With its penchant for dissecting rehearsed attitudes and subverting expectations, Flann O’Brien’s writing displays an uncanny knack for comic doubling and self-contradiction. Focusing on the satirical energies and anti-authoritarian temperament invested in his style, Flann O'Brien: Problems with Authority interrogates the author's clowning with linguistic, literary, legal, bureaucratic, political, economic, academic, religious and scientific powers in the sites of the popular, the modern and the traditional.
By taking O’Brien’s riotous clashes with diverse manifestations of authority as an entry point, the volume draws together disparate elements of the writer's work. Each chapter reflects on some aspect of his iconoclastic impulses; on the impertinent send-ups of pretension and orthodoxy to be found in his fiction, columns, and writing for stage and screen; on the very nature of his comedic inspiration.... Among the topics addressed are O’Brien’s satirical use of the pseudonym, the cliché and the Irish language; his irreverent repackaging of inherited myths, sacred texts and formative canons; and his refusal of literary and ideological closure.
The emerging picture is of a complex literary project that is always, in some way, a writing against the weight of received wisdoms and inherited sureties. Together, these essays invite us to reconsider O’Brien’s profile as, at once, a local comedian, a critic of provincial attitudes, a formal innovator and an inimitable voice in the twentieth-century avant-garde. Most pressingly, Flann O'Brien: Problems with Authority compels us to consider the many ways in which O’Brien’s texts bring into sharp relief the kinship between comic genius and an anti-authoritarian temperament.