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Title: Irish nationalism and postcolonial modernity: the ‘minor’ literature and authorial selves of Brian O’Nolan
Author(s): Rock, Brian
Supervisor(s): Richards, David
Keywords: Brian O’Nolan
Flann O’Brien
Myles na gCopaleen
Irish nationalism
Deleuze and Guattari
‘minor’ literature
deterritorialization of language
Issue Date: May-2010
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: In the immediate post-independence period, forms of state-sponsored Irish nationalism were pre-occupied with exclusive cultural markers based on the Irish language, mythology and folk traditions. Because of this, a postcolonial examination of how such nationalist forms of identity were fetishised is necessary in order to critique the continuing process of decolonization in Ireland. This dissertation investigates Brian O’Nolan’s engagement with dominant colonial and nationalist literary discourses in his fiction and journalism. Deleuze and Guattari define a ‘minor’ writer’s role as one which deterritorializes major languages in order to negotiate textual spaces which question the assumptions of dominant groups. Considering this concept has been applied to postcolonial studies due to the theorists’ linguistic and political concerns, this dissertation explores the ‘minor’ literary practice of Brian O’Nolan’s authorial personae and writing techniques. Through the employment of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the deterritorialization of language alongside Walter Benjamin’s models of the flâneur and translation, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage, this thesis examines the complex forms of postcolonial narrative agency and discursive political resistance in O’Nolan’s work. While O’Nolan is often read in biographical terms or within the frameworks of literary modernism and postmodernism, this thesis aims to demonstrate the politically ambivalent nature of his writing through his creation of liminal authorial selves and heterogeneous narrative forms. As a bi-lingual author, O’Nolan is linguistically ‘in-between’ languages and, because of this, he deterritorializes both historical and literary associations of the Irish and English languages to produce parodic and comic versions of national and linguistic identity. His satiric novel An Béal Bocht exposes, through his use of an array of materials, how Irish folk and peasant culture have been fetishized within colonial and nationalist frameworks. In order to avoid such restricting forms of identity, O’Nolan positions his own authorial self within a multitude of pseudonyms which refuse a clear, assimilable subjectivity and political position. Because of this, O’Nolan’s authorial voice in his journalism is read as an allusive flâneur figure. Equally, O’Nolan deterritorializes Irish mythology in At Swim-Two-Birds as a form of palimpsestic translation and rhizomatic re-mapping of a number of literary traditions which reflect the Irish nation while in The Third Policeman O’Nolan deconstructs notions of empirical subjectivity and academic and scientific epistemological knowledge. This results in an infinite form of fantastical writing which exposes the limited codes of Irish national culture and identity without reterritorializing such identities. Because O’Nolan’s ‘minor’ literary challenge is reflective of the on-going crisis of Ireland’s incomplete decolonization, this thesis employs the concept of ‘minor’ literature to read Ireland’s historical past and contemporary modernity through O’Nolan’s multi-voiced and layered narratives.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Literature and Languages

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