Flann O’Brien’s Speculative Fiction



This essay shows how Brian O'Nolan's narrative structures contribute towards a distinctive fictional form of 'speculative fiction', which is bound up with a certain contempt for science, most especially physics, as well as a kind of obsession with the subject matter of physics. The 'Flann O'Brien' novels At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and The Dalkey Archive are shown at once to embrace the ‘stuff’ of physics in their form and content whilst simultaneously rejecting the pretences of the opposite magisterium regarding the development of natural laws. Britts compares the allegory of the Irish writer in O’Nolan’s essay on Joyce, ‘A Bash in the Tunnel,’ to Albert Einstein's 'train embankment' thought experiment which is used to explain the relativity of simultaneity. Although these stories come from radically different traditions of theoretical praxis, this analysis reveals a speculative necessity in both of them, in the process constructing a link between physics and O’Nolan’s fiction that is not simply one of disavowal. The engagement and refutation of Einstein’s analogy that we find in the form of O’Nolan’s allegory of the writer crystallises the speculative task for fiction. 

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Keywords: Albert Einstein, Relativity, Metalepsis, Myles na gCopaleen, Flann O'Brien, Physics, Speculative Fiction

How to Cite: Brits, B. (2013) “Flann O’Brien’s Speculative Fiction”, The Parish Review: Journal of Flann O'Brien Studies. 2(1). doi: