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Babes Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca

Faculty of Letters
Specialization: Comparative Literature-English

Birds Swimming in the Sea of


Ana Maria Parasca

Whats the use of stories that arent even true?

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, 22

According to Aristotle, the imagination bridges the gap between images and ideas;
it is an actual space in the individuals mind, which has the power to combine images and
ideas to do the work of reason. Using this concept as the key for interpreting Rushdies
following excerpt from Haroun and the Sea of Stories: However, there were people who
thought Rashids stories were useful. In those days, it was almost election time, and the Grand
Panjandrums of various political parties all came to Rashid, smiling their fat-cat smiles, to beg
him to tell his stories at their rallies and nobody elses. It was well known that if you could get
Rashids magic tongue on your side then your troubles were over. Nobody ever believed
anything a politico said, even though they pretended as hard as they could that they were
telling the truth. (In fact, this was how everyone knew they were lying.) But everyone had
complete faith in Rashid, because he always admitted that everything he told them was
completely untrue and made up of his own head.1 and referring also to some ideas from
Flann OBriens At Swim Two Birds, I will focus on an analysis regarding the importance
of stories, originality and fiction in texts.
First of all, I consider relevant to emphasize a major theme identified in both texts, the
importance of stories. On one hand, in Rushdiess text, the suggestion is that a persons stories
compose their identity. On the other hand, At Swim Two Birds, overflows with stories,
being structured on three or more ontological levels. OBriens intention is to disregard the
classical ways of teaching the reader in his reading. In order to give a clue on what these
two authorsintentions are, we can refer to Paul Ricouers study, Time and Narrative, in
which he claim that we tell stories for the need of rehearsing a sense of time. As far as I am
concerned, OBriens attempt of allowing his characters to converge, to tell their own stories
is a way of celebrating the sense of time in the same way in which Rushdies character,
1 Rushdie, S. Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Rashid, finds that, without his stories, he has no way to support himself or to justify his life.
As a matter of fact, this rehearsal of a sense of time, present in both stories is expressed in the
excerpt from above: However, there were people who thought Rashids stories were useful.2
Second of all, I would like to emphasize the concept of originality. As Rushdie underlines,
Nobody ever believed anything a politico said [...] but everyone had complete faith in
Rashid, because he always admitted that everything he told them was completely untrue and
made up of his own head3, a reader can form his own opinion on a book starting from his
way of interpreting his reading as being reliable or unreliable for his knowledge. Of course,
any reader understands the difference between fiction and nonfiction Fiction is the form of
any work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not real, but
rather, imaginary and theoreticalthat is, invented by the author.4, but he can also evaluate a
literary work as being original or a copy of its copy, as Plato suggested. What OBrien tries
to underline through his novel is exactly the opposite of what originality means. He uses those
three different beginnings in order to break the illusion of fiction. The idea of origin is
arbitrary in At Swim Two Birds because of its unconventionality. The narrators riffs and
scribblings intersect, overlap, degenerate and regenerate. The books opening paragraph
announces the novels intention to disrregard the classical unities of action, place and time:
Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes chewing, I withdrew my
powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face
assuming a vacant and preocuppied expression. I reflected on the subject of my spare-time
literary activities. One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.
A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the
prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.5. OBrien
realizes a reversion between author and his characters, based on the principle of aesthoautogamy6- Dermot Trelliss theory- a refusal to allow the text to become a self-contained
2 Idem
3 Idem
5 OBrien, F. At Swim Two Birds

object and to delegitimize the fiction's capacity to generate secure meaning of any kind.
Based on the demonstrated above, we can discuss in At Swim Two Birds about a type of
originality based on the deconstruction of this concept. The author revises the rules of
engagement between reader and writer and the arrangement and rearrangement of the various
characters, added to the juxtaposition of the radically different genres which generate fiction.
These anachronisms, standard fare in metafictional novels, serve to further destabilize the
veracity of the fictional world because they do not conform to encyclopedic reality and
undermine the capacity of the imagined world to reflect any kind of historical actuality7.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the relevance of ficion in At Swim Two Birds. My argument
will base on the same excerpt, taken from Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which I consider
to be the foundation for my demonstration. As Rushdie suggests, fiction and the art of storytelling can have a major influence in someones life It was well known that if you could get
Rashids magic tongue on your side, then your troubles were over8. Furthermore, according
to the official definition, fiction is a literary work whose content is produced by the
imagination and is not necessarily based on fact., the category of literature comprising
works of this kind, including novels and short stories9. At Swim Two Birds is a self
referential metafictional text (according to the Oxford Dictionary, metafiction is a fiction in
which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by
parodying or departing from novelistic conventions (especially naturalism) and traditional
narrative techniques), its primary focus is on its own telling, its own possibility and the
ontological limits of the text are purely textual.
Using contrasts and ambiguity is sometimes the best manner of approaching a text, even if we
discuss the writer intention or the readers perspective on his reading. The importance of a
text can be emphasized not only through its well-known theories, generated and regerated by
many authors, but also through the theory of deconstruction , which focuses on a text as such
rather than as an expression of the authors intention, stressing the limitlessness (or
impossibility) of interpretation and rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of seeking
certainty through reasoning by privileging certain types of interpretation and repressing
7 Idem
8 Rushdie, S., Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

others. It was effectively named and popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida
from the late 1960s and taken up particularly by US literary critics10. My demonstration
focusesc particularly on this aspect, because OBrien intention is to criticize and deconstruct
other fictional stories. Regarding the excerpt I used as a foundation for demonstrating my
thesis, I believe it is represantive for the entire novel, which frames the central crisis of it:
what role does story play in culture and society and what happens when it no longer has
power. While Haroun and the Sea of Stories can be interpreted through the keys I used as
theories on my demonstration, the importance of stories, originality and fiction, At Swim
Two Birds can be unlocked using the same principles as oppositions to the authors
narratological tehnique.


1. OBrien, F. At Swim Two Birds, online edition available on:;
2. Ricouer, P., Time and Narrative, vol.I. (1984), translated by Kathleen McLaughlin
and David Pellauer;
3. Rushdie, S. , Haroun and the Sea of Stories, kindle edition, (1990);