In this dissertation, I will discuss the concepts of biopolitics and precarious life as they relate to Irish modernist fiction. I will refer to the works of Flann O’Brien (real name: Brian O’Nolan) and James Joyce, and, in particular, their respective novels, The Third Policeman and Finnegans Wake.
In short, both O’Nolan and Joyce can be considered biopolitical writers, to the extent that they use metaphor and allegory to deal with the relation between the body and politics. I argue that both writers engage with the concept of vitalism in order to make sense of the epistemological gap between the body and its political determinations. It is through a reading of the metaphors of vitalism that I uncover the link that either writer envisages between the political subject and the political regimes under which they live.
I interpret Irish Modernism as an aesthetic that depends on figures of marginal community in order to give shape to this linkage. By considering groups of people that are politically ambiguous and economically precarious (like displaced women and radical labourers), I arrive at a model of biopolitics that is informed by the subversive political potential of subjects on the fringe of Irish civil society.