The Irish novelist, columnist, and playwright Flann O’Brien (1911–1966) has long been a cult figure in twentieth-century writing. Upon reading O’Brien’s 1939 debut novel At Swim-Two-Birds, James Joyce declared ‘That’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit,’ and Jorge Luis Borges wrote ‘I have enumerated many verbal labyrinths, but none so complex as O’Brien’s.’ O’Brien’s novels were championed by Graham Greene, Samuel Beckett, and Pulitzer Prize winner William Saroyan, among many others. And yet, despairing at O’Brien’s continued lack of recognition – even after the posthumous publication of his masterpiece The Third Policeman in 1967 – Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange) wrote, If we don’t cherish the work of Flann O’Brien we are stupid fools who don’t deserve to have great men … of all the neglected truth-tellers of our age, Flann O’Brien is perhaps the most considerable. You have to read him.’
O’Brien’s status as the twentieth-century’s best kept literary secret changed in 2011 with the International Flann O’Brien Centenary Conference hosted by Professor Werner Huber at the Vienna Centre for Irish Studies. The response to the event was phenomenal, attracting a programme of international scholars, artists, authors, filmmakers, and performers gaining international media coverage and bringing Flann O’Brien firmly into the public eye.
After hugely successful events in Rome (2013) and Prague (2017), Flann returns to Austria for Acting Out: The IV International Flann O’Brien Conference, a week of Salzburg-based talks, film screenings, performances, readings, art exhibitions, and public forums hosted by the Department of English Studies at Salzburg University, Unipark Nonntal, 17-21 July 2017.
While he never left Ireland in his own lifetime, there are many fascinating connections between O’Brien and Austria that warrant his return six years after the Vienna event.
For instance, O’Brien had a number of run-ins and encounters with the Austrian physicist and Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger, who left war-torn Europe in 1940 to set up the Institute of Advanced Studies in Dublin. O’Brien often wrote humorously about Schrödinger’s theories in his Irish Times column, and was likely to have met him through his work for the Irish Civil Service. In 2004, Arthur Riordan’s Improbable Frequency staged a hugely successful speculative musical comedy about O’Brien and Schrödinger’s encounters. We are delighted to have the acclaimed playwright Arthur Riordan as our guest writer. He will give a talk about his own creative process adapting Flann for the stage and answer your questions at the UniPark Nonntal on Monday 17 July at 17:00.
Another intriguing connection between O’Brien and Austria is the fact that the only feature length film adaptation of his work is Kurt Palm’s 1997 Austrian cult classic, In Schwimmen-Zwei-Vögel. We are pleased to host a screening of this film, followed by an Atelier Gespräche Q&A with the director Palm, as part of the week’s programme at Salzburg’s Mozartkino on Tuesday 18 July (18:00–20:30). Tickets for the screening and public forum are 10€ on the door – all are welcome!
As Salzburg is the home of numerous internationally renowned and prestigious theatrical institutions and festivals, and that this week of events will take place at the outset of the 2017 Salzburger Festspiele, the programme includes a number of exciting performances, readings, and adaptations at various Salzburg venues.
On Tuesday 18 July author and translator Alan Titley will perform his new one man show In My Own Words: Flann O’Brien Speaks at the Unipark Nonntal from 12:00–13:00 (entrance is free!)
On Wednesday 19 July the Liverpool-Irish Literary Theatre will perform Three Short Irish Plays at the ARGEkultur Studio starting from 20:00: Flann O’Brien’s shorts The Dead Spit of Kelly and Thirst, and Lord Dunsany’s The Glittering Gate. Tickets are 10€ on the door, and all lovers of the Irish comic, the absurd and the macabre are welcome!
On Thursday 20 July Award-Winning author Joanna Walsh will perform a public reading and Atelier Gespräche Q&A at the Salzburger Kunstverein Outdoor Pavilion from 17:00. One of the most acclaimed contemporary writers, Walsh is the recipient of the Creative Non-Fiction Fellowship at the Arts Foundation Award 2017. Her most recent publication is Seed, a digital story that grows and decays, using a sprawling digitally-native canvas to steer the reader through their own unique reading of the book. Entrance is free, and all fans of cutting-edge contemporary short fiction are encouraged to attend!
On Friday 21 July legendary Irish performer Val O’Donnell takes his one man comedy show Flann’s Yer Only Man to the Shakespeare Salzburg. Having toured Ireland to great acclaim for over 6 years, O’Donnell’s hilarious performance has been deemed ‘a wonderful one-man show’ (Sunday Independent), ‘informative, lively and thoroughly entertaining’ (Don’s Dublin), and ‘a howl’ (Irish Eyes). Tickets are 10€ on the door and the show starts at 20:00 sharp – make sure to get there early!