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Radio Myles: A Fascinating New Podcast for Fans of Flann O’Brien
A new podcast on Flann O’Brien (Irish author Brian O’Nolan) began broadcasts on 1 April 2023, after two years of careful prep by the show’s host, Dr. Toby Harris, a research specialist at Birkbeck College, University of London. The podcast’s name and website is Radio Myles (a reference to another of O’Nolan’s pseudonyms, Myles Na gCopaleen). Below are some highlights and Youtube links to episodes I’ve found of particular interest.
Also on 1 April, Birkbeck College and the International Flann O’Brien Society held an online scholarly workshop on O’Nolan and the history of Irish radio broadcasting (link here). Led by Dr. Harris and colleague Dr. Joseph LaBine of the University of Ottawa, the event ranged from applied literary theory to early Irish radio technology and how the work of O’Nolan and his cohorts was influenced by these technological innovations.
I presented then on O’Nolan’s 1942 one-act comic play, Thirst, making a case for why it works even better for radio/podcast adaptations than for the stage. My study of the literary, historical and theoretical aspects of this play continues. See the workshop list and all the intriguing topics that all the speakers discussed on the link above. For a handy guide to the key texts and resources to O’Nolan’s theatrical work in particular, see my TLS article from 18 February, “Flann O’Brien, Thespian?”
Radio Myles Podcast 1: Starting Points with Dr. Joseph Brooker
If you’re new to Flann O’Brien (or even if not), a great help is the podcast’s first episode, in which Toby Harris interviews a leading scholar in the field, Birkbeck College Professor of Modern Literature, Joseph Brooker.
This episode provides a solid overview of O’Nolan’s life and career, and is down-to-earth, making it accessible for wider audiences. It discusses O’Nolan’s major works, influences and legacy.
O’Nolan and the Philosophical: Interview with Dr. Einat Adar
Another podcast episode of interest featured Dr. Einat Adar of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice. I was happy to see her appearance on the podcast, as I had learned much from Dr. Adar’s work on Irish Early Modern philosophy of vision when researching my article on Synge and Beckett in February.
An expert on Berkeley’s influence on Beckett, Dr. Adar has also written and edited considerably on philosophy and science in the works of O’Nolan and other authors. In this episode, the discussion includes much entertaining and edifying thought on matters ranging from O’Nolan’s celebrated ‘atomic theory’ in The Third Policeman to problems of physics and metaphysics, determinism and choice from Early Modern Philosophy to Modernist literature.
A Writer’s Perspective on O’Nolan’s Work: Interview with Vincent Francone
All writers who’ve read O’Nolan end up enriched and influenced by the experience. In an early podcast, Harris took an interesting tack by seeking a writer’s view of Brian O’Nolan and how he has affected his work.
The interviewee, composition teacher and award-winning Chicago writer Vincent Francone, points out how O’Nolan prevailed over various challenges and unhelpful larger events (especially, the ill-timed outbreak of WWII) to create some of the most unique and engaging works of the 20th century.
The interplay of Harris and Francone is fascinating, as they reminisce over classic odd anecdotes from O’Nolan’s life and legend, and discuss how writers today can still find inspiration in his work. Francone points out that literary fans of O’Nolan today tend to be those “who like the underdog” in comparison to more famous authors.
This is a compelling observation, and the whole episode is worth a listen fpr writers especially. Francone discusses the ‘tonal perfection’ of The Third Policeman and the way in which O’Nolan’s spirit of innovation helped to ‘get him out of a box’ in terms of style and structure in writing his own second work.
An Extended Episode: Interviews with Dr. Maebh Long
Another world-expert in the field of Flann O’Brien studies interviewed by Harris is Dr. Maebh Long, a professor and award-winning author who has written eloquently about O’Nolan’s work, while also co-editing The Parish Review (the IFOBS journal dedicated to the author’s legacy).
Professor Long’s most universally-useful achievement, however, has been to edit and compile The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien (2018), a veritable gold mine for all researchers. The collection has greatly expedited general research and opened many new lines of inquiry, adding a fascinating human dimension to the mind of the author himself.
In the podcast, Dr. Long discusses the early readings that influenced her to take enough interest to become a professional researcher, the technical complexities of putting the Collected Letters together, obscure theories about typewriters and O’Nolan’s legacy. The interview actually spans two episodes, the link to Part 1 is below.
A real treat is Dr. Long’s recitation of an unpublished section from an early version of At Swim-Two-Birds preserved in manuscript form. In the second episode, there is a tantalizingly brief clip of a newly-unearthed audio recording of O’Nolan being interviewed (taken from an undated 12-minute recording).
Finally… the Borges Review Episode
When I first learned a few years ago that one of my favorite authors, Jorge Luis Borges, had somehow not only acquired a copies of At Swim-Two-Birds (many were destroyed by Nazi bombing of the London publisher’s warehouse), but even reviewed it in a Spanish-language Argentine magazine, my immediate question was: “did anyone tell O’Nolan?” I have asked numerous experts, but no one seems to know.
Alas, this question is not answered in the 9 June Radio Myles podcast concerning Borges, but it is noteworthy for other reasons. The episode’s guest is well-spoken Argentine teaching fellow Julieta Abella, a literary scholar and translator of Irish authors including James Joyce.
While there are no known communications between O’Nolan and Borges, Abella does explain one point that has confused scholars for years- that is, how Borges most likely acquired his copy of the novel. She explains that Borges, coming from the upper-class of Argentine society, was well-traveled and keenly aware of European modernism, having boasted of being the first Argentine to read, and translate parts of Ulysses in 1925. Therefore, she speculates that Borges probably came across At Swim-Two-Birds while traveling in Europe or at a conference, giving him time to release his typically enigmatic review (‘When Fiction Lives in Fiction’) in 1939.
Interestingly, Abella notes that awareness of this review in Argentina today is relatively low, the three-page essay constituting just ‘a snippet’ among Borges’ great oeuvre.
In his questions, Toby Harris raises the rather uncanny issue of Borges’ 1944 story, Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, which has an Irish character named ‘Nolan’ and features metafictional twists and turns and themes common to both authors. Clearly, there’s still some promising work to be done on the Borges-O’Nolan connection.
The above is just a sample of what this excellent new podcast has produced. Fans of Flann and his works can explore these and other episodes added on the Youtube links above, as well as other online platforms like Apple, with updates on the Radio Myles website here.