always shown through the use of italicized interjections of instantaneous scenes: "nature of denial" and "description of my uncle" being common. Alter states that reflexive works attempt to discover "new ways of going beyond words to the experiences words seek to indicate" (ix). While the narrative’s linear progress is disrupted, O’Brien’s narrator uses an established tradition to disrupt it. The reader identifies an italicized sub-heading as separate from the surrounding text, and likely reads it in a different inner ‘voice’ without realizing it. The narrator uses a conventional sign to the reader for a new purpose: to describe emotion or attitude. Laying bare the techniques of fiction writing is a common aspect of the novelist’s role. What is interesting in reflexive fiction’s case, however, is that by using conventional devices that are usually employed to establish the fictionality of the universe of a text, the narrator achieves the opposite result. Because the narrator’s voice is that of a character rather than an exterior, authorial one, the narrator validates his fictional universe and his position within it (Hutcheon 63). Just as O’Brien uses conventional signs for unconventional purposes, so does his narrator. It is this willingness to experiment with something that is thought to be established and static that sets reflexive narrative apart from more traditional narrative techniques.
Besides the sub-headings’ temporal disruptions, the reader’s search for narrative structure is counter-acted by the narrator placing sections of his manuscript for the reader’s perusal in a sometimes unorthodox order. Shea maintains that the narrator seeks to challenge "the conventional systems of coherence dominated by temporality as he accentuates discontinuity and distorts textual superimpositions made possible through memory" (53). Hutcheon explains that in "narcissistic texts the teaching is done by disruption and discontinuity, by disturbing the comfortable habits of the actual act of reading" (139). Long before the reader of At Swim-Two- Birds can know what will take place within the narrator’s novel, the narrator presents a piece of writing as an example of his theory of creation within literature. The narrator introduces a "Shorthand Note of a cross-examination of Mr. Trellis at a later date on the occasion of his being on trial for his life, the birth of Furriskey being the subject of the examination referred to" (57).
The narrator will at a later point in the novel forego actually writing his entire manuscript, offering only scenes of particular action held together by synopses. After discovering that he has lost four important pages of his manuscript, the narrator is scared into "glancing through [his manuscript] in a critical if precipitate manner" (84). This is unusual; while the narrator greatly enjoys his "spare-time compositions," he finds them "tedious of subsequent perusal" (84):
This sense of tedium is so deeply seated in the texture of my mind that I can rarely suffer myself to endure the pain of it. One result is that many of my shorter works, even those made the subject of extremely flattering encomia on the part of friends and acquaintances, I have never myself read. (84)
The narrator is shocked to discover an "inexplicable chasm in the pagination, four pages of unascertained content being wanting" (84), an omission of a significant aspect of the plot, "together with an absence of structural cohesion and a general feebleness of literary style" (84). After considering his options, the narrator decides
foolishly perhaps--to delete the entire narrative and present in its place a brief resume
(or summary) of the events which it contained, a device frequently employed by newspapers to avoid the trouble and expense of reprinting past portions of their serial stories. (84-5)