And the research that demonstrated that there is no god and two St. Patricks…
On January 4th, Eugene Doherty wrote to the Forteana mailing list, looking to elicit assistance from Flann O’Brien fans:
I was asked to do a review of the Third Policeman for an SF fanzine… I was reading in a book of anecdotes about scientists how Erwin Schrödinger of cat bothering fame had spent the war in Dublin. Further research lead me to the fact that O’Brien was aware of him and the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies to the extent of making a joke about his/their proving that there were two St Patricks and no god.
What I am wondering is if anyone can tell me if he pursued this line of interest/study any further to the extent of incorporating ideas of quantum mechanics into the Third Policeman or any other books. It doesn’t seem to be mentioned in any online resources or the couple of biogs/lit crit volumes on O’Brien that I have read.
I want to know if I am totally barking up the wrong tree or pointing out something that ALL O’Brien fans/scholars have known for years?
The blather response:
I’m not aware of any direct line of influence. Anthony Cronin’s No Laughing Matter – The Life and Times and of Flann O’Brien makes just a passing reference to the Institute of Advanced Studies debacle. The comment was made when he was writing as Myles na Gopaleen in the The Irish Times (Brian O’Nolan was his real name, he wrote novels as Flann O’Brien). Cronin does point out that O’Brien ‘nowhere says anything about relativity that could not have been gleaned from an adequate popularisation’.
Keith Hopper’s A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Post-modernist digs deeper, and refers to a critic, Charles Kemnitz, who argues that *The Third Policeman* is governed by theories of Einstein. As Myles na Gopaleen, he definitely made references to Einstein, his Irish Times column. In The Dalkey Archive, there are direct and pejorative (slagging, even) references to Einstein. Hopper attacks Kemnitz for his rather absolute reading of Third Policeman, accusing him of being blind to the metafictional styles employed by O’Brien, and argues that Kemnitz over-estimates O’Brien’s knowledge of nuclear physics. Hopper points out that O’Brien’s style and application of scientific language and interactive text lent itself as much to the works of Swift, Sterne and Joyce as any in-depth knowledge of science.
I love the way that Hopper’s book reads like the De Selby footnotes in Third Policeman…. as does the above!
Keith Hopper’s Book, including synopsis »
Flann O’Brien: Comic Genius
I have also pamphlet called Looking For De Selby by Conan Kennedy, which investigates the possible influences for the creation of the great scholar. The pamphlet argues that Walter Conan, the inventor of the Conan Fuse for depth charges, may have provided the idea.
From notes on Flann O’Brien
‘Conan Kennedy conjectures that the name de Selby is taken from the De Selby Quarries on Mount Seskin Road between Terenure and Blessington, nr. Jobestown, from which core for the roads of S. Dublin was extracted and pursues the connection with Walter Conan (1867-1936), proprietor of a tailoring firm which made academic gowns and shared buildings and business interests with the De Selby company as well as being – more significantly – was the inventor of a meat preserving system, incandescent gas lamps, a keyless lock and an index carding system and a depth charge (patent fuse) that was adopted by the British war office as an anti-submarine weapon. Sir John Ross and Walter Conan himself give accounts of the invention, trial and attempted exploitation of the fuse. (See Looking for De Selby, Killala: Morrigan 1998).’
”Flann & DIAS: Eamon de Valera helped Erwin Schrödinger to escape Nazi Germany with his wife and attached him to the DIAS, gave a lecture at Dublin University (TCD) Metaphysical Soc. with arguments for ‘not regarding causality as an irremissable necessity of thought’ and claiming that ‘openmindedness towards these questions was the most imperative demand’; Flann O’Brien objected to ‘an argument that could do away with the first cause’ and let fly at the institute in his column during Nov. 1942: ‘Talking of this notorious Institute (Lord, what I would give for a chair in it with me thousand good-lookin’ pounds a year for doing “work” that most people regard as recreation). a friend has drawn my attention to Professor O’Rahilly’s recent address on “Palladius and Patrick”. / I understand also that Professor Schrödinger has been proving lately that you cannot establish a first cause. The first fruit of the Institute therefore, has been an effort to show that there are two Saint Patricks and no God. [/] The propagation of heresy and unbelief has nothing to do with polite learning, and unless we are careful this Institute of ours will make us the laughing stock of the world.’ (Cited in Allanah Hopkin, The Living Legend of St Patrick, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1989, p.151; also in Irish Times, ‘How Myles na gCopaleen belled Schrödinger’s cat’, 22 Feb. 2001, with the additional information that Schrödinger laughed off the attack but the DIAS demanded an apology from the editor Robert Smyllie, who gave it along with an assurance that Myles would never mention the Institute again.)’