Declan Kiberd: Quotations


‘Many of the Rising leaders had been initiated in theatrical methods by the Abbey: no previous Irish insurrection had been mounted in such avowedly theatrical terms.’ (Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.204.)
‘The effects of cultural dependency remained palpable after the formal withdrawal of the British military: it was less easy to decolonise the mind than the territory.’ (Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.6.)

For Kiberd on James Joyce, see infra.
For Kiberd on Beckett, see under Samuel Beckett, Commentary, supra.

Note: The contents of this page are currently unindexed, making browsing and searching the only available tools. [Note to self - please rectify this! BS]

.See Susan Shaw Sailer, ‘Translating Tradition: An Interview with Declan Kiberd’, in Jouvert: Journal of Postcolonial Studies, ‘Ireland 2000’ [Special Irish Issue, ed. Maria Pramaggiore], 4, 1 (Fall 1999) - infra.*
 
*The online journal Jouvert announced cessation of publication in 2010 but remains available at its North Carolina State University address - english.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/ at 11.10.2010.


Celtic blues ....

‘Renaissance of past values key to better future’, in The Irish Times (21 Aug. 2010) [column] - see full text in RICORSO Library, “Irish writers”, via index, or direct.

[...]
The Tiger years saw the collapse of a common culture.
 Fifty years earlier, secondary school leavers were formed individuals who would write commentaries on Hamlet, explain electricity and physics and communicate something in a second language. Pride in work was an extension of self-reliance. People made their own music. They provided, and expected children to provide, much of their own entertainment.
 Afterwards came a huge cultural shift as ideas of character were replaced by notions of personality.
[...]

On the election of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a creature of virtual TV shows, shock-jock radio and internet\twitter spats - all a reversion to a medieval culture based on humiliation and shaming. He illustrates Walter Benjamin’s contention that “we are still the barbarians of the new electronic order”, which we have yet to put to more positive cultural uses. Despite some great movies and internet narratives, most exponents of the new digital media have brought about a decline in civility: few people savour the complexities of thought practised by opponents in public or cultural life. Most despise rather than engage with the experiences and philosophies of their antagonists. The problem of casual sexism was never “solved” in the US as elsewhere in the world but made worse by the new media: and the extreme kinds of feminism practised on some US campuses is an understandable but despairing response to the failure to find solutions in the wider society. Many women feel exploited in low-paid jobs and probably overlooked Trump’s sexism in order to make the point. There is an anti-foreign bias among many Americans, who remain self-enclosed, don’t learn a second language or see any need to. Trump’s overt case against Obama was not that he was black but that he wasn’t really a true American - and,of course, the spectacle of a very competent African-American president brought certain forms of racism back to the surface. Older people feel overwhelmed by the speed of all the technical changes - they deal with the “symptoms” rather than feeling confident about reshaping the new media for humane purposes. A lot of people are materially less well off and expect “less” rather than “more” for their children. The old optimism is gone: Trump called the US “a Third World country” and clearly many fellow-citizens agree with him. One of the most interesting books explaining this cultural shift (without in any ways seeking to justify Trumpism) is J D Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

The Irish Times (10 Nov. 2016) - available online.

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Storytelling: The Gaelic Tradition’, in The Irish Short Story, ed. Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), pp.13-26: ‘The folk tale was impersonal, whereas the short story was personal, credible, and written in private for the solitary reader. In the modern short story the teller no longer seeks to escape, but rather to confront reality. Moreover the genre has flourished in those countries where a vibrant oral culture is suddenly challenged by the onset of a sophisticated literary tradition. By the nature of its origins, the form was admirably suited to the task of reflecting the disturbances in Irish society as it painfully shed its ancient traditions.’ (p.15; see full text in RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra; see review of David Marcus, ed., Faber Book of Best Irish Short Stories, 2005, infra.)

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Writers in Quarantine?: The Case for Irish Studies’, in Crane Bag, III, 1 (1979), pp.9-21 rep. in Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies (1982.) pp.341-53: ‘As far back as 1970 during a symposium at Trinity College, Dublin, Sean Lucy remarked with some gusto that he “would take no student of Anglo-Irish literature seriously unless that student were bilingual’ - but the professors who applauded this comment most loudly have continiued to appoint to lectureships those who are not’ (p.353.) ends with advocation of Irish studies rather than the slender number of posts in Anglo-Irish Literature made in the wake of Frank O’Connor’s call in The Backward Look . (See further under J. M. Synge [infra].)

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Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984): ‘The English did not invade Ireland - rather, they seized a neighbouring island and invented the idea of Ireland. The notion of “Ireland” is largely a fiction created by the rulers of England in response to specific needs at a precise moment in British history. The English have always presetned themselves to the world as a cold, refined and urbane race, so it suited them to see the Irish as hot-headed, rude and garrulous - the perfect foil to set off British virtues. The corollary of this is also true. The Irish notion of “England” is a fiction created and inhabited by the Irish for their own pragmatic purposes. Coming from an almost neolithic community on wind-swpet seashores, the Irish immigrants to British cities had no understanding of life in the anonymous workplaces into which they were plunged. They found it easier to don the mask of the garrulous Paddy than to reshape a complex urban identity of their own.’ (p.5; rep. in McHugh, ed., Field Day Theatre Co., 1985, p.82; quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, p.75, characterising it as ‘a Foucauldian mode’ of utterance [idem.]) [Cont.]

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Anglo-Irish Attitudes (1984) - cont.: ‘Wilde saw that the image of the stage Irishman tells us more about English fears than Irish realities, just as the still vibrant Irish joke tells us far less about the Irishman’s foolishness than about the Englishman’s persistent and poignant desire to say something funny. In this case, Wilde opted to say something funny for the English, in a lifelong performance of Englishness which constituted a parody of the very notion. By becoming more English than the English themselves, Wilde was able to invert, and ultimately to challenge, all the time-honoured myths about Ireland.’ (p.10; quoted in Seamus Heaney, ‘Speranza in Reading: On “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”’, The Redress of Poetry [Oxford Poetry Lectures], London: Faber & Faber 1995; with comments as infra.] Further: ‘The Irish are accused of never forgetting, but that is because the English never remember. The Irish are accused of endlessly repeating their past, but they are forced to do so precisely because the English have failed to learn from theirs.’ (Anglo-Irish Attitudes, rep. in Ireland’s Field Day, Field Day Theatre Co. 1985, p.93; quoted by Ulrich Schneider, ‘Staging History in Contemporary Anglo-Irish Drama: Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness’, in Geert Lernout, ed., The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama [Costerus Ser. Vol. 79], Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991, pp.79-98; p.80.) [Cont.]

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Anglo-Irish Attitudes (1984) - cont.: ‘Yeats’s solution to this dilemma [of Anglo-Irish antithesis] was to gather a native Irish audience and create a native Irish theatre in Dublin - to express Ireland to herself rather than exploit her for the foreigner. He accepted the Anglo-Irish antithesis, but only on the condition that he was allowed to reinterpret it in a more flattering light. Whereas the English called the Irish backward, superstitious and uncivilised, the Gaelic revivalists created an [13] idealised counter-image which saw her as pastoral, mystical, admirably primitive. Yet such a counter-image was false, if only because it elevated a single aspect of Ireland into a type of the whole.’ (pp.13-14.) ‘Like all colonised peoples whose history is a nightmare, the Irish have no choice but to live in the foreglow of a golden future. For them history is a form of science fiction, by which their scribes must rediscover in the endlessly malleable past whatever it is they are hoping for in an ideal future.’ (p.17.) ‘Almost sixty years before [Conor Cruise] O’Brien, Synge had shocked his countrymen by revealing to them the ambiguity in their attitude to violence. Synge saw that the heroic myth of Cuchulain, perpetuated by Yeats and [17] Pearse, was an attempt to gratify the self-esteem of Irishmen at home, but that it did this only at the expense of feeding the ancient lie about the “fighting Irish” abroad. Joyce also often spoke against the common misconception of the Irish as quarrelsome, asserting that they were on the contrary gentle and passive like the Jews.’ (p.18.) ‘The story of 1916 is not so much the story of the Rising as of the Executions … the key to the rise of Sinn Féin in subsequent years lies not so much in the Irish love of violence but in a principled recoil from it.’ (p.18.)

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Irish Literature and History’, in Roy Foster, Illustrated History of Ireland, OUP 1989, pp.275-337): ‘It may well be, however, that the very idea of “Ireland” - like the now deserted Great Blasket which went on sale for a million dollars in the Wall Street Journal in 1987 - is a kind of fiction, which the mere islanders themselves are finding it harder and harder to sustain. But is a necessary fiction, and tens of millions of people on our planet turn annually to that fiction for an explanation of their innermost being. All nations are, in Benedict Anderson’s phrase, an invented or imagined community, and the Irish have shown more relish for that fiction than most. In particular, they have asked their writers to chart its progress for them. On the other hand, the Irish have also shown a marked aversion to the idea of the state, which levies taxes and asks for other sacrifices - and so have their contemporary writers. The problem is that the ideal nation can only achieve concrete form through the medium of the state, whose apparatus, ever since the colonial phase of their experience, many of them have learned to hate or fear. A true republic - a happy embodiment of the idea of the nation in a state - is something that all Irish people, and not just Ó Criomhtháin’s Blasket Islanders, have yet to know.’ (End; p.337.)

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The Stage Irishman’ (1980): ‘Although today the Irish yet retain the reputation for pugnacity and aggression, there is even less basis than ever to the myth. The fact remains that since 1798 the nation has not fought a war, the much-vaunted risings of 1848, 1867 and 1916 being more in the nature of skirmishes which only a few had the courage to join. Even today, when the twenty-six counties possess a sizeable army of their own, the official soldiers of the state polish their superb hardware and mount displays of gymnastics, while a handful of crazy idealists with meagre equipment wage war of liberation in the six counties against the wishes of the majority on both sides of the border. Ireland has been occupied by foreign armies since 1169. It is now almost two hundred years since a disciplined national army resisted the forces of occupation.’ (from in Ronald Schleifer’s Genres of the Irish Literary Revival, Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1980, p.49; ftn. 10; quoted in Sean Keenan, UU PhD Diss.; draft 16.10.96.)

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The Elephant of Revolutionary Forgetfulness’, in Revising the Rising, ed. Máirín Ní Donnchadha & Theo Dorgan (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), pp.1-20: Kiberd accuses an organised cadre of repressing left-wing intellectuals who adopted a nationalist but non-Provisional stance. [9]; What created the modern IRA was not any cultural force but the bleak, sectarian realities of life in the corrupt statelet of Northern Ireland [13]; old-fashion conservative nationalists […] played right into the hands of the new-fangled revisionists who were happy to demolish the cardboard caricature [… 14]; Field Day warned that one could not implement the dream of an absolute return to a mythic Gaelic past and that one should not submit to the shallow cosmopolitanism which sought to fill the ensuing vacuum. [16]; argues that a critique of imperialism in Ireland which eschewed the reactionary polarity or division between English and Irish was ‘dreadfully retarded by the executions’ and therefore ‘left to decolonising peoples elsewhere to complete’, viz. Franz Fanon and Ashis Nandy [16]. See also criticism of Sean O’Casey for ‘operating a kind of Section 31 ahead of its time […] never allow[ing a rebel] to make a full statement of the nationalist case.’ [p.18; also quoted in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.41.]

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The Empire Writes Back’, in Cultures of Europe: The Irish Contribution, ed. James P. Mackey [City of Derry’s International Meeting for the Appreciation of the Arts, 12-17th March 1992] (QUB/IIS 1994): ‘Synge was less interested in the colonial present than in the postcolonial future. Assuming the inevitability of Home Rule once socialist ideas had spread to England, he tried instead to see so profoundly into the Mayoites’ culture that the shape of their future might be discernible. / So he took the violence of the colonisers as read: his deeper interest was in how the colonised cope with the violence in themselves, their situation and their daily life. There is no obvious outlet in the world of the play for these instincts. The Mayoites offer no allegiance to the hated English law, which might allow them to channel their violence into socially-sanctioned punishments like the hanging of a murderer. The allegiance to the Catholic church, which by its sacrifice of the Mass helps to appease the human taste for violence, is also very weak. Fr. Reilly is so peripheral a figure to these fundamentally pagan people that Synge does not allow him to appear on stage at all: only Shawn Keogh spearks of the priest without irony. yet the villagers are saturated in violence and its attendant imagery. Sarah Tansy is willing to travel miles to set eyes on the man who bit the yellow lady’s nostril by the northern shore. Such people desperately need a hero who can bring their instincts to violence into a single clear focus: a hero, moreover, whom they can convert into a scapegoat, onto whom may be visited any troublesome violent tendencies that are still unfulfilled […]’ (p.111; ditto in Inventing Ireland, Chap. 10, p.167.) Cf., Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back, Routledge, London, 1989): ‘Postcolonial discourse - Women, like post-colonial peoples, have had to construct a language of their own when their only available “tools” are those of the “coloniser”’ (p.174-75; see the chapter of the same title in Inventing Ireland, at variance to the contents of this and offering a post-colonial reading of Synge’s Playboy instead.)

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Ulysses [James Joyce], ‘Introduction’ [by Declan Kiberd] (London: Penguin 1992), pp.ix-lxxxxi: ‘It is pretty clear by now that Bloom is himself a mixture of both genders, an exponent of the androgyny which Joyce saw as the sexuality of the future, a man who can share uniquely in the wonder and woe of woman’s labour’ (p.lix.) ‘The same androgynous figures are to be found in many masterpieces of the Irish Revival - in Shaw’s Bluntschli and Dauphin, two sensitive men brave enough to admit their fears; in Synge’s Christy Mahon, whose daintiness of speech and patent narcissism appeal to the robust countrywomen who fall in love with him; even in Yeats’s adoption of the female voice as he wrote the “Crazy Jane” poems. While nationalists, addicted to a militarist ideal, sought in emulations of Cúchulainn to purge themselves of the last degrading traces of Celtic femininity, these male writers happily embraced the female dimension, the anima, as one basis for liberation. Ulysses ’ celebration of Bloom as a new woman man is the fullest elaboration of that utopian moment. (lxvii.)

Ulysses ( ‘Introduction’, 1992) - cont.: ‘The sincere nationalist asks writers to hold a miror up to Cathleen Ní Houlihan’s face; authentic liberationist wistfully observes that the cracked looking-glass, which is all he has been left by the coloniser, renders not a single but a multiple self.’ (p.lxxviii; also Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.298.) [Cont.]

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Ulysses ( ‘Introduction’, 1992) - cont.: ‘The difference between these two versions of Irish Renaissance might best be explained by invoking Lionel Trilling’s brilliant distinction between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, a congruence between avowal and feeling, can be achieved when there is no problem of form: in it based on the Romantic ideal of truth to the self and it presupposes a definite indentity [sic] which it becomes the task of a lifetime to be true to. Authenticity is a more excruciatingly modern demand, which begins with the admission that there is a problem of form, and that this makes a congruence between avowal and feeling difficult: it recognises that the issue is not truth to the self but the finding of the many selves that one might wish to be true to. It makes the liberating concession that a person, or a nation, has a plurality of identities, constantly remaking themselves as a result of perpetual renewals. Joyce’s constant struggles with the question of form […] places him squarely in this tradition.’ (p.lxxvii.)

Ulysses ( ‘Introduction’, 1992) - cont.: ‘For Joyce, as for Wilde and Synge, art was not just surface but symbol, a process whereby the real took on the epiphanic contours of the magical.’ (lxxix.)

Note that Inventing Ireland cites Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (London: OUP 1972) - a title often cited in Wilde bibliographies (e.g., Ian Small, 1993). [Cont.]

Ulysses ( ‘Introduction’, 1992) - cont.: ‘[…] Ulysses is an endlessly open book of utopian epiphanies. It holds a mirror up to the colonial capital that was Dublin, 16 June 1904, but it also offers redemptive glimpses of a future world which might be made over in terms of those utopian moments.’ (p.lxxx; end.)

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Ulysses (‘Introduction’, 1992) - cont., ‘Ulysses is an endlessly open book of utopian epiphanies. It holds a miror up to the colonial capital that was Dublin, 16 June 1904, but it also offers redemptive glimpses of a future world which might be made over in terms of those utopian moments.’ (Declan Kiberd, James Joyce, Intro., p.lxxx; quoted in Janet Nelson, Semester Paper, Boston Humanities Institute/Greensboro U., NC, 1999.)

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Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995) [On the Gaelic League, &c.]

‘No generation before or since lived with such conscious national intensity or left such an inspiring (and, in some ways, intimidating) legacy. Though they could be fractious, its members set themselves the highest standards of imaginative integrity and personal generosity. Imbued with republican and democratic ideals, they committed themselves in no spirit of chauvinism, but in the conviction that the Irish risorgimento might expand the expressive freedoms of all individuals: that is the link between thinkers as disparate as Douglas Hyde and James Connoly, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and James Joyce.’ (p.3.)
‘The imagination of these art-works has always been notable for its engagement with society and for its prophetic reading of the forces at work in their time. Less remarked has been the extent to which political leaders from Pearse to Connolly, from de Valera to Collins, drew on the ideas of poets and playwrights’ (p.4.)
‘My belief is that the introduction of the Irish case to the debate will complicate, extend and in some cases expose the limits of current models of postcoloniality’ (p.5.)
‘Throughout the 19th century Ireland functioned as a sort of political and social laboratory in which, parabolically, the English could test their most new-fangled ideas - about the proper relation between religion and the sate, about the changing role of the aristocracy, above all about the holding and use of land…. adopting the models after they were seen to thrive and prosper .. Inevitably, the arriving Irish, in their tens of thousands, occupied and used England as a laboratory in which to solve many of their own domestic problems at a certain useful remove.’ (pp.23-24..)
‘In fact, by the 1880s and 1890s, Ireland was in certain respects clearly advanced by contrast with England […] A highly-educated younger generation, finding few positions available conmmensurate with its ability or aspirations, was about to turn to writing as a means of seeking power: out of the strange mixture of backwardness and forwardness everywhere, it would forge one of the most formally daring and experimental literatures of the modern movement.’ (p.24.)
‘[Ireland] was a crucible in which Britain not only tested ideas for possible use back home, but also for likely implementation in the other colonies’ (p.24.)
‘Victorian imperialists attributed to the Irish all those emotions and impulses which a harsh merchantile code had led them to supress in themselves. Thus, if John Bull was industrious and reliable, Paddy was held to be indolent and contrary; if the former was mature and rational, the latter must be unstable and emotional; if the English were adult and manly, the Irish must be childish and feminine. In this fashion,the Irish were to read their fate in that of two other out-groups, women and children, and the root of many an Englishman’s suspicion of the Irish was an unease with the woman or child who lurked within himself.’ (p.30.)
‘[…] The political implications were clear enough in that age of severely limited suffrage: either as woman or as child, the Irishman was incapable of self-government’ (p.30.)
‘Ireland in the nineteenth century was a confused and devastated place, suspended between two languages.’ (Ibid., p.48.)
‘[…] for a culture could only be surveyed and known as such from the outside or, at least, the margins. Identity was predicated on difference, but the colonisers of the 1880s and 1890s were conveniently forgetting that fact in their anxiety to make over the world in their own image; and they would have to be reminded. A somewhat similar jolt must also be given to the occupier culture, and Wilde, by announcing the Irish renaissance with works which appeared to be set in English, administered that rebuke.’ (p.49.)
‘[John Eglinton] seemed to have forgotten Mazzini’s dictum that every people is bound to constitute itself as a nation before it can occupy itself with the question of humanity, but that it does this in order to be free to move on to that question.’ (p.158.) [Cont.]

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Inventing Ireland (1995) [On Playboy of the Western World]: ‘Until this point [when he sees himself in Pegeen Mike’s mirror], Christy has been repeatedly described as one who is afraid of his own shadow, that shadow which is emblematic of his hidden potential, the dark, repressed aspects of himself: but he proceeds from that fear to active self-reflection in the mirror during the second act. This is, as yet, a somewhat superficial activity, an adolescent contemplation of ego rather than of self, but it nonetheless provides the means from which the self may finally be inferred. It is the psychological version, within the individual, of that rather revivalist form of nationalism which is self-conscious but not self-aware. Knowledge of the self rather than mere ego would be the personal version of liberation: and even as nationalism is a phase which a community must pass through en route to liberation, so the ego is an essential precondition for the revelation of self. If whole peoples can mistake nationalism for liberation, so there are egos which demand to be identified totally with the self, such as the inflated ego of Christy in Act Two. Equally, there are others which identify solely with the shadow side, persistently asserting their unworthiness, the self-loathing Christy of Act One. Integration can finally be achieved only by those who admit both positive and negative sides as authentic elements. (Ftn. ref.: The Jungian methodology has been most lucidly explained by Helen M. Luke, ‘Mirrors’, Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, XI, 2, Summer 1986, pp.56-63.)

Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘The Irish have a reputation for violence (due perhaps to the overcrowded conditions in which their emigrants lived in British and American cities) but also a shrewd distaste for it. Though some havc professed to enjoy mythic violence, they have more often than not shied away as individuals form the thing itself […] (p.168; for further remarks on Synge’s use of ‘mirror’, see ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’, in The Irish Review, Summer 2001, infra.)

Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘Imagine is the operational word for the liberationist who, far more than the nationalist, needs the sanction of previous authority if history is to be blown open. That sanction comes from history not as a chronological narrative but as symbolic pattern, in which certain utopian moments are extracted from its flow.’ (Inventing Ireland, p.293; quoted in Bernard McKenna, contrib. to PGLIB Conference, 1998.) [Cont.]

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Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont. [of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses]: ‘to confront the void within the self is the awesome task addressed’, acknowledging the ‘colonisation by the masculine principle [of] the empty space that mocks all human life.’ (Inventing Ireland, 1995, pp.354; quoted in Mary C. King, ‘Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Nativism, Nationalism and the Language Question in Oxen of the Sun’, typescript paper [1997].)

Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘The revivalists [i.e., ‘rebels’] had won: the fathers with their heroes and ghosts of the past. The revolutionaries were snuffed out: the sons with their hopes of self-creation in the image of an uncertain future. Yet the revenge of the fathers was barren in almost every respect, since it represented a final surrender to received modes of thought.’ (p.393; quoted in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in New Irish Fiction, London: Pluto 1997, p.57.)

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Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘[I]t was the politicians who, in cleaving to tired, inherited forms, failed to be modern and so ceased being Irish in any meaningful sense.’ (p.267.)

Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘Few enough people outside the ranks of cultural nationalism have been able to admit to the traumatising effect of the loss of Irish on the personality of citizens’ (p.649.) ‘The inferiority complex which impelled so many to give up Irish was not cured, more often exacerbated, by the gesture: and so a people in delial sought to project their own guilt elsewhere. Hence the rampant Anglophobia among nationalists in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and the consequent writing of Irish history as a Manichean morality-tale in the first half of the twentieth. Hence, too, the overemphasis on Catholicism as definitive of Irishness in the same period.’ (p.650.)

Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘If the notion of “Ireland” seemed to some to have become problematic, that was only because the seamless garment once wrapped like a green flag around Cathleen Ni Houlihan, had given way to a quilt of many patches and colours, all beautiful, all distinct, yet all connected too. No one element should subordinate or assimilate the others; Irish or English, rural or urban, Gaelic of Anglo-, each has its part in the pattern.’ (p.653). [For extended excerpts, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Sundry Critics, via index, or direct.]

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English in an Irish Frame’ (1997), in Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. XXX [‘The Schoolroom in Irish Literature and Culture’] (Fall 1997), pp.119-26: ‘Of course it might also be said that the Irish experience is a different from the Indian as from the English. Caught in an intermediate position as both postcolonial and postimperial, the Irish might in their work help to referee some of the conflicts which have resulted from the imperial/colonial agenda. The question is not whether it is right to study the masterpieces of English (of course one studies them), but how to know them. Perhaps with a tender irony, a passionate scepticism, an eternal vigilance. Irish exponents of English Studies need to question its unspoken assumptions, as Mulhern has so brilliantly done, and to reach that point of estrangement from those assumptions which most of us have long ago reached in relation to Irish so the texts of English can glow in rich and strange ways for us. This would certainly be achieved through contrapuntal readings: for instance, in studying Conrad’s Heart of Darkness one might put it into vibration with a work like Tayib Salih’s Season of Migration to the North […] Or we might contrast the Victorian-imperials’ Shakespeare produced by certain critics with the Irish and West Indian Shakespeare.’; ‘In continental universities on the European mainland, philosophy stood at the core of the national curriculum, compelling all teachers and students to theorise their positions, but in England most of the values imagined to be inherent in English Studies were seldom explicitly construed. It was, in fact, seriously contended that to construe them too vulgarly might actually imperil such values: thus was produced a criticism which found it a mark of excellence in a writer that he or she should not violate their minds with any singular idea. Irish departments of English, positioned as they were on the edge of this disciplinary pursuit, might have followed the leads given by Yeats and Joyce, but did not do so in any marked degree until the 1970s. It is interesting, of course, that the first sustained attempt to theorise Cambridge English from without was written by a graduate of University College Dublin, Francis Mulhern, in The Moment of Scrutiny during the 1970s [viz., 1979]. The earth was beginning to move just a little, after a half century without volcanic activity.’ (pp.120, 122.) Further, [speaking of the restriction of English syllabuses to Yeats and Allingham, &c.:] ‘A key factor in all this was the Irish language. It probably suited certain dogmatists in the state’s Department of Education to represent Anglo-Irish writing in this attenuated fashion, since that would have helped to confirm a pet [idea; … &c.]’

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Translating Tradition: An Interview with Declan Kiberd’ [conducted by] Susan Shaw Sailer, in Jouvert, 4, 1 (Fall 1999): ‘[...] The great frustration in my adult life has been the shrinkage in the notion of “Ireland.” When I was a boy listening to the All-Ireland Finals in the 1960s on the radio, messages would be sent to Irish people in Brazzaville or Seattle at halftime by the commentators, and you had a sense as you listened to the football game of being part of a global community of Irish people. Now one of the effects of the Troubles and of the revisionism in history writing which followed them was a determined attempt by many Irish journalists and even historians to shrink the identity of Ireland initially just to the Island, to the five-million-odd living on the Island and subsequently to the three and a half million in the Republic, the point being that we should not even claim the one and a half million up North, let alone anybody anywhere else. We should accept, in the words of one of the young writers of the time, the inherited boundaries, and that anyone who tried to move beyond that was guilty of some kind of emotional imperialism. / Now I never agreed with that analysis. I always felt that one must subvert literally that analysis and that the really interesting artists were the ones who refused to accept that shrunken version of Irish identity. I would name both Friel and Heaney as having played a crucial role in that challenge. Friel was pivotal by virtue of his location near the border in Donegal but also because he travelled in and out of Derry across the border every day as a leading member of the Field Day Company. He seemed to epitomize that challenge in almost a physical way by breaching the border many times a day, but he breached it also in his art because that was clearly addressed to people on both sides of the border and was in fact an attempt to imagine a time when there would be no border. This was the meaning of the whole “fifth province” of the mind towards which Field Day worked. So when Mrs. Robinson was elected president in 1990 and achieved that expanded definition of Irishness with her candle in the window reaching out to the diaspora, I felt then that the artistic agendas of Friel and Heaney had at last found a political embodiment.’ (Accessed online - accessed 11.10.2010; see copy in RICORSO Library, Criticism”, attached.)

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The Personality’s the Thing’, review of Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, in The Irish Times (13 March 1999): ‘[T]he audacity of such claims is staggering, and open to question’; refers to Bloom’s career in books that tell of artists wrestling with the legacy of predecessors in a sort of “family romance”, and remarks, ‘their readers might be forgiven for viewing Sigmund Freud rather than Shakespeare as the real theoretical source for Bloom’s ideas of personality-in-action’. Questions why Bloom gives such a role to a ‘jobbing actor’; discusses Freud’s debt to Shakespeare; recalls Joyce’s account of Shakespeare (‘made in Germany’) […] In his obsession with the characters, Bloom seems to forget what modern criticism taught: that the plays are also poems with their own iterative images’. Further: ‘It is […] foolish to recruit Shakespeare for campaigns to assert the superior status of “elite” western culture over any other expressive forms. For one thing, much of the playwright’s energies derive from folk rituals and the popular vernacular. For another, plays such as Othello and The Tempest, in embodying the glory of European culture, also cannily hint at its limits.’

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In Search of Irishness’, review of Seamus Deane, Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish writing Since 1790 [inter al.], in Éire-Ireland , 32, 2 & 3 (Summer/Autumn 1997), pp.183-91: Kiberd notes Deane’s characterisation of Burke’s idea of nation as ‘a synecdoche for traditional politics and a refusal of revolution’ and comments that much Irish nationalism bears the stamp of a combat between the idea of a heroic organic community and ‘faithless, state-driven modernism’, and his general depiction of the ‘characteristically national repudiation of modernity’, but adverts also to ‘other, less backward looking forms of nationalism and some powerful Irish literary critics - most recently Emer Nolan - have shown themselves willing to consider nationalism as an aspect of modernisation rather than a denial of it’; notes Deane’s comparison of Yeats and Corkery in regard to their mutual ‘adherence to a version of the ancien régime that was no[w] rewritten as a deeper history than that which preceded revolutionary France’, and remarks that Deane might instead have recognised Yeats as ‘something new at the end of something old’, and that his reading of Yeats in this sense makes him a ‘somewhat unlikely bedfellow’ with Roy Foster, ‘who has, in his recent biography, chosen to emphasise Yeats a déclassé Protestant gentleman rather than citizen of the new republic.’ ‘It is hardly surprising that as a northern Irish nationalist Deane should find the state which emerged in the south as a source of abjection, for many other free spirits within that state did to, especially in earlier decades. But in recent times citizens of the Irish republic have taken to Swedish-style social democracy, as to the European Union, with an alacrity that is nothing if not modern, enhanced by the knowledge that their economy is now the star performer of that Union.’ (p.15.) Kiberd highly commends the final section as a devastating exposure of the limits of much revisionist historiography which ‘in the name of modernity and a secular ideal of human progress […] too often represented a none-too coded defence of colonial positions, a defence which flew in the face of popular understanding and folk memory’ (p.15.) Notes that Mangan is at the centre of the book, as ‘arch-parodist and bricoleur’; ‘In establishing that a national literature can also be a “colonial” one, these lectures tease us into speculation as to when, exactly, a “Post-colonial” writing might be said to begin. The evidence would suggest that such a project may be undertaken not just when the flags of Empire have been lowered for the last time, but also and often long before that moment - whenever a native author puts pen to paper to contest the descriptions of an occupying power. On that basis the Gaelic poet and proseman Seathrún Céitinn … may be counted in the same company as Ngugi and Frantz Fanon.’

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Ernie O’Malley: review of Richard English, Ernie O’Malley, in Times Literary Supplement ( 31 July 1998), notes the attachment of Irish revolutionaries to the English literary canon; influence of John Buchan, whose Greenmantle O’Malley read closely. Of On Another Man’s Wounds: ‘the hero-narrator has no developed social philosophy beyond the desire to be a good soldier, and his adventures in an all-male world of espionage and digusie are enacted against a lyrically-envoked countryside’ (Kiberd); quotes English: ‘The notion that “Irish” and “British” should be understood as categories whichi are essentially discrete from one another is one which obscures at least as much as it clarifies.’ Further, ‘The very idea of a united Ireland may well be a British invention, devised for the sake of administrative convenience; and post-colonial theory has alerted us all to the ways in which a nationalism may inscribe into itself many cultural insignia of the power which it is ostensibly resisting. Dr. English, though he is wary of any reductive imposition of post-colonial models, seems none the less to have found in Ernie O’Malley a splendid example of cultural hybridity, well rendered in that vignette of the National Gallery art-lover beating his impatient way past the pigeon-feeders. / Having thus audaciously dismantled the British-Irish binarism, English rather baulks at following his logic to a conclusion, insisting on the preponderance of “the imaginative, the romantic, and the literary” over “the scientific and the economic” among the IRA rebels. Yet there as one full professor of chemistry in their ranks [.. &c.].’ [On Irish revolutionionaries:] ‘What they hated was not England but the British imperial system, which denied full expressive freedom to its colonial subjects. Some of the more advanced thinkers among them even began to toy with the idea that English itself might be a British colony, with an as yet unadmitted “national question”.’ (p.25.)

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Claims for poetry: Review of Bonnie Costello, et al., ed., Selected Letters of Marianne Moore (Faber ?1997), ‘By reducing the claims made for poetry, she somehow compelled her readers to take all the more seriously the scaled-down claim […] What saves her from chaos is her capacity for an almost prayerful attention to the intrinsic nature of every object […] these she renders with a concrete precision which links the Imagists back to the early Celtic nature poets […] trapped energy, dramatic utterance powerfully disciplined.’; regrets that the editors removed her mother’s marginal resopnses and her brother’s written answers; ‘Still, one mustn’t grumble for here is God’s plenty’; Moore finds Yeats’s Vision “enthralling”, but later asks what his “enviable apparatus” was for’; she attended a lecture of Yeats in 1932 and wrote that he had ‘the hands of a hereditary royalist.’ Finally, Moore was ‘one of the American modernists rewrote the rules of literary form and, in the process, lived a full and celebratory life’ [END.]

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Letter from Dublin’ [series], in Times Literary Supplement (8 Jan. 1999), remarks that ‘intimacy persists, even as the population reaches 1 million’; ‘the city is really a sort of necklace […] of villages .. unfinished business, […] an open-ended project, which explains much of its cultural vibrancy’. Keynote works in recent years ‘chronicle provincial poverty and brutality of a mid-century Ireland in a sort of counter-melody to the optimism of Temple Bar’; ‘In Ireland a more continental notion of the intelligentsia as an oppositional class has persisted. it was this that kept real life in Irish modernism long after the modernist movement had been co-opted by market forces in the United Kingdom and United States’; remarks that Gus Martin questioned ‘inherited dissent’ and regarded outing of priests as an anachronism; mentions sexual abuse revelations; ‘though accused of worshipping the past what the Irish really worship is their own power over it’; recites rhyming names for city statues [e.g., Floozie in the Jacuzzi; Prick with the Stick, &c.].

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Revolutionary revival: ‘A bloody sweet time to fight and die: Eye on the 20th Century: Ireland 1910-1919’, in The Irish Times (30 Dec. 1999): ‘[…] some of the insurgents [in 1916] wished to restore Gaelic values, but their understanding of “tradition” was revolutionary. They saw it in terms of despised or forgotten moments of their people’s past, moments still filled with unused potentials which could be tapped for a better future. Pearse may have summoned Cuchulain to his side, but only to validate that dream of a welfare state. A revolutionary departure could be presented as a reassuring revival. / All innovations were thus gift-wrapped in the rhetoric of the past, the better to secure a hearing in a tradition-minded country. So Connolly soothed fears of socialism with the claim in The Reconquest of Ireland that it would simply be a return to the Gaelic system of landholding, except that now the government rather than the chieftain would hold land in the name of the entire community. / By a similar method, working through the second half of the decade, the writer James Joyce gift-wrapped Ulysses, the most subversive prose-work of the century, in the framework of one of Europe’s oldest tales, the Odyssey of Homer. [… &c.]’

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‘“White Skins, Black Masks”?: Celticism and Négritude’, in Éire-Ireland, XXX, 4 (Winter 1996), pp.163-75: viewing ‘the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century program of cultural decolonisation in Ireland is an important precursor of a related struggle in Africa more than forty years later’.

Reading the Future: Irish Writers in Conversation with Mike Murphy (Dublin: Lilliput 2000) - Introduction: ‘It is just possible that “Irish writing” will, in the next five or six decades, be subsumed back into the general fiction category from which it so recently and so precariously emerged. If a novelist such as John Banville or a poet such as Patrick Kavanagh had their wish, that is precisely what would happen.’ (Quoted in Desmond Traynor, reviewing same, in Books Ireland, March 2001, p.57.)

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Walter Benjamin: review-article occasioned by publication of Michael Jennings, gen. ed., Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vols. 1 & 2, and Rof Tiedemann, ed., The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland & Kevin McLaughlin (Belknap Press 1999): ‘The greatness of Walter Benjamin’s criticism lay in his ability to balance the mystical and the Marxist in an open philosophy of the future. The publication of English-language versions of works over recent years has allowed us to see just how much he had in common with two other geniuses of Modernism, W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. [… &c.]’ (Irish Times [q.d.]; see longer version, infra.)

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Dancing at Lughnasa’, in The Irish Review, 27 [“A Post-Christian Ireland?” Iss.] (Summer 2001), pp.18-39: ‘[...] The youngest sister Chris opens the play with a telling query: “When are we going to get a decent mirror to see ourselves in?”. This evokes many previous moments in Irish writing, from Maria Edgeworth’s fear that the people would only smash any glass which offered an honest reflection of their condition to Synge’s Christy Mahon who rails against the devilish mirror in his father’s home, which “would twist a squint across an angel’s brow.” [Ftn.: For further reading of the mirror, see Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.166-88.) In Ulysses Stephen Dedalus had suggested that the cracked looking-glass of a servant was a fitting symbol of Irish art. Synge’s se was perhaps the most radical of call, for he had seen in the image the limites of a literary realism which could render only social surfaces but give no deeper account of the psychic condition of country people. In his eyes all mirrors were problematic, since they afforded only a distorted image of the self, the distorting factor being an image of the power of public opinion. For him, a true freedom would be possible only when the mirror was thrown away and people began to construct themselves out of their own desires. The Mundy sisters are still far from that insouciance, being greatly exercised by what the neighbours thinkg of them and of Jack. “The only way to avoid seven years of bad luck is to keep on using it”, says Maggie. Yet what the cracked looking-glass will reveal is the multiple, fractured state of the family which peers into it.’ (p.21; see further under Brian Friel, Commentary, supra.)

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Irish Classics (Granta 2002), ‘Irish Narrative: A Short History’ [Chap. 35]: ‘There is, as I have argued throughout this narrative, no real tradition in Ireland, other than the persistent and largely successful endeavour to oppose any attempt to impose a tradition as “official”. That is what has given the place its modernist edge over the past four centuries, for by very definition modernism, in order to maintain itself, must never lapse into an official style. Rather, it must constantly renew and reformulate itself. The Irish language may have declined, but it was reborn in the Hiberno-English of Hyde, Synge and Augusta Gregory. Similarly, that Catholicism that is being shattered at an institutional level has been remoulded in books like Anam Chara (Soul-Friend), a bestseller that links Celtic soul and Catholic devotionalism (of that kind whose subversive potential delighted Wilde) but strictly outside all institutional frameworks. / Even as political nationalism disappears, a truly comprehensive national culture may for the first time be born. After all, political nationalism was just another in the long line of attempts to cope with modernity - it was nothing more than a means by which to implement the Celtic values of a people which had never achieved a satisfactory embodiment under the British imperial scheme. By attaching itself to forms of the state inherited from British days and by leaving those forms unmodified, it doomed itself to frustration, to mistaking the means of liberation for the end in itself. The Belfast Agreement at least gives everyone the chance to start again. It may in time produce political and cultural models that could be of use to communities in other war-torn parts of the world, where the problem of “blood and belonging” cries out for cultural rather than military solutions. Its central intuition - that an unprecedented knowledge is possible in zones where cultures collide - would not have fazed any of the major writers treated in this book. The seeds of the Belfast Agreement were sown in the works of Irish literature […]’ (p.631.)

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Bloom in Bourgeois Bohemia’, in Times Literary Supplement (4 June 2004): ‘[...] The old Gaelic aristocracy fell after 1600 but was not fully replaced by a confident native middle class until the middle of the twentieth century. In between these dates, the key works of Irish writing were collections of micro-narratives cast in the appearance of a novel but without its sense of a completely developed narrative. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is really four short contes, in each of which the protagonist starts a new voyage as if he had learned nothing from the previous ones. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth describes many generations in just sixty pages; and the prose trilogy of Samuel Beckett, like At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien or Máirtin Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille, is structured around anecdotes which never quite shape themselves into a novel. If epic is the genre of the aristocracy and the novel that of a bourgeoisie, then it is in the troubled transition period between these orders that a radical innovation of forms becomes possible. In countries like England, France or Germany that transition was managed fairly speedily, but in Ireland it lasted more than three centuries.’ (p.14; quoted in J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940, Oxford UP 2008, [Introduction,] p.7.)

Note the Foster compares the view expressed here with the kindred tendency of Kiberd’s chapter-contribution ‘Literature and Politics’, in Kelleher & O’Leary, eds., Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2006), p.33, and later writes: ‘The missing faction in Kiberd’s formulation, of course, is the Protestant bourgeoisie, even though he goes on to praise the hardheaded business sense of the Irish Revivalists.’ (Ibid., p.23 [n.16.]

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Irish Short Story: review of David Marcus, ed., Faber Book of Best Irish Short Stories, in The Irish Times (3 April 2005, p.11): ‘The romance between Irish and American story-writers has long ago been consummated, and Richard Ford is but the most recent Yank to salute Frank O’Connor as one of his exemplars. More than a century ago, Henry James remarked that “the little story is but scantily relished in England, where readers take their fiction rather by the volume than by the page”. Pondering that comment many years later, Seán Ó Faoláin in observed with a sort of baffled triumph that “the Americans and Irish do seem to write better stories”. / Ó Faoláin thought English writers preferred the social amplitude of the novel to capture the layers of a made society, whereas the Irish and Americans, still not fully “conventionalised” favoured a more personal exposition. Through much of the 1930s and 1940s, Ó Faoláin in seemed somewhat unnerved by the adoption of the short story (in the New Yorker, on radio, in national papers) as his country’s quintessential art form. He fretted about the problem of “Adequacy”, and whether Ireland was yet sufficiently calibrated by different economic classes and social rituals to sustain the full complexity of the novel. In asking as much he echoed a question once raised about mid-19th-century America by Henry James: how could one write a novel of manners about a society that had none? / Frank O’Connor, in due time, came up with a modification of this theory. In The Lonely Voice he argued that the short story “marks the first appearance in fiction of the Little Man” and that it is characterised by its treatment of the “submerged population group”, those lonely persons who live on the fringes of society because of spiritual emptiness or material deprivation. No wonder that both he and Ó Faoláin saw the story as the appropriate form for the risen people, the rebels on the run, the Os and the Macs. […]’ Further, ‘Once upon a time, castigators of the form saw in it a sort of apprenticeship served by writers who might, if gifted, go on to compose full-blown novels. That seemed to be O’Faolain’s general position. But it was never O’Connor’s: he recognised that major novelists such as Trollope could sometimes write badly and get away with it, but that no great storyteller could be an inferior writer, because the true affinity of that genre was with the pure art of the lyric poem rather than the applied art of the novel. / That the “short story or novel?” debate was based on a false dichotomy is obvious now. The vast majority of Marcus’s contributors, from Colm Tóibín to Edna O’Brien, are recognised practitioners of the novel. It is notable, however, at most powerful contribution here once again written by Claire Keegan, who has yet to produce in the “applied” form.’

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Regarding Tradition: ‘In Ireland this was not true, for there the old stories were truly subversive, surviving only on the very margins of society to which they had been relegated. Tradition in England might be the very basis of social tranquillity, but in Ireland it was identified with defiance, irrationalism and commotion.’ (Irish Classics, London: Granta 2001, p.404.)

Further: ‘[To] vindicate honour while a torpor gripped his people was a useful icon as the century ended. Gregory chose to emphasise Cuchulain’s skill in single combat […] Such individual contests showed that the object of fighting was not to annex the territory of enemies so much as to uphold social order and bonding among one’s own people: a true analogy for the aims of Irish nationalism.’ (Ibid., p.408; quoted in Joseph [Doran], MA Dissertation, UU 2003.)

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Regarding Catholicism: ‘One of the attendant perks of Catholicism is its confessionalisation of discourse, with the result that those who think they can know no further forbidden pleasure may discover a new frisson in the knowledge of pleasure.’ (‘Kate O’Brien: The Ante-Room’, in Irish Classics, 2000, p.561; see further, infra.)

The Irish Writer and the World (Cambridge UP 2005): ‘Whereas the great Anglo-Irish writers of the Literary Revival, such as Yeats and Synge, excelled in poetry and drama, the short story has been mainly pioneered by the “risen-people” - the O’Kellys, O’Flahertys, O’Faolains and O’Connors the genre had a particular appeal for the writers of the emerging Catholic bourgeoisie who hailed from regional towns.’ (p.43; quoted in Carl Campbell, UUC MA Diss., 2009.)

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Ulysses and Us (London: Faber & Faber 2009): ‘Joyce loves to speculate about what Irish culture might have been like if it had remained part of European Catholic tradition: “Had we been allowed to develop our own civilisation instead of this mock English one imposed on us, and which never suited us, think of what an original, interesting civilisation we might have produced.” Ulysses reconnects with those codes lost during the long sleep of colonialism. It is not a novel in any [33] meaningful “English” sense of that term. Novels deal with already made societies and Ireland in 1904 was still a society in the making. The short story or anecdote was designed to describe a submerged, colonised people, whereas the novel was more suited to the calibrated world of social classes. Ulysses is something more than a collection of stories, yet it is not quite unified enough to be a novel. It belongs to a long-evolving Irish genre, halfway between the two, which took centuries to emerge.’ [Here refers to Gulliver’s Travels, Castle Rackrent [‘Gibbon on speed’], Beckett’s Trilogy and At Swim-Two-Birds.] [...] In lands like England and [34] the transition was managed in decades, but in Ireland it took more than three centuries.’ (pp.33-35.) Cites Seán Ó Neachtain’s Stair Éamuinn Uí Chléire, and Brian Dubh Ó Raghallaigh’s Siabhra Mhic na Michomhairle as failed attempts to marry ’their oral narratives to the forms of Cervantes and Henry Fielding - failed because ‘there were so few Gaelic printing presses in eighteenth-century Ireland [while n]ative speakers of Irish still told the old romantic tales, where were filled with supernatural wonders and recited in public to credulous audiences. The novel, on the other hand, was a realistic account of everyday life, to be read silently in private by the sceptical, solitary reader. It dealt with those personal emotions and psychological analyses [35] which were lacking in the world of most storytellers. [... Joyce] sought to awaken Irish narrative from the nightmare of its colonial history.’ [Cont.]

Ulysses and Us (2009) - cont.: ‘Calling Ulysses a central text of the Gaelic revival sounds preposterous, but only because current definitions of that revival are so narrow. Joyce’s early stories had appeared in the Irish Homestead, and their exposure of “paralysis” to its victims was intended as a contribution to that journal’s programme for revitalising Irish agriculture and industry. His work, placed in that context, presented itself as part of the self-help movements which renovated Ireland after the failure of Westminster to ratify Home Rule in 1893 - Gaelic League, Agricultural Co-operation. National Theatre (the Abbey) and, ultimately, Sinn Fein (which means “ourselves”). As a colonial subject depicted in Ulysses, Stephen is painfully aware of how Britannia still rules the waves and waives the rules. For him there are three things to fear - “horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon”. Confused, lost and bitter, he sees no hope of rescue, either from older Irish people or form English pseudo-liberals. In the first three episodes, Joyce describes the negative forces which entrap him - empire, church and narrow patriotism - before he can go on to say what the book is for.’ (p.35-36.) [...] ‘In Hellenising Ireland, Joyce would also hebraicise it, but only because he saw Ulysses as part of the Gaelic revival.’ (p.37.) [See longer extracts under Joyce, Commentary, supra; see also remarks on ‘peeing Stephen’ under Notes, infra.]

Further (Ulysses and Us, 2009): ‘That feeling of being suddenly confronted by the challenges of a new language is, of course, the experience of most readers as they work through Ulysses. Often the reader is expected to decode material without necessarily enjoying full knowledge of who is speaking. This is also true here of Bloom who listens to songs and voices coming from a nearby room. Such disembodied voices were becoming commonplace by 1904 in the age of the electronic recording. These voices connect also with those episodes of Ulysses which lack a named narrator. The overall effect is to make the reader feel as if he or she has been set down in a zone at once familiar and strange, like Robinson Crusoe placed suddenly among the denizens of a modern city.’

‘If the smug Catholic upper middle class was blown away by the rebellion, the uninvolved British rulers are also shown to have been off guard and out of touch with the people whom they claimed to be helping. Both Stephen and Bloom are untouched by the government cavalcade. For Dublin is both a colonial and an anti-colonial city, in which these forces are not just opposed but also sometimes interpenetrated by one another. … In a city where everyone, from rulers to ruled, appears to be marginal, the sense of being an outsider which he [Bloom] suffered from in the earlier scenes suddenly seems quite normal for all: as if this is more like the true state of things in a society yet to be made. If Bloom emerges now as representative of many other citizens, he also becomes a version of the reader, excited by but also anxious to decode the private signs all round.’

(Both of the foregoing quoted in Brian Donnelly, ‘Taming the Monster’ [review], in Dublin Review of Books, 14 (Summer 2010; online - accessed 20.08.2010.)

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The Irish short story: ‘What makes a great short story?’, review of Anne Enright, ed., The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story in The Irish Times (4 Dec. 2010), Weekend, p.10: ‘[...] Frank O’Connor asserted that short stories flourished wherever a vibrant oral culture was challenged by a development of a written literary tradition – the American Midwest of Twain, the Russia of Gogol, the rural France of Maupassant and, of course, revival Ireland. The genre often took for theme that very clash between old orthodoxies and new pieties, reflecting the disturbances of a culture as it shed ancient, often stifling traditions. There is an echo of that thesis on the Granta dust jacket, which promises an anthology that “traces the great tradition through decades of social change”. / Yet O’Connor also believed that the short story was ultimately asocial: it dealt with the “little man” as anti-hero in a “submerged population group”. If the novel treated a made society, the short story described rather a society in the making, focusing in Ireland on the Os and Macs whose lonely escapades on the fringes of a colonial world might one day make a society and a multivalent novel possible. Sean O’Faoláin seemed to agree. In his own earlier study he called the short story “an emphatically personal exposition”, the work of individualists whose world was still unconventionalised. But he worried that even the independent Ireland of the mid 20th century as yet lacked “adequacy” – that is, the achieved social density – for a truly resonant novel. / Whenever Corkmen agree with one another, one should be sceptical. Coded into these analyses was much brilliant thinking but also an unfortunate implication: that the short story was prentice work, a transitional form suitable to test young writers before they moved onwards and upwards to the novel and, by implication, to a more layered, settled and complete society. You could write interesting stories to fill a page in the Irish Press or a half-hour on Radio Éireann, or even a slot in the New Yorker, but somehow the novel was where the real action would lie. By the 1980s, however, many authors had grown tired of the very notion of an inherently Irish short story: in a trenchant Hibernia essay Alan Titley called its cult a “disease”. / Perhaps O’Connor and O’Faolain had been naive in trying to define the genre at all. Enright recognises that every writer selects from human life and the shorter narrative needs to be poetic and perfectly pitched: it cannot afford the longueurs that may sully even the finest novels. It is more formally exacting to write Night in Tunisia (included here) than The Past, The Trout (included) than And Again?, Lilacs (included) than The House in Clewe Street. It might even be said, on the evidence here, that some of our finest younger novelists have now “graduated” to the shorter form. / The early theorists of the short story saw it as detached from society or history. The teller might describe nothing more portentous than a hen crossing the road, but it was the way the thing was done (often in first-person narrative) that made the telling memorable, that raised it to the dignity of the symbolic. Joyce rendered the everyday extraordinary by applying this method, conferring on trivial gestures the quality of an epiphany. If Dubliners connected those epiphanies in such a fashion as to become almost a novel, Ulysses was a reversal of that process, being a novel that seemed constantly to disintegrate into a series of stories and episodes. [...] Perhaps O’Connor was shrewd. “The form of the novel is given by the length,” he wrote; “In the short story the length is given by the form. There is simply no criterion of the length of the short story other than that provided by the material itself.”

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