chapter  9
14 Pages

The Undercover Irishman: Extimating National Anxiety

This complex of associations provides a starting place for this chapter’s analysis of the shifting function of Irish identities in the construction of masculinity and its relation to English and US national identities. Phineas represents what Joseph Valente has described as the metrocolonial status of the successful Irishman in late nineteenth-century England.2 By the beginning of the twentieth century, the opposed images of this almost-assimilated Irish hero and the explosive Fenian villain might be considered to have found synthesis and sublimation in the fi gure of Dracula, the offspring of Irish gothic and British Grand Guignol. The extraordinarily enduring power with which Stoker’s novel focused the sexual, social and national anxieties of the twentieth century has been variously linked with imperial anxiety, capitalist guilt and sexual repression. According to Franco Moretti, “Dracula is a refi ned attempt by the nineteenth century mind not to recognize itself.”3 In that respect this displaced Irishman’s nightmare represented an uncanny double, the extimate of Englishness. Extimacy is more than the projection on to another of what we fear we are, argues Joan Copjec, “they are in us, that which is not us.”4 Identity can only be established “through the inclusion within ourselves of this negation of what we are not.”5 It is worth considering in general terms whether the “intimate enmity”of imperial powers and their colonies is transformed by late twentieth-century patterns of immigration to the old imperial centers into relations of extimacy. Anglo-Irish cultural relations have a somewhat different trajectory. Joe Valente has argued that:

with the Act of Union in 1800 . . . Ireland ceased to be a distinct if colonized geopolitical entity and assumed the unique and contradictory position of a domestic or “metropolitan” colony, at once a prized if troublesome colonial possession and a despised but active constituent of the greatest metropole on earth, the United Kingdom. From that point in time until the founding of the Free State (1922), the Irish people at large found themselves at once agents and objects, participantvictims as it were, of Britain’s far-fl ung imperial mission-in short, a “metrocolonial people”. (Valente, Dracula’s Crypt, 3)

However, this is to defi ne Irishness in terms of Ireland’s political sovereignty. The Irish were also the largest immigrant group in Britain from the nineteenth century onward and this Irish presence within England and its longevity is an often overlooked but powerful factor in AngloIrish cultural relations. At least one reason for the persistence of Stoker’s nightmare of the insidious vampire (who can make his way in everywhere, replicate himself, consuming and corrupting all around him) is that it is grounded in a fear of foreigners, immigrant populations, taking up a position at the metropolitan center. At the time of Dracula’s publication the two largest immigrant groups in London were the Irish and Eastern European Jews, one driven eastward by poverty, the other driven westward by a wave of late nineteenth-century pogroms. Neither had anything to go back to and both possessed the characteristics of being visually indistinguishable from the local inhabitants, but alien in religion, all the more suspect because they were so uncannily similar to their English neighbors. In the Irish case, this immigrant population was associated with Fenian violence on English soil in the nineteenth century, IRA bombing campaigns in the 1940s and again from 1969 to 1997, so the longevity of Irish immigration did not dissipate British unease, but it did normalize it. Irishness was a (sometimes dangerously) contiguous national identity. In the US narratives discussed in the preceding chapters, male Irish characters perform the role of the internal outsider who affi rms proper masculinity by negating it. In contemporary English narratives, both Irish and US plots and protagonists can function as extimates of English identity. This chapter examines two radical and radically different explorations of Anglo-Irish extimacy, one written in full and one in part by Howard Brenton, the fi rst set along the fault lines of old empires, the second in the anxious interval between the September 11, 2001, attacks and the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003.