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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 47 / 50





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Perhaps more interesting, how are O’Nolan and O’Brien different from Myles na gCopaleen, Brian O’Nolan’s journalist persona. Just as O’Brien uses the distance between himself and At Swim-Two-Birds’ narrator to stave off any criticism of his prose, O’Nolan also has this distance between his life in Dublin and the persona of the novelist, or satirical journalist. The persistence of Brian O’Nolan in creating separate personae for his different styles of writing leads one to consider the reasons behind this. One might guess that O’Nolan was advancing a theory of the author’s position behind a literary work, but this has never been discussed. O’Nolan has rarely been treated as a serious author capable or interested in the artistry or philosophy of literature, unlike his fellow Irish authors Joyce and Beckett.

Sorrentino assumes in "Fictional Infinities" that O’Brien would be "unnerved [by confronting] the possibility of his own irreality" (147) at the barrier between the fictitious and the real. I reject the idea that O’Brien accidentally reached this "line, thin at best, between what we call fiction and what we call reality" (Sorrentino 147), and propose that O’Brien actively sought it out. If one reads the later work of O’Brien, this border between reality and fiction becomes increasingly blurred, and hardly by accident. His second novel, The Third Policeman, plays with its reader’s perception of the world. Its unwitting protagonist is actually dead, as are the supporting cast. Several rather drawn-out scenes show O’Brien’s interest in the concept of infinity: the point where science, steeped in fact and empirical evidence transforms into theory and possibly fiction. There are several scientific theories on display in O‘Brien’s later works, rather than the literary theories present in At Swim-Two-Birds. Although only published posthumously, but regurgitated in different plots during O’Brien’s career, The Third Policeman shows O’Brien’s increasing interest in reality’s and science’s relationship to fiction. Had it been accepted as first offered, O’Brien may have continued along this line of scientific parody to formulate a coherent theory. The disappointment of rejection after having his first novel published is easily imagined, perhaps changing the course of O’Brien’s career.

Flann O’Brien is an author worthy of recognition not because of the connections one can make between his writing and other authors’ works, but because of his fiction’s quality. Perhaps due to unfortunate timing or birthplace, O’Brien’s early work was subjected to extensive comparison to Joyce’s, and usually deemed not worthy of anything else. Later scholars have found it more useful to approach his work from the same perspective as their predecessors. While several critics have looked for trends in O’Brien’s body of work, none have suggested any coherent theory of fiction. These critics have searched for evidence to support their claims that O’Brien is simply a Joycean imitator. These are the critics who refuse to view O’Brien as anything outside the established view of his work, and only do him a disservice. My work has discussed only O’Brien’s structure in order to complete a discussion that many critics have glossed over. There are many gaps in O’Brien scholarship; I have attempted to fill one, and offer suggestions for further study of what I believe may be a far more artistic theory of literature than scholars usually give O’Brien credit for.


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