[A sign in Wexford, 2014. Foto Rb]

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland. London, Cape, 1995

Let us re-read briefly some of the views expressed in Inventing Ireland, a well known book by Declan Kiberd where a politically committed post-colonial framework of interpretation is adopted.

According to Kiberd, on the one hand, the nationalist movement in Ireland “invented” Ireland in the sense that it “imagined the Irish people as an historic community, whose self-image was constructed long before the era of modern nationalism and the nation-state” (p. 2). The Irish revival, including writers such as Synge and Yeats, insisted on these terms.

However, the problem of cultural identity is more complex in Ireland. Since Ireland was a country under imperialism, and also colonized, as Kiberd observes, its culture was composed of various layers.

One of these layers was the construction of Irish identity as an English invention, or in Kiberd’s own words: “If Ireland had never existed, the English would have invented it” (p. 9). In Kiberd’s interpretation, two aspects were prominent in the English “invention” of Ireland:

1. “Ireland was […] patented as not-England, a place whose peoples were, in many important ways, the antithesis of their […] rulers from overseas” (p. 9) – irrational, sentimental, violent, and so on.

2. But at the same time, Kiberd argues, this was a projection of the English unconscious on Ireland: “In the settlers’ texts”, the colonisers’ actions “represented the daylight world of civilization and the conscious: and so the native who stumbled into the settlement and was promptly killed off became a metaphor for the occupier’s need to negate all illicit desires” (p. 17).

The position of Irish writers on their own cultural identity, varied. Kiberd, for example, sees Oscar Wilde as the point “at which all polar oppositions are transcended” (p. 41). George Bernard Shaw, like Wilde, “was another Irishman who used England as a laboratory in which he could redefine what it meant to be Irish” (p. 51). Kiberd calls Joyce’s poetics “mythic realism” (p. 327) and underlines both his international modernist tendency and his debt to Irish national culture (p. 355). Flann O’Brian used the English cliché of the Irish in The poor mouth, and yet he represented English oppression and Irish poverty realistically at the same time: he showed that “poverty is the inevitable condition of those who have their past identity taken away” (p. 502).

[Roberto Bertoni]