The Internet: it changed little

I’m busy. Flann O’Brien isn’t, and is funnier than me. The fact that he’s dead is but a minor detail:

"Consider the average day of the average man who is averagely educated… He is barely downstairs when he has thrown open (with what is surely the pathetic abandon of the person who knows he is lost) that grey tablet of lies, his newspaper. He assimilates his literary narcotic in silence, giving 5% of his attention to the business of eating. His wife has ruined her sight from trying for years to read the same paper from the other side of the table and he must therefore leave it behind him as he departs for his work.

"Our subject is nervous on his way, his movements are undecided; he is momentarily parted from his drug. Notice how advertisements he has been looking at for 20 years are frenziedly scrutinised, the books and papers of neighbours on the bus are carefully scanned, the bus ticket is perused with interest, a fearful attempt is made to read what is printed on the tab of a glove held in the hand of a clergyman two seats up. Clocks are read and resented.

"At last the office is reached. Hurrah! Thousands of documents – books, papers, letters, calendars, diaries, threats to sue, bailiffs’ writs. Writing, typescript, PRINT! An orgy of myopic indulgence! Consider the countless millions who sit all day in offices throughout the world endlessly reading each others’ writings. Ink-wells falling and falling in level as words are extracted from them by the hundred thousand! Tape-machines, typewriters, printing-presses wearing out their metal hearts to feed this notorious lust for unspoken words!"

Now go and read his books.

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5 thoughts on “The Internet: it changed little

  1. I’ve given so many copies of The Third Policeman to friends that I’m not sure I own one myself at the moment – and, annoyingly, I feel an overwhelming urge to re-read it.

    I also thoroughly recommend Anthony Cronin’s biography, which amongst many other fascinating titbits reveals that English was O’Brien’s second language – he was the son of an ardent Irish nationalist who refused to allow it to be spoken in the house. Like his near-contemporary Vladimir Nabokov, he more than made up for lost time by becoming one of its absolute masters.

  2. Yeah, the idea that Flann O’Brien might be even funnier in Irish remains probably the best (and for me, only) reason for learning that language.

  3. He was once threatened with expulsion from school/university (I forget which) for allegedly publishing an obscene poem.

    Upon investigation, it turned out that it was written in Old Irish, which none of the relevant administrators could understand (at least not to the level of subtlety presumably required to appreciate the alleged obscenity), so he got away with it.

    (This is paraphrased entirely from memory, so it’s probably riddled with minor factual slip-ups, but I think that was the general gist – Cronin was the source).

  4. ‘The Third Policeman’ is one of the ten best novels written in the English language.

    At ‘Swim-Two-Birds’ is notable for, amongst other things, beginning with "Chapter One". There are no other chapters in the book.

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