- Ireland And The Problem Of Information: Irish Writing, Radio, Late Modernist Communication by Damien Keane
Damien Keane's beautifully crafted Ireland and the Problem of Information captures some of the staticky buzz of transnational intersecting writings and radio transmissions in the mid-twentieth century. He traces, often brilliantly, how events and situations change their meanings as they cross borders, complicating our understanding of the causality of transference of information. We get scenes-behind-the-scenes in the process of making a culture. Keane's desire for the elegance of a self-described "four case studies cross fading" (inside book jacket) is not wholly realized in this endeavor, but this is not to say the effort was not worthwhile. His erudition and painstaking use of the archives gleam on every page. The case-study structure avoids an overly hierarchical approach to organizing information. The downside is that such writing relies on readers to know political and other historical events and situations to fill in inferences and gaps. Readers will find that Keane's study is both more selective and international in its scope than Irish-centered works like Clair Wills's That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War.1
The four chapters explore aspects of midcentury radio, poetry, political writing, and pamphleteering and highlight some singular players. Chapter 1, "The Remediation of the Waves," considers the broadcasts and other communications of Éamon de Valera in response to the crisis in Africa and Benito Mussolini's eventual annexation of Ethiopia. De Valera tried to rebuke Mussolini's aggression by calling for maintenance of the League of Nations and suggesting that Éire would consider what measures could further be taken if Italy continued its offenses. The image of the neutral island wavers with such statements. The League was a potential entity, via radio broadcasts about it, in which Ireland could stake out an identity apart from its dedication to Catholicism and Irish nationality. Meanwhile, Walter Starkie, a Catholic Anglo-Irishman, active in the arts, including the Abbey Theatre's board of directors, and Professor of Romance Languages at Trinity College, dabbled in the 1930s in supporting fascism and wrote several admiring articles about Mussolini and the Italians more generally in the Irish Independent (33).2 Starkie appealed to a motley collection of readers in "Irish right-of-center politics, from pro-British Ascendency conservatives to extreme Catholic chauvinists to right-revolutionary fellow travelers, all united in their opposition to de Valera" (34). [End Page 451]
This chapter aims to juxtapose the utterances of de Valera with those of Starkie, who later downplays his once-enthusiastic translation of Mussolini's appeal. Keane's close readings of these writings show specific wordings, such as Starkie's rhapsodies about the Italian Romani (otherwise known by the pejorative term "[g]ypsies," which Starkie used—35). He employed "gypsy" as a normalized term in the era, and the usage and idealized identification with gypsies is discussed extensively in Keane's book (35). Starkie even entitled his autobiography Scholars and Gypsies: An Autobiography.3
Keane writes, "Starkie's connection of 'Gypsy' and fascist speaks directly to a desired immediacy between individual freedom and social organization. Against the alienation endemic to liberalism, Starkie finds an authentic sociality animated by personality, a 'system' of living that is a philosophy of life" (36). While I see Keane's logic here, nonetheless, given the racialized perspectives of some Irish readers, it is not easy to understand how they would identify so readily with the "gypsy" and his freedom as Starkie himself did. Starkie must have been heartbroken later to learn of the Nazis' annihilation of the Romani people in the Holocaust or Porajmos.4 In Starkie's 508-page autobiographical travelogue The Waveless Plain: An Italian Autobiography, he interprets the popularity of Mussolini, including his radio broadcasts; since Starkie is fluent in Italian (and Spanish), he serves as a kind of friendly intermediary, in fact, to share this appeal with Irish readers...