‘Flann, Fantasy and Science Fiction: O’Brien’s Surprising Synthesis’

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Providing a locus of collision between Ireland’s rich fantasy tradition and the Twentieth Century’s idiom of science and technology, Flann O’Brien’s fiction represents a unique – and uniquely Irish – form of speculative writing. While Einsteinian readings of O’Brien have been performed before, as have analyses of the author’s folkloric satires, it is worth considering O’Brien’s writing as a bridge between these two traditions, a synthesis of O’Brien’s scientific literacy with the pervasiveness of the fantastical notions present in the Irish mindset of his day. Central to this is his recurring character de Selby who, through fantastical and technological irresponsibility, embodies both sides of the divide between tradition and modernity and so challenges any clear distinction between the two. Functioning as a forward-looking, fake-scientist counterpart to that backward-looking fantasist, real-life mathematician and Ireland’s “other de”, Éamon de Valera, de Selby personifies O’Brien’s tongue-in-cheek combination of atomic theory, relativity, time travel, and ‘Omnium’ with parodic representations of spirituality, a project which culminates, in The Dalkey Archive (1964), with the character’s attempts to use an artificially created element to destroy the world in the name of God.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-190
Number of pages12
JournalThe Review of Contemporary Fiction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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