- Haunted English: The Celtic Fringe, the British Empire, and De-Anglicization
Although the complex role of language in Anglo-Celtic (de-)colonization has been addressed at length within Irish studies, Laura O'Connor's nuanced reframing of the issue in Haunted English opens the field in important ways. Where James Joyce and Samuel Beckett dominate much of the scholarship on this topic, O'Connor focuses on [End Page 175] W. B. Yeats, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Marianne Moore, three poets whose Celtic self-identification "marks them as other-than-English writers in English" (xiii). Further, where previous accounts of the dispossession of the Irish language tend to rely on abstractions, describing Gaelic as that which is silent or unnamable within the text, O'Connor is quite specific, carefully tracing out the varied ways in which the linguistic and idiomatic features of Gaelic, as well as the broader cultural impact of (de-)Anglicization, consciously and unconsciously influence how "each of these writers gives birth to his or her own signature style" (xvii). The result is a book that will be of great use to scholars interested in Irish studies, postcolonial theory, modernism, and, because it addresses in depth the "cultural logic of English-only Anglicization" promoted during the nineteenth century, Victorian studies (xvii).
O'Connor's crucial theoretical move is to introduce what she terms the "Celtic Fringe" as a symbolic contact point between colonizer and colonized. Traditionally, the process of Anglicization and systematic "linguicide" of Gaelic in the British Isles is understood in geographic terms, with Anglican enclaves gradually encompassing more and more territory. Such a perspective reinforces the binary logic of imperial discourse and its derivative, nationalism, in the sense that it posits a clear division between two homogenous cultures, one modern and the other traditional or, to use Matthew Arnold's terms, one rational and the other spiritual. O'Connor's Celtic Fringe model complicates this binary on a number of levels. Most important, her attention to language reveals the extent to which Victorian Anglicization, this "pervasive feature of British cultural life" (xv), constitutes itself through and is simultaneously haunted by the Celtic Fringe. The discourses of Anglicization, she argues, consistently represent the Celt as inhabiting some hazy, distant, romanticized space, some "beyond" forever divorced from the "here," in an anxious and ultimately doomed attempt to fully repress the actual "multilingual diversity of contemporary British culture" and to compensate, on an unconscious level, for "the cultural losses entailed by linguistic imperialism" (xv). In addition, she usefully sees the Celtic Fringe as a space of liminality where Celtic culture, through the influences of Anglicization and de-Anglicization, is continuously retranslated, thus giving the lie to cultural nationalist notions of an uncontaminated Celtic world that might be known, accessed, or recovered. Considered in these terms, the Celtic Fringe linguistic contact zone is a profoundly fluid space where discursive productions of ethnocultural identity are never totalizing and are thus always open to creative forms of renegotiation and retranslation.
The final three chapters focus on the varied ways in which Yeats, MacDiarmid, and Moore engage in this creative process. By incorporating frequent references to the unique features of Gaelic language and culture, and by attending carefully to how these features manifest themselves in the fluid space of the Celtic Fringe, O'Connor provides highly nuanced readings of individual poems. Her analysis of Yeats's "The Song of Wandering Aengus" (1899)—which demonstrates how the poet obscures his debt to Gaelic-English translations in favor of creating an abstract Celtic mood—is especially compelling, as is her reading of Moore's poem "Spenser's Ireland" (1941) in the tradition of the "Irish bull" (a witty, contradictory statement designed, in part, to subvert standardized English). The chapter of most interest to Victorianists is, however, the first. Here, O'Connor shows how the influential debates about the Celtic race between Arnold and Ernest Renan are indeed haunted by the Celtic Fringe, carefully teasing out the contradictions [End Page 176] in...