Here comes the Flann
Today marks what would have been the hundredth birthday of Brian Ó Nualláin, or Brian O’Nolan, alias Myles na gCopaleen, Brother Barnabas, George Knowall . . . that is to say, Flann O’Brien, best know as the author of At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), The Dalkey Archive (1964) and The Third Policeman, which was published shortly after his death in April 1966. For the anniversary of the writer’s death on April 1, scholars, performers and writers (among them the novelist Ed O’Loughlin) gathered at the Palace Bar in Dublin’s Fleet Street to celebrate “Myslesday” – a night of drinking, reading, discussion and . . . drinking.
In Singapore, in June, the Nanyang Technological University organized a Flann O’Brien Centenary Symposium, as part of its International Conference of Literature and the Arts, while, the following month, the University of Vienna was the seat of “100 Myles: The international Flann O’Brien Centenary Conference”. Professor Werner Huber cites Kurt Palm’s theatre productions and his film In Schwimmen-Zwei-Vögel (1997), as well as Harry Rowohlt, the German translator of O’Brien’s main works (Lore Fiedler is the original German translator of At Swim-Two-Birds, in 1966), as proof of Austria’s “rich tradition of adapting the work of Flann O’Brien”. And so The International Flann O’Brien Society was born – in Austria.
The Dalkey Archive Press are, of course, not far behind in celebrating the author of the novel that is their namesake: a special issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, co-edited by Keith Hopper and Neil Murphy is forthcoming. And, as one would hope, much celebrating remains to be done closer to home, too. At Trinity College Dublin, the Flann O’Brien Centenary Weekend will take place on October 14–16, with speakers including Fintan O’Toole from the Irish Times, the poet Louis de Paor, Anthony Cronin and Joseph Brooker. The keynote will be Keith Hopper on “Writing to the Future: Flann O’Brien in the 21st Century”.
Meanwhile, in London, after financial backing for an opera adaptation of The Third Policeman fell through in March, the eccentric composer Ergo Phizmiz ran a successful campaign on crowdfunder.co.uk. His “neuropera” – which, Ergo explains in an interview with the Wire, stands for “new experimental underground radical opera, and also stands for noisy eccentric uber-ropey opera, nasty exceptional uppity rabid opera, and naughty elegant umpty dumpty raging opera. That’s to say that it’s a home made opera produced and performed by thieves and vagabonds like myself” – is now touring. “Expect bicycles, murder, atomic theory, typewriters, infinity, and sweets”, we are told.
The Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, Gangs of New York, In Bruges, 28 Days Later, and, most recently, Into the Storm, in which he played Winston Churchill), appears to have found funding more readily available for his directorial debut – a film adaptation of At Swim-Two-Birds, scheduled for completion in 2013. It looks set to be an all-Irish affair: produced by Parallel Pictures in Dublin, the actors Michael Fassbender, Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy are rumoured to be involved.
And can we expect similar events to take place in O’Brien’s birth place – or, rather, the town in which Brian Ó Nualláin was born – Strabane, County Tyrone? As part of their Centenary Programme which started September 10, Strabane District Council has scheduled “activities”: book readings, film screenings, talks and walks. So far these have included readings of poetry and dialogues inspired by O’Brien and written by young residents of Strabane (which will be “collated via digital media” to become a “cyber exhibition”), and a screening of Babble, a film by David O’Kane, in which “Flann O’Brien, Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges converse about infinity and the implications of logical order in language and society, each speaking in his native tongue”. Still, no plans for a neuropera.
To tide you over until then: see D. H. on "Myles: His part in our downfall" and David Wheatley's commentary piece from last week's TLS, "A day of his own", an absorbing account of the “odd symmetry” of this mythical man of many names.