Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds: the Author at the Bar
In At Swim-Two-Birds an author is summoned to stand trial for his despotism. Dermot Trellis rapes one of his characters and is therefore overthrown in a “narrative coup” by his very characters. The leader of the rebels is his illegitimate son, along with a cohort of characters from either this or other novels.
The protest reveals an examination of literary devices that not only does expose to ridicule narrative conventions – e.g. the surprising testimony of a cow strikingly voices the clash between story time and discourse time – but most importantly brings forward the need for an ethical stance in even the most apparently escapist literary works. Relying on recent narratological studies on metafiction (Linda Hutcheon’s and Patricia Waugh’s) and on literary characters, I will show that the characters’ revolt as well as their courtroom performance can be seen as an accusation levelled against fictional and social hierarchies. Moreover, I will argue that the abrupt and ambivalent ending of the story accounts for the writer’s need to mediate between the author’s and the characters’ stances in order to keep the novel together.
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