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Hell Goes Round and Round: Flann O'Brien

Roy L. Hunt
The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies
Vol. 14, No. 2 (Jan., 1989), pp. 60-73
DOI: 10.2307/25512743
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25512743
Page Count: 14
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Hell Goes Round and Round: Flann O'Brien
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Abstract

The Pooka MacPhellimen tells the Good Fairy that "there is safety in a triad... and truth is an odd number." Evidently Flann O'Brien, the creator of these characters subscribed to this odd aphorism because his first three novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Third Policeman (1940), and The Poor Mouth (1941), due to their shared thematic concern with the nature of truth, form a trilogy. Concentrating on the forms of fiction and the artificiality of the novel, At Swim examines the interrelation between fiction and reality, between the artist's life and his work, and his frustrated attempts to say something about reality. In The Third Policeman, O'Brien focuses more closely on the concept of subjectivity, and also questions the legitimacy of science and religion as retailers of truth, and examines the role of the artist whose subjectivity seemingly denies any meaningful contribution to the detection or dissemination of truth. O'Brien continues this enquiry in The Poor Mouth, and by drawing on his own literary traditions points to the causes of the artist's inescapable, subjective concept of reality and to the inescapable prison of language. /// Le Pooka MacPhellimen dit à la Bonne Fée qu' "une triade assure la sécurité... et que la vérité est un nombre impair". Il est évident que Flann O'Brien, le créateur de ces personnages souscrit à cet aphorisme curieux car ses trois premiers romans, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Third Policeman (1940), et The Poor Mouth (1941), forment une trilogie par leur préoccupation thématique commune de la nature de la vérité. At Swim en se concentrant sur les formes de la fiction et sur la nature artificielle du roman examine la corrélation entre fiction et réalité, vie et œuvre de l'artiste et ses essais infructueux de dire quelque chose sur la réalité. Dans The Third Policeman, O'Brien examine plus attentivement le concept de la subjectivité. Il questionne également la légitimité de la science et de la religion en tant que détenteurs de la vérité, et examine le rôle de l'artiste dont la subjectivité seule dénie toute contribution de valeur à la détection et propagation de la vérité. O'Brien continue cette investigation dans The Poor Mouth, et, en utilisant ses propres traditions littéraires, met en valeur les raisons pour lesquelles l'artiste ne peut échapper ni au concept subjectif de la réalité ni à la prison du langage.

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