This Much I Know: Writer, Mark O'Connell

If I could change one thing in contemporary society, I’d overturn capitalism.
This Much I Know:  Writer, Mark O'Connell

If I could change one thing in contemporary society, I’d overturn capitalism.

I’d replace it with some form of socialism. This situation we are experiencing with Covid-19 is revealing so many fault lines in the way we live our lives that are seemingly unworkable, unsustainable and inhumane. One positive thing that’s been made clear is the importance of community and the fact that we are part of a collective. Which makes me really hopeful for the future.

I was a fairly bookish child. By the time I was a teenager I had pretensions of being a man of letters, although I didn’t really understand what that meant.

I studied English and philosophy in Trinity, followed by a masters and a PhD, with a view to becoming a lecturer. That was back in 2007 when a career in academia still seemed like a possibility but then the financial crash put an end to all that.

I had been doing some freelance writing and began writing much more personal essays, which resonated with a wider readership. Some of my on-line pieces got noticed by publications such as The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine and, eventually, I started writing full time. My first book To Be a Machine, focused on the obsession of Silicon Valley with transhumanism.

It is strange just how relevant my new book Notes from an Apocalypse has turned out to be. Everyone wants their book to be topical, but honestly, I would settle for it not being quite so on the nose.

I began writing it in 2016 out of a mood of anxiety at the state of the world. It seemed everything was sliding towards chaos. I really just wanted to explore my own anxieties and preoccupations. [His end-of-the-world tour takes in prepper bunkers in South Dakota, billionaire Peter Thiel’s New Zealand hideaway, an Edenic settlement in Scotland and Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.]

I met my wife Amy when I was 17 and and she was 16. We live in Dublin’s Stoneybatter with our two children, aged seven and two.

I’m not fetishistic about routine. I work from 10am to 5pm, in our spare room.

Working from home can be difficult, especially now both children are at home, and although I’m disciplined about being at my desk during working hours, it’s not like I’m constantly in some kind of creative trance. I waste a lot of time — reading, on Twitter — although lately I’m trying not to be so judgemental with myself.

I’m not sure that I’ve had a major challenge yet, I’ve been unusually blessed. Although it was certainly a disappointment when my academic career floundered. It was difficult to face the fact that I’d spent years training to work in an area in which there was no prospect of getting a job.

I don’t believe in fate. I’m not a determinist in that sense.

My idea of misery is being in prison.

My idea of bliss is very corny — that feeling of happiness is generally just a result of me being with my family.

If I could be reborn as someone else for a day, I’d be a professional musician. I was quite serious about both piano and violin until my twenties.

To relax, I listen to music and still play a little piano. My son is taking lessons now. And, to clear my mind, I like walking around our neighbourhood.

I don’t know whether or not I believe in an afterlife. Until recently I considered myself an atheist and would have said I don’t believe in anything outside of science, but I’m much less certain of that now. I’m probably agnostic. But I do have this idea that religious people, even though they believe something I believe not to be true, have access to a deeper truth than I do.

The trait I most admire is others is humour. By that I don’t mean someone who is serious craic or a gas merchant. I mean someone who is humourous.

My biggest fault is impatience.

If there is one thing they didn’t teach me at school, which I wish they had, it’s philosophy. I’d make it mandatory because it is a discipline that forces you to question everything. It is completely at odds with market- driven imperatives.

Recently, life has taught me the importance of home, in every sense of the word. I’m lucky that my home is a good place but the fact I’m confined to it, like everyone else, makes me feel homesick for my broader ‘home’: my neighbourhood and the people in that community.

  • Mark O’Connell’s new book Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, is just out, published by Granta Books.

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