Brian O’Nolan, the Conspirator

Giordano Vintaloro


Brian O’Nolan, writer and civil servant, wanted the Irish to explore alternative realities and build a new country. He unsettled taken-for-granted relationships between words and things, and used storytelling devices to engage his readers. However, once his status had been achieved, he profited from his ‘specific weight’ in society to launch deeper attacks on conventional beliefs. As a comic writer, he had the duty to criticise society even at the risk of losing benefits. As Bakhtin noted, inertia is maybe the worst social threat. In this respect, comic figures function as actors of solidarity, and keepers of a “culture in common”, in Raymond Williams’s words. Brian O’Nolan the comic writer was a negotiator of change, offering a comfortable and distressing perspective, but in the end not as harmful as that of the ruling class. He let us peep into parallel worlds for the improvement of our understanding of things.

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