Printer Friendly

Queer eye from the Irish guy.

W.J. MCCORMACK Roger Casement in Death, or Haunting the Free State. Dublin: UCD Press, 2002. $54.95, $27.95

JEFFREY DUDGEON Roger Casement: The Black Diaries, with a study of his background, sexuality, and Irish political life.. Belfast: Belfast Press, 2002. $40.00

DURING THE THREE MONTHS between Roger Casement's arrest and execution in the summer of 1916, the Home Office photographer was ordered to take pictures of selected passages from his Black Diaries. Among those are the entries for 9-12 November 1912, records of his sojourn in the Putamayo river town of Iquitos, Peru. These were subsequently among the excerpts that were circulated among influential figures in Ireland, Britain, and the United States. The effect of this effort was successful to the extent that John Redmond, W.B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, Shane Leslie, Alice Stopford Green, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Quinn, and President Wilson, to name but a few, evidently regarded them as genuine and accepted the consequences for Casement's personal reputation. Here, verbatim, are a few of these entries:
 9 THURSDAY Fine morning after
 rain--cold night. Therm 75 degrees.
 Harding expected "Manco" last night.
 Liberal expects 40 tons of rubber, Cazes
 says. No breakfast. Staid [sic] in house all
 morning. At 1 p.m. Magnificent young
 Cholo policeman passed with fine big
 one--and splendid calves. Strong as a
 tapir. Immediately followed by another
 with a Huge one on right side. Could see it
 plainly stiff and long and thick (about 7")
 wobbling down right thigh--peaked Inca
 nose and pure cholo (about 30). 1.16 p.m.
 "Muchachaila" just gone past. My
 window side open but he was looking
 across street or would have seen me. I
 flew to window and looked after--lovely
 stem, thighs and calves in blue and blue
 putties. He stood a minute upright and
 strong and then down side street. Will
 watch for return. He did return now at
 1.26 and I saw him coming but hid. He
 glanced in window as passed but did not
 know I was there! And so I have again
 sacrificed love to fear. To dinner D.V.
 after Malecon and Plaza and soldier 9 Bat.
 Cigarettes, but would not and then Jose to
 House at 11 p.m.

 10 FRIDAY Jose to come at 8 after
 last night's visit at 11 p.m.! To go to S.
 Miguel, but it is raining. He came at
 8.10--we went away at 8.25 first to S.
 Miguel and then on by new path to S. Juan
 where we bathed and after coming out
 mine under H'Kf [handkerchief] got stiff
 and he did same with his H'Kf and
 fingered it too and it got huge. I saw it
 swelling and at last under h'kf got glimpse
 of it and it was a tremendous one with red
 head. Near did it. Back at 11 and told him
 come 3: to breakfast Cazes' seeing huge
 one on Wesches shop boy in store and
 then to Morey's and now at 2.45 I am
 waiting for Jose naked, with mine ready!
 He came at 2.48 and on till 5 stayed with
 me--mine huge and his up too stiff. He
 wants it! He is quite ready but if I do it I
 must take him with me to Rio! After
 dinner met Manuel. Gave good evening
 To Malecon to wait him and there Indian
 "muchacho" from "Tapiche" wanted
 awfully. Splendid thighs. Tried feel it but
 not match box instead. Agreed to come
 with me but afraid of soldiers. Then a
 Colombian on Vatan launch and showed
 him mine and felt his.

 Indian Muchacho at 2.35 opposite
 (about 17) called on two girls and waited,
 leaning on wall to show limbs--girls
 came and one patted his cheek and he
 followed close almost covering, his prick
 showing enormous propulsion of his old
 pants right down left thigh, rising bigger
 and longer--abut as much again--so
 marked a Chinaman (young) looked back
 twice at him. Boys followed girls close
 and they turned down river side together!
 A nice boy too, he had given me a good
 day previously when passing my window.
 At 2.20 this young Cholo moco passed
 down with a huge one or right side. We
 greeted each other and I had a good look
 at it. It was thick and big and long and
 good testeminhos behind it, to help bulge
 out his pants. A thin tall lad with Inca

 11 SATURDAY I hope "Manco"
 today--also "Ucayali" and to see dear
 Ignacio tonight. After last night's two on
 Malecon I am tired and a bit afraid. The
 'Tapiche' boy said that the soldiers
 "agarrar" them [grab them roughly]. His
 thighs as firm as rocks and felt it and
 wanted awfully. Rain came on I asked him
 to follow. Jose now at 9 here reading
 "Carlo Mango" and "Don Quihote."
 Expect Ignacio today. At 6 p.m. no
 "Manco" and I have not heard that
 Ucayali arrived. Jose came at 1 p.m. and
 stayed till 3.20 to so writing English
 exercises and Spanish. Poor boy--I am
 sorry for him. To dinner at Bella vista and
 then after to Brown's where fell asleep
 with a headache after y'day. Very tired.
 Back at 10 p.m. and turned in straight to
 bed and slept. Heavy rain all last
 night--but river I fancy still dropping

 12 SUNDAY Rain night but fine
 morning. Writing letters for "Manco's"
 mail. She is due on 14th and I shall miss
 my mail by her. Out after lunch at B.
 Vista to pier and then to Celandine stream
 with splendid young Chachapoyas Cholo
 (carter) to show the way. He had a
 monster and fine limbs--but would not
 bathe (too shy) but showed about 8" lying
 down and a thick one. Coming back met
 his young friend--wood cutter--with only
 blue drawers on--naked torso below navel
 and calves and a huge one too--a lovely
 type. After dinner to pier to "Ucalyi"
 which arrived at 2 p.m. Left in
 "Anastacia" at 10.40 am. River 66'5" at
 10 a.m.

In his book under review here, Jeffrey Dudgeon reproduces for the first time the complete Black Diaries for three years (1903, 1910 and 1911), comprising 225 pages of this kind of thing: one third of his hefty dissertation. For all its excesses and special pleading, it makes for better reading than the diary that is its occasion.

During his travels through three continents, Casement kept three parallel documents: a White Diary, recording his official observations on social, political, and economic conditions, a Black Diary, recording his sexual adventures with some fifty partners, and a Cash Ledger which recorded in scrupulous detail his daily expenses, with separate daily and accumulated sex costs. Whatever his motives, he kept these documents either on his person or his apartment so that when he went to trial for high treason following his arrest on Banna Strand, he was also unofficially on trial for breaches of the code of common decency. Although there are some minor and puzzling inconsistencies between these documents, there cannot be much doubt that they are all by the same person. The thousands of details and cross-references that bind these three documents to one another would have been practically impossible for a forger to assemble and coordinate, especially at the short notice required by the time period between Casement's arrest and trial. It would have been pointless, besides, when a few letters, for example, untrammeled by the difficulties posed by the alignment of hundreds of potentially troublesome minutiae, might have been just as persuasive to disinterested parties that their author had abnormal, and indeed, criminal, sexual appetites.

Let me observe for a start that, as an admirer of Casement's human rights work in what we have come to call the Third World and heroic sacrifice for political justice in his native country, one an extension of the other, I am disappointed to find that status coexistent with afflictions of morals and literary style as exhibited by these samples. They record scores of encounters--sometimes five or six in a single day--with unremarkable fellows like the aforementioned Jose Gonzalez (his callow gracelessness documented by the four photographs on page 347 of Dudgeon's book). The vast majority of these men were either natives of the Upper Congo or Amazon regions, and minors to boot, who were paid for their, well, genital services. Roger Casement, while publicly excoriating. the Belgians, British, and Portuguese for their colonial looting of the natural resources and abuse of the natives of the Congo, Putamayo, and Ireland, was himself engaged in private enterprise which, allowing for the reduced personal dimensions, had similar moral consequences. He was taking advantage of his position in these remote colonies, by virtue of his legal and financial independence, and his status as a mobile European, to prey on men--pilots, porters, policemen, delivery boys--who regarded him with deference. Whereas Casement records his social sympathy with many of them, and was evidently a generous person (they were all well paid), these diaries never record his personal affection (much less love) for any of these partners. The diaries are silent on any shared interests other than mutual physical satisfaction, and are singularly bereft of the ordinary human feeling that such encounters might, on occasion, be expected to engender. Neither these diaries nor their editor evinces concern for the psychological damage done these impressed and impressionable young men. The editor makes no reference to any effort to obtain records of the damage done to their lives, their psyches, or their souls. In the not too distant future, when the history of sex tourism comes to be written, the evidence from Casement's sorry document must put him among its pioneers. On the other hand, his diaries do not take their place along those of Samuel Pepys or Humphrey O'Sullivan. If you have read this far, you have read them all: they are repetitive, dull, almost entirely without originality (the comparison with the tapir is, well, as far as it gets), boring, tasteless, pathetic, pathological. Their very expanse--hundreds of pages of the same drive!--would have required the employment of a forger with a Sisyphean imperturbability.

It is difficult to imagine what in Casement's record attracts Jeffrey Dudgeon's efforts in publishing all of the Black Diaries for the first time, including the "erotically-charged" " 1911 iteration. They have been heretofore unavailable due to the fear of prosecution as obscenity. Obscene they are; but pornographic, no. Evidently unsympathetic with his subject's national politics, Dudgeon seems to consider him a figure around whom proponents of the full legalization of a gay life-style might rally. He seems to know a good deal about gay culture, its practices and code. In his introduction he assures us that Casement's behavior is entirely typical. He may well be correct in this. Nevertheless, he does not examine the implications for public health and respect for personal integrity that engaging in daily sexual congress with multiple partners of either sex. Nor does he argue the case with respect to Casement's actual practice, seemingly approving, without reservation, of actions which in their manic indiscrimination, were responsible in colonial times for the spread of gonorrhea and consequent decimation of native populations, the spread of AIDS in ours, and for offenses with fewer victims than those recorded by Casement, that have landed more than 40 priests and ex-clerics in Irish jails. In these respects, the publication of these diaries has the evidently unintended effect of reinforcing the very stereotypes of the gay lifestyle that has been with us for a long time: of the emotionally unstable, predatory, sadomasochistic, and promiscuous homosexual.

Dudgeon's volume reviews the familiar events of Casement's life, but gives much new information on aspects that have heretofore received little attention, especially on his family background in County Antrim. He has gone to considerable lengths to identify Casement's first and last sexual partners, Millar Gordon, and Alder Christensen, the latter Casement's Norwegian sailor companion who betrayed him to the British. He has an original and historically original chapter on Joseph Biggar's Belfast circle, with which Casement was associated. Dudgeon gives best annotations to the Belfast and Northern Ireland sections: he knows the ground well, and takes time to search the archives. It goes to considerable trouble to edit and gloss the actual texts, identifying many of the figures who passed through Casement's life. So while it attempts to provide a "uniquely fresh and original look at the Irish patriot and humanitarian," its own fascination with Casement's cruising and groping is repellant, tedious, and pointless.

Attempting to make his position clear, Dudgeon indulges in a bit of bravado: "Casement enjoyed himself sexually, displaying little or no guilt and certainly no shame. He showed himself to be an early exemplar of what is now standard sexual behavior for most gay men" (xvi). This is an astonishing claim in view of the contents of the diaries that follow. He attempts to "normalize" Casement's behavior by striking a supposedly candid posture: "The Black Diaries do not depict a monster nor someone more hypocritical than most of us in the sex department ... But in an era, and in countries, in which there was no age of consent for homosexual acts, as all were illicit or illegal, his behaviour was unremarkable" (xix). This defense does not stand the test, since statute law at the time did indeed distinguish between degrees of homosexual offenses, handing down more severe penalties for those perpetrated against minors than those that engaged adults, much as we do today. Refusing to acknowledge this rather obvious and damning point, Dudgeon weakly pleads, "The partners Casement described were largely urbanised and usually eager, consenting men of many races" (xix). Thus seemingly a promoter of Casement as an apostle of multiculturalism, Dudgeon uses the word "love" to characterize his liaisons. All the evidence is to the contrary: Casement did not use the word himself; he was constantly moving from partner to partner--often more than once daily; his diary entries confined themselves to records of the size of their penises, the manner of his engagement (oral, anal or digital), and the price paid, all of which he recorded obsessively, evidently with the object of deriving pleasure of masturbation from rereading the entries when sex partners were not available. The whole thing is a sordid and pathetic mess, and cannot add to anyone's cause.

How did Casement himself view his obsession? We know from these diary entries that he was into measuring the penis size of his British companion (February 20, 1903), and was especially attracted to boys (he details a sequence of them in the Congo, March 28). A diary entry shortly thereafter (April 17) is very revealing. It seems that Sir Hector Macdonald, an example of that oxymoronic figure, a popular colonial administrator, was exposed as a pederast in Ceylon, and was embarrassed into committing suicide. Reading of the man's unseemly end, Casement comments: "The most distressing case this sure of its kind one that may awake the national mind to saner methods of curing a terrible disease than by criminal legislation" (121). So. Casement regarded the condition he shared with Macdonald a "terrible disease." But rather than acknowledge the import of this self-diagnosis, Dudgeon can but muster the comment that "Roger Casement ploughed on [sic!] regardless, adding further sexual and political outrages to his enlarging collection of rebellious activities" (122-23). This attempt to conflate Casement's public humanitarian work--his political activities in 1903 on behalf of the Congolese natives was a logical development of his experience in colonialism in the Boer War--elides his homosexuality which was neither a cause in which he believed (au contraire), and it was, moreover, a skillfully maintained secret until the leaks.

In commenting on Casement's unhappy condition, Dudgeon's difficulties with logic and syntax mirror one another: "Casement was never going to abandon his pursuit of sex contacts, rather it would intensify but he would not break-out from his habit of secrecy. There is never a hint of any discussion with his partners after sex. He was therefore to remain a sexual loner devoting himself to other radical causes" (123). This contradicts his earlier assertion (evidence absent) that Casement had sexual liberation among his radical activities. The sentence, moreover, switches the topic so often that it is next to impossible to follow. Which is the habit: same-sex contacts or secrecy? And how does the second sentence derive from or relate to its antecedent? The absence of after-sex conversations refers to what: the experience? their relationship? the need for secrecy? the cost? Presumably he means that Casement separated his radical politics from his sexual liaisons--one being public, the other private. But Casement's secrecy is open to another plainer reading: that he considered his sexual life the manifestation of an illness and not a public cause, in contrast with his militant Irish nationalism, that he considered a just and unconcealed cause, and a logical development of his experiences of colonialism in South Africa and the Congo and his humanitarian activism in each of these regions. Dudgeon's problem here is double: he is unsympathetic with Casement's public cause and has to invent one that Casement did not patronize. He has made a public cause of something Casement regarded as a private illness. In embracing this non-cause, he must then throw a mantle of righteousness over pederasty and the sexual abuse of minors, which, whatever ot3e thinks of the gay penchant for assessing the size of the penises of all men they encounter--a pathetic obsession, like compulsive gambling--is not a socially constructive cause.

Dudgeon's Prologue provides a detailed and affecting account of Casement's last days and execution. Long attracted to the Catholic Church for both personal and social reasons, he was finally received into its membership on the eve of his execution. After he made his first confession, he made his first and last Holy Communion, which was also his last meal on earth. All who witnessed his last days--his lawyer, chaplains, and executioner--attest to the sincerity of his repentance and the courage and dignity of his going. His last words were "Lord Jesus, receive my soul" and as the noose was attached, "For God and Kathleen ni Houlihane." Now we are not privy to the contents of his last confession, but it cannot have concealed or evaded the moral equivalent to the "terrible disease" to which he had privately admitted in his diary some eight years before. Whatever about his moral opinion of his activities in the meantime, in the end he had to have accepted the Church's moral interpretation of them as the most reliable statement of the terms under which he was at last to face divine judgment. Casement was under no obligation to accept the Catholic understanding of the human condition. But he did. Dudgeon cannot be taken seriously when he consigns this conversion to some sort of phobia control, happily confined to the fin de siecle. He cannot accept the Irish nationalist martyr that Casement publicly claimed to be or the sinner that he evidently privately admitted himself to be. Nor can he convert him into the gay martyr that he never intended or claimed to be.

Dudgeon never succeeds in overcoming his misunderstanding of the Catholicism which Casement clearly regarded as the only source of spiritual hope for himself, Orthodox Catholicism, i.e., essential Christianity, is the central civilizing force; and popular prejudices aside, provides a metaphysics, a spiritual discipline, and a moral code that protects us against our own worst proclivities, including the transparent contradictions of apologists for self-indulgence and abuse of sex, such as Jeffrey Dudgeon. Thus he repeatedly falls into absurd generalizations hilarious in their attempted condescension about the conversions, late in life, of British figures distinguished in various walks of life. "In the same decades, his recorded English contemporaries were largely riven with doubts, falling in love with schoolboys or converting to Rome to quell their desires" (581).

To even the most perceptive of his acquaintances, Casement was a puzzle. They record contradictory impressions or change their minds about him. E.D. Morel, for example, wrote: "An extraordinarily handsome and arresting face. From the moment our hands gripped and our eyes met, mutual trust and confidence were bred and the feeling of isolation slipped from me like a mantle. Here was a man indeed. One would convince those in high places of a crime committed upon a helpless race, who would move the bowels of compassion as one else could do." Yet, later he joined those who considered Casement insane: "I am very sorry for him, and his troubles have made him unreliable." Joseph Conrad's impressions--after sharing a room with him for several weeks--were puzzled but perceptive. In his 1890 diary he wrote, "Made the acquaintance of Mr Roger Casement, which I should consider as a great pleasure under any circumstances and now it becomes a positive piece of luck. Thinks, speak well, most intelligent and very sympathetic." But in a letter to John Quinn during the summer of 1916, he revised his opinion: "I judged that he was a man, properly speaking, of no mind at all. I don't mean stupid. I mean that he was all emotion. By emotional force (Congo report, Putumayo etc) he made his way, and sheer emotionalism has undone him. A creature of sheer temperament--a truly tragic personality; all but the greatness of which he had not a trace. Only vanity...."

Like many other men whom we admire for their public personae, their achievements, or leadership, we have to reconcile those qualities with some embarrassing personal failing: Philip Larkin's obsession with pornography, Martin Luther King's plagiarism of his doctoral dissertation, Paul deMan's Nazi propaganda, and most recently, William Bennet's addiction to gambling. Like Casement's pederasty, these men have secret sins. The respect they have earned in the public area may be modified, but not vitiated, by these revelations of private failings. Only among the saints do we expect a correspondence of inner and outer weathers.

As the excerpts with which I began this review indicate, the scandal surrounding Casement's behavior was more than homosexuality: it was of habitual and long-term pederasty. This charge and its denials led to the famous forgery controversy with which W.J. McCormack has been principally concerned. If his study suffers from academic overkill, it is a relief from the floundering in which Dudgeon embroils himself when he attempts to dismiss the charge that the Black Diaries were entirely the work of British Intelligence:
 It is next to impossible to deal with global
 forgery theories whereby every single fact
 is doubted, inverted and then used against
 the person introducing the fact. The
 resurrected suggestions of complete
 forgery, albeit with the diaries woven
 together over many years by use of both
 seized Casement material and of official
 files, is anti-historical since it involves the
 impossibility of any conclusions ever
 being reached on any past event or
 individual's character. The total forgery
 theory also fails by its reliance otherwise
 on inconsistencies, and the introduction of
 innuendo about peripheral Intelligence
 characters rather than evidence, let alone
 proof positive, of faking" (515).

During his trial in the High Court (June 26-29), nothing about his sexuality featured as evidence or during his subsequent appeal. However, to forestall public sympathy for a Knight of the British Empire who had earned his honor in campaigning for human rights, a campaign of vilification was undertaken, involving a limited circulation of portions of the diary such as those cited in this review. It was managed by Sir Ernest Blackwell behind the blackening of his name, involved the Foreign Office, Scotland Yard, and Naval Intelligence. Their targets included the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leader of the Irish Party, newspapers like the Daily Express, and clubroom gossips. The campaign was especially vigorous in the USA, where Cecil Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador took a leading role in informing influential Irish-Americans such as John Quinn and John McCormack. After the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randal Davidson, learned of the typescript, he was more appalled by what London was attempting to do with it than what it contained. He began a private campaign to save Casement, considering that the government's blackguardism had undermined the Crown's case. Casement was defended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (large contributor, and deviser of the defense on grounds of insanity). Petitioners for clemency included George Bernard Shaw, William Archer, Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, Beatrice Webb, and the Catholic Bishop of Winchester.

The crude and sordid contents of the diary seemed to be very much at odds with the high-mindedness exhibited by Casement during his trial. The British capacity for disinformation, especially in time of war or where Irish affairs were concerned, lent credibility to the hypothesis that these diaries were concoctions of British Intelligence (Michael Collins, however, was unfazed when during the Treaty negotiations he was shown the excerpts cited above). For the Irish public at the time, the Piggott letters were as recent a memory as the Paras' testimony or the Frank Skuse forensic evidence is in ours. The forgery hypothesis gained strength from several material circumstances: the lack of independent confirmation from any of his sexual partners; the fact that none of his close associates in the Congo or Putamayo seem to have been aware of his double life; Casement's practice of keeping of two sets of diaries, the White written in pencil, the Black in ink; the disappearance of some portions of the record (the Buff diary); the reticence of the British authorities to make the documents available for independent evaluation; and when that was eventually allowed, the emergence of some apparent inconsistencies between them and the historical record. The controversy is still unresolved, since even the testimony of an independent--well, British--handwriting expert who concluded that all were written by the same hand, Casement's, has been challenged by an American forensic specialist.

A central actor in the most recent phase of the Casement saga is W. J. McCormack, recently of the University of London. At his initiative, the handwriting analysis was undertaken. Satisfied that the diaries are genuine, he has moved the discussion to a third level in what insiders call "Casementia": a cultural analysis of the controversy. A central plank in the Forgery Theorists" platform was for long what he terms the "Normand Defense." This argues that Casement translated (or transcribed) the diary of one Armando Normand, a brutal manager of rubber-collection who worked for the Aran Brothers in the Putamayo district of South America. The principal articulation of this position appears in W. J. Maloney's The Forged Casement Diaries (1936). McCormack's intention in writing this book is to explore the structure and rationale of Maloney's Forgery Theory, irrespective of the results which forensic examination of the Black Diaries might produce. Recognizing that broader interpretive frameworks must be engaged if the complex cultural phenomenon indicated by Casmentia be understood, he set about a painstaking investigation of several historical and theoretical perspectives. He has gone to great lengths to identify and characterize Normand, and even greater distances on Maloney. He considers the hypothesis that Europeans who spent extended periods in the tropics and conditions of great stress--anthropologists, explorers, missionaries, etc.--experience character-banding traumas that make express what was latent in their personalities. He argues for a caution in our rush to judgment about persons who undergo experiences beyond our cultural conventions, and that many disciplines may be called on to shed light on the phenomenon.

McCormack's traces the history of the acceptance or denial of the authenticity of Casement's diaries with regard to the tenor of the times. His intention is therefore to assess the case made for forgery in the 1930s. To this end, he paces the forgery controversy in the context of intelligence work, archival engineering, IRA unofficial action, and Nazi propaganda of that decade. Be illuminates the complex framework in which the Maloney book was brought to publication, the elusive yet ebullient character of the author, his position in transatlantic Irish propaganda and politics He claims to have uncovered an Irish-American campaign to influence the domestic politics of the Irish Free State, in which the evergreen John Devoy and inveterate Joe McGarrity appear. In a detailed investigation of Maloney's credentials, he dilates his lack of historical training, his war neurosis, and even, he opines, his covert allegiance to Britain. McCormack waxes wroth on the tissue of confusions and misrepresentations, steered into print by managers who entertained murder and blackmail to enforce their theory. It is a complex drama of Irish-American, Irish-German relations, and Irish political culture during the 1930s. It uncovers aspects of the Irish newspaper world of the time--especially the Irish Press--and also of the mentality of Irish officialdom during the period and sheds new light on such figures as Eamon de Valera, and W.B. Yeats, each of whom successfully separated their private judgments of the matter from their public personae.

His own contribution to this debate--a welcome relief from the manic pursuit of biographical and textual minutiae--is a Lacanian meditation on the relationship between Casement's homosexuality and his Congo experience. Casement's life was in many ways dominated by oppressive symbolic systems, some of which excluded him, while others absorbed him with a like indifference. His destiny, as the official appointee twice to investigate the tropical rubber trade, might have been very different had the industry in questions been tin mining or the region temperate. McCormack claims that the relentless disintegration of Casement's moral character resulted from the dreadful scenes of human degradation he repeatedly encountered in Africa and South America. These encounters generated a response, which exceeding what his psychic economy could sustain, led to his physical and moral capitulation. He proposes that this collapse can be interpreted in the symbolic domain.

He therefore develops a four-part schema that relates rubber to semen and ink. The central position is taken by the White Diary, which as an exercise in the maintenance of appearances keeps apart sexuality and writing (semen versus ink). However, as the jungle exudes rubber from the tapped bark of its trees, its natives leak blood from their lacerated backs, and the swollen penis projects semen, the ink of the Black Diaries presents the hidden reality by which these fluids mutually represent one another. Thus as Casement worked to alleviate the cruel conditions imposed on the native of the Congo and Putamayo, he was himself being inwardly converted to participation in the horror by his profligate anal submission to scores of native men and boys. The scientific bases--in fact or theory--for all of this are to my mind highly dubious (I have known scores of missionaries and other workers in the Third World, none of whom display any such degeneracy); but I do admit that it possesses a grim, absurd, congruency, that if acknowledged, can hardly encourage proponents of Casement as a bearer of the beacon of sexual liberation.

The full weight of McCormack's academic training--his scrupulous examination of documents, his indefatigable pursuit of archival leads, and his Cultural Studies rhetoric--leads him to what a considerable overkill of the quarry. His fundamental hostility to Casement's politics is ill-concealed behind the vituperation of his attack on Maloney and his descendants whom he terms the Vindicators--Hebert O. Mackey, Roger McHugh, Angus Mitchell, Eoin O Maille, Michael Payne and Maire ui Callanan.

Reading these two recent additions to Casementia, I turned back to B.L. Reid's The Lives of Roger Casement (1976). The portrait of Casement that emerges there is of a petty, vain, windy, arrogant and self-deceived man who was at the same time deeply kind, sympathetic, generous, unselfish energetic, loyal, humorous, and brave. Catholic and Protestant, Irishman and Englisman, man and woman, he was a single person divided just short of real pathology. Reading the diaries--which Reid accepted as genuine--one is struck as he was by their awful shallowness. His excellence was not intellectual or spiritual As Conrad rightly observed, he was "all emotion." Finally, I cannot see much in these books to cause me to revise Reid's fair and decent conclusion in that excellent study:
 Casement wrote the diaries and that fact
 must be incorporated in the legend. If the
 Irish are going to make a national hero or
 saint of him, they must bring themselves
 to do so without blaming the diaries on the
 English. The matter is less hard, or hard in
 a different way, than many Irishmen have
 apparently supposed. The diaries are true
 phrasing of a part of his character and as
 such they must interest a biographer. But
 they are tiresome as a fact and as a
 problem; the sexual side of them does not
 seem to me to cut very deep into what I
 want to call character, and I do not see
 why it need affect the Irish definition of
 Casement as hero or saint. In a sense it is
 nobody's business, like the sex lives of the
 rest of us. The Irish are right to see
 Casement as a national hero, though he
 was a singularly ineffectual one ... The
 English laid the trap of Casement's
 "degeneracy," the Irish fell into it with
 enthusiastic truculence, and the rest of us
 have had to argue about it in all
 helplessness. But it is time to have done
 with that issue. Casement's homosexuality
 is interesting, but it is not the heart of the

--George Mason University
COPYRIGHT 2004 Irish Studies Program
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Roger Casement in Death, or Haunting the Free State; Roger Casement: The Black Diaries, with a study of his background, sexuality, and Irish political life
Author:Owens, Coilin
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Previous Article:A life like a novel.
Next Article:The gay Southland.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters