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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Half-Typewriter, Half-Journalist: Myles na gCopaleen's 'Mollycule Theory' - The 'Prolonged Carnal Intercussion' of Typing Stories

As authentic print newspaper journalists ride off into the sunset - and there's now a posse of them on the distant horizon of every Western town - they inevitably do so pining for the "good old days": their earliest experiences in the trade, of dimly-lit, smoke-filled newsrooms, butt-scarred desks and the cacophony of typewriters. Are they still fully-formed human beings? Or have the years of pounding typewriters made them half-typewriter, half-journalist? And in turn, have their old typewriters, left behind, become half-human?
This notion is based on the "Mollycule Theory", concerning the "interchanging of molecules", originally put forward by the great Irish writer Flann O'Brien (above, 1911-66, real name Brian O'Nolan, or Brian Ó Nualláin, aka Myles na gCopaleen) in two of his books, The Third Policeman and The Dalkley Archive. 

O'Brien's characters believed in "a process of prolonged carnal intercussion" from riding bicycles. This bestowed intelligence and humanity to the instrument and a placid nonsentience to the user. "If you hit a rock hard enough and often enough with an iron hammer, some mollycules of the rock will go into the hammer and contrariwise likewise," wrote O'Brien. Why not substitute keytop for rock and finger for hammer? (I'm fixing a Bijou 5 portable as I post, and the keytops started out being as rigid as rocks, leaving my aching fingers feeling like they'd been used as hammers.)
O'Brien wrote in The Third Policeman, “The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles ... when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”
In The Dalkey Archive, O'Brien adds that an already “monstrous exchange of tissue for metal” takes on a note of treason [at least for the republican Irish] because most of the bicycles in question were manufactured in Birmingham or Coventry. The same could be said, of course, for many of the typewriters used in Ireland in O'Brien's day (manufactured in West Bromwich outside Birmingham, Nottingham or Leicester).
Given the way typewriters were ridden (especially when pounded on shakey trestles, such as the one O'Brien himself made to type his novels) molecular transference would similarly have taken place between typewriters and writers and newspaper journalists.
Typewriters, too, develop human traits. For that I can safely vouch. As O'Brien might well have said, " ... you would be unutterably flibbergasted if you knew the number of stout typewriters that partake serenely of the humanity." O'Brien wrote of a Michael Gilhaney, "an example of a man that is nearly banjaxed from the operation of the Mollycule Theory. Would it astonish you ominously to hear that he is in danger of being a bicycle?" Having myself taken typewriters "up and down the pertimious hills and into the deep ditches when the road goes astray in the strain of the winter", I know what he meant. 
"[It] is a very serious defalcation and an abstruse exacerbation ... but I’ll tell you the size of it. Everything is composed of small molecules of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable various other routes too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. Do you follow me intelligently? ... They are as lively as 20 punky leprechauns doing a jig on the top of a flat tombstone."
But, then, as O'Brien pointed out: "Mollycules is a very intricate theorem and can be worked out with algebra but you would want to take it by degrees with rulers and cosines and familiar other instruments and then at the wind-up not believe what you had proved at all. If that happened you would have to go back to over it till you got a place where you could believe your own facts and figures as exactly delineated from Hall and Knight’s Algebra and then go on again from that particular place till you had the whole pancake properly believed and not have bits of it half-believed or a doubt in your head hearting you like when you lose the stud of your shirt in the middle of your bed."


Bill M said...

Now that first photograph has to be the first true bicycle typing! Notagain over at Manual Entry needs to see it.

Richard P said...

I have sadly concluded that I will never understand Irish humor. Laugh at it sometimes, yes -- but not really understand it.