Among the numerous cronies who have boosted the reputation of the charlatan Daniel Cassidy and his absurd book, How The Irish Invented Slang, one of the worst is Joe Lee, a respectable academic historian and scholar who is connected with New York University.
Lee provided a gushing and ridiculously positive review for the back of Cassidy’s book.
“In this courageous, crusading manifesto, Daniel Cassidy flings down the gauntlet to all those compilers of dictionaries who fled to the safe haven of ‘origin unknown’ when confronted with the challenge of American slang …The originality and importance of the argument makes this an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies. This is a landmark book, at once learned and lively, and quite enthralling as to how American English acquired so vibrant a popular vocabulary.”
I have read some of Lee’s work. In spite of his idiotic support for Cassidy, he deserves to be respected as an historian. Interestingly, he is critical of the traditional nationalist narratives. For example, he is critical of the claims that there was enough food in Ireland to feed the population during the Famine years. Why he chose to take the reputation which he has acquired through decades of hard work and study and flush it down the pan by supporting a joke like Cassidy remains a mystery. There is no doubt that he knew Daniel Cassidy and many of Cassidy’s friends. Does this explain it? Was it simple nepotism?
Or was it pity? Did he choose to support Cassidy because Cassidy had no health insurance after the collapse of New College and was relying on the sales of the book? If so, this was a shitty thing to do. The Irish people are not responsible for Daniel Cassidy and we are certainly not responsible for one of the richest nations on earth choosing to have a cruelly inadequate health care system. If he wanted to help Cassidy, Lee could have remortgaged his house to pay the insurance bills, not sold out our language and culture.
Or was it a more selfish motive? Was Lee trying to stay on the right side of a parcel of cronies, men like Peter Quinn and Pete Hamill, who would do anything to avoid admitting that Daniel Cassidy was a fraud?
Of course, I suppose there is a possibility that Lee genuinely believed the praise he lavished on the book. However, I find this impossible to believe, because Lee is not an idiot. How could anyone who speaks Irish believe that more than a handful of the ‘Irish’ phrases in this book are genuine? (Of course, he’s not a linguist, but even so!) And we have to remember that Lee is an academic. He must have seen dozens, if not hundreds of theses and dissertations. He knows full well that any thesis or dissertation with standards of scholarship as poor as Cassidy’s would not be acceptable in any university, anywhere.
There is also another bit of evidence, posted by someone using the username ap-aelfwine on this forum: http://gaeilge.livejournal.com/175737.html
The bit of Cassidy’s work I’ve seen struck me as dubious,* although I recently heard a faculty member–a clueful historian who has good Munster Irish–at the programme I just graduated from say he thought C. was pointing in some directions that deserved exploration. It was in the midst of a reception–I didn’t get a chance to ask him more about it, unfortunately.
The clueful historian is obviously Lee. It doesn’t surprise me that he was still making broadly positive comments about Cassidy in 2010, because he had been stupid enough to put his endorsement on the book a couple of years earlier. But ‘pointing in some directions that deserve exploration’ (a view which is also foolish, in my opinion, and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this blog) is a far cry from ‘landmark book’, ‘courageous and crusading manifesto’, or ‘learned and lively’, never mind ‘an exciting contribution to both American and Irish Studies’. Yet Lee’s review still stands on the back of every copy of this ludicrous turd of a book. No doubt many people have been conned into believing that Cassidy’s work is a genuine piece of scholarship because of Lee’s endorsement and his continued refusal to set the record straight.
Or could it just be that Lee is a victim of that old enemy of rationality, the arrogance and hubris that so frequently goes with titles like Professor and Senator, the feeling that who you are makes you above the ordinary decencies that lesser folk have to live with?
Who knows? Who cares? Integrity is a precious commodity. Life is far too short to waste on people who are prepared to squander their reputation on a putz like Cassidy, whatever bizarre motive they had for doing so.