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Inventing Ireland: Literature of the Modern Nation. Each month we recycle over 2. It's a book which I found simply invaluable, both as a student and as a reader with a general interest in Irish literature: probably the single most useful guide to Irish literature I've ever encountered.
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Declan Kiberd has poured into this huge volume far more knowledge than I can expect to pick back out. I have to say that it took a huge effort to physically read in its entirety, and I had many breaks for other reading, but I was drawn back and onwards because virtually every chapter had its own fascination. By investigating the many answers to the question — what it means to be an Irish writer — he taps into all sorts of issues that matter to writers of other cultures and languages, in Declan Kiberd has poured into this huge volume far more knowledge than I can expect to pick back out.
By investigating the many answers to the question — what it means to be an Irish writer — he taps into all sorts of issues that matter to writers of other cultures and languages, in particular those who share the Irish experience of emerging from colonial rule and constructing an independent national identity. It is fitting that two of his final chapters discuss the implications of translation, which shapes relations between colonists and colonised, but also relations more widely across cultural and language boundaries.
He makes the curious observation that unlike many other nationalities, the Irish, by adopting the English language as their own, have had the opportunity to be their own translators, with subversive results. As a review of literature he has accomplished what I think is a mark of the best critical writing, which is to transform the way I read.
He has persuaded me to buy writers I had not heard of; for instance, I found a solitary and rather expensive copy of Collected Poems of Thomas Macgreevy on the net and rushed to own it. He has persuaded me that I have to make a proper effort with WB Yeats, a pet hate of mine. A critic who makes me want to read more and to read better is, to my mind, doing a good job. English literature had a liberating effect on Wilde: it equipped him with a mask behind which he was able to compose the lineaments of his Irish face. This was to be a strategy followed by many decolonizing writers; and, as so often, it was the Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges who gave the fullest account of the method.
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There were no camels in the Koran, he said, because only a falsifier, a tourist or a nationalist would have seen them Borges for his part found that being Argentine was either a fate or a mere affectation: if the former, then it was futile to try consciously for an Argentine subject or tone, and if the latter, then that was one mask better left unworn, for it could only be worn in the degrading pretence that the mask actually was the face. Similarly, the short stories of Patrick Pearse often stressed the redemptive strangeness of the child, bearing to fallen adults messages from another world.
The paradox was that these texts, which so nourished Irish national feeling, were often British in origin, and open to the charge of founding themselves on the imperial strategy of infantilizing the native culture. What was lacking in them was what Yeats would later call the vision of evil, without which art was merely superficial, unable to chronicle the tragedy of growth and change.
It followed that the role which they imagined for themselves had to be announced and demonstrated in the very act of writing Both men did not just say things: they also said why these things were appropriate to a national poet. They affected to discuss their own performance with the implied nation of readers The crucial passages in a book like Moby Dick or Ulysses are written as soliloquy: and the great poems by Whitman and Yeats are based on introspective self-analysis.
Both assumed intimacy with their personal lives on the part of their readers Yet the traditions which they pioneered were also international, in the sense that they were certain that the conditions which produced them and their poems could be repeated in other places.
England and the English had been presented to Irish minds as the very epitome of the human norm. Ireland became not-England Anything English was ipso facto not for the Irish, The kilt The leaders of that revolt saw provincialism as taking one of two forms: the first and more obvious being found in people who looked to some faraway centre for approved patterns of cultural significance, the second and more insidious being found in those who were so smugly self-assured that they had lost all curiosity about any other forms of life beyond their own As a poet, he invents an ideal Ireland in his imagination, falls deeply in love with its form and proceeds to breath it, Pygmalion-like, into being.
It is hard, even now, to do full justice to the audacity of that enterprise. Some generations had surpassed others and carried out their life-task, but a generation which shirked the task would condemn itself to a shameful old age. He saw that in a traditionalist society it is vitally necessary to gift-wrap the gospel of the future in the packaging of the past. This Connolly also did when he presented socialism as a return to the Celtic system whereby a chief held land in the common name of all the people.
As far back as He reminded James Connolly of his oft-repeated maxim that you could paint all the pillar-boxes green and hoist the tricolour over Dublin Castle and yet achieve nothing, for unless there was a change in the distribution of wealth, you would simply be exchanging one set of exploiters for another.
It was as a socialist orator that he had first developed is rhetorical skills, with the constant repetition of key words and sonorous phrases to create a rhythmical, rolling cadence, mounting towards a crescendo in the closing sentence So I would say to young Negro writers, do not be afraid of yourselves. You are the world. In Ireland it was put about that the most creative and promising intellects had been lost in the Rising by a small country that could ill afford such a reckless expenditure of young talent.
That was the Irish version of the English tale of a lost generation of brilliant officers cut down in their prime at the Somme. Both narratives had equally little basis in fact. After independence, a fear of the bleakness of freedom had so gripped the people that autocracy and censorship were the order of the day In Ireland, following a limited form of independence in , the shutters came down on the liberationist project and the emigrant ships were filled not just with intellectuals but with thousands of young men and women.
People began to emigrate not only from poverty or the hated law, but also because the life facing them was tedious and mediocre. The revivalists had won: the fathers with their heroes and ghosts from the past. The arbitrary undeserved nature of suffering is something on which Beckett meditated in all his writings, and this becomes the attempt to scrutinize and fathom the mind of a God who does not feel obliged to make any clarifying appearance of explanations Feb 24, Shashi Martynova rated it it was amazing. It is an astounding work of genious reader, critic, observer, and human being.
I would give it 15 stars if I could. This book is enough to start any serious exploration of Inner personal Ireland to anyone who is at sea where to begin with this mammoth cultural treasure of a culture. The only exasperation of mine is that my reading list became now irreperably revised and prolongued well beyond any horizon.
Aug 08, Raymond M.
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