Though I am a fan of Flann O'Brien's work I was a little disappointed by this. I am currently part of the way through reading this book and I have to confess that the Chapman & Keats section leaves me a little cold. However, The Brother fills the latter half of the book, and I'm certain that I'll enjoy that part much more. If you don't (like me) have much Latin in your head, and you're not a fan of tenuous puns then Chapman & Keats will be something to skim over.
This is the script of a one man show. The originality is not in the stories themselves that can be found in other writings by Flann O'Brien, but first of all in the language which is systematically colloquial Irish English. Yje, we have the situation that is a cliché about Ireland: It all takes place in the snug of a pub, downing stouts or plains. But this cliché is not gratuitous. It is thrown at the face of the Irish audience to show them how they look to outsiders. They look soused all the time. But it is a cliché that is untenable more than five minutes. And does it concern only the Irish?
Since this is a one man show it is composed of several stories and one is that of a drunkard who stops drinking one day but is put back on the beer road by his own wife and he ends up really badly and the conclusion is the introduction of Jem Casey, the working class poet who will tell you that in life there is nothing but a pint of plain, a poetry of the beginning of the 20th century when street singers were singing songs of that type at street corners. That's how Edith Piaf started. But once again it is derisive, overdone, exaggerated but it is also self-critical and directed at the Irish audience. Funny isn't it? But funny ah ah? Probably not. And does it concern only the Irish?
Some of the stories are very good indeed and the telling of them makes them even more dynamic than they could be in the novels.
We can wonder who the Brother is. Some kind of impersonation of the standard average median normal Irishman. If you can survive that kind of thrashing you get from that Brother, you have some eventual possibility to get back to sanity. Otherwise you are dead, body and soul and you have been swallowed by the Sea Cat. Good riddance. But does it concern only the Irish?
This script is full of real pearls and gems at times, here and there, and I do not want to list them all.
What is more interesting to reflect on is the use and value of derision and even self-derision. This derision is a common rhetorical means used by many. It has often been called black humor and Daniel Defoe is a great master of it. James Joyce has some of it. Yeats does not play on derision. He is too dramatic, even tragical in his vision of the future. Mark Twain is just depicting grotesqueness via exaggeration and it is not even derisive, just entertaining. Derision in this present particular case is directed at the Irish themselves and its aim is curative: let you laugh at yourselves and you may be able to change the clichés about you by being different, by reforming yourselves. The tiger is definitely an animal that cannot cultivate self-pity and tear-shedding pity-begging. But does it concern only the Irish?
Exaggeration then is not there to just make you laugh, or just to make you feel sad, nostalgic about the quaint past that is disappearing so fast we do not even have enough time to see its red rear lights. Exaggeration is there to amplify the message. It is a loudspeaker and a microphone to make sure you can hear and understand the message. It is high time to leave the past of colonization, frustration, humiliation that produced the over-famous starving, alcoholic, poor Irishman who believes his fate is to be a true Gaelic chap in this cultivated poverty, proud violence, even arrogant alcoholism and it is high time to develop the other Irishman, that of the future destiny that is hardly imaginable and definitely invisible in that fate: the destiny to be a champion long-jumper, a real conqueror of fear, riches (and treasure, that of Mael Duin?) and creativity.
Flann O'Brien then goes beyond Mael Duin. Mael Duin at the end of his voyage could only become a monk locked up in his religion and in his total resignation that life is god-given, both bright sides and dark sides, and that suffering is part of human life. Flann O'Brien is not locked up in a narrow religion that closes the sky but his positive message is to be found in the self-derision directed at the absurdity of any belief that considers the future is the same as the present which is the same as the past. Time never stops and then every moment is different and can be better, if we stop being locked up in the Murphy-Kelly syndrome: Murphy kills Kelly but transforms himself into Kelly and he will hand as Kelly for the murder of Murphy who has never been murdered.
The last image of this one-man show is that of a German locked up in ternary patterns and ends up killing himself in a ternary manner leaving a ternary suicide note. This German is anyone in the world who can only feel self-pity for their umbilical cords that were cut off so long ago. It is high time we learn how to walk and live without an umbilical cord, physical, ethical or cultural.