I recently did the *drum roll please…… TEXTUALITIES MINI-CONFERENCE!!! I ended up having to give my presentation a bit early because I’d bought tickets to fly back to America last year. I’d wanted to surprise my dad, having found out that he would be the grand marshal for my hometown’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, which we always hold on the Saturday prior to the holiday itself. Having to go a few days before the conference ended up feeling like kind of a double edged blade. On the one hand, I felt sort of nervous not having anyone else to watch and sort of go off of, but on the other hand, I was able to get it over with sooner than anyone else, and have a video record of it. I was really nervous, even though this course so far has given me an opportunity to write about what I love. And capturing it on video gave me both halves of that: I would notice how some things I said evoked laughter, just as quickly as the times I misspoke, or my voice cracked.
If you haven’t already seen it, here is a video of my presentation:
So big shout out to everyone who made it out that day to ask questions, thank you! I would like to answer some of those questions now, as well as delving into a few things I have thought of since giving the presentation.
1: Dr. Heather Laird asked me what the Irish diaspora in America was assimilating in to, and what that meant.
- Part of the difficulty, in fact I think the biggest difficulty of my thesis, will be establishing the language of my research, and I think this was a great example. Having minored in History during my undergrad, I have always been wary of using contemporary language and paradigms in understanding the way that people of the past thought. I’ve always felt that this is similar to holding a pre-conceived notion, then molding the world and its events to reach that conclusion, like the exact opposite of the scientific process. I feel that this is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays, especially in the Humanities. And because I will be writing about changing perceptions which were taking place in America in the 1940s to 1960s, this will be something I have to be careful of.
- So, the question remains, what were Irish immigrants assimilating in to? This speaks to the idea of ethnicity, which is neither racial nor wholly socially constructed. Ethnicity is not as widely recognized in today’s society, and in an increasingly diverse world, the chasms between different subcultures of the same skin color seem at times to be rapidly disappearing. The idea of a white American holding an ethnic identity nowadays has largely become something of easily dismissed comedic fodder, see below.
- But this was not always the case. As I’ve written before, I grew up feeling a strong sense of ethnic identity, but an identity in a sort of twilight. As a kid I saw the last of the generation of immigrants in my family die, leaving in their wake heirlooms, mass cards, and stories at the dining room table. The idea of ethnicity in previous generations was very tangible. In conjunction with the early 20th century’s scientific racism, most people believed that if you were an American whose ‘blood’ was Irish Catholic then, it didn’t matter if your great grandparents had arrived in America in a previous century, you were Irish. Or Polish. Or Italian. Any of these ‘ethnic’ nations, typically poor peasants, and almost always Catholic, had a type of ethnic difference which only in the last 50 years has been largely transcended by the whiteness of their skin. It will be very important for me to cite the many resources I’ve come across in the past year in the library which demonstrate that ethnicity did not have in previous generations the same fluidity or ambiguity that we in the postmodern world can apply to our understanding of things.
- One of those resources I came across earlier this year is the Dale T. Knobel book Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America. Dr. Laird asked about the idea of America already being mixed, and while there have always been Catholics and Irish people in America, prior to the challenges of mass migration due to the Famine, America unquestionably saw itself as an Anglo Protestant nation. In quoting a prominent Presbyterian evangelist of the Antebellum Period of American history, Knobel observed, “‘Puritanism, Protestantism, and True Americanism are only different terms to designate the same set of principles” (5). I hope to find more material which corroborates this strongly held notion of American identity.
2: Performing Irishness.
- One of the most surprising things I came across was Kerouac’s fascination with Irish culture. But as with all great paradoxes, it was surprising, but shouldn’t have been. In several of Kerouac novels I’ve read, (notably, On the Road and Tristessa) Kerouac’s protagonists were the sons or grandsons of Italian rather than French immigrants. White immigrants practicing a folksy type of Catholicism and somehow regarded even up until the 1950s as racially ambiguous white people…
- And Salinger is no different! Holden Caulfield complains about people assuming he is Catholic because of his Irish sounding last name, and draws alienation from their sense of solidarity, a relic from their time of secret societies and agrarian discontent, carried into the upper middle class of America…. I can’t be the only one who sees this!!!
- As I mentioned in the presentation, in doing research for the film module, Diane Negra from UCD has written extensively on Irishness being used as a visual shorthand in contemporary American culture to communicate a toxic form of whiteness, often masculine, angry, violent and besieged. No one questions the Irishness of Denis Leary, who grew up in Massachusetts with parents from Kerry, and sings songs about being an angry lapsed Catholic, boldly daring cancer to come for him for enjoying chain smoking and binge drinking.
- But Jack Kerouac using the same sense of ethnic fatalism so often ascribed to the Irish race to drink himself into an early grave, having a lifelong attachment to the working class, white immigrant, ethnic Catholicism of his mother is often overlooked. Why did he change Neal Cassady’s name in On the Road, his most iconic work, to Dean Moriarty? I find it hard to believe that Kerouac, famous for his obsession with words and ideas from other languages he found esoteric or incommunicable, was unaware of the name Moriarty, which, according to Ancestry.com is, “shortened Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Muircheartaigh ‘descendant of Muircheartach’, a personal name composed of the elements muir ‘sea’ + ceardach ‘skilled’, i.e. ‘skilled navigator’”. All of this is a performance, and one which is difficult today I think for us to grasp. It’s what I want to make sense of.
3: Doctor Donna Marie Alexander asked if I will I be examining the role of gender in my research?
- Short answer, absolutely. My dilemma is this, and I am still trying to articulate it, but here’s a simplistic explanation: I don’t want it to devolve into a rehashing of my most recent essay on our Gender and Sexuality module, in which I examine the role of Marian devotion, and the pressure mothers historically have put on sons to become priests. I focused on the sexual otherness priests were historically (and still sometimes to this day) portrayed as by historically anti-Catholic movements.
- Nor do I want to turn my research into yet another in vogue heap of abuse thrown at a Catholic Church which isn’t exactly popular these days in Ireland, or America. Since the recent Tuam Babies scandal, I’ve noticed a dearth of denunciation for the society at large which sent unmarried women to the horrible conditions of these homes, other than a few minor opinion pieces here and there. Similarly, I feel like there has been very little acknowledgement of the fact that these homes were not operated solely by Catholic institutions but also by Protestant organizations, and that these double standards seemingly go completely unchecked. I find it fascinating that there are so many parallels between the moral panics of the 19th century which led to widespread anti-Catholic violence and the current atmosphere of anti-Catholic thought in the Western world. A good example is the 1836 Ursuline Convent riots in Massachusetts, in which wholly unsubstantiated accusations of macabre sex rituals and infanticide of babies born to nuns and fathered by priests led to violence on a scale requiring the state militia to intervene.
- So… what’s the role of gender in all of this?
- Glad you asked! Essentially, I will be examining the way that this deep seated anti-Catholic prejudice cemented a BESIEGED MENTALITY among Catholic Americans in America from the 19th century on. Due to the history of anti-Catholicism in Ireland, and the link between it and a foreign nation occupying and marginalizing the majority of the population, this was perhaps felt more intensely in the Irish American community than perhaps Italian American immigrants coming from a society where the majority of the population both peasant and politician, were Catholic. But then, I don’t know, and I want to examine that. I will be attempting to reach a conclusion I do not already know, and answer questions I don’t already have formed in my mind.
- Going off of that assumption, what was the role of gender in MOBILIZING this community? As is often the case of Romantic Nationalism of the 19th Century, young patriotic men are often seen to be coming to the defense of their Motherland. Look at this:
- The role that mothers often played in the formation of Catholic diasporic communities is something I feel is all too often overlooked. I know that J.D. Salinger’s mother was born Catholic, and that he didn’t discover this until his adolescence, which had a profound affect on him (Gluck). How did this affect his outlook of the Irish diaspora, with their long association with family feuding, and tribalism?
- Kerouac’s Catholicism was heavily influenced by his own mother, yet he grew up with a strongly anti-clerical father…. he mentions many times in On The Road, for example, “I took a straight picture that made me look like a thirty-year-old Italian who’d kill anybody who said anything against his mother”(5). Later, he writes of meeting a woman in New York and, “It suddenly occurred to me this was my mother of about two hundred years ago in England, and that I was her footpad son, returning from gaol to haunt her honest labors in the hashery”(161-162). In addition to the tribal Catholic Italian trope used, I find it interesting that he used the term ‘gaol’ rather than jail, so strongly evocative of Ireland, yet have found little analysis of either of these to date.
- And for an ethno-religious subculture so linked to the notions of family often besieged, what role did Flannery O’Connor’s vocation to the single life play in her writing?
- Was O’Connor’s work then affected by her being the only one of the three writers from the heavily Protestant American South?’
- Did her Catholic isolation affect the women of her short stories?
All in all, I am happy to report that, much like the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, this mini-conference left me with more new questions than answers. I was afraid at first that I’d not have enough questions to ask, or material to use to cover 15,000 to 17,000 words for my final thesis, but I no longer have that fear.
“Euro Americans…Reflections on European Ethnicity in America.” 26 November 2010. http://euro-americans.blogspot.ie/2010/11/where-irish-americans-live.html. Accessed 28 March 2017.
Folley, Nick. “Catholic Church is Not to Blame Entirely for Tuam Babies.” Cork Independent, 19 June 2014. http://www.corkindependent.com/20140619/news/catholic-church-is-not-to-blame-entirely-for-tuam-babies-S85780.html. Accessed 28 March 2017.
Griffin, Jay. ps09jgriffin. Medford High School. http://becomingamerica.wikispaces.com/ps09jgriffin. Accessed 28 March 2017.
Gluck, Robert. “J.D. Salinger and the Holocaust.” The Algemeiner, 27 April 2014, http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/04/27/j-d-salinger-and-the-holocaust/. Accessed 28 March 2017.
“I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills! – Will Ferrell In Zoolander GIF” https://www.tenor.co/view/willferrell-crazypills-zoolander-crazy-insane-gif-3547413. Accessed 28 March 2017.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (Penguin Classics) (p. 5-6 & 161). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Knobel, Dale T. Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America. Wesleyan University Press, 1986.
MacLise, Daniel. “Illustration to Thomas Moore’s song, ‘Erin, the Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes.'” O’Shea, Helen. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mp/9460447.0003.205/–defining-the-nation-confining-the-musician-the-case-of-irish?rgn=main;view=fulltext. Accessed 28 March 2017.
“Moriarty Family History.” Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=moriarty. Accessed 28 March 2017.
@nilesfiles, The Niles Files. “The Godfather Part II: Fruit of Thy Womb”, The Niles Files, http://nilesfilmfiles.blogspot.ie/2012/03/godfather-part-ii-fruit-of-thy-womb.html. Accessed 28 March 2017.
White, Victoria. “Protestant Bethany Homes Babies Ignored Despite Tuam Revelations.” Irish Examiner, 12 June 2014, http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/columnists/victoria-white/protestant-bethany-homes-babies-ignored-despite-tuam-revelations-271739.html. Accessed 28 March 2017.