“Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?”
– The Velvet Underground, ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’
A film whose production process was mired with difficulty — owing to the technical problem of transporting the steamship, as well as personality clashes — Werner Herzog’s 1982 epic Fitzcarraldo is an unwitting testament to, and a celebration of, a certain racial type found domestically on our island.
The film follows the efforts of the wild-eyed Gael Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (known by the alias ‘Fitzcarraldo’, due to the inability of locals to pronounce his surname) as he attempts to bring high-European opera to the Amazon. Our protagonist is loosely based upon the life of Carlos Fitzcarrald, an Irish-Peruvian rubber baron, a man who once forced natives to dismantle his ship and transport the parts over a mountain.
In contrast to the latter’s swarthy features and brachycephalic skull, Fitzgerald is a bearer of striking blonde hair, whose tips point toward the sun and blue eyes that are starkly juxtaposed with the surrounding murky Amazonian domain.
The notably irritable and caustic Klaus Kinski stars as our Gaelic protagonist in Herzog’s epic. Much of the drama and controversy was caused by Kinski – his idiosyncrasies (to put it diplomatically) drove both Herzog and the Natives to seriously contemplate murdering him.
The greatness of Fitzcarraldo lies in its absolute commitment to sincerity and idealism. The dearth of irony and cynicism (bar the traits of the businessmen, which are portrayed negatively) is refreshing for those in the contemporary world tired of its endless pervasiveness in our zeitgeist.
Meme phrases like “cope”, “based”, “redpilled” etc. that abound our collective lexicon retard our ability to write and speak creatively. They become verbal and written crutches. Narrowing conceptual and artistic (literary) possibilities and ensuring mediocrity.
The film’s opening quote sets the thematic tone of what is to follow: “Cayahuari Yacu, the jungle Indians call this country ‘the land where God did not finish Creation’. They believe only after man has disappeared will He return to finish His work.”. The confrontation between man’s idealistic machinations and God/Nature; Fitz’s Promethean drive to blaspheme the divinely circumscribed through an act of will — with the voice of Enrico Caruso as an accompaniment.
The Pale and the Gael
“The popular Irish mind still craves for virile stories and ballads. Our people of the countryside; sea-taming, earth-conquering, unspoilt men, await writers who shall reflect their life and stir them — writers who will give Ireland a vision and a second Spring.” – Aodh de Blácam, ‘Heroic Ireland’
Alternatively, the film can be viewed as a meditation on differing human types: the petty egoist (represented by the business interests who mock Fitzgerald) and the fanatical idealist, whose disregard of practicality, as well as other petty concerns, is equalled by his longing to actualise his dreams. When viewed through this lens, it is apparent that Herzog unknowingly was drawing upon a moral dichotomy prominent in early twentieth century Republican circles — namely, the opposition between the virility and youthfulness of the Irish and the decadence and senility of the English.
Whether during his earlier flirtations with Marxism (via Connolly’s writings) or in his writings concerning Spengler, Aodh de Blácam consistently affirmed the vitality of Ireland’s Gaelic heritage, as well as its superiority to its neighbour to the east – de Blácam went so far as to declare the English to be a servile race.
In Towards the Republic, he states: “No people are less fitted than the English for authority. They make excellent servants”. This quote, when coupled with John Mitchel’s remarks concerning plantations, forms the doctrinal basis for the enslavement of the Anglo-Saxon people.
Aodh de Blácam’s views were not anomalous during this juncture of Irish history. Sean Farrell Moran notes that anti-modernism was intertwined with Republican anti-Anglo sentiment:
“Hyde equated Anglicization with modernization… In D. P. Moran’s The Leader, founded in 1900, anti-English sentiment was invariably tied to anti-modernist themes. In his weekly pieces in The Leader and in a series of polemics published as The Philosophy of Irish Ireland, Moran took to task those who did not recognize that the answer to the search for national identity lay in Irish traditions and native values and not in England’s ‘modern ways’. Ultimately ‘Irish-Ireland’ and the bulk of support for the new cultural nationalism was committed to conservative, atavistic, and even racialist principles”
Spiritually stifling rationalism, an atheistic intelligentsia, the rule of mammon, the cancer of class war, utilitarianism, anti-Catholicism, haughty Whig historiography, free trade, the sexual degeneracy of the Bloomsbury Group — all this and more was synonymous with Anglo-Saxon “civilisation” for the militant Gael of the nascent last century. They were forthright in their opposition to what Werner Sombart termed ‘the trader’s mentality’ in his polemical diagnosis of English Civilisation:
“I understand by a trader’s mentality that worldview that approaches life with the question: ‘life, what can you give me?’, that therefore views the entire existence of the individual on earth as a sum of trading businesses that every person concludes as advantageously as possible for himself. […] Within the scope of this view of life, a wide space is thus accorded to material values, and therewith that activity that occupies itself with the procurement of means to comfort, with material goods, that is, the economic and especially the trading activity, rises to respectability and esteem.”
Further proof of the intersection between Gaelic Nationalism, hostility to England, and anti-modernism can be adduced from de Blácam’s aforesaid work, in which he states: “Ireland has rejected… Anglicisation, Materialistic Liberalism and Benthamism”. Anglo-Irish writers such as Standish O’Grady harkened back to the foundational myths of the Gael — to our own Homeric epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge. The élan vital of Cú Chulainn was the direct antithesis of our enemy’s defects.
O’Grady, the last apologist (prior to an oscillation of opinion in favour of re-distribution in the autumn and winter of his life) for the Anglo-Irish Landlords, was not alone in his admiration for Cú Chulainn. Pádraig Pearse had Cú Chulainn’s dictum proudly emblazoned on a wall in St. Enda’s for all his students to witness and imbibe – it read: “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.
A premonition of what was to come on Easter week. The greatness of Pearse was his cognisance of the relation between myth and nationhood. Independence, if reduced solely to de jure separation from Britain, meant little. A nation must be. And for a nation succumbing to entropy to awake, “the ratifying blood of the Columcille of our days” had to be shed — thereby engendering a mythos capable of inducing men to action. Aware of the true value of the Rising, de Blácam aptly stated:
“The events that followed Easter Week brought the stirring memories to a sharp point. A sudden rush of self-realisation brought the nation back to the attitude of 220 years ago – the normal attitude of race-consciousness.”
Returning to the film: I would not deign to evaluate the protagonist as an equal of Pearse. The intention of the above tangent was to illustrate that Fitzgerald’s single-minded idealism and heroism echoes a certain archetype hailed by Irish writers during the Gaelic Revival and Revolutionary period. Deemed worthy of positive moral appraisal, this archetype was asserted to be incompatible with the civilisation of the enemy, whose culture was increasingly assimilating Éire within its remit, in a Borg-like fashion.
Thus, it can be said that the dichotomy explored in this essay formed a mere part of a broader Irish discourse concerning our nation’s spiritual and cultural destiny: Anglicisation, with all that it entailed, or a re-instantiation of Gaelic Ireland’s heroism in the modern world. Which way Irishman?
The Übermensch of Clare and the Hyperboreans of the Aran Islands
“For ten generations they’ve been criss-crossing the jungle in search of a white God in a divine vessel” – Fitzcarraldo
All this talk of Heroism, Cú Chulainn, a return to Gaelicism etc. — it is great, inspiring, edifying of one’s vista. However, one should not speak a word of it if they conceptualise such things as free-floating; disconnected from our biological sub-structure. This is where de Blácam errs when he states: “it is not to be supposed that Gaelicism is a narrow racial cause”.
Au contraire! Can one imagine a scaldy Bohemians-supporting north Dubliner or a bulldog-looking Ulster Scot from the Shankill bringing opera to the Amazon? Common sense must prevail — the instinct, granted by God or accrued through millennia of struggle and triumph, that bellows to us the absurdity of this question tells us all we need to know. Citation of studies pertaining to divergent cephalic indexes would be exhaustive, but would certainly bear out the veracity of our innermost instincts.
The concept of race has been barraged by disingenuous arguments. Most commonly: “where does one race end and where does the other begin?”. As if the blurring of categories disqualifies a phenomenon from being real. Every category, whether one speaks of the colour spectrum or tiger sub-species, has blurry edges which induce dispute among specialists. Rather than concluding that race does not exist, the fact of categorical ambiguity should confer the belief that race is so pervasive, so true in other words, that it can never be perfectly captured by the social construct of categories. Put differently, reality is more racist than man — and man is very racist.
Now that we have recognised the fluidity of mental categories, the conceptual foundation for the identification of Irish sub-races has been established. Race is simply a question of biological divergence and convergence — one can therefore impose classifications within small nations between groups, or on a larger level: between peoples of differing continents. Just as there are observable biological differences between Bantus and Pygmies in West Africa, there are also distinctions — though not as great — between Claremen and Nordies, or Kerrymen and Meathmen.
This is borne out by a 10,000 person survey published in 1940 by Earnest A. Hooton, entitled: ‘Stature, Head Form, and Pigmentation of Adult Male Irish’. Although somewhat dated, it is the best academic work concerning the Irish sub-races we can find, owing to the prohibition of such work after the war.
It found that the tallest people in Ireland came from the Aran Islands — the shortest were from the Pale. Likewise, those from the Aran Islands had some of the narrowest and longest skulls in Ireland (the term being Dolichocephalic; think of Max von Sydow). The Aran islands also has one of the highest rates of light hair colour among its populace. It could be speculated, based on this survey, that the Aran Islands is the Gael’s Hyperborea.
Though this is of some interest, I don’t rank Aranmen as the greatest Irish sub-race. That position, despite their middling ranking in the aforesaid study, is reserved for a people proximate to the Aran Islands. They go by many names – Dalcassians or the Kingdom of Thomond, for instance – but irrespective of nominal designation, they will perennially be renowned as the race which produced Brian Ború. I refer to the men of Clare.
The study does not capture their greatness. Anyone who has met a Dalcassian will speak of their intensity. Some mistakenly confuse this with autism. But the Clareman is not some twitch-stream watching, Discord grooming, HRT-obsessed prospective cross dresser. He possess a rich inner-life (we can mark this as his chief distinguishing factor), much richer than his flashy Dublin counterpart. Consequently, the Clareman acts — with decisiveness and single minded precision — only with the aim of instantiating his vision. At all other times he is in a state of quasi-hibernation.
This hibernating state gives the Clareman the chance to accrue immense reservoirs of power and energy, allowing him to channel it at a decisive moment. I once witnessed an unassuming son of Thomond run up a mountain with the swiftness of a Cheetah chasing a Gazelle on the Savannah. They can be likened to the antagonist of Terminator 2: the T-1000, whose deadpan face and indomitable perusal of his goal mimics the behaviour of this grand and glorious race. It should be disclosed that I am one-quarter Dalcassian, so I’m somewhat biased.
Like myself, I also believe that the protagonist of the film is partly (more likely completely) of Clare-ancestry. Fitzgerald’s disgust for a life of mediocrity, commercial pursuits (represented by the businessmen), and long-house (the primitive communalism of the natives) conformity. The fanatical heart which he shows in his endeavour to transport the steamship over the hill. His unwillingness to be spiritually defeated. The disdain for pecuniary interest and those that idolise it. His attempt to strike the petty businessmen who insulted the opera. His fidelity to this medium is further highlighted by the scene in which he defies native war drums by playing some Caruso on a gramophone.
It is clear that Herzog’s epic is an ode to this stoic race.
Fitzcarraldo is the greatest Irish film (despite being made by a Teuton) of all time — slightly edging out Crushproof. Its idealism, its celebration of overcoming and fanaticism, its hatred of irony, its capturing of the the uniqueness of Ireland’s greatest sub-race, the beautiful Amazonian landscape, Kinski’s bizarre countenance. It has it all.
After my first viewing, two thoughts came to mind — one a question, the other a lament. Firstly, why must we wait for a German to create such films. Why can’t we do it? Secondly, it’s a shame we didn’t have any colonial ventures; there’d be so much material to draw upon if we did.
This Christmas period, if you have time, watch Fitzcarraldo. Some things must be experienced. And thank you for reading this article. I write for the Gaels who troll journos on twitter and inner city gurriers who harass TCD art students on Abbey street. Bereft of their inspiration I would feel little motivation to put pen to paper. So, to these groups — and all other Irishmen of lucid mind and honest heart — A belated Nollaig shona daoibh!