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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 35 / 50





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Swim-Two-Birds’ reflexive structure: every person who has stated a grand theory that they believe in strongly to this point has been shown to be wrong in one way or another. Finn may be just another bad author, or in his case, story-teller. Finn falls into the trap of relating Sweeney’s tale in order to get his point about characters’ misuse across, while at the same time becoming one of the composers he mistrusts. Once again, the narrator could be blamed for this mistake, as he attempts to control Finn’s narrative. It is not the first mistake that the narrator has made; once again, what appears at first to be a solid barrier within his novel breaks under scrutiny. At first glance, one believes Finn that the written tradition is not as good or honourable as the oral tradition, but after examination of this argument under the narrator’s theory’s rules, which supposedly control his entire manuscript, this preference for oral literature is proved inadequate.

This third narrative plane presents the narrator’s literary theory in its entirety. The audience is shown the benefits of borrowing previously invented characters; all the newly created characters, who have not been tried and tested through at least one literary work, fail to perform their duties properly. Trellis’ authorial mishaps are a sort of warning that the narrator presents to his readership. The narrator exposes yet another bad author within At Swim-Two-Birds. Not only is Trellis bad at inventing characters, but he is also a bad person at heart; Trellis’ evil impulses are exposed after creating what he considers a perfect woman, exposing the reflexive origins of Furriskey’s character. Trellis’ ill-planning is his downfall, as his own creations turn against him due to a lack of backgrounding; Furriskey is kind-hearted because Trellis does not place enough of his own predatory sexuality in his new character, and revenge will be had by Orlick after the Pooka’s unplanned influence. Finn is also shown to be a less competent bard than he would like to believe, as his long-winded speeches to his fellow characters place him in the same position as Trellis and every other author that he complains about. Finn has built up expectations of a pure narrative form, but is then proved wrong by the subtle evidence that can be found in the surrounding narrative plane. O’Brien will next present his audience with the most common narrative form: conversation.


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