Altered States: Biopolitics and Precarious Life in Flann O'Brien and James Joyce

Doctoral Dissertation


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.


Attribute NameValues
Author John Conlan
Contributor Barbara Green, Committee Member
Contributor Enrico Terrinoni, Committee Member
Contributor Declan Kiberd, Research Director
Contributor Barry McCrea, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2019-11-25

Submission Date 2020-01-10
  • the third policeman

  • giorgio agamben

  • flann o'brien

  • political theory

  • finnegans wake

  • james joyce

  • biopolitics

  • modernism

  • precarious life

  • english

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