This article focuses on what the author calls “Irish time” in Flann O'Brien's 1939 novel At Swim-Two-Birds. The author equates the form of this novel with a tension between a progressive form of modernization advocated by the postcolonial state and a deeper cultural and social recalcitrance to a dominant conception of modernity. He compares this conflict within the novel to the ideology of the nation-state by reading At Swim-Two-Birds in relation to the Irish constitution of 1937. Doing so uncovers a deep relationship between the novel and the political document that exceeds the coincidence that they were written at the same time. While the constitution attempts to fix a version of Irish identity preferred by the state, At Swim-Two-Birds_draws on constitutional rhetoric to stress performativity and the flexibility of identity, a utopian dimension that proves unsustainable in the novel's own terms. Nevertheless, the author concludes, the novel opens the possibility of a temporality—a distinct imaginative formulation of “Irish time”—premised on the pleasures of idleness rather than the alienation of labor.

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