Belfast and New York, Ireland and America, and “Irish Studies” as Reflected by Garth Ennis

Garth Ennis, an Irish writer working in the graphic novel (or extended comic book) format, represents a literary outsider. Although he shows considerably greater disdain for many other groups, Ennis has openly shown disdain for conventional literary values, regarding them as little more than wankery. Readers simply enjoying literature — or writing — is much more important for Ennis than their abstracting systems of ideas, full of unnecessary terminology. He probably would not approve of this paper.

Set in this context, it would be irresponsible of me to offer a conventional academic paper; doing so would not do justice to his texts, to use unnecessary literary jargon. Nonetheless, I would like to suggest that Ennis offers various depictions or attitudes towards Irish and American cities, particularly Belfast and New York City. These depictions recur and evolve throughout Ennis’s work, to use another term disdained by Ennis. The three sets of graphic novels that are most relevant here are his Troubles graphic novels, his Hellblazer cycle of graphic novels, and his Preacher cycle of graphic novels.

The Troubles Cycle

Troubled SoulsTroubled Souls, the first of the two Troubles graphic novels, was Ennis’s first significant work. At the time, Ennis was an 19-year-old Belfast native (see the Vertigo edition True Faith, pages 7-8). Far from seeing this job as a literary opportunity, Ennis mostly saw it as a chance “to escape from university” and to earn money — referred to as “beer vouchers” (ibid 8). Troubled Souls first appeared in serialized form in issues #15-20 and 22-27 of the U.K. anthology Crisis, published in 1989 with art by John McCrea. For a Few Troubles More followed in Crisis #40-43 and 45-46, published in 1990 and also illustrated by McCrea. Both narratives occur in Belfast, but the first depicts the city as oppressive and the second as comical.

In Troubled Souls, Belfast possesses a gravity capable of randomly drawing its inhabitants into its politics, forcing them to take a particular political side; to take the side of the political city over concerns for family, friends, and love; and to perpetuate this same gravitational capability. This Belfast is one in which “the past screams at you,” in the words of the book’s introduction writer, Malachey Coney. This Belfast is a segregated one where, “depending on… which religion you are…, you’ll only walk down certain streets.” The introduction contrasts Troubled Souls with literary attempts to deal with the troubles: “nowhere in its pages will you find one of the usual stereotypical Irish characters, such as the Russian-trained international assassin masquerading as an embittered Catholic Priest turned renegade terrorist… What you will find are ordinary people who find themselves swept up by extraordinary circumstance, when familiar lives can be bent unrecognizably out of shape.”

Troubled Souls, page 1And this is exactly what we do find. Tom, the Protestant main character, while drinking with his mates in a bar, is handed a wrapped gun by a stranger. After being hassled and injured by the police, the stranger reclaims the gun. Tom spends time with his brother and his aunt, then sees this stranger in the street. The stranger, Damien, implicitly threatens Tom’s loved ones and demands Tom help him. Tom begins to defend the I.R.A.’s stance and to argue with his anti-I.R.A. father, but knows this to be a rationalization, an attempt to justify what Damien will ask him to do. Tom meets the aunt of his new girlfriend, Liz. Damien reappears and coerces Tom to plant a bomb in a trash receptacle. A paranoid, Kafkaesque environment unfolds. Realizing Liz will be near the exploding bomb, he arrives on the scene and, as he leads her off, the bomb explodes. He witnesses a soldier die, his body torn and straining, in the street. Tom himself is hospitalized for shrapnel, where he finds himself celebrated as an innocent Protestant victim. Damien, told to kill Tom, confronts Tom but lets Tom flee. Tom vacations and then returns to Belfast. Damien, who has identified with Tom, takes him to an I.R.A. safehouse where they talk about their lives.

This brilliant sequence has Damien relating his brother’s death during an ambush of an army patrol. His brother had been innocent, and his killers unknown, but the army had labeled all of the dead as guilty, leading Damien to join the I.R.A. He explains that he needed to hide the gun and saw that Tom would be scared enough to comply. He reveals that he has seen the I.R.A. meeting with the pro-English U.V.K., saying: “If you’ve got some of your own people turned renegade, then gettin’ the opposition to do them works fine… but it’s more than that. They’ve got the city stitched up between them, Tom. I mean, look: if you’ve got two groups with rackets to get cash ‘for the cause,’ think what they’d manage together.”

From "Troubled Souls"This shifting of the conflict from ideology to money recalls Tom’s meeting with Liz’s rich and snobby aunt, who lives outside of Belfast. She said: “Of course, when people on the mainland find you’re from over here they think it’s awful. Full of sympathy, wondering how you survive, if you’ve ever been shot.” She continues: “Look out the window. I mean, there’s not a bit of trouble here, or most other areas. So I just say, ‘my dear, it’s no trouble at all. There is violence, but that happens in places on just wouldn’t go!” The Catholic / Protestant dichotomy has thus been replaced with the rich / poor dichotomy. Damien’s experience with the I.R.A. seems to confirm this, placing the leaders of both Catholics and Protestants in a post-modern relationship of supplementation, opposed less against each other than against those without power.

From "Troubled Souls"Tom and Damien both implicate themselves in this power structure. Damien says: “Plenty of morons like me for cannon fodder.” Tom adds: “An’ enough cowards like me to let it go on. An’ even better, plenty of well off people to be selfish bastards an’ not give a damn.” Americans, moreover, are implicated as well. Damien talks about Noraid, “the Americans that finance the I.R.A.”: “We had a visit from them once. They sent a wee party to see what we spent their money on… We showed them two blokes with armalites. The yanks thought this was great. They cheered and then pissed off home, so as to send even more money. I don’t even think the guns were real.”

Typical of Ennis’s style, he undermines the Romanticism of these two enemies becoming friends. Tom narrates that “What we’ve done is so similar… what’s been done to us is so similar… .” But he continues: “if we can be friends, I think to myself… if we can do it, surely everyone else can? But I’m drunk, so I don’t see how bloody childish that is.” When driving in the city after their talk in the safehouse, Tom suddenly flees Damien, unable to trust. Damien chases him down, producing a gun to show that he has no intention of using it — leading to his being shot and killed in front of Tom by M.P.s. When we next see Tom, he is packing. Because he is considered an innocent Protestant, his kidnapping has been taken as a case of mistaken identity. Tom says goodbye to his friend and then to Liz, who says that if he leaves “they’ve won.” Tom replies: “They won a long time ago.” The “they,” of course, is both sides — the dichotomy between them already exposed. He leaves, looking back from the ferry with morbid sadness on Dublin.

For a Few Troubles MoreThe second Troubles graphic novel, For a Few Troubles More, follows Tom’s friends. Dougie and Valerie are marrying because she is pregnant. Full of antics of bawdy jokes not entirely absent from Troubled SoulsFor a Few Troubles More focuses on the “laughing and chatting and boozing” of Dublin, the “ordinary” life Tom desired to rejoin but could not. For a Few Troubles More includes Dougie’s friend Ivor making a drunken, crude, and sexually explicit speech as best man, bathroom humor, and the ghost of a fat moonshine-maker and his pet snake, who was flattened beneath an army vehicle and floats around in his flattened form, complete with tire tracks. For a Few Troubles More is less a sequel than the second part of a diptych, arguing for the fun side of Dublin wherein the troubles are human and the military conflict is just part of the accepted landscape.

For a Few Troubles More must fail, however, to provide an equal counter-balance; juxtaposed against Troubled Souls, one can simply state that Dougie, Valerie, and Ivor have not been pulled into the city’s gravity. The use of ghosts and exaggerated depictions strike the reader as farcical or unrealistic, thus undermining the work’s stance. The two would be synthesized in later works — works that would do more justice to the perspective For a Few Troubles More represents.

Years later, having become a successful American comic book writer, Ennis was now free to produce a sort of “director’s cut” of his older work. It is noteworthy, then, that he has chosen to revive not the drama Troubled Souls but the humorous For a Few Troubles More. In fact, he turned that shorter, weaker part of the Troubles diptych into a series.

In 1997, Ennis revised and expanded For a Few Troubles More as Dicks, a four-issue mini-series published by Caliber Press in the U.S. That series was itself expanded with additional material as Bigger Dicks, a four-issue mini-series published in 2002 by the U.S.’s Avatar Press, which collected this material in trade paperback form as Dicks. This was followed by Dicks 2 in late 2002 and early 2003, alto by Avatar. All were illustrated by Troubles illustrator John McCrea, who had collaborated with Ennis on mainstream work like Hitman.

The Dicks series is noteworthy here mostly for its indication of which side of the Toubles dichotomy Ennis himself prefers. For an academic or literate reader, Troubled Soulswas the superior work of the two Troubles, interrogating deep issues in a manner that would have rated rave reviews if it were a film — whereas For a Few Troubles More feels silly and disposable. Yet it is exactly this that Ennis seems to prefer: he has continuously avoided pretension in his statements about his own work, even looking down on any serious or philosophical statements contained within — while championing the violent and funny bits. Indeed, while Ennis remains an important voice in American comics, his own statements dangerously border on equivocation between seriousness and pretension.

Hellblazer

Debatably, Ennis’s next major work was on the Hellblazer series for DC Comics, beginning in 1991. He got the job at 20 years old (see Hellblazer #83′s letter column). This series, well-respected by the sophisticated American comic book writers, features an English magician named John Constantine, but his stories often have more to do with the horrors of life than of the supernatural. Ennis began writing the series with issue #41. He quickly added an Irish girlfriend for John.

Hellblazer #42 (June 1991)John visits and reminisces with an Irish friend named Brendan in issue #42. They fondly recall Kit, Brendan’s former girlfriend from Belfast. By the end of the issue, Brendan has died. John met Kit in London issue #46. For the next two issues, the two contemplate a relationship. In issue #49, the two start their relationship by having sex on Christmas Day in 1991. Issue #50 is framed around their time in bed together. John moves into her flat on the condition that he not bring his nasty magic with him.

The English in Ennis’s issues – and particularly the authorities — seem rather anti-Irish. Issue #52 features the prince, identified only as the brother to the big-eared one, saying as he snorts cocaine that “terrorist pigs killed my uncle, you know. Don’t see why we can’t build a big wall ’round Belfast and throw food in to the bastards.” This particular royal is next show in a bondage outfit, complete with nipple rings, in issue #54. In #62, we learn that one of John’s relatives served with Cromwell in Ireland and participated in the notorious Dogheda Massacre.

Issue #63 features John having his 40th birthday party while Kit is back in Belfast due to a family illness. The party shows John engaging in much the same antics as For a Few Troubles More, including Swamp Thing growing marijuana so that they can all smoke it, including Zatanna (a former member of the Justice League). John urinates on the shoes of the long-standing mystical DC character called the Phantom Stranger.

Ennis’s anti-literary — or anti-pretension — attitudes may be seen here as well. Issue #64 has Kit, who makes her living as an artist, needing to “finish that cover for the new Amis book.” John asks “is this Another exploration of the complexities of his own arsehole?” Kit replies: “It’s just a hack job. I’ll string a coupla bits’ve lace over a few leaves and paint the background to look like stone. Ballack-head in the office’ll stick a wee border round it an’ call it post modern, an’ away you go.”

Kit defends herselfKit, however, is targeted by thugs eager to hurt John; her killing is ordered by a man standing in front of the British flag (#64). Attacked in her flat, she ably defends herself, slicing one man’s face and putting a butcher knife into another’s crotch (#65). After John wraps up his machinations, Kit leaves for Belfast, saying, “I’m fed up with this town… And the people carry on like — I dunno. It’s like they’re beaten. They’ve nothing left in them.” Here we may see the stereotype of the lively, tougher Irish thinking the English to be repressed sissies. When Kit says she wants “a quiet life,” John indignantly responds in a manner that might recall Liz’s elitist, rich aunt in Troubled Souls: “So you’re moving to Belfast?” Kit replies: “Oh, don’t be so bloody stupid! You’ve never even been there. You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” Issue #67 ends with Kit on a boat to Ireland, a reverse of the end of Troubled Souls in direction, gender, and role in the plot — but both have left their lovers.

It is only after this that Kit and Belfast are truly characterized. Issue #70 focuses entirely on Kit in Belfast, never depicting John although she is haunted by his absence. Only now do we find out her name is Kathryn “Kathy” Ryan — as if she has an Irish face and an English one. She talks with her friends and family, and conversation topics smoothly drift from the troubles to lovers and sports. She and her sister, Claire, remember their father abusing them, and Kit realizes her resulting unwillingness to “take shit off anyone” has led to her leaving John. Family here becomes a focus, motivating Ennis’s Belfast characters as it had not in the Troubles graphic novels.

Hellblazer #72 (Dec 1993)John visits New York City from #72-75. His initial reaction is one of awe: “It’s too big to be real. The sun bounces off these great glass ladders built to Heaven, and you’re nothing one minute and the next you’re a giant in a world built specially for you.” These issues, however, featuring John wandering through an allegorical America with a bureaucratese-speaking J.F.K. eternally wandering with the back of his head blown off. (For example, when asked to shake, J.F.K. replies: “Unfortunately I am unable to do so at this time. And it pains me greatly, as the President of the United States of America, that this should be the case. However, the removal of my hand from my head will result in a loss of faculties which could eventually become a destabilizing force at some point in my personal future” (#74). When John asks if he can ask a question, J.F.K. responds: “This administration prides itself on a policy of openness and accessibility.”)1 This allegorical America also includes Lady Liberty gang raped each day, dollar bills uttering the various sins of the U.S.A., dead Native Americans, Uncle Sam depicted as whoremaster, and Britannia a whore in an alley addicted to heroin. At the end, John recants his praise of New York City, commenting: “It’s nothing new, this place… if it whispers lies you want so badly to believe — don’t.”

In issue #76, John’s return flight is diverted to Dublin and he spends the entire issue talking with Brendan’s ghost. Brendan makes statements about the troubles similar to those made in Troubled Souls. He focuses on the deaths caused by both sides because of their rhetoric, further attacking “them friggin’ Yanks keepin’ it goin’.” He says: “Come over an’ see what yer bleedin’ struggle’s doin’ to us… ‘an’ while yeh’re at it, take a wee look… an’ yeh’ll see why yer family left… in the first place!”

Heartland #1 (March 1997)In issue #82, one issue before Ennis’s last, Kit returns and talks with John, but only to say goodbye and have sex once more. Following his last issue, Ennis wrote a special entitled Heartland that features Kit in Belfast. (The same title was given to the Kit solo issue, #70.) John is entirely absent and the story focuses on Kit confronting her past, further emphasizing the role of family in Belfast as the real fixture of life. Heartland makes its case about Belfast better than any earlier work with John or Kit, depicting Belfast as a city of ethnic family connections and suggests that they — rather than the troubles — provide the origin for both violence and happiness. Ennis links the awareness of ambiguity missing from the political debate with the awareness of ambiguity in the personal attempt to reconcile one’s family with the its violence. Belfast’s false horizontal political dichotomy, a function of apparent heartfelt opposition, finds contrast with New York City’s true vertical economic hierarchy, which goes apathetically unopposed.

Preacher

In early 1995, following Hellblazer, Ennis began a new and very successful series called Preacher; it would continue, accompanied by a mini-series and a number of specials (all titled Preacher Special, followed by a specific subtitle), until #66, published in 2000; all of this material would be written by Ennis and illustrated predominantly by Steve Dillon, who had collaborated with Ennis on Hellblazer. Preacher’s main character is a Texas preacher named Jesse Custer who has a supernatural creature living inside him — a being called Genesis, who is the child of an angel and a demoness. This grants the character the ability to speak and have anyone obey. His girlfriend is Tulip, a gun-toting one-time hitgirl. Cassidy, an Irish vampire, acts as the couple’s friend and, after Jesse’s apparent death, as Tulip’s lover.

Preacher

Preacher, more than any other Ennis work, features crazy characters. (Most of the specials, in fact, focused on these characters rather than the main cast.) Arseface is a boy who shot himself in imitation of Curt Cobain and wound up with a horribly deformed face and a severe speech impediment; logically enough, he becomes a rock star. The Saint of Killers is a gunman from the Wild West who, having frozen Hell with his hate and later killed the Devil for insulting him, replaces the angel of death. Jesse Custer’s father’s hick family includes a man who has sex with animals and who kills their neighbor — a boy with one eye due to pollution — after the boy inadvertently spies on a bestiality session; the boy is discovered when the man urinates after sex on the boy’s hiding place — and in the boy’s solitary eye. Starr, leader of a secret society, is slowly maimed over the course of the series, including having his penis torn off by a dog; he says, in response, “my dick’s in the bitch’s mouth — and I don’t mean in a good way.” Other characters include a tough cop in New York City who discovers his taste for sadomasochistic homosexuality, sexual investigators, a man who makes love to an artificial woman sculpted from meat products, and his assistant, a sadomasochistic woman obsessed with Adolf Hitler and Nazism, whose best line is “Fuck me hard and call me Eva.” Custer’s self-imposed mission is to find God, who has forsaken all Creation, and take Him to task.

Issues #25-26, relating Cassidy’s past in Ireland and New York City, are of particular note here. He and his brother participated in the Easter Rising of 1616. As Liberty Hall is being shelled from a gunboat on the river, Cassidy’s brother hears the man in charge, Patrick Pearse, say that he knows their side will fail. “They have to die… that is what we all came here to do,” he says, explaining — correctly — that this will preserve “Easter Week Nineteen-Sixteen… in the minds of the Irish people.” Cassidy’s brother forces Cassidy to desert, explaining he was only fighting to keep an eye on Cassidy. On the way out, Cassidy’s brother kicks Michael Collins in the genitals. Cassidy’s brother says: “Years from now they can look back at this mess from a safe distance an’ start puttin’ words like revolution an’ tyranny an’ glory in the history books.” The reality, however, was “all that hair an’ blood an’ brains all over the walls… the fellas lyin’ dead in the street… the whol’ve bloody Dublin’s on fire.” Cassidy’s brother explains that their mother’s a Protestant and their father’s a Catholic; when Cassidy asks “why would a Catholic man marry a Proddie,” his brother replies: “Oooh, I don’t know now. D’yeh think they might’ve been in love or somethin’ like that?” Like previous works, Preacher thus also depicts Ireland — though not Belfast specifically — as a place of families wearing the mask of politics, further claiming that naïve views of Irish cities as glorified metaphors hide simpler, more personal motivations.

After becoming a vampire, Cassidy leaves for New York City. Like John Constantine, Cassidy is enraptured with New York City, which he has not had the advantage of even seeing on television. He says: “I remember lookin’ up at them [the buildings], near laughin’, like, an’ thinkin’ – no way! No way can they build them that big! There were people shoutin’, an’ cars drivin’ about, an’ music comin’ out’ve places.” Unlike John, however, Cassidy learns his lesson quickly as he is soon robbed by a fellow Irish immigrant. He says: “This magic place, yer heart soarin’ as high as the skyscrapers, an’ it turns out it’s just as shite here as it was back home?” He meets a group of other Irish immigrants who gather in a particular bar. One fought for the English while others are rabidly anti-English, but more important is their friendship. The anti-English never return to Ireland, their rhetoric irrelevant compared to their life of friends and drinking in New York City. This depiction of the Irish immigrant experience in New York offers the city as a place that naturally unmasks the simple, human motivations sometimes hidden in Irish cities.

Garth Ennis and Irish Studies

Ironically, however, Garth Ennis has not left Ireland. He shows an affection for America, particularly for westerns and for New York City, but he neither particularly romanticizes America nor seems to need the unmasking New York City provides. If Ennis’s works show any legitimate reason to flee Ireland, it is the poverty and the politics. But Ennis has removed himself from the politics, suggesting that Belfast natives are not the political beasts of their conventional depictions. The church and Irish politics distracted Stephen Daedalus, but not Garth Ennis. As his career has continued, the oppressive atmosphere of Dubliners is increasingly critiqued. Ennis’s work thus offers an extreme antiseptic to the canon of Irish writers, including Yeats, Joyce, and Heaney. It is fun, it is family, and it is friends that concerns Ennis rather than masks of political or literary value. Ennis’s work is earthy art interested in entertaining. Opposing himself to the rhetoric of the university that writing allowed him to escape, seemingly uninterested in the fundamentally English established tenants of literature, embracing the life behind what the world wants to see of Ireland, Ennis stands as a uniquely and honestly Irish writer.

More than offering a critique of the academy and its literary pretentiousness in general, Ennis’s work provides an antiseptic to Irish Studies. Allow me here an anecdote I heard from a friend who specializes in Irish Studies. When she was last in Ireland, she and some academic friends talked to some Irishmen in a pub. Asked by an Irishman what she studied, one of my academic friends replied that she was “in Irish Studies.” “And what would that be?” the Irishman coolly replied.

I’ve been to numerous conferences with papers considered to be “Irish Studies.” I remember one that described Dublin as a panopticon. This went on for twenty minutes. As with most papers that deal with Foucault, there was little evidence the author had ever read Foucault, but that’s a more typical academic problem: those who work with theorists typically only know the dime store version of their theory and often find their pet theorists as difficult and unrewarding as others find their own writing; they end up claiming that the agents in The Matrix are walking panopticons simply because they’re strong in fights (I actually heard such a paper). Such stupidity is a very academic form of stupidity, a very highbrow form of stupidity — one endemic of academic journals and writing in general.

But Irish Studies has an additional problem: try telling an Irishman that Belfast can only be understood as a panopticon. Mind you, this was a sociological paper; it wasn’t claiming that the Belfast of a particular film or novel was a panopticon — no, Belfast itself, due to the politics of the city, was a panopticon. What the hell does that have to do with the life of the Irish? Is that language the Irish might use? Is that at all relevant to the Irish experience? The ancient Greeks spoiled us; the entire voting population went to see plays and whatnot. This is Ireland, not Greece, and — despite what academics have claimed — the two are not the same. And most of the Irish have no time for academics, let alone panopticons.

It’s like creating “Gypsy Studies” and writing about the revolutionary paraxis of a specific dance that is actually rare and culturally eclipsed by panhandling. Or like creating Marxist films and writings that are boring, repetitive, lacking in camera movement, lacking in acting, and filled with jargon while claiming that they’re going to encourage the revolution when viewed by the proletariat, who actually can’t stomach anything longer than two minutes (the time between commercial breaks) without seeing tits or having sex alluded to in the most obvious manner. This is the widespread academic disease caused by lack of awareness of the fact that academics have less in common with average people than blacks with whites or women with men. We academicians are a society unto ourselves and we often look out, as all societies do, on other societies and interpret them through the prism of our own. And certainly the proletariat has no concern for our discussions of the proletariat, nor do women as a group have any overwhelming concern for the male gaze as such. Neither group themselves even has those terms — “proletariat” and “male gaze” are academic terms (as is the usage of “women” in academic discourse) and are culturally biased, though we as academics do not realize as much because we generally do not regard ourselves as a separate culture. Such terminological and methodological problems are hypocritical and bad enough, but they rise to another level when (mostly in the interest of the creators promoting their own careers) departments or specializations are created with names like “Proliteriat Studies” or “Irish Studies” — the very name is an oxymoron. There is nothing Irish about Irish Studies; the medium and the message are at odds.

That’s not to say that there isn’t much to study about Ireland, its culture and its artistic production. Of course there is, and that applies to comics too, thanks in part to Garth Ennis.

But there’s a disconnect here, more radical than most fields, between the observer and the observed. The Irish nationals I know who happen to be studying in American graduate schools have told me that their friends back in Ireland think them — and higher education in general — to be self-indulgent. Obviously, not all Irish are anti-intellectual, but it’s not difficult to see how the anti-academic, anti-literary values of Garth Ennis are a hell of a lot closer to “Irishness” than “Irish Studies.”

Garth Ennis thus provides an antidote to Irish Studies. An Irish literature that isn’t simply English literature written by an Irishman with just enough Irish touches to let the English and those Americans so eager to send money “for the cause” think that they’re getting a “real” colonial experience. The same syndrome is true for all tourism, all sociological surveys: the population plays to the expectations they feel the tourists or surveyors have. Perhaps, if we are to formalize Irish Studies, we should be studying writers like Garth Ennis. Ennis’s literature is bawdy, anti-literary, and in a popular but marginalized form: comic books. Ennis’s work, deliberately disposable, provides a much-needed counter-argument to established academic norms, including those of Irish Studies.

How appropriate that this should come from a marginalized but revolutionary medium, traditionally the terrain of popular rather than high culture.

Notes

1 In a passage that illustrates Ennis’s feelings about American politics, in line with his earlier views on Irish politics, this allegorical J.F.K. also speaks about his legacy:

The widespread rumor, speculation and slander that has occurred since the incident in Dallas you refer to, has at its core the assumption that this administration was in some ways the last hope for fairness and decency in America. It is this assumption — more accurately, accusation — that has kept me in a personal, spiritual and spatial limbo for over thirty years… and I would therefore like to take this opportunity to deny this accusation as strongly as possible.

John responds with a question of a slightly different tone: “So you were actually a bit of a git?” To this, J.F.K. responds:

To be seen in a historical context as the conscience of the United States is not the honor one might think. It is, in fact, a burden, and one that I was — at the time — loath to shoulder. My chief concerns were, to set the record straight, immediate political survival, and regular extramarital sex with as many women as possible.

After John points out that it “doesn’t take a genius to work that out, chum” and the two have another brief exchange, John offers an instant, perhaps cynical but insightful analysis on the problem in the American consciousness: “People like to believe that bollocks. Helps to think someone tried to stop all the shittiness there is today. Nobody likes the truth.”

A version of this essay was presented at the 12th Graduate Irish Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University (Claremont, California) on 25 March 2000.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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