The commencement of the 2011-2012 school year brought with it the joint appointment of world-leading scholar Declan Kiberd to the department of English and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. Professor Kiberd, who will teach at Notre Dame during the fall semesters and in the Irish Institute’s Dublin center during the spring and summer, specializes in modern Irish literature and culture with an emphasis on postcolonial theory. He is known for his many books on the subject, including Inventing Ireland: Literature of the Modern Nation and The Irish Writer and the World in which he considers English and Irish literature as “a single discursive unit” whereby he re-imagines Irish identity. Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living, his most recent book, takes readers through James Joyce’s famously difficult novel episode by episode, helping everyday readers to reconnect with this literary monument.
This semester Professor Kiberd is teaching a graduate seminar on Joyce and an undergraduate course on Synge and Wilde with plans to offer a survey of modern Irish writers and genres at the Irish Institute in Dublin this spring. He looks forward as well to working with graduate students from Notre Dame and elsewhere at the Irish seminar in Dublin this summer on contemporary Irish theater. For Kiberd, teaching at Notre Dame’s Irish Institute means working in an interdisciplinary setting where scholars and students from a range of fields––English, Sociology, History, and more––converge and open new windows of opportunity for employing comparative approaches to Irish literature. It also means he will work with American students who bring a different set of questions, perspectives, and assumptions to the classroom than what he is accustomed to in Ireland. He hopes to both learn from these questions and challenge students’ thinking by introducing to them the kinds of questions often asked in Irish classrooms, enriching and varying the kinds of discussions available to Notre Dame students.
The interdisciplinary approaches taking place in Kiberd’s classes go hand in hand with his research. His dual post in English and Irish studies supports his interest in combining both areas of study in ways not as accessible in the Irish university. Kiberd says, “I’ve always been interested in working in Irish and English and it’s almost impossible to do that in Ireland,” following up with the statement, ”it’s easier to be amphibious here.” Because Ireland does not have departments such as comparative literature, and they tend to adopt an ideology that resists comparison, Irish scholars often cling to strict disciplinary boundaries. However, Irish studies in the States continues to move favorably towards multi-disciplinarity due to its melting pot of cultures ripe with possibilities for comparative research. This attitude strikes Kiberd as useful because “comparisons are necessary to define what makes your own culture distinct.”
Kiberd finds this interdisciplinary setting exciting as it promotes new ways of reading and situating Irish literature in a global context. He describes the “ability to configure the discipline in somewhat new ways” by examining, for instance, how Walt Whitman, America’s national bard, influenced W.B. Yeats in Ireland, who, in turn, made possible the emergence of Pablo Neruda in South America. As a postcolonial critic, Kiberd would like see scholars of Irish studies make comparisons with countries such as Mexico, Africa, and even postcolonial America, places with the kind of mentality that influences Irish writers.
While at Notre Dame, Kiberd plans to continue working on two books he has underway. The first concerns Irish writers of the last fifty years within a postcolonial frame, a topic of particular interest for him since many contemporary Irish writers live outside of Ireland and write about places like New York without reference to their home country. His second work in progress is about Samuel Beckett’s religious beliefs, which he envisions as a response to the overrepresentation of Beckett as a skeptic. Beckett’s work often verges on religious meditations, and Notre Dame has particularly good resources for performing research on this type of project.
For related news on Declan Kiberd’s appointment click here.