Friday, April 1, 2011

#275: At Swim-Two-Seventy-Five-Birds

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien: Dalkey Archive Edition

In honor of April Fool's Day -- and to balance out all the math-bashing from earlier this week -- I've dug deep into my archives to procure today's #275. It's a page from of one of my favorite books, Flann O'Brien's At-Swim-Two-Birds, a supremely odd comic tome ripe with tricksters of all stripes. Did I say "dug deep into my archives"? Make that "dug deep into my bookcase." All right, I didn't dig deep at all. This book is always in easy reach.

Yes, as I retire to my typing-chair, nearly everything I need is assembled beside me, each item situated well within an ergonomic 135 degree reaching radius: books authored by Flann O'Brien, a rectangular box of Girl Scout Cookies, a cold and brimming pint of Stone IPA, the closest thing available to a pint of plain. To summon the words for this post, I close my eyes and retreat deep into my interior blogosphere -- I'm getting in character, you see, to match the book's supremely lazy narrator, a jobless layabout with literary pretensions and severe logorrhoea (an excessive flow of words; prolixity; wordiness; tumidity -- see also verbosity) who can't seem to get a straight sentence out of his mouth. Wanna see what I mean? Check out the first line:

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes' chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.

This is, as Sheila has pointed out, "a masterpiece of self-consciousness," a completely ridiculous opening to both a book and a character. (Please go check out her excellent and exhaustive post on Flann O'Brien. A great introduction to his work, if you haven't read his stuff before.)

As for the author of that convoluted sentence, what can I say? I do have designs on our friend Flann, and for me to try to bowdlerize his humor and sheer weirdosity into an off-the-cuff column such as this feels a disservice. Let's just say that if I ever go back to school to fetch that Ph.D I've been blathering about for I don't know how long, I'll try to reconcile my brevity, but for now, there's O'Brien on the o'brain, and a quick homage seemed fitting and fun.

Here's the man himself, looking every bit the grumbling Dublin writer:

The hat, the overcoat, the pose: I love it. Though I've often wondered if the "DUBLIN DIVERSION" sign was his idea or if he's standing there in mortal agony, aching for a pint of Guinness, feeling like one of William Wegman's dogs. (Anachronism, I realize: let it stand.)

Nothing warms my swiftly-beating Brooklyn heart quite like grumbling Dublin writers, especially ones who make me laugh. I love the writing itself, but I'm also a fangirl for the whole O'Brien/ O'Nolan/ Myles (another of his alter egos) weird different personalities dealie-deal. Like, I want there to be a WriterCon so I can go dressed up as Flann O'Brien. (Can someone please get on this?) In the meantime, though, one might say that his influence has rubbed off on me.

Flann O'Brien (real name Brian O'Nolan) died on April Fool's Day forty-five years ago today. Happy April Fool's to the only man I know who can turn a phrase like this one: "Come away with me, says I to Slug and Shorty till we get our stolen steers."


Jackie said...

Writer Con!!!! THIS MUST HAPPEN.

Love the parallel pictures. Amazing!

And: What kind of Girl Scout Cookies ya got, girl? And where's the Scout who sold 'em and can we arrange for me to meet her in an alley somewhere for an exchange?

Jackie said...

AND. Wait a minute, wait a minute! Isn't 275 the # I scavenged with you? Because if so-- then:

Therese Cox said...

Jackie - I know, I got fickle at the last minute. Flann was on the brain and the #275 you helped me scavenge didn't turn out well as I'd hoped. But it lives on in the archive, AKA the Island of Misfit Numbers.

You're on board for WriterCon, eh? Who will you go as - or is that a surprise?

Oh, and lastly: Thin Mints, of course. But they are going fast.

Robt said...

I've since found the place where the re-creation *should* have been taken, instead of Inchicore. Sadly, the old black-on-yellow sign - always a favourite of mine - has been replaced by a clunkier white-on-blue. Pilgrimages available by appointment.

Also- I went to see At-Swim... in the Project recently (on a date!). I think you might have liked it. The play, I mean.

Therese Cox said...

Robt - Blue Raincoat - are these the same folks who did the adaptation of Third Policeman that I also (so unceremoniously) missed? Argh!

More importantly - where is the proper, non-Inchicore location? I think I tried to trace it after the fact and seem to remember it was somewhere not far from Dalkey. Am I close? Whatever the case, a pilgrimage, indeed, is in order.

As are props for the inspired photo.

Robt said...

A pilgrimage? In-deeeed. ;)

Same theatre company, aye.

I was never able to get through At-Swim-Two-Birds despite repeated attempts, whereas The Third Policeman (as you know) is one of my all time favourite books. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the ASTB play (even before you factor in the date aspect!). Perhaps the central conceit made more sense in the context of the capricious nature of live theatre than the aspic of literature. (Though Fintan O'Toole's review made interesting points re Flann and his choice of medium for each work, i.e. it was no accident that ASTB was a novel, not a play.)

Anyway, here's visual evidence of the new sign:

It's between Monkstown and Dun Laoghaire.

(I'd paste a Streetview link, but Blogger seems not to like it.)

Anonymous said...

I guess Blogger doesn't like certain other URLs either!

Let's try again:

Or, split in two:

Therese Cox said...

Yeah, I definitely prefer the Third Policeman over At Swim-Two-Birds as a read, but I can see how the over-the-top nature of ASTB would lend itself well to manic performance. Thanks for the link to the photo and the tip-off on the Fintan O'Toole article -- definitely good food for thought for a girl who hearts both Flann O'Brien and a good, weird stage adaptation.

Blue sign = inferior indeed!