nov. 2002), p.20., summarises introduction by Declan Kiberd: ‘After 1600, many of the bards became Catholic priests and were educated in Europe [quoting:] “The works that they produced posited continuum from the ancient Mediterranean civilisations to the now-threatened Gaelic world.” From 1690 to the late eighteenth century, hedge-schools kept this tradition alive. Legal relaxation in the 1790s made Latin education possible again, and from then to the present day there is a series of works which use the classics to attack imperialism and repression. / The story is, Kiberd tells us, different from that in England, where it was “left to radical playwrights such as Howard Brenton” to expose the way in which.classics had been used to sustain imperial purpose.’ (MacKinnon points to out that Brenton’s The Romans in Britain was first performed in 1980 and alludes facetiously to Sellar and Yeatman’s sentence in 1066 and All That [1930]: “the Romans were top nation on account of their classical education”. Further quotes: “Though T. S. Eliot might pine wistfully for the old empires, it was in those decades when Irish modernism opened up a radical ‘alternative’ use of the classics that the old public school version of Latin (and its clericalist Irish imitation) began to fade” [Kiberd], and remarks: ‘[t]here is a risk throughout this book of professional myopia … Eliot’s view is oversimplified; the admission that Irish uses of Latin were themselves in conflict opens an important debate none of the contributors resolves. The clear implication that it was Irish modernism which did for Latin is naive. The collapse in Latin teaching was world-wide, and primarily a phenomenon of the 1960s, as Françoise Waquet shows in Latin: Or the Empire of a Sign (2001).’

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Justin Beplate, ‘Express or Exploit’, in Times Literary Supplement (23 Dec. 2005), pp.13-14: […] political independence does not equate to freedom, a point Kiberd himself makes time and again in his wide-ranging analysis of colonial structures of thought, creeping post-colonial paralysis, and historical debts yet to be paid. What role, then, does a reinvigorated theory of nationalism have to play in Ireland’s unfinished business of liberation? / One possibility, and it is the one on which The Irish Writer and the World stakes much of its claim, is the unifying power of the idea of nationhood for a community cross-hatched by sectarian divisions. This is not the same thing as a unitary national identity - another English invention, to Kiberd’s mind, foisted on Ireland - but rather a way of creating the conditions propitious for the flowering of a true national pluralism. The paradox, as Kiberd points out, is that a secure belief in a national philosophy is the crucial condition for achieving an open tolerance to alternative codes, whether such codes are understood in political terms (Unionist and Republican), religious terms (Christian and Muslim), or any number of other possibilities. But even if one accepts this proposition, the old problem returns. On what basis should, indeed could, such a “national philosophy” be expressed? […] The fundamental problem with this approach is that, having derided the historically reactionary tendency to express Irishness as “not English”, having discarded the idea of construing a modern national identity in racial, religious or linguistic terms, the theoretical underpinnings of Kiberd’s own contribution to a new national philosophy appear locked into the old dynamics of resistance and oppression. If this approach is to avoid the trap which Kiberd identifies in his essay “The War Against the Past” as a “self-sustaining tradition”, what are the cultural values being fought for under the aegis of this new nationalism? There is in fact a strong sense that, like many of the Irish revivalist before him, Kiberd’s real target is the threat of unchecked materialism; the language of liberation in the abstract thus translates, in contemporary terms, as “freedom” from the twin perils of naked consumerism and complete integration into the European Union. All the pointers, Kiberd ruefully notes, are that succeeding generations in Ireland will throw off their religion as readily as their ancestors did the language, leaving in its wake a spiritual vacuum, a shallow cosmopolitanism posing as universal humanism. […; &c.] (See longer extract in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Lawrence Osborne, ‘Dreaming Shamrocks: The Use of Being Irish’, in The Village Voice (3 June 2008): ‘[...] Kiberd, with his rather pious leftist moralisms, has to assure us that Ireland is an impeccable Third World colony, staged an impeccable protoype Third World revolution-cum-liberation struggle and is now actually more enlightened, in some ways, that its former colonial master, Britain. How so? Because it has negociated forms of modern citizenship via a written constitution which the colonially-impoverished Brits, malnourished by an as yet unwritten constitution haven’t gotten around to yet. What these modes of political enlightenment are exactly - in a country where for decades thousands of women have had to cross the Irish Sea simply to get an abortion - we are deftly not told, just as we are not provided with a meditation on the interesting fact that Zaire, Communist China, South Africa and Albania had and have had “written constitutions.” Some of them, like that of Ireland, written in English. / Kiberd, in fact, romanticizes Ireland in a different way. There are no leprechauns or aislings or swooning bards in his romanticism, but there are plenty of “liberationist” heroes, fragile Third World solidarities and a notion of Irish consciousness as inherently modernist by virtue of its pioneering confrontation with Imperialism. Ireland, he contends, has more in common with Kenya and Algeria than with France or Germany. To be Irish is to be iconoclastic relative to “imperial Europe”. The Irish can claim to be “the niggers of Europe”, in Roddy Doyle’s phrase, and reap a certain politically correct credibility thereby. [...] What, then, is the relation between Ireland and Imperialism, which Kiberd claims is at the root of “inventing Ireland”?’ [Cont.]

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Lawrence Osborne, ‘Dreaming Shamrocks: The Use of Being Irish’, in The Village Voice (3 June 2008) - cont. [immed.]: ‘The great trauma of Ireland, he suggests, was its loss of Gaelic. Especially in his wonderful chapter on Oscar Wilde, Kiberd recognizes the subtle ambiguities of the Anglo-Irish symbiosis, just as he understands that the reclaiming of a subdued identity, whatever that is, is dependent upon a reaching-out to the alien. But his meditation on the profound and unconscious allegiances of language itself is not sufficiently free from the grinding gears of his political world-views, which demand proud autochthonous cultures unmutilated by colonial humiliations. Ireland lost Gaelic, and so it was thrust into a neurotic and demeaning struggle with English. He reads his Irish authors through the lens of this displacement, imagining them as symtoms of the “decolonizing mind.” [...] As for Kiberd’s parallels between Ireland’s post-colonial literature and that of Africa? The only thing they have in common is that without English they would not exist. Nguge, Achebe and Soyinka are writers of English, not of African languages, just as Oscar Wilde, Synge and Beckett could not write a line of Gaelic. Imperialism called them into being, made them possible and continues to assure their existence. [...] To say, as Kiberd does, that Beckett and Joyce are modernists because they are Irish, and not because they became Europeans is delusional. “The Celts,” declaims Kiberd, “are the leaders in art,” pointing to the somewhat traditional form of European masters like Gide and Lawrence; but Proust and Rolland and the Surrealists and Jarry and Musil were hardly “traditional” compared to Yeats, Synge or Wilde. Ireland produced no avant-garde music or painting comparable to that of France or Germany or Russia. And Joyce and Beckett themselves were nitrically scornful of most Irish art. To link decolonization with brilliant modernist iconoclasm is a precarious manoeuvre, at best. One need only think of Proust in his cork-lined study, anally studying his investment portfolios.’ (Available online - accessed 29.03.2011.)

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