My New Book
About Being Normal: My Life in Abnormal Circumstances (2017)
Published by Somerville Press ISBN: 978 0 9955239 20
As author of many books on Irish and European matters and as a journalist, Desmond Fennell has been a major force in Irish intellectual life for the past six decades, earning a reputation as a courageous and at times controversial writer.
In this fascinating autobiography he traces the progress of his life from his memories as a child in Belfast and Dublin to his early intellectual development as a student in UCD and Bonn and then to a career that brought him to live and work in Spain, Germany, Sweden, the USA and Italy—as well as a decade in Conamara where he was active in a revolution that reshaped the Irish language movement. In the 1970s his writing helped to bring about a rethinking of the Nationalist approach to Northern Ireland, thus providing a philosophical basis for the peace process. In 1990, the National University of Ireland awarded him a doctorate in literature for his published work.
About Being Normal reveals Dr Fennell as a European writer and thinker with a profound knowledge of philosophy, literature and art. He fixes a critical gaze on a wide variety of topics: Irish Catholicism, neoliberalism, the Dublin art scene in the 1960s, the special position of the Jews, James Joyce in Trieste, the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Dublin’s O’Connell Street, and the end of European civilisation, to name but a handful. But no matter what the subject, what is clear in each case is that there is here a thinker who is not prepared to leave any stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable or unfavoured that may be, and whose ideas are expressed in the lucid prose of a master essayist.
Available in all good bookshops, or online from the publisher's website.
Apart from that, I invite you to read or print off the following essays:
- The Irish Revolution as It Really Was
- Putting the Irish Nation Together Again
- On Thinking in Ireland (full text)
- A Morality that Does Not Make Sense
- The Real History of Europe
- ‘The Renaissance’ in European History
All my writing is an attempt, not to reform the world—I leave that to others—but to see it clearly. Comments via the Contact facility are welcome. I need feedback to see more clearly still.
My Last Book
There are plenty of ideas about the contemporary West in my new book Third Stroke Did It: The Staggered End of European Civilisation (New Augmented Edition).
Third Stroke Did It: The Staggered End of European CivilisationIn the title essay, I argue that, after the rejections of European civilisation by the Russian Revolution and the German Nazi Revolution, the third blow struck against it by American left-liberalism supported by Western capitalism will finish it off. The American sledgehammer striking Europe on the book’s cover illustrates this graphically. That essay is followed by others on President Truman’s refusal to repent for Hiroshima; the West’s historical Campaign for World Mastery brought up to date; the Defeat and Co-option of Feminism; the West’s soft version of Totalitarianism; the Special Position of the Jews; the Unloved European Union; and—turning to Ireland—the Irish Bias against Thought; the Humanism of 1916; the Catholic Church’s Self-injury; and the Disintegration of the Nation that Carried Out the Irish Revolution.
You can get the book by clicking here.
Written in Maynooth 2007-2008
Ireland After the End of Western Civilisation (2009)
The West's present system of rules for individual, interpersonal and international behaviour has replaced that of European civilisation. A utopian experiment that originated in and emanated. from the USA, it is a western parallel to the similarly post-European Soviet experiment of recent memory.
Being, like its Soviet counterpart, a rootless ideological construct, it does not make sense to westerners as a framework for life, but pains and frustrates them. It has lasted until now merely owing to the constant increase of the power to buy things and do thingswhich it has been providing to states and consumers. When that dual increase ceases, it will dissolve into social chaos, leaving the task of building the widely desired new civilisationto a future generation.
Those are the bare bones of Desmond Fennell's ground-breaking account of the recent history and present condition of the western world - an account which is given pressing relevance by the West's economic crisis. It is also the context in which - in a series of essays dated and set in the weeks leading up to the Lisbon Treaty referendum of 2008 - he discusses the referendum campaigns; the European Union; the soft totalitarianism of contemporary western government; the decline of Irish Catholicism; Terry Keane and Charles Haughey; Irish Timesand Irish people; confusion in Dublin's art museums; and the Dundrum Shopping Centre.
Belfast: Athol Books, www.atholbooks.org ISBN 978 08034 120 1, pp.102
Written in Anguillara and Dublin 2004-06
About Behaving Normally in Abnormal Circumstances (2007)
Ireland in my early years constitutes the ‘abnormal circumstances’ of the title essay. Having reached adulthood with a ‘normal’ interest in the world at large, a compulsion to write about it, and an assumption that the Irish were normally human, I found myself at odds with the established writing practice of my compatriots, academics included. For them, it seemed, an unwritten law had decreed that they should write only about Ireland and its affairs, past and present. Fate had rendered the Irish a ‘special’ people, set apart from mankind.
After recounting how I lived through and tackled this abnormal situation, I proceed on my accustomed way. In essays, ranging from meditative to perhaps startling, I explore Irish history and the Irish present, early Italian painting, Winckelmann’s myth-making, Europe’s history and its present plight, the defeat of feminism, the special position of the Jews, and the birth of Amerope.
Finally, in a diary where I relate the backgroundto many of these essays, discuss the Irish lack of enterprise, and end up in Maynooth, I offer a view of the author as worker and private man.
Belfast: Athol Books, www.atholbooks.org ISBN 9-780-85034-116-7
Other Books Since 1996
Written in Seattle 1995
Uncertain Dawn:Hiroshima and the Beginning of Postwestern Civilisation (1996)
The USA was never a dependency of Western Europe but it was a product of its European civilisation and until World War II a junior partner in the shaping of modern western civilisation. Since the atomic massacre of Hiroshima, which made America a superpower, was endorsed by the West as a virtuous act, all that has changed. The common civilisation is postwestern and shaped by the United States in its New American departure; it is Ameropean civilisation. Western Europe has grown accustomed to depending on and imitating New America. Previously, from its emergence out of the marriage of Christian Roman survivals with Germanic and Celtic peoples, Western Europe had produced and shaped its historical ages. Now it lives in an age that has been determined not by itself but, with its consent, by American superpower.
Desmond Fennell, having set this scene, explores New American civilisation as the chief artefact of American superpower and the master-mirror of our postmodern, postwestern age. Alternating a personal travel journal with lucid public reflection, he invites us to consider the paradoxical fulfilment of the Enlightenment’s anti-European dream; the transformation of a Protestant, Liberal republic into a great pagan, collectivist empire; the dethroning of reason by mass emotion and its electronic management; the rise of the religion of naturism; the proliferation of new rules and new sins to replace the rejected ones; the stimulation of compassion for a great variety of approved victims; the fomented assault on able-bodied, heterosexual, white-skinned men and the civilisation they created. Setting New America’s radical breakaway in the context of similar attempts in Europe, beginning with the French Revolution, Fennell sees lessons to learn from the failed Soviet attempt. In our nervous refusal to think through our new civilisation, and supply it with a coherent humanism that embraces massacre with all the rest, he finds the principal internal threat to its successful endurance.
Dublin, Sanas Press, ISBN 0 9522582 1 8 (out of print)
Written in Dublin 1996
Dreams of Oranges:An Eyewitness Account of the Fall of Communist East
There is a time to stop when visiting a museum, and it is before blurring and fatigue set in. Leaving the Pergamon, I recross the footbridge and set off along the canal bank towards Marx-Engels-Platz. It is a balmy twilight, going on for six o’clock. Soon the white and brown palace of the Republic comes into view, and the vans and lorries of the television companies parked beside it on the Platz, some of them with satellite dishes mounted. Tomorrow night the Palace, built to symbolise the Republic, will be the headquarters of the election count that ends it. My head full of Nebuchadnezzar and the rising and falling of states and empires, I think: this is the last evening of the Marxist-Leninist GDR, the last time the sun goes down on it. I wonder what Erich Honecker is thinking. Crowds are still strolling along the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse. As I cross Marx-Engels-Platz, the fawn television tower stands against the blue Hotel Stadt Berlin, and the neon lights are coming on singly. By the time I reach the other side, behind the Palace, the cars on Werderstrasse have their lights on. Police are standing around in groups, presumably to protect the election headquarters.
A poignant moment from Desmond Fennell’s account of the obsequies of socialism. Was it a natural death, murder, or suicide? The author’s verdict on the demise of the two-hundred-year-old socialist project is suicide while under the blinding influence of religious fervour.
Dublin, Sanas Press, ISBN 0 9522582 2 6 (distributed by Veritas, www.veritas.com)
Written in Anguillara 1997-8
The Postwestern Condition:Between Chaos and Civilisation (1999)
A civilisation is essentially a hierarchical set of rules of behaviour which is subscribed to by rulers and ruled throughout an extensive territory for a long time. It lasts because it makes sense. In recent decades the West, led by the rulers of the USA, has rejected many characteristic rules of western civilisation and replaced them with new rules. This has amounted in effect to the end of western civilisation and movement towards a new one: a venture not unlike that which began in Russia in 1917. Not merely ‘postmodern’, the present age is postwestern. The break began when the West, led by the American president, pronounced the Hiroshima massacre virtuous and armed itself with atomic bombs. That overthrew and replaced a central rule of western civilisation: ‘massacre is immoral and
The new collection of rules and related values is chaotic, does not make sense. So life, as presented to people, lacks sense. People find sense, mainly, in the constant increase of spendable money, public and private, and of the things that money can buy. This dependence for sense on something that can easily end makes the Ameropean system fragile; as fragile as the Soviet system in its last decade. To prevent a collapse into chaos when the money stops increasing - to preserve the essence of what we have - we must transform the system into a civilisation: organise its values and rules as a coherent hierarchy, and win authority and acceptance for this new manifestation of sense.
Two things threaten the success of such an effort. The present chaos of values, rules and interpersonal relations suits the rulers, preachers and capitalists who jointly control the system; it feeds their collective power. In the US unhappiness has been increasing about the endorsement of Hiroshima - the moral decision on which our postwestern world, from its nuclear armament to its rules and values, ultimately rests.
London, Minerva Press, ISBN 0 75411 145 8
(distributed by Veritas, www. veritas.com)
Written in Anguillara 1999-2001
The Turning Point:My Sweden Year And After (2001)
Between the 1960s and the 1990s, through his journalism, books and pamphlets, Desmond Fennell acquired a wide and varied readership. Immersed as he was in the affairs of Ireland - the art scene in Dublin, the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, the restatement of Irish identity, the completion of the Irish Revolution, decentralisation of government, solving the Northern problem - it became apparent to readers that they were dealing with an unusual kind of Irish intellectual, not readily assignable to any of the usual Irish categories.
In The Turning Point, Desmond Fennell reveals the story of his intellectual development from his teenage years in Dublin to the 1990s in that same city. The book’s focus, however, is on his thirty-first year, 1960, which he spent largely in Sweden. Sweden was to have been the culmination of eight years spent by Fennell in Europe and Asia enlarging his knowledge of the world and mankind. Sweden was then the avant-garde country of the western world, the place where the future was being pioneered, and he went there believing that he would relish that future. But the reverse occurred, with a result that shaped his life in the following decades. Disappointed and shocked by what he found there, his worldview fell apart. Returning to Ireland, he was faced with the task of reconstructing a view of the age that corresponded with its reality.
In his final chapter, ‘The Rest of My Life So Far’, Fennell recounts his battle against the tide in a Republic of Ireland that, far from completing the Revolution, was becoming a province again.
The Turning Point is an extraordinary piece of vivid narrative and searching introspection by one of Ireland’s most creative thinkers, who now lives in Italy.
Dublin, Sanas Press, ISBN 0 9522582 3 4 (hbk), 0 9522582 5 0 (pbk), distributed by Veritas, www. veritas. com
Written in Anguillara 2000-02
The Revision of European History (2003)
In this conversational book Desmond Fennell provides three
things in one:
- a critique of the standard History of Europe as found in textbooks and works of reference, on the grounds that it is distorted by ‘imprecise designation’ and ‘victors’ history’ and does not make sense for Europeans in the twenty-first century;
- a manual which enables readers of the ‘standard history’, wherever encountered, to note the main distortions and make appropriate mental corrections;
- an outlined ‘new history of Europe’ which would be ‘true and clear’ and make sense for Europeans living in the twenty-first century (see page 79)
Written in Dublin and Anguillara 1994-2003
Cutting to the Point:Essays and Objections 1994-2003 (2003)
For almost forty years, Desmond Fennell has written lucidly and cogently on a variety of issues concerning Ireland and the wider western world, often clashing with the Irish liberal-revisionist ascendancy. This book comes ten years after his last collection of essays, Heresy: The Battle of Ideas in Ireland.
In this new collection, Fennell’s subject matter ranges from Graham Knuttel’s paintings, Irish Studies in the United States and ‘the European dialect of Lingua Humana’ to a Rilke poem, the relationships of religion and nationalism, Irish literary studies in Italy, and the personal story of ‘a new friend suddenly lost’. Other essays are entitled ‘A Provincial Passion: Cleansing Irish Literature of Irishness’, ‘The Recent Birth and Chequered Career of “Rural Ireland”’, ‘Three Views of Reality: The Poetry of Higgins, Kavanagh and Heaney’ and ‘News for Dublin 4: God Is Alive and Thriving’. In an Epilogue, ‘The Author as a Dublin Liberal Problem’, Fennell deals analytically and definitively with his treatment by the liberal-revisionist Correctorate.
Dublin: The Liffey Press, ISBN 1-904148-35-2