lunes, 13 de enero de 2014

The Dalkey Archive by Flann O’Brien

Brian O’Nolan was an Irish civil servant who wrote fiction and journalism under pseudonyms. Flann O’Brien was the name O’Nolan used on his fiction and it is the name of the author of The Dalkey Archive, a metafictional novel that veers from the philosophical to the nonsensical, from the tender to the coarse and from the religious to the irreverent, often in the same sentence.

The Dalkey Archive is much more than a novel and at the same time much less than a story. There are linear threads of sorts that run through the book, but they are often knotted or broken. But the real ambition of the book seems to be something different from story-telling, something more akin to a flippant, sometimes facetious examination of the relationship between received assumption, demonstrable fact and identity-endowing allegiance.

On the face of it, The Dalkey Archive is something of a farce. There is this fellow called Mick, who is generally surprised by the use of Michael. He has an acquaintance called De Selby who claims both theories and capabilities, one of which is the ability to manufacture a substance capable of sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. He has plans.

But his greatest achievement is to attend a meeting with Saint Augustine of Hippo set up by De Selby, where the attendees can grill the Saint about, amongst other things, his dabbling with Manicheanism and his sexual preferences. But this is no story cast in black and white, though it may make claim to the mundane.

Another of Mick’s adventures is to locate James Joyce, reportedly resident nearby. He wants to ask the great man a few questions about his work. He traces Joyce to a seaside resort called Skerries, which means he is on the rocks. James Joyce is working as a bar assistant, which is convenient because Mick likes to spend quite a lot of his time in bars.

But Joyce remains enigmatic. And why wouldn’t he be? He denies all knowledge of Finnegan’s Wake and maintains that someone else wrote Ulysses. It’s all right, especially when the concept of truth is under scrutiny. After all, the eternal Holy Ghost only became extant - in its non-extant way – at the Council of Contantinople in 381AD, so there!

Now if anyone might think that things are getting a tad silly, then spend just one day - as Leon Blum did in another place - just making notes on the things you saw, said or thought, however random. At the end of the day, have a look at what is there and realise that you have been everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Welcome to being human. Oh, and there are some pretty strange policemen in the book as well, often riding bicycles, of all things. They have made appearances in another book.

It is hard not to read The Dalkey Archive in a Dublin accent. Even then, it remains incomprehensible, the blast of reality coming, perhaps, with Mary’s final words. Which Mary? you might ask. Now there’s a story…

As novels go, The Dalkey Archive might itself be intoxicated. Certainly most of its characters are intoxicated for a good proportion of their time. Read it to realise, amongst other things, how much other writing, especially that we often describe as conventional or mainstream, is no more than illusion sugared with unreal reality. Also realise how much of life, itself, and our assumed beliefs within it are delusional. Oh, and have a good number of laughs along the way.

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