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Flann O'Brien centennial

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Flann O'Brien / Myles na gCopaleen / Brian O'Nolan, unassuming civil servant by day, inhabitant of The Palace Bar (and elsewhere) in the afternoon and evening, destroyer of comfortable reality by night. 

My favourite quote from The Third Policeman:
"Now take a sheep," the Sergeant said. "What is a sheep only millions of little bits of sheepness whirling round and doing intricate convolutions inside the sheep? What else is it but that?"

"That would be bound to make the beast dizzy," I observed, "especially if the whirling was going on inside the head as well."

The Sergeant gave me a look which I am sure he himself would describe as one of non-possum and noli-me-tangere.

"That remark is what may well be called buncombe," he said sharply, "because the nerve-strings and the sheep's head itself are whirling into the same bargain and you can cancel one out against the other and there you are -- like simplifying a division sum when you have fives above and below the bar."

"To say the truth I did not think of that," I said.
But apart from that his thoughts on literature were also rather profound:
A friend of mine found himself next door at dinner to a well-known savant who appears in Ulysses. (He shall be nameless, for he still lives.) My friend, making dutiful conversation, made mention of Joyce. The savant said that Ireland was under a deep obligation to the author of Joyce's Irish Names of Places. My friend lengthily explained that his reference had been to a different Joyce. The savant did not quite understand, but ultimately confessed that he had heard certain rumours about the other man. It seemed that he had written some dirty books, published in Paris.

'But you are a character in one of them,' my friend incautiously remarked.

The next two hours, to the neglect of wine and cigars, were occupied with a heated statement by the savant that he was by no means a character in fiction, he was a man, furthermore he was alive and he had published books of his own.

'How can I be a character in fict ion,' he demanded, 'if I am here talking to you?'

That incident may be funny, too, but its curiosity is this: Joyce spent a lifetime establishing himself as a character in fiction.
I've written a few articles about him on here over the years, but see also tributes at Crooked Timber, The Atlantic, and from the Irish Times,  Fintan O'TooleJoseph O'Connor, Roddy Doyle and Paul Muldoon, and his own critique of Patrick Kavanagh.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 5th, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
I first encountered O'Brien's works via a 1970s Christmas edition of New Scientist, which reprinted as a stand-alone article the footnotes from The Third Policeman regarding that great scientist and independent thinker, de Selby.

Edited at 2011-10-05 07:01 am (UTC)
Oct. 5th, 2011 07:12 am (UTC)
Thank you for the reminder. I haven't read him for years, but I love his work. The atomic sheep quote is fabulous.
Oct. 5th, 2011 07:48 am (UTC)
That's a lovely story about the man who was a character in Joyce; thanks for that one!
Oct. 5th, 2011 08:15 am (UTC)
He probably worked in the same institution as you, 60 years ago!!!!
Oct. 5th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
There was an interesting half hour documentary on Radio 4 yesterday - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015ck96

(I might have misheard, but it featured someone from Liverpool Brookes University. As opposed to Oxford John Moores, I presume.)

Edited at 2011-10-05 04:29 pm (UTC)
Oct. 5th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
My favourite story about him - a snapshot of the man taken when he was at the most hilarious and most quietly upsetting extreme of the kind of hard-drinking Irishry he often parodied in his own writing - remains the one involving the Tim Pat Coogan interview and the bottle in the cistern.

I've got ancient Picadors of most things I can find, stretching out towards things like The Dalkey Archive and the English translation of the The Poor Mouth. But they're all suffering spinerot, so although Further Cuttings came out more recently it'd still be lovely if some of his work got re-released this year.
Oct. 5th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)

I have never actually seen "buncombe" in text before! Something about this just makes my linguist's heart go pitter-pat.
Oct. 5th, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
I must say I have usually seen the spelling 'bunkum'; but the etymology is convincing!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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