Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Could this be the start of a bug bear?

I’m regularly appalled by the gaps in my reading which no amount of good intention seems to plug. My girlfriend’s parents’ house is replete enough with books of all kinds to send me into an auto didactic, kleptomaniacal frenzy.

A light fingered spree has led to me being in the process of plugging a couple of gaps with Ruth Dudley Edwards’ “The Faithful Tribe” and currently Declan Kiberd’s “Inventing Ireland”.

The Faithful Tribe is an admirable (and occasionally hilarious) attempt to explain Orangeism to the uninitiated and unsympathetic. Edwards may have become too close to her subject, but her understanding of Sinn Fein’s manipulation of the parades issue is impeccable.

Inventing Ireland promises to be the more interesting book however, perhaps principally because its content and nationalist assumptions are jarring with me after only a chapter and a half. Those who buy their own tradition’s myths wholesale are always the most suspect analysts and whilst Kiberd is far too clever and nuanced to fall into this trap, his elegant commentary nevertheless disregards the self-confident revisionism of RF Foster to wallow in post-colonial victimhood.

Kiberd correctly identifies the tendency of the Irish and English cultures to set themselves up in opposition to each other. However he absolves Ireland of any responsibility. He views the process as one purely fuelled by the English identifying in the Irish characteristics which they wanted to deny in themselves. He fails to see that this was a two-way process and that Irish culture has been shaped by a self-conscious attempt to negate Englishness and Britishness.

Bizarrely he invokes Burke’s social conservatism in defence of nationalism, rather than detecting in it the horror of a socially mobile, but philistine mercantile class.

I imagine I will be returning to this book as I read more. Despite my early disagreements, I look forward to Kiberd developing his themes.

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