Di / 18:00

Bureaucratic Sorceries in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman

Anthropological Perspectives on Magic and Officialdom

Alexandra Irimia, KWI International Fellow

Anglophone Studies Department (UDE)

The presentation is part of the colloquium of the Anglophone Studies Department on the UDE campus.

The presentation discusses Flann O’Brien’s novel through the lens of a dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment that is firmly anchored in the history of anthropological discourse on bureaucracy (Malinowski, Lévi-Strauss, Tambiah, Herzfeld, Graeber, Jones). Seen from this angle, The Third Policeman can be read as an aesthetic illustration of an essentially anthropological argument: although bureaucracy has often been described as an eminently rational form of social systematization, regulation, and control (since Weber), it also functions, paradoxically, as a symbolic site for irrationality and supernatural occurrences, haunted by madness, mystery, and delusion. The novel is intriguing because of its nonchalant, humorous entwining of seemingly incompatible imageries (in this case, magic and officialdom) – a strategy that proves effective not only for creating fantastic ambiguity but also for reworking a predilect theme of bureaucratic fiction: the coexistence of rational and irrational modes of thinking, in an infinite circling around the absurd oddities of an incomprehensible law and the impenetrable opacity of its higher powers.