Edited By Anne Goarzin
Reframing a Portrait: Flann O’Brien’s Interrogation of the Artist in ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’
Emerging from a barrage of letters to the Irish Times by what John Wyse Jackson describes as an ‘army of pseudonymous correspondents’,1 ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’,2 the column penned by Flann O’Brien under the name Myles na Gopaleen, occupies a unique space in Irish and international journalism and comic writing. The Irish Times received letters in 1940 that protested against contemporary Irish writers, lamented ‘Ibsen’s problems with dandruff’ and detailed ‘the use of sewers by Ireland’s artistic elite’,3 for how else does the artist maintain underground credibility? Times editor R. M. Smyllie finally identified O’Brien as one of the letter writers and commissioned him to write a column for the paper. A major component of ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ is the reconsideration, interrogation and, at times, upheaval of the artist’s role and identity. O’Brien prods, parodies and satirizes in a column that offers a biting and comedic treatment of the artist. His work offers an appraisal of the European Romantic, Hollywood film moguls and Soviet cinematic poets, but his interrogation of the artist begins and ends with the Irish artist, one who emerges from the traditions of Swift and Sterne, Joyce and Yeats, the Gate and the Abbey. Neither the cliché-ridden Irish ← 95 | 96 → conservative nor the avant-garde innovator is safe; Myles even turns the attack inward on the man behind the Mylesian mask.
Critics have often suggested that O’Brien’s commitment to the column directly impacted his output of postmodern fiction and lamented this seemingly throwaway...
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