How It Is Recording Atrocity in The Black Diaries: Uncanny Echoes of Casement in Beckett’s Prose

Author: Scott Eric Hamilton (University College Dublin)

In 1959, Grove Press published The Black Diaries: An Account of Roger Casement’s Life and Times with a Collection of his Diaries and Public Writings. Edited by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias, The Black Diaries, in essence, is a biographical exegesis of Roger Casement. Its core re-presents Casement’s complete 1903 Congo and 1910 Putumayo reports intertwined with his controversial personal diaries while conducting his investigations. The Black Diaries proved a timely publication, as the Belgian-controlled Congo was to gain its independence in 1961—as well as contributing to the aesthetic development of Beckett’s late prose style. James Knowlson notes that “Barney Rosset sent [Beckett] Grove Press’s edition of Roger Casement’s Black Diaries.”[1] After receiving The Black Diaries, Beckett testified to Rosset, “splendid Casement book in which I am plunged.”[2] Furthermore, he tells Thomas MacGreevy: “I have been reading with great absorption the Black Diaries of Casement published in New York by Grove Press. They strike me as quite authentic.”[3] Patrick Bixby[4] argues that The Black Diaries influences what he calls the “ethico-politics of homo-ness” in Beckett’s 1961 Comment C’est, published in English in 1964 as How It Is. He goes on to claim that “the Black Diaries, like the official reports written by Casement, provided Beckett with a striking set of historical documents: a grand exposé of colonial violence, a great record of sadism and injustice.”[5]  Consequently, Casement’s poetic sensibilities, through which he conveys his “grand exposé” of atrocity—in expositions as, “Men are conquered not by invasion but by themselves and their own turpitude”[6]—would have assuredly been received as quite genuine by Beckett.

The Black Diaries was not Beckett’s first exposure to the ethico-politics of the Congo.[7] Beckett translated nineteen essays from French into English for Nancy Cunard’s 1934 Negro: An Anthology. In one of these essays, “A Negro Empire: Belgium,” E. Stiers examines the Belgian Congo, during and after the reign of King Leopold II, arguing that the Congo was “controlled for the most part by the ‘General Society of Belgium’ bank.”[8] In essence, as Stiers and others have claimed, the Congo was primarily an economic investment for European colonialization and remained relatively unchanged in this regard from when Casement investigated the rubber atrocities committed under King Leopold II.[9] Analogously, the direct relation of human life to profit can be read in How It Is: “he had no name […] so I gave him one the name Pim for more commodity.”[10] Evidently, the turbulent and violent engagement with the region by imperialist interests had not diminished by the time Beckett read The Black Diaries.

Beckett’s reading of The Black Diaries coincides with the noted shift toward his late prose style. The Black Diaries, then, appears partly responsible for reconciling his struggling attempts to develop his prose in a new direction. The post-Trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable) and pre-1959 texts, including “From An Abandoned Work” and Texts for Nothing, are prose fragments employing a more conventional form with appropriate sentence structure, syntax, and grammar. However, the shift toward Beckett’s late prose style hinges on How It Is and has been noted as such by critics. Bixby argues that Beckett “plunged into [the diaries], surfacing only to continue composing the text that would eventually become How It Is.”[11] J.E. Dearlove remarks how it helped Beckett “surmount” the elements of the Trilogy: “Unencumbered by the problem of sequiturs between mind and body, the voice creates its own space, time, identity, and even style.”[12] Similarly, Eric P. Levy claims that How It Is indicates “a new direction in the evolution of Beckettian fiction” which approaches “the experience of Nothing by progressively pushing out and constricting all familiar and worldly contexts.”[13] Even though the late prose contains less obvious “worldly contexts” than the previous work, the historical, political, and cultural references that do surface become more significant in maintaining the text within the world, even if decontextualized.

The Black Diaries, then, can be examined as one of the influencing factors for this increased decontextualizing shift in Beckett’s fiction. This essay contends that The Black Diaries, specifically its structure and presentation of Casement’s diaries and reports depicting the atrocities committed in the Congo and Amazon, had a more profound influence on the text than has been previously explored. As Bixby’s work contributes much to this topic in a convincing exploration of the homoerotic parallels between The Black Diaries and How It Is, here, the two texts will be compared on a structural and theoretical level regarding issues of representing the nature of atrocity as an affront to imperialism, empirical truths, and historical periodization.

Undoubtedly, during the early 1960s, Beckett engaged with a wide variety of reading materials and cultural events, as indicated in his correspondence. For instance, he closely followed the events surrounding the Algerian War, which indeed could have also been influential for How It Is. The introduction to The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1957-1965 explains how two “factors emerged to create new dangers” in an increasing violent situation surrounding Algerian independence from France. The factor that is of concern here “was the evidence of the widespread use of torture by the French Army. […] There followed book after book of personal testimony […] by tortured Algerian students.”[14] Beckett, and his wife Suzanne, carefully monitored these events, confessing in a February 6, 1960 letter to Robert Pinget that their ears were “glued to Europe No. 1 every hour.”[15] For this reason, Comment C’est/How It Is may reflect a multitude of cultural factors previously under-examined. By the early 1960s, the socio-political dilemmas of the post-war decades would have undoubtedly contributed to one so attuned to suffering as Beckett finding Casement’s accounts so believably authentic. For instance, Casement vents his frustration with administration of the region within a Beckettian-style utterance: “A regular Hell this place—by damn damn.”[16]

Encountering the different historico-geographical contexts of atrocities, subtending nearly sixty years and vast spatial separation, seems to have left its inscription within the multifaceted narrative of How It Is. The experience of reading Casement’s accounts of “violence […] sadism and injustice”[17] as presented in The Black Diaries will be of primary interest for a comparative analysis with the destabilized narrative structure of How It Is. Richard Kirkland equates Casement to an “unstable text” claiming that “it is difficult to envisage a more fraught instance of such instability than Casement’s Black Diaries.”[18] In reading these two in parallel, this essay will examine Beckett’s text as an aesthetic protest to the human suffering resulting from imperialism regardless of historical context or geographical location. Moreover, How It Is, itself an unstable text, provides a lens through which Casement’s complex identity as its own protest to imperialism may be partially deciphered. Likewise, The Black Diaries provide one way to read How It Is within the world.

The arrangement of the diaries and reports within The Black Diaries[19] suggests that their (re)presentation of the experience of atrocity in the Congo and Amazon are central to understanding the biographically complex figure of Roger Casement. The ironically titled Congo Free State was established at the 1885 Berlin conference. Singleton-Gates and Girodias note that “the International Association was confirmed in its rights of sovereignty over the Congo Basin, […]. Leopold II was soon afterwards proclaimed King of the Independent State of the Congo, capital Boma, and became absolute monarch of this 900,000-square mile kingdom.”[20] Thus, King Leopold II’s personal financial investment in the area, including the establishment of an industrial infrastructure, and of his political influence, solidified the Congo as his own private colony. Simultaneously, according to John Hemming, “The rubber boom peaked after John Dunlop […] in 1888 invented a detachable pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle, and in 1895 the Frenchman René Michelin won a motor-car race with such a tyre.”[21] The invention of the inflatable tire, and numerous other rubber based products, resulted in escalating demand for processed rubber. According to Hemming, “Amazonian rubber struggled to keep pace with demand.”[22] And of course, an upsurge in demand increases the potential for profit. In response, King Leopold II shifted the primary focus of his colonial industry in the Congo away from other natural resources, such as ivory and cobalt, to harvesting rubber to capitalize on the escalation of global demand. The increasing accounts of ill-treatment of rubber workers prompted the British government to send Casement as consul to the region to investigate. His 1904 report, of course, gained him worldwide recognition for his humanitarian work. As a result, in 1910 he was sent to the Amazon for similar purposes.

The physical positioning of Casement’s reports and diaries in The Black Diaries produces a disorienting effect on the reader. The juxtaposition of the official report on the left page and the personal diary on the right produces a disrupted narrative chronology. The non-sequential structure of How It Is, and awkward transitioning between narrative fragments, is one possible result of Beckett’s reading of The Black Diaries. Subsequently, in How It Is, the narrative suggests a revaluation not only of the layout of the sections but also the relation of units of content therein. Or, as the narrator claims: “that cognizance of the present communication be taken backward and once studied from left to right its course be traced from right to left no objection.”[23] Although Paul Ricoeur argues that a fictional narrative by nature dechronologizes time, he argues that narrative “is one of the broadest classes of discourse, that is, of sequences of sentences put in a certain order.”[24] Ricoeur explains that narrative time, even dechronologized, is “the extended duration between beginning and an ending.”[25] In How It Is, the absence of definable sentences dissolves any narrative sequence or linear time. This disallows any beginnings or endings, thereby denying a coherent plot or synthesis of roles[26]—hence the reason Pim, Bom, the narrator, and the others meld into each other at one time or another: “me Pim you Pim we Pim but me Bom you Pim something very wrong there.”[27]

In removing any punctuation, Beckett negates the possibility of any beginnings or endings. S.E. Gontarski notes a similar trait within Beckett’s method of manuscript revision which “often entails the conscious destruction of logical relations, the fracturing of constant narrative” resulting in “the abandonment of linear argument.”[28] This mirrors, to a degree, The Black Diaries, as the reported events on the left side do not consistently correspond to the content of the diary on the right. If the events of the official report are desired to be compared to the diary entries the documents must be, to quote Beckett, “once studied from left to right its course be traced from right to left.”[29] Similarly, without punctuation or a linear narrative, as found in the traditional narrative form, there is an inherent difficulty in following the direct commonality between sections as presented in How It Is.

The blank space, a void of conjunction, between narrative sections gives the impression that one is reading about Pim in a way unnatural to a typical reading experience. The reader is continually reminded that there is “something wrong.”[30] This recurring phrase testifies to the traumatized narrative form with its disrupted linearity, influenced, in part, by the atrocious content it is presenting. The very nature of trauma disrupts linear temporality: Jonathon Boulter discusses this disruption in relation to Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, in a statement that could easily apply to the structure of Casement’s Congo report: “Deferred action refers to the manner in which past memories seem to be introjected into the present from some unknown—because unknowable—source.”[31] Both How It Is and Casement are not traumatic expressions of nostalgia, as they both reject any origins. They deny becoming a unified subject within ontological categorization as they a have, to use Boulter’s phrase, a “being beyond Being”[32]—that is Being in the Heideggerian sense of Being-in-time, having one’s being within society as located in a specific socio-historic context. Beckett’s traumatized version of the diary-entry form of The Black Diaries omits the dates of the entries and any clearly transitional material, denying the sections any verifiable sequence. Furthermore, the compilation of Casement’s multiple diaries[33] into one collection is echoed in How It Is, further compounding the issues of chronology by removing any possibility of cross-referential dating: “regrettable innovation discarded and the idea of three notebooks set aside.”[34] Later on in the text, it is stated: “little private book these secret things little book all my own the heart’s outpourings day by day it’s forbidden one big book.”[35] As the material from three separate sources, at minimum, is conflated in no discernible order, an authoritative sequence of events will remain elusive between Parts I-III. Consequently, Beckett safeguards the narrative from being condensed into one point of view, resisting singular interpretation, or misinterpretation—something Casement was unable to avoid as his prosecutors unofficially circulated his compiled “black diaries” “to alienate sympathy, and make a reprieve impossible.”[36]

Similar to the reading experience of the The Black Diaries, transitioning between entries does not disclose any natural progression in Beckett’s text, suggesting an endless process of narrative reconfiguration. This presents the possibility of sections being relocatable as part of the foundation for the narrative construction; thus the narrator explicitly claims, “that cognizance then of the present communication be taken backward.”[37] There are continuous references to the “present formulation” to which, at one point, the possibility is posed by the narrator of a part four, or a fourth formulation, “in which I would appear with Bom in my quality of victim.”[38] This agglutinized narrative structure is described by Beckett in a letter to Barbara Bray: “I think the set up of part III is an improvement—opens the whole thing up and makes future insertions and adjustment much easier. […B]reak it all up into brief packets, anything from seven lines to one, with space between them, not easy because of all the conjunctival to be got rid of.”[39] Without a “conjunctival” system, How It Is becomes a discontinuous misalliance of narrative material.

In destabilizing the traditional linear narrative, How It Is continually rejects any establishment of time marked by a sequential order of events. On the first page, the reader is given a hint of this: “I quote a given moment long past vast stretch of time on from there that moment and following not all a selection natural order vast tracts of time.”[40] The phrasal packets, as a result of the liquefied sentence structure, indicate that something is clearly out-of-sync, as the entries are “following not all a selection natural order.”[41] The phrasal relationships do not adhere to any natural order and thereby provide “the atrocious spectacle”[42] in its present formation of narrative snapshots.

Casement’s own presentation of atrocity was highly effective due, in part, to his access to modern technology. With the assistance of a camera to visually document the rubber atrocities, Casement’s reports became a template for investigative reporting to provide indisputable evidence of human exploitation. In King Leopold’s Soliloquy, Mark Twain has his fictional Leopold remark on the power of photographic evidence: “the incorruptible Kodak […]. The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I could not bribe.”[43] The advent of the camera for this purpose essentially changed the way the western world was informed of atrocities committed in remote parts of the world. Discussing this development in relation to humanitarian investigations, Christina Twomey argues: “The late nineteenth century was the point at which the language of ‘atrocity’ came to dominate discussion of the violation of the human body in the context of war and colonialism”[44]—a tone, as it were, How It Is regularly invokes: “we can drag ourselves thus by the mere grace of our united net sufferings from west to east toward an inexistent peace we are invited kindly to consider.”[45] Although humanitarian reports, along with their emotive style of language, had emerged earlier in the nineteenth century, Casement’s use of photography utterly changed the way investigative accounts appealed to public sentiment. As a direct result of Casements efforts, so Sharon Sliwinski claims, “The [Congo Reform Association] was not only the largest humanitarian movement of the era, it was also the first humanitarian movement to use atrocity photographs as a central tool. Crimes occurring in remote places were made publicly visible for the first time in history.”[46] Photography as visual records of the human cost of atrocity would of course prove even more crucial a record for the atrocious devastation of World War II.[47]

Read alongside How It Is, Casement’s visual and written accounts of the atrocities in the Congo and India find echoes throughout Beckett’s text. How It Is repeatedly focuses on the cruel manner in which Pim is physically ill-treated: “he resists I claw his left hand to the bone it’s not far he cries but won’t let go the blood he must have lost by this time.”[48] This is very similar to the way Casement’s reports in general give a type of dynamic testimonial of atrocity which seems to be offered almost as supplementary to the photographic images.

The experience of visually witnessing the result of torture firsthand is what Casement attempts to convey. The addition of the photograph increases the shock-value of being confronted with such brutality. One entry testifies to the disturbing and indelible experience of witnessing such atrocious spectacles: “I took down his statement almost word for word and I shall never forget the effect it produced on me.”[49] Mimicking shocking photography through narrative imagery is often announced in Beckett’s text: “one buttock twice too big the other twice too small unless an optical illusion.”[50] The composition of this narrative image mimics the intent of atrocity photography to capture the grotesque and tormented body of the Other. In another passage, the narrative reads like one composing such a photograph: “now his arms Saint Andrew’s cross top V reduced aperture my left hand moves up the left branch follows it.”[51] The “reduced aperture” is referencing the focal setting of a camera in which the aperture ratio is decreased or increased to compensate for the surrounding light source. Along with the occasional use of other photographic terminology, like “iso,”[52] found throughout the text, this offers an image-like narrative composition intended to induce shock in viewing a body within the moment of torture.

The photographic-like composition, above, depicts the restrained and tortured body in a position explicitly evoking the crucifixion of St. Andrew. Casement describes a similar treatment of Indian rubber workers: “the victim […] was forcibly extended on the ground, sometimes pegged out.”[53] In a 1912 New York Times article, a former rubber company employee verifies this as a common method of torture: “they were pegged out in the yard, and the cat-o’-nine tails was put to them.” This “pegged out” position, as indicated in one of Casement’s photo, places the victim face down in the same configuration as a St. Andrew’s cross.

How It Is exhibits an awareness of techniques used to compose photographs which can be manipulated to achieve a desired response when portraying torture. Discussing the relation between photographic composition, content, and interpretation, Judith Butler argues: “it seems important to consider that the photograph, in framing reality, is already interpreting what will count within the frame; this act of delimitation is surely interpretive, as are the effects of angle, focus, and light.”[54] The pre-interpreted content of a presented image is exposed in the phrase “unless an optical illusion”[55] and makes transparent the intent to induce a specific response to atrocity, much like Casement’s reports—for example, one of the more famously striking photos, captioned as a father staring at a dismembered foot, the only remaining body part of his daughter. There is, of course, an intended response to such a presentation regardless of its authenticity.

Like Casement, How It Is near-obsessively provides accounts of the tortured body, including potentially dismembered or disfigured body parts, especially arms, legs, and hands: “its four fingers having lost its thumb something wrong there.”[56] Likewise, Casement regularly chronicles the removal of body parts used as motivational punishment to gather rubber: “some had their ears cut off; others were tied up with ropes around their necks and bodies taken away.”[57] Read in parallel, Casement’s accounts of suffering haunt Beckett’s text as the narrator provides descriptions of violence inflicted on ears, tongues, heads, and hands and other appendages. Some of these seem to directly suggest dismemberment, or death, of a black body: “an arm colour of mud the hand in the sack.”[58] In the Congo report, Casement includes a testimony from an individual referred to with only the capital letters “R.R”: “the soldiers made me carry the basket with the things of dead people and the hands they cut off.”[59] The notable occupation with physical violence and the interchangeable roles of torturer and tortured in How It Is resembles parts of Casement’s reports. For instance, Casement notes that the indigenous Putumayo population was employed to enforce colonial rule over its own communities: “The only Indians who were permitted the use of rifles were those young men [...] who were being trained to oppress their countrymen in the interest of the [civilizing white men].”[60] In How It Is the narrator claims: “each one of us is at the same time Bom and Pim tormentor and tormented.”[61] Rebecca Walkowitz argues that Casement’s cosmopolitan identity is also indicative of this internally conflicted relationship: “Allied at one time or another with Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Ireland, Casement is a perpetrator who is also a victim.”[62] Casement’s complex Protestant/Catholic/British consul/Irish Nationalist identity would not have been lost on Beckett. Of Huguenot/Protestant decent, Beckett experienced both a Protestant colonial and Catholic postcolonial Ireland in which those persecuted by their colonial rulers for attempting to gain independence would come to persecute their own populace in a post-independence civil war. Similarly, Walkowitz, and others,[63] rightly illuminate the contradictory nature of Casement’s victim/victimizer persona: his personal reflections at times seem to contradict his more noble professional intentions. For example, Casement regularly played bridge with those he was traveling with, noting in one diary entry, “Played bridge till 11:30, winning two rubbers.”[64] Ironic is that Casement, while journeying through the Congo via river passage, often on a vessel transporting harvested rubber, used the same material that was the cause of the atrocities as a source of personal entertainment and profit.

The introduction to The Black Diaries clearly aims to portray the complex identity Casement maintained: “Roger Casement cuts a strange figure against the Victorian [nineteenth] century Ireland. It is difficult to trace one aspect of his personality which is not in contradiction with the mental habits of his contemporaries.”[65] Adding to this complexity, the atrocities Casement investigated can ultimately be linked to Colonial industry and its subsequent exploitation of the indigenous cultures as a colonial labor source; something of which the Casement Irish Nationalist was all too aware. Casement conveys such sentiments in a letter to Morel: “I said if I got home again I should go to all lengths to let my countrymen know what a hell upon earth our own white race has made, and was daily making, of the homes of the black people it was our duty to protect.”[66] How It Is provides a similar revelation in the passage: “B to C C to D from hell to home hell to home to hell.”[67] Hell, it would seem for both Casement and Beckett’s narrator, is a manmade condition produced with the illusion of being contained in locations not always in close proximity of home. Once the illusion is dispelled, however, there was very little distance “from hell to home to hell”[68] for the Irish republican who investigated the colonial mistreatment of the Congolese on behalf of the British Empire under which he served a colonized subject. The duality of this entry, on the one hand, exposes the contradiction in Casement’s identity, while on the other, it reflects Mullen’s argument regarding Casement’s coded representations “obsessed with questions of value.”[69] Building from Mullen, the “rubbers” are valued substantially less than the expense of effort, and possibly life, to collect it. This indicates the disproportionate value formation within, to quote Mullen, “a global economy in which […] goods circulate with a surprising rapidity and variety.”[70]  

Beckett provides a near hellish encounter with colonial products, and the resulting affect stemming from the duality of their cultural significance is both potentially useful and individually detrimental. Such encounters occur in the play within instances that challenge the use-value of globally circulated rubber-based products: “first sounds feet whispers clink of iron […] face to the ground macfarlane on top of all turn the head in the cover of the cloak make a chink open the eyes close them quick close the chink wait for night.”[71] The “macfarlane” here refers to the French version of the Macintosh raincoat. The Macintosh was invented in 1824 by George Macintosh and the North British Rubber Company as a result of his successful “application of rubber to cloth in 1823.”[72] Made from vulcanized rubber woven into the fabric, this innovative process provided a more weather resistant garment. The “macfarlane” above allows the Western consumer to actively engage in what Slavoj Žižek calls, “fetishistic disavowal,” ignoring the actual human cost of colonial products in favor of the reality of their practical benefit. Žižek presents this occurrence as a “suspended symbolic efficiency” which perpetuates violence as justifiable through profit. According to Žižek, the consumerist rationale proceeds as, “I know it, but I refuse to fully assume the consequences of this knowledge, so that I can continues acting as if I don’t know.”[73] The use-value of the “macfarlane” is such a disavowal, leaving the unacknowledged exploited within the voiceless “whispers” of the “clink of iron” as compensation for their exploited labor.

Likewise, such instances insinuate that generations of people suffer as a result of such technological developments. Beckett’s text seemingly posits an awareness of the effect of atrocity on the individual to be lost to the anonymity of quantifiable statistics, as seen in the chronological number system in Part Three: “for number 814336 as we have seen by the time he reaches number 814337 has long since forgotten all he ever knew of number 814335.”[74] This type of mass suffering, and loss of individual voice, becomes symbolically inscribed into the product and left unnoticed unless how it is produced is not reevaluated: “unless recordings on ebonite or suchlike a whole life generations on ebonite one can imagine it nothing to prevent one mix it all up change the natural order play about with that.”[75] Ebonite, discovered by Nelson Goodyear in 1851, is made from vulcanized rubber and was used for early phonograph disk and cylinder recordings in the late 1890s—a prime example of the globalized alienation of the slave labor force of the rubber industry. In discussing the “veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe [who] needed […] slavery pure and simple in the new world” to exploit the free labor of the poor, Marx claims: “If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”[76]  How It Is, in this regard, suggests a history of human suffering which instills a spectral imprint, “generations on ebonite,” within the products of colonial industry.

Through the sparse and often obscure references to specific places, figures, and historical periods, How It Is creates a web of colonial activity which is not specific to race, nationality, place, and time. The lack of syntax in the narrative negates any explicit contextualizing markers of historicism or periodization. The narrator claims: “understood everything except for example history and geography.”[77] Viewing specific events of atrocity within the isolated parameters of periodized historical narrative enables a disavowal of responsibility for subsequent generations. Angus Mitchell argues that Casement’s investigations into the Congo and Amazon atrocities, along with “his condemnation of uncaring administration in the Connemara district of the West of Ireland, converge into a single atrocity across time and space.”[78] Casement expressed a congruent viewpoint:

With a mind thus illuminated, I was not ill-equipped for comprehending that human suffering elsewhere, however dissimilar the apparent environment might be, originated in conceptions of human exploitation that are both very old and widespread, and have not always been confined by civilized men to the merely savage or barbarous people of the world.[79]

Read in relation to Casement’s experience, Beckett’s text confronts similar issues of historical periodization, exemplified in the Congo remaining under Belgian control for nearly fifty years after the death of King Leopold II, after which very little had changed. How It Is dislocates atrocity from sterilized historico-political containment. This is seen in the overlapping of the colonial exploitation of the Congo with the Irish colonial experience, as it does in the figure of Casement, as when the narrator describes, “the scribe sitting aloof he’d announce midnight no two in the morning three in the morning Ballast Office brief movements of the lower face.”[80] The Ballast Office was a specifically colonial Dublin-based office assigned with the administrative function of dealing with Dublin port-related business. The quotation above suggests a period when colonial Dublin was set to Dublin or Dunsink time (mentioned in Ulysses multiple times) until changed to Greenwich Time in 1916—coincidentally, or not, the same year of the Easter Rising and Casement’s execution, a symbolic gesture to synchronize Ireland’s colonial identity with its colonizer and isolate a period burdened with violent unrest.

In How It Is, the burdened identity is compounded into the various colonial-related objects encountered. One repeated encounter invokes the colonial fishing industry, through the tins of sardines, salmon, and tunney, and others such as the jute and coal industry in India—the effect of which becomes embodied in the burden of the jute sacks that the characters are seemingly destined to bear. The burden of these products reflects some specific Casement diary entries while in India, in which Casement describes how the local people are continually starved as motivation to work harder, and how he attempts to relieve this: “I sent to the store for a case of salmon and distributed galore to men, women, boys and mites.”[81] As in the accounts of using “rubbers” as gambling chips in his diary, there is an irony to Casement purchasing colonial products to ease the suffering of the exploited labor force, demonstrating his humanitarian tendency on the one hand while perpetuating the cycle of exploitation on the other. The blending of contrasting identities, as previously mentioned, is not uncommonly associated with Casement. Patrick Mullen insightfully posits that Joyce addresses the issue of Ireland’s colonial status by portraying this aspect of Casement’s persona in the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses: “In declaring ‘love’ as the antidote to the exacerbating and self-perpetuating violence of the colonial condition, Bloom echoes Casement’s solution to Ireland’s colonial dilemma. Through the mingling of the figures of Bloom and Casement […] Joyce effects a queer polyvalence in the affect of love.”[82] He later argues that the misrecognition of Casement “exceeds the boundaries of historical reference” and likewise “does adhere to conventions of historical biography.”[83] Beckett, familiar with Ulysses of course, does not, however, allow any solution to the “perpetuating violence of the colonial condition”—even the “affect of love.” Yet, by the time he was writing How It Is, self-perpetuating violence itself had indeed “exceeded the boundaries of historicity” well into what was supposed to be an age of postcolonialism.

The jute sack in How It Is, itself a product of colonial India, consists primarily of tin cans of salmon and sardines, a tin opener, a comb, a cord, and a watch with its burdensome chain—a metaphor for the burden of time. They are to him primarily useless items. The uselessness of these products means the narrator, and others wallowing in the mud, is denied the ability to avail of their intended use-value. The tins of “tunney,”[84] as the narrator calls them, represent the exploitative effect on the colonized individual. The consuming of such products sustains the imperialist industry. Simon Nayler argues that the object of the can “embodied ideals that extended far beyond the imperial: ideals that also encompassed the harnessing and control of the natural world, the globalisation of consumption, the progress of science and civility, and of hygiene and orderliness.”[85] If the implication behind the tin can is the cultural “hygiene” of (western) civil “orderliness” promoted by colonialization, then Beckett’s incorporation of it in How It Is directly challenges the ideologies of civilization contained within. The jute sack, and those tin cans therein, are tethered to the narrator’s neck by a cord and are a continual source of physical hindrance and chronic personal torture: “the cord sawing my neck the sack jolting at my side.”[86] As the text regularly returns to the contents of the tin cans, the food within them becomes less able to offer sustainability: “a crumb of tunney then mouldy eat mouldy.”[87] The contents of the sack, as a tortuous burden, become ideologically “moldy” and increasingly useless, even if they are impervious to the unsanitary mud, are both inaccessible and incapable of sustaining existence: “tins in the depths of the sack hermetically sealed under vacuum.”[88] Such references in Beckett highlight the way colonial products were the means of widening their global context, of which historical parameters are not limited to the early twentieth century: “another age yet another familiar in spite of its strangeness.”[89] The familiar strangeness is only an uncanny version of the same process that uses technological advancement as a means of justification for colonial expansion, regardless of the potential detriment to indigenous populations.

Casement reports that the indigenous population welcomed their colonizers under the glittering ideology of western civilization: “They were doubtless glad to get […] such trifles as […] tempting tins of sardines or potted meats—all of them articles of little intrinsic value, but of very attractive character to the Indian dwelling in so inaccessible a region.”[90] However, after this initial welcome, colonial industry, like previous imperialist intrusions, in actuality, had an adverse effect on the indigenous cultures with whom Casement came into contact.  In How It Is, this can be read in the failure of the tins’s contents—sardines and salmon—to sustain the one burdened under the enduring ideological weight of colonial materialistic fetishism: “no appetite a crumb of tunney then mouldy […] no need to worry I won’t die I’ll never die of hunger.”[91] As the tin of tunny, or tuna fish, reflects the moldy vision of a once promising colonial industry to sustain a better life for its subjects, it become a hindrance and means of personal torture: “through the jute the edges of the last tin rowel my ribs perished jute upper right side.”[92] This de-historicized layering of torture gives a singular voice to the mass human suffering related to such events, one which spans not only space but also time, echoing the human cost of colonial industrial activity such as the rubber atrocities as well as the violence that resulted from transfer of power from Belgium to the Congo Free State in 1960.

In “The Congo and The Press,” Ioan Davies discusses the media coverage received by the Belgian withdrawal from the Congo in early 1960. Davies quotes the speech made by King Baudoin (a descendent of Leopold II): “the independence of the Congo is the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of Leopold II.”[93] Highlighting the irony of this statement, Davies directly connects two different eras of Congo history, pre- and post-Leopold, to draw out Belgium’s problematic role in each: “One need only read the Roger Casement report, with its sickening detail of the effects of ‘the genius of Leopold II,’ the murders, tortures, and sadism, to feel how odiously hypocritical  was the King’s speech.”[94] The disavowal of national responsibility for the atrocities under King Leopold II is symptomatic of the repression that periodization and historicity can produce within the social consciousness.

Žižek argues that “violence is the insufficiency of the standard Helgelian-Marxist notion of ‘converting’ violence into an instrument of historical Reason, a force which begets new social formations.”[95] The “new social forms” based on this insufficiency, or likewise justified through “historical Reason,” tend to reflect previous ones, something Casement recognized: “The late acting French Consular Agent Vatan called on me and told me that the condition of things on the Putumayo had been disgraceful—that the existing method was slavery pure and simple—but that it was the ‘only way’ in Peru as she exists. The evil inheritance of an evil past.”[96] Davies later notes how “the UN resolution became modified in the course of implementing it, so the Cold War entered” the Congo in relation to Russia becoming a presence in the region much like Belgium had in the previous century.[97] Out of this tendency for historical repetition emerges another uncanny echo between Casement and How It Is, as the narrator of the latter says: “to listen as though having set out the previous evening from Nova Zembla I had just come back to my senses in a subtropical subprefecture.”[98] Evoking Casement’s experiences, the narrator’s statement of being “in a subtropical subprefecture” mirrors the distribution of colonial control over the Congo as a result of the Berlin Conference. Casement in his diaries mentions on occasion meeting with the various prefects who control the subdivided areas of the Congo and Putumayo regions: “On shore […] to barbers […]. Met Sub-Prefect there who gave me a warm welcome.”[99] In such instances How It Is offers an image of imperialism reflected within multiple historical contexts which the text conjures out of periodized isolation.

For example, the island of Nova Zembla—Novaya Zemlya in Russian means “new island[100]—was a focal point for colonial activity in the late sixteenth century, a potential trade route over the polar region and an alternative to the long trip around Africa. In the context of the early 1960s, Nova Zembla was a potential means for Russia to insert its imperialist interests into the Congo. Due to the discovery of uranium in the Congo, and as a Cold War maneuver, Russia sent aid to the Congo prior to being granted independence,[101] an attempt to gain an invested interest in the region as a response to the vacuum of power left by Belgium’s withdrawal. This attempt to exploit the Congo’s uranium source was a result of Russia directly competing with the United States in the drive for nuclear armament. Moreover, as a result of the drive for, and expression of, nuclear dominance, in 1961 Russia detonated the 58 megaton “Tsar Bomba” on Nova Zembla.[102] The largest above-ground detonation to date occurred only ten months after the publication of Comment C’est.[103] The threat of nuclear catastrophe would have been all too real for those like Beckett with the nuclearized conclusion to World War II still fresh in mind.[104] The real-world references that comprise Beckett’s process of de-historicization are integrated into a web-like context of presentation, or re-presentation, within How It Is. And by presenting events outside politically constructed historical chronology, How It Is conveys atrocity and human suffering as inherently interconnected with imperialist activities.

Beckett’s work resists quantifiable historical allusions. James McNaughton notes this resistance in Beckett’s German diaries of 1936-1937: “he lists obsessively, often without any syntactical connection, endless documentary facts, performing a private protest against the type of history he detests.”[105] This form of documentation, or diary writing, plays a crucial role in the structural formation of the narrative as protest to imperial constructs of history in Beckett, especially in the late prose. This resistance to historical periodization is expressed by the narrator: “progress properly so called ruins in prospect as in the dear tenth century the dear twentieth century […] ah if you had seen it four hundred years ago what upheavals.”[106] Andrew Gibson has noted that within Beckett’s texts the “universals” “seem alternately to exist beyond historical specifics, and to be determined by them.”[107] How It Is exists outside specific historical contexts by resonating within numerous ones, and by being exclusive to none. The content and form of recorded history and atrocity becomes viscous, like the primeval mud the narrator inhabits, beyond the constraining light of ethical absolutes as truth, justice, and order.  The narrative destabilizes structures of historical record, linearity, and chronology, which are, to quote Smith “nothing more than figments created and discarded by a solitary imagination,”[108] if not completely. In other words, historical reports of atrocity—as well as authoritative expressions in general—are never excluded, but discarded as always already “ill-heard ill-murmured ill-heard ill-recorded.”[109]

The linear format of the traditional prose narrative places the content within a certain historical context—even if only to produce its own chronological historicity. Once given this attribute, the multiple diaries, and the multiple entries for a single date, can be subjected to a single constricting authoritative reading. Multiple diaries offering various perspectives on the same occurrences, like Casement’s diaries, complicate the establishment of a single empirical perspective on a given situation. It is a complication that is exacerbated with the addition of the official reports that result in the often oppositional reactions and interpretations of Casement, the Irish Nationalist and Knighted British subject, the fanatic/humanitarian whose vague sexual orientation seems to haunt most biographical examinations. It is perhaps these conflicting elements that afford themselves to his portrayal of atrocity in such an emotive fashion. Casement’s identity is one which fails to communicate itself entirely, perhaps to its own benefit. Casement was never quite accepted as a servant to the British crown nor as an Irish republican. Nor did he fully conform to designations of sexual orientation. Richard Kirkland notes that Casement as “British agent” and “activist for Irish nationalism […] was misrecognised within both these positions: as a traitor whose treachery was, at best, debatable and as an Irish whose activities appeared to misunderstand the aims and motivations of Irish nationalism during that same period.”[110] The complex persona of Casement offers a protest to ontological categories of identity at every level, a complexity that, for those trying to discredit or authenticate Casement resists collation into a singular cohesion—or, as stated in How It Is, “others knowing nothing of my beginnings save what they could glean by hearsay or public records.”[111] These issues of alterity are likewise captured within the narrative of How It Is as it too directly confronts empirical notions of Being, Time, and Truth. 

Casement’s depictions of atrocity in Africa, read through Beckettian motifs, reflect elements of Dante’s Inferno. “An often-noted intertextual source for How It Is is canto 7 of Dante’s Inferno,” notes Russel Smith, who argues that “it is Virgil, rather than the damned themselves, who enables Dante to perform the role of witness and scribe.”[112] Smith claims that this element in Dante is responsible for the way “Beckett divides and multiples each of the positions of the speaker, listener and scribe, blurring the relations between quotation, source and origin.”[113] The Congo report reads in a very similar fashion. Casement required a translator in order to record the testimony of the rubber works. This degree of separation allows him to become listener, scribe, and witness. The lack of quotation marks and even at times markers for transitioning from quoted testimony to investigative authority reflects Smith’s argument that How It Is, “destabilises the unity and coherence of the speaking subject, which may or may not, be radically divided from itself.”[114] Casement, through his own destabilized unity of self, assumes the voice of victim, witness, and scribe through a form of documentation, or testimonial snap-shots, that anticipates the collation of his personal diaries. Casement consented to the examination of his diaries by Scotland Yard investigators. With the resulting charge of degenerate, using his voice as evidence, Casement is separated from himself as speaking subject, positioning him as an outside witness to his own testimony of imposed alterity.

The attempt to convey a singular discourse of truth, something which relies on ascribing historical calculability and linear constructs of time, is mirrored in the failure of art to reproduce actuality as so prominently announced in Beckett’s work. In other words, as Federman posits. “Beckett presents situations that reject all concepts of truth, all epistemological claims.”[115] This failure of expressing truth through any means of communication is something exemplified by Casement as well. Angus Mitchell quotes one of Casement’s letters as an epigraph to his “The Riddle of Two Casements?”: “Some people tell lies because they do not know the truth.”[116] Mitchell goes on to claim that “Casement’s treatment is indeed a good example of how a tradition of history can be ‘constructed’ or ‘invented’”[117] and that Casement’s claim “anticipated Michael Foucault’s claim that ‘truths’ were merely manifestations of oppressive power.”[118] And so each new era imposes a new formation of truth on Casement who by his very nature destabilizes empirical truths. Likewise, bearing the scarred inscription of the failed expression of historical truth, subsequently confined to periodization, one can ask, as does the narrator of How It Is, with a haunting resonance of such figures as Roger Casement, “what is required of me now what is the meaning of this new torment.”[119] Regardless of whatever new formulation of atrocity may be produced, individual voices such as Casement’s and Beckett’s provide valuable insight, both timelessly evocative and poetically insightful. Such a characteristic is poignantly phrased by Singleton-Gates and Girodias regarding Casement’s speech from the dock: “His words reach beyond the Irish cause they were intended to serve; they ring with a larger meaning and express the refusal of the common man, of the harassed citizen, to be oppressed by political concepts.”[120] The latter Casement states in his diary entries: “Poor frail folk seeking vexed mortality—dust to dust ashes to ashes—where then are the kindly heart and the pitiful thought—together vanished.”[121] And yet, Singleton-Gates and Girodias dismiss any aesthetic elements in The Black Diaries, claiming they “clearly have no artistic value,” though they claim that “one may read the anguished cry of a lonely man in each line.”[122] Casement’s poetic sensibilities would have undoubtedly struck Beckett as genuine. Even though Beckett’s narratives often exhibit the downtrodden individual existence resulting in ill-rationalized Humanism, this conveyance is also a resistance, a refusal, of such imperialist oppressions expressed through historicity and singular political identity. Both Casement and Beckett confront imperialism and humanism on a delocalized level through the indelible experience of how it is recording atrocity within the “fleeting joys and of sorrows of empires that are born and die as though nothing had happened.”[123]

Throughout this study, there are undoubtedly analytic threads that echo world-systems theory in Casement and How it Is. In “Reading Casement,” to use Kirkland’s phrase, we see how he (re)presents his investigative findings situated within a wider theory of global imperialism. Likewise, Patrick Mullen argues that Casement “spent his career working both for and against the global economic and political arrangements of European colonialism.”[124] In doing just that, Casement came to formulate a theory regarding the oppression of imperialism presented in The Crime Against Europe which anticipates world-system theories.[125] In “The Elsewhere Empire” he posits: “The ‘secret of Empire’ is no longer the sole procession of England. Other peoples are learning to think imperially.”[126] This presentation of imperialism as a type of ideological contagion reflects Casement’s examination of the impending war in Europe, written prophetically as if it already begun, carrying the implication of the pending war as a result of the capitalistic activities of global imperialism. Notably, in this work Casement manages to include the major examples of imperialism within those epochs of high colonialism in overlapping and superimposing contexts, much like Beckett. Returning to Kirkland’s claim that Casement is “an unstable text,” he argues that Casement “remains tantalisingly beyond analysis.”[127] As such, the impasses of his identity, along with his critical writings—which are “indifferent to borders”—becomes, like a Beckettian text, a type of cipher by which to examine How It Is, a text that records and (re)presents atrocity as a world-system of imperialism and global capitalism, one which exceeds the boundaries of geopolitical location and historical periodization.


[1] James Knowlson, Damned to Fame (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 468.

[2] Samuel Beckett, The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume III 1957-1965, ed. George Craig et. al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 228.

[3] Letter to MacGreevy, 17 May 1959, MS 10402, Trinity College Dublin.

[4] Patrick Bixby’s article, “The Ethico-politics of Homo-ness: Beckett’s How It Is and Casement’s Black Diaries,” Irish Studies Review 20, no. 3 (2012): 243-261, is focused on the sexuality of Casement and its influence on How It Is. Although this article is not focused primarily on this aspect, it will be in dialogue with Bixby’s article as it authoritatively engages with the prominent scholarship surrounding Beckett’s text.

[5] Bixby, “Beckett’s How It Is,” 254.

[6] Roger Casement, The Black Diaries: An Account of Roger Casement’s Life and Times with a Collection of his Diaries and Public Writings, eds. Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias (New York: Grove Press, 1959), 243.

[7] It is highly doubtful this was his first encounter with Casement as well. If not elsewhere, though equally unlikely, Casement is referenced in the “Cyclops” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses as well as in Yeats’s poetry, including, “Roger Casement,” “The Ghost of Roger Casement,” and “The Municipal Gallery Re-Visited.”

[8] E. Stiers, “A Negro Empire: Belgium,” in Beckett in Black and Red, ed. Alan Warren Friedman (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 149.

[9] In terms of the colonial activity in the Congo, it is acknowledged here that the Belgian-controlled region is not the only colonial enterprise in the region. France, Portugal, Egypt, and other Arab interests were all similarly influential in the fragmented Congo region. For the purposes of space, this paper’s focus will remain on the Belgian-controlled area that Casement investigated.

[10] Samuel Beckett, How It Is (New York: Grove Press, 1964), 59.

[11] Bixby, “Beckett’s How It Is,” 224.

[12] J.E. Dearlove, “The Voice and Its Words: How It Is,” in On Beckett: Essays and Criticism, ed. S.E. Gontarski (New York: Grove Press, 1986), 154.

[13] Eric P. Levy, Beckett and the Voice of Species (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980), 83.

[14] Samuel Beckett, Letters Vol. III, xv.

[15] Ibid., 294.

[16] Casement, The Black Diaries, 147.

[17] Bixby, “Beckett’s How It Is,” 254.

[18] Richard Kirkland, “Rhetoric and (Mis)recognitions: Reading Casement,” Irish Studies Review 7, no. 2 (1999), 170.

[19] The debate over the authenticity of Casement’s diaries will not be addressed here, as this paper is primarily concerned with the influence the text published by Grove had on Beckett’s prose aesthetic. That said, that Beckett finds them “quite authentic” speaks to, if nothing else, the effect the diaries has on the reader is an authentic one. 

[20] Casement, The Black Diaries, 71.

[21] John Hemming, “Roger Casement’s Putumayo Investigation,” in Roger Casement in Irish and World History, ed. Mary E. Daly (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2005), 37.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Beckett, How It Is, 132.

[24] Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative Vol. 2, trans. Kathleen Mclaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 30.

[25] Ricoeur, Time and Narrative Vol. 2, 38.

[26] See Ricour’s chapter “Semiotic Constraints on Narrativity,” Time and Narrative Vol. 2, for a discussion on roles within the movement on the plot. The interchange of roles will be discussed in more detail below. 

[27] Beckett, How It Is, 115.

[28] S.E. Gontarski, “The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Art,” Modern Fiction Studies 29 (1983), 5-23.

[29] Beckett, How It Is, 132.

[30] Beckett, How It Is, 10. The first instance of this statement comes three pages from the beginning but recurs numerous times throughout the text.

[31] Jonathan Boulter, “Does Mourning Require a Subject? Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing,” Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 2 (2004), 336.

[32] Boulter, “Does Mourning Require a Subject?” 338.

[33] Casement, The Black Diaries, 24. Casement’s notebooks, which record different points of view and information regarding the same events, imply a similar trauma inherently fragmenting the temporal synthesis of himself relating to the world around him. Indeed, examining these two texts through a lens of trauma theory would prove insightful; however, this essay will not afford such a substantial endeavor.

[34] Beckett, How It Is, 83.

[35] Ibid., 84.

[36] Casement, The Black Diaries, 20.

[37] Beckett, How It Is, 132.

[38] Ibid., 131. See also Raymond Federman’s “How It Is in Beckett’s Fiction,” The French Review 38, no. 4 (1965): 459-468, as he also discusses the possibility of future parts suggested in the text.

[39] Beckett, Letters Vol. III, 285.

[40] Beckett, How It Is, 3.

[41] Ibid., [emphasis added].

[42] Ibid., 137.

[43] Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2005), 53-54.

[44] Christina Twomey, “Framing Atrocity: Photography and Humanitarianism,” History of Photography 36, no. 3 (2012), 255.

[45] Beckett, How It Is, 143.

[46] Sharon Sliwinski, “Childhood of Human Rights: The Kodak on the Congo,” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 3 (2006), 334.

[47] See Susan Sontag’s article “Looking at War: Photography’s View of Devastation and Death,” New Yorker (December 2, 2002): 82-98, for an in-depth examination of the role of photography as a testimonial to atrocity.

[48] Beckett, How It Is, 65.

[49] Casement, The Black Diaries, 251.

[50] Beckett, How It Is, 37.

[51] Ibid., 58.

[52] Ibid., 37.

[53] Casement, The Black Diaries, 250.

[54] Judith Butler, “Photography, War, Outrage,” PMLA (2005): 823.

[55] Beckett, How It Is, 26

[56] Ibid., 28.

[57] Casement, The Black Diaries, 112.

[58] Beckett, How It Is, 105.

[59] Casement, The Black Diaries, 148.

[60] Ibid., 238.

[61] Beckett, How It Is, 140.

[62] Rebecca Walkowitz, Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 168.

[63] See Mitchell’s “The Riddle of the Two Casements?” in Casement in Irish and World History, for a discussion on the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Casement by “the media, popular biographers and historians”; Mitchell, 100.

[64] Casement, The Black Diaries, 235.

[65] Casement, The Black Diaries, 15.

[66] Ibid., 193.

[67] Beckett, How It Is, 79.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Patrick Mullen, “Roger Casement’s Global English: From Human Rights to the Homoerotic,” Public Culture 15, no. 3 (2003), 574.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Beckett, How It Is, 78.

[72] John Hemming, “Roger Casement’s Putumayo Investigation,” 36.

[73] Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London: Profile, 2009), 45-46.

[74] Beckett, How It Is, 121.

[75] Ibid., 107 [emphasis added].

[76] Karl Marx, Captial Vol. I (Moscow: Progress, 1887), 532.

[77] Beckett, How It Is, 41.

[78] Angus Mitchell, “Beneath the Hieroglyph: Recontextualising the Black Diaries,” Irish Migration Studies in Latin America 7, no. 2 (2009), 256.

[79] Casement, The Black Diaries, 318.

[80] Beckett, How It Is, 44.

[81] Casement, The Black Diaries, 271n.

[82] Patrick R. Mullen, The Poor Bugger’s Tool: Irish Modernism, Queer Labor, and Postcolonial History (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012), 97. It should not be overlooked that, by associating Bloom with Casement, Joyce inherently mingles King Leopold II with Leopold Bloom as the citizen is mingled with Casement. However, the violent tendencies of the citizen likewise mingles with Leopold II’s violent colonialism.

[83] Mullen, The Poor Bugger’s Tool, 101.

[84] “Tunney” is a colloquial term describing tinned tuna.

[85] Simon Naylor, “Spacing the Can: Empire, Modernity, and the Globalisation of Food,” Environment and Planning 32 (2000), 1635.

[86] Beckett, How It Is, 16.

[87] Ibid., 8.

[88] Ibid., 92.

[89] Ibid., 22.

[90] Casement, The Black Diaries, 230.

[91] Beckett, How It Is, 8.

[92] Ibid., 35.

[93] Ioan Davies, “The Congo and the Press,” New Left Review 6, no. 36 (1960), 50.

[94] Ibid., 50.

[95] Slavoj Žižek, “Against Human Rights,” New Left Review 34 (2005), 123-124.

[96] Casement, The Black Diaries, 231, 233.

[97] Davies, “The Congo and the Press,” 53.

[98] Beckett, How It Is, 42.

[99] Casement, The Black Diaries, 291.

[100] Nova Zembla is also in Swift’s  The Battle of the Books: “the deity  called Criticism. She resides on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova Zembla”; see Swift, Battle (London: Chatto and Windus, 1908), 25.

[101] Colin Legum, Congo Disaster 1961 (Middlesex: Penguin, 1961), 141.

[102] The Irish Times, 31 October 1961. Coincidently, or not, the headline “A.A. crews in training for Congo duty” is found on the same page announcing nuclear test on Nova Zembla.

[103] The eventual occurrence of this event would have certainly been unknown to Beckett when he was writing the book, but the nuclear testing in Nova Zembla well could have been.

[104] The political context surrounding the Congo at the turn of the twentieth century was equally complex and instilled with turmoil. See the discussion in The Black Diaries regarding this issue, 64-82 particularly.

[105] James McNaughton, “Beckett, German Fascism, and History,” Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui 15: Historicising Beckett: Issues of Performance, ed. Marius Buning, et. al. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005), 102.

[106] Beckett, How It Is, 107.

[107] Andrew Gibson, Samuel Beckett Critical Lives (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), 137.

[108]Russel Smith, “Bearing Witness in How It Is,” Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui 19: Borderless Beckett, ed. Minako Okamuro, et. al. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), 352.

[109] Beckett, How It Is, 134.

[110] Kirkland, “Rhetoric and (Mis)recognitions: Reading Casement,” 163 [original emphasis]

[111] Beckett, How It Is, 12.

[112] Smith, “Bearing Witness in How It Is”, 353.

[113] Ibid., 354.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Federman, “How It Is in Beckett’s Fiction,” 461.

[116] Angus Mitchell, “The Riddle of Two Casements?” in Roger Casement in Irish and World History, 99.

[117] Ibid., 99.

[118] Ibid., 1n.

[119] Beckett, How It Is, 67.

[120] Casement, The Black Diaries, 18.

[121] Ibid., 153.

[122] Ibid., 30.

[123] Beckett, How It Is, 12.

[124] Mullen, “Roger Casement’s Global English: From Human Rights to the Homoerotic,” 559. Mullen’s argument poses a similar approach to Casement as he convincingly examines Casement’s use of the English language as a reflection of “a developing global capitalism” (562) which evaluates individuals in terms of their potential value.

[125] Mitchell similarly claims that Casement’s archive exposes “colonial abuse on a world-wide scale” and “produces a counter-knowledge or counter-history which destabalises […] the knowledge of legitimizing imperial control”; see Mitchell, “Beneath the Hieroglyph: Recontextualising the Black Diaries,” 256.

[126] Roger Casement, The Crime Against Europe, Project Gutenberg, 2005, accessed October 29, 2014,

[127] Kirkland, “Rhetoric and (Mis)recognitions: Reading Casement,” 168.