The dynamics of cultural remembrance: an intermedial perspective

Alana Gillespie (MA)


project: ‘Incorporating Remembrance of the Past in Independent Ireland’s Narrative(s) of Modernity: The Case of Brian O’Nolan’ (PhD project)

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Paulo de Medeiros, Prof. Dr. Ann Rigney

Alana Gillespie is a PhD-researcher at the Research Institute for History and Culture (OGC) at Utrecht University. She studied English Language and Culture, specialising in Modern Western Literature. Her MA thesis was on spectres and haunting in The Dalkey Archive (1964) by Irish author Flann O’Brien. Her interest in the haunting power of cultural figures from the past on the literary and cultural imagination led her to expand her MA work on O’Brien into a PhD dissertation at the OGC, where she has worked since February 2007. Her current research interests focus on the intersections of history, culture and literature in the public domain.

Incorporating Remembrance of the Past in Independent Ireland’s Narrative(s) of Modernity: The Case of Brian O’Nolan

Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966) is better known by one of his several pen names such as Flann O’Brien (the novelist), Myles na gCopaleen (the journalist) and Brian Ó Nualláin (the civil servant). Though he is currently considered one of the most prized 20th-century Irish authors along with James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, scholarship on the latter two has often overshadowed O’Nolan’s contribution to Irish letters, despite, or perhaps as a result of his having remained in Ireland instead of continental exile. With more than a dozen known pen-names, O’Nolan published five novels, a few plays and stories and finally gained cult fame for the column Cruiskeen Lawn, which ran in the Irish Times from 1940 to1966.

His abundant commentary on Dublin and Ireland from 1928 to his death in 1966 engages with contemporary national, political and cultural life in Ireland, parodying, satirising and generally poking fun at the newly independent Ireland’s discourse on itself and the complex, developing and often fraught relationship to belated modernity.

This project looks at how O’Nolan responded to cultural debates on Irish national identity and various attempts by the state and cultural institutions to incorporate disparate versions of the remembrance of Ireland’s past history into the new independent state’s narrative of modernity in his fiction and journalism. The project also considers some of his official writing as a civil servant. It will focus on tracing the synchronic and diachronic transformations in the tone, attitude and representation of different aspects of cultural remembrance across the different types of writing and discourses he was active in, and in this respect will be contextualised in relation to theories of haunting and spectrality. O’Nolan’s work will be shown to take an experimental and different approach to the temporality of narratives of the past, one which seeks to conflate numerous presents and pasts and enables him to diagnose and criticise a number of the problems which arose in the process of defining national identity and narrative. Brian O’Nolan