Tuesday, April 07, 2009

`A Member of the French Nation'

While looking for something else I happened upon the website of the Rousseau Association, “formerly known as the North American Association for the Study of Rousseau.” I was under the impression the last word on this subject had been uttered 70 years ago, on March 13, 1939, when Flann O’Brien published At Swim-Two-Birds. His narrator and some friends are leaving a pub when:

“a small man in black fell in with us and tapping me often about the chest, talked to me earnestly on the subject of Rousseau, a member of the French nation. He was animated, his pale features striking in the starlight and his voice going up and falling in the lilt of his argumentum.

“I did not understand his talk and was personally unacquainted with him. But Kelly was taking in all he said, for he stood near him, his taller head inclined in an attitude of close attention. Kelly then made a low noise and opened his mouth and covered the small man from shoulder to knee with a coating of unpleasant buff-coloured puke. Many other things happened on that night now imperfectly recorded in my memory but that incident is still very clear to me in my mind. Afterwards the small man was some distance from us in the lane, shaking his divested coat and rubbing it along the wall. He is a little man that the name of Rousseau will always recall to me.”

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