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Neil Cornwell

9 Flann O’Brien and the purloined absurd The riddle of the universe I might solve if I had a mind to, he said, but I prefer the question to the answer. It serves men like us as a bottomless pretext for scholarly dialectic. (Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939) Answers do not matter so much as questions, said the Good Fairy. A good question is very hard to answer. The better the question the harder the answer. There is no answer at all to a very good question. (Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939) ‘The first beginnings of wisdom,’ he said, ‘is to ask

in The absurd in literature

This book offers a comprehensive account of the absurd in prose fiction. As well as providing a basis for courses on absurdist literature (whether in fiction or in drama), it offers a broadly based philosophical background. Sections covering theoretical approaches and an overview of the historical literary antecedents to the ‘modern’ absurd introduce the largely twentieth-century core chapters. In addition to discussing a variety of literary movements (from Surrealism to the Russian OBERIU), the book offers detailed case studies of four prominent exponents of the absurd: Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Daniil Kharms and Flann O'Brien. There is also wide discussion of other English-language and European contributors to the phenomenon of the absurd.

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O’Faoláin and literature
Niall Carson

4 The mart of ideas: O’Faoláin and literature In keeping with its professed commitment to a wide and inclusive audience, the first edition of The Bell contained an eclectic list of contributors, and Elizabeth Bowen was not the only writer of note to grace its pages. Articles in that edition were drawn from a diverse section of Irish society and artists. No mention of the editorial board was made but, interestingly, Frank O’Connor’s column ‘The Belfry’ is clearly delineated, marking his contribution as integral to the magazine’s identity. Flann O’Brien is also a

in Rebel by vocation
Heidi Hansson

nationalist idea of myth’ with Yeats and other literary revivalist championing it and cosmopolitan modernists like Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien rejecting it.17 According to Colm Tóibín, at least, Enright ‘has taken up and refined the legacy of Sterne and Flann O’Brien and placed it in a Dublin which, for the first time in its long life in fiction, has become post-Freudian and post-feminist and, of course (three cheers!) post-nationalist’.18 Postnationalism could consequently also be seen as an always present counter-current to the mythologising tendencies of nationalism

in Irish literature since 1990
Neil Murphy

narratives. Similarly, Flann O’Brien’s experimental At Swim-­Two-­ Birds and The Third Policeman were both written immediately before, and during, the first throes of the Second World War, although it is not at all apparent from the subject matter of either. In fact, as I have argued elsewhere (Murphy 2011), neither of O’Brien’s two early masterpieces lends itself particularly well to materialist readings because of their deep engagement with metafictional concerns and their obvious allegiance to an anti-­realist tradition in European literature, stretching from Cervantes

in From prosperity to austerity
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Neil Cornwell

-class park’ to adjoin the Royal Festival Hall, has said: ‘I do feel that anything called a park should have at least one token Waiting for Godot tree.’ Certain of the novels of such a popular author as Paul Auster are frequently compared to the fiction of both Kafka and Beckett (in particular The New York Trilogy, 1985–87).4 Even Flann O’Brien, whose world profile remains somewhat lower than the two last named, despite his well-established literary (and journalistic) influence, has ‘starred’ (indeed, as Myles na gCopaleen) in Arthur Riordan’s absurdist satirical musical

in The absurd in literature
Bryan Fanning

a weight of inertia, some large psychological frustration all over the nation, and that until it is removed the energy cannot be released? More and more I feel driven to that last conclusion.7 Many but not all issues of The Bell contained non-fiction articles that played by the house rules set down by O’Faoláin. Flann O’Brien of all people contributed straight reportage such as ‘The Dance Halls’ (1941). His factual account of such venues was marshalled to counter then-prevalent hyperbolic claims about ‘vestibules of hell’ fuelled by clerical preoccupations with

in Irish adventures in nation-building
William Trevor and postcolonial London
C.L. Innes

been plucked from the same bush. This, I maintain, lends them some trifling solace. Mr Obd and Major Eele, Nurse Clock and poor Studdy: they all need comfort, as do my servants … Such has been my work and my vocation as revealed by Our Heavenly Father (BH 34–5). In some ways Mr Bird can be seen as a surrogate for the author who brings together a cast of characters and sets them interacting with one another. His notes on residents, as well as the device of bringing diverse characters into one house, are reminiscent of Flann O’Brien’s would-be novelist in At

in William Trevor
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Neil Cornwell

both as Froth on the Daydream and as Mood Indigo), and which supplied the title for Vian’s last novel. Set in a less than natural landscape, Heartsnatcher deals mainly with an obsessive mother who dismisses her husband for causing her the pain of childbirth and goes to unnatural lengths to protect her three children. These events are witnessed by a psychiatrist named Timortis, ‘an individual born at an adult age and without any memories’ (Heartsnatcher, 195) – in itself a metafictional phenomenon reminiscent of the ‘creation’ of Furriskey, in Flann O’Brien’s At Swim

in The absurd in literature
W. J. McCormack

international tension as a metaphor employed of the private life, even if Bowen proceeds to claim that her complex people are ‘unobjective with regard to society; their standards are entirely personal.’ 1 One can point to work by Samuel Beckett, Dennis Johnston, Louis MacNeice, Flann O’Brien and Francis Stuart which, turning at some level upon the reality of the war, marked a

in Dissolute characters