Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Milles Na gCopaleen's Catechism of Cliche


Who is the single least known great writer of the Western Canon?

Brian O'Nolan.

And who was this gentleman I never heard of before?

The single least known great writer of the Western Canon.

Upon what authority do you make this extraordinary assertion?

Upon the unimpeachable authority of his great novel, At Swim-Two-Birds.  And the equally impeachable authority of his great fantasy The Third Policeman.  And the eminently peachable authority of everything else he ever wrote.

Under what name did he write?

Flann O'Brien.

Why, then, have I never heard of him?

He destroyed himself through a combination of drink, wasting his wit in pub conversation, wasting his writing time on newspaper columns that kept him from starving, putting a novel in a drawer after a single publisher rejected it, publishing under pseudonyms, writing a novel in Irish despite the readersip for such a book being unprofitably small... In short, he was Irish.  God help him, he was Irish. Also a humorist, which is almost as bad.

What does it make me if I've I've never read the sot?

Blessed of God, for you have his works before you ready to be discovered.

But if I don't bother to read them?

A total idiot.

Oh, all right.  I have somewhere in the house a copy of The Best of Myles, a collection of O'Nolan's pseudonymous weekly columns written as by "Myles na gCopaleen."  They are mad whimsical, the work of a man who was a master of the language, and the reason I don't know where the book is is that I hid it.  Otherwise, I'd keep reading it over and over and never get anything done.

By chance I recently ran across a blog that reposted one of the great man's columns, the "Catechism of Cliche."  And it prompted the foregoing orgy of admiation.

You can read the catechism here.



Lars said...

A pint of plain is your man.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

I've long intended to read him - a good reminder. The link to the catechism of cliche is a dud, I'm afraid.

Mark Pontin said...

I have this book. A feel of the Lafferty in some of it. Forex --

The instrument illustrated today (did you guess?) is a snow-gauge. There are very few of them in these United States nowadays. It is made of copper, and consists of a funnel or catch-pipe for the snow, which widens inwardly, then drops eighteen inches, allowing the snow to fall into a pan beneath. A casing which can be heated with hot water surrounds the gauge and is used to melt the snow. By this arrangement the snow cannot escape; it melts and runs into the bucket beneath, where it is accurately gauged.
So what, you say. I will tell you what. There is one great advantage in having a snow gauge on your premises. Supposing some moon-faced young man who reads Proust happens to be loitering about your house, blathering out of him about art, life, love and so on. He is sure to have a few cant French phrases, which he will produce carefully at suitable intervals as one produces coins from a purse. Inevitably the day will come (even if you have to wait for it for many years) when he will sigh and murmur:
“Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?”
Here is your chance. This is where you go to town. Seize the nitwit by the scruff of the neck, march him out to the snow gauge, and shout:
“Right in that bucket, you fool!”
I’ll bet you feel pretty good after that.

Mark Pontin said...

And this is just beautiful ----

You know, of course, that I will be leaving you soon?
That is the usual arrangement.
I would not like to go without placing on record my pleasure in having been associated with you. It is no lie to say that I have always received the greatest courtesy and consideration at your hands. I can only regret that it is not practicable to offer you some small token of my appreciation.
Thank you. I am very sorry also that we must part after having been so long together. If that watch of mine were found you would be welcome to it if you could find some means of taking it.
But you have no watch.
I forgot that.
Thank you all the same. You have no idea where you are going … when all this is over?
No, none.
Nor have I. I do not know, or do not remember what happens to the like of me in these circumstances. Sometimes I think that I might become part of … the world, if you understand me?
I know.
I mean – the wind, you know. Part of that. Or the spirit of the scenery in some beautiful place like the lakes of Killarney, the inside meaning of it if you understand me.
I do.
Or perhaps something to do with the sea. ‘The light that never was on sea or land, the peasant’s hope and the poet’s dream.’ A big wave in mid-ocean, for instance, it is a very lonely and spiritual thing. Part of that.
I understand you.
Or the smell of a flower, even.

HWW said...

Well, I would have to cast my vote for The Poor Mouth. A Bad Story About the Hard Life, the English translation of An Beal Bocht, [1941]. My vote for the funniest book in the world.

And just look at the Name Authority from the Library of Congress !


HWW said...

The LC name authority here:


psteve said...

The link to the catechism doesn't work, but there's a version at The Third Policemen is one to the most strangely creepy books ever written, for all its laughs.