Improved Out of All Knowedge
In chapter 3, I suggested how the case of Wyndham Lewis necessitates that we reconsider such inherited ideas of modernist literary history as "the men of 1914." A large part of Lewis's career, and the overwhelming majority of his published work, represented an ongoing attempt to show why that extraordinary convergence of innovative writing could only be an ephemeral effort, and why the desire to mythologize that moment, as has indeed been done since then, was wrong-headed. Focusing his critical energies both on broad social-political developments such as the postwar youth cult and on new technologies of representation, Lewis came to two conclusions about high modernist writing: that its emphasis on form and style was implicitly political in nature and that its aesthetic way of viewing and practicing politics had become increasingly unviable. As my readings seek to show, Djuna Barnes's work, too, should give pause before the efforts of critics to subsume her into a historical picture of a vital, expatriate modernism, even if in her case most accounts have specified this modernism as feminist or "sapphic" in its concerns. As I have demonstrated, Barnes saw the rise of all-women affiliative communities and the breakup of traditional genealogical or domestic novel form as part and parcel of the same broad modernist tendencies. Barnes's writing emerges out of a situation in which this modernization of sexuality could be assumed to be already complete and irreversible—at least for American and British artists living in Paris in the interwar years. Yet while Barnes was in no way nostalgic for the filiative bonds of family and patriarchal authority—
from which she had personally suffered much—she, like Lewis, remained skeptical about the strong positive claims made for modernism as a way of living and of making art. Both writers, I have argued, evolved particular late modernist approaches to fiction to express this skepticism; both explored the ambiguities and ambivalences of their position as "modernists" who no longer found the redemptive pretenses of modernist art credible.
Samuel Beckett's work has suffered from similar misunderstandings as that of these elder peers, especially given the impressive length of his artistic career and his evolving but consistent corpus that spans from imitative pastiches of late Joyce to uncompromising postmodern minimalism. Although I must focus my discussion only on Beckett's prewar, English-language writings, I will venture the claim that the concept of late modernism helps us to situate and understand the majority of Beckett's works, both fiction and drama, from More Pricks Than Kicks through the postwar French trilogy and early plays up to his return to prose writing in How It Is . This chapter represents a kind of genealogical account which, in demonstrating how Beckett came to call high modernist poetics in question and to evolve a late modernist approach to fiction writing, takes a first step toward fleshing out that claim and making it a critically useful proposition. A more comprehensive development of this idea, however, will have to await further discussion of Beckett's whole body of writing, a task beyond the limited scope of this chapter.
Prior to his first major work as a writer of fiction, the young Samuel Beckett made his mark as a critic and advocate of modernist writing. In 1929, at age twenty-three, he was among the handpicked contributors to a volume of encomium and explication of James Joyce's magnum opus in progress, eventually to become Finnegans Wake . Beckett's essay for the volume, "Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce," exhibits the young Trinity graduate's formidable learning and analytic skills, along with his unsteady tone, which from page to page careens from pedantry to snarling polemic, between scornful detachment and the enthusiasm of a true believer in Joyce's "revolution of the word." In 1930, after an exchange year in Paris as a lecturer at the École Normale Supérieure, he was commissioned to write a monograph on the writings of Marcel
Proust (published 1931). And throughout the midthirties, he continued his critical work by reviewing contemporary Irish and European literature for newspapers and literary periodicals.
These critical essays provide a crucial point of reference in tracing the formation of Samuel Beckett as a writer shaped by both the specifically Irish cultural context and continental modernist literary trends. Recent critics such as Richard Kearney, J. C. C. Mays, and John P. Harrington have argued that these early critical texts reveal the previously underestimated extent of Beckett's cognizance of and involvement in Irish cultural debates. In his essays and reviews, they suggest, Beckett worked out an artistic and cultural-political stance against the backdrop of an almost absurdly restrictive censorship law and a rising tide of anticosmopolitan Catholic nativism. Yet while such contextual readings of this early work fill an important gap in the Beckett criticism, more relevant for my purpose is Beckett's early encounter with modernist tendencies ranging from the cosmopolitanism of English-speaking expatriates in France to the cultural differences of French, German, Italian, and Spanish modernist writers.
Both the Joyce and the Proust essays reveal their author as a committed modernist initiate. In the Joyce essay, Beckett provokes his reader with a sneering swipe at the habit of "rapid skimming and absorption of the scant cream of sense," a kind of reading that might be appropriate to the mawkish realism of the Victorian novel and its contemporary heirs but not to Work in Progress's pages and pages of "direct expression." Similarly, Beckett notes with approval Proust's disdain for descriptive literature, "for the realists and naturalists worshipping the offal of experience, prostrate before the epidermis and the swift epilepsy, and content to transcribe the surface, the facade, behind which the Idea is prisoner." He argues that in contrast to naturalistic description, "the Proustian procedure is that of Apollo flaying Marsyas and capturing without sentiment the essence, the Phrygian waters" (Proust , 59).
Overall, Beckett stresses the modernists' attempt, through formal innovation and involution, to tap into the source and essence of literature. Language, form, and content constitute a unity that supersedes any "partial" system of values. The artist must concentrate firmly on the world to be disclosed within the work of art, not on some part of the world he might reflect, in a conventionalized mimesis, by means of it: "For Proust the quality of language is more important than any system of ethics or aesthetics. Indeed he makes no attempt to dissociate form from content. The one is a concretion of the other, the revelation of a
world" (Proust , 67). Correlatively, Beckett champions works in which the text's meaning devolves on the material and formal properties of its artistic language, projecting a new form of hieroglyphic immediacy, a writing free of the codes and conventions governing ordinary signification yet marked by the deepest rigor of craft. Beckett calls this communication "direct expression" in the Joyce essay (Disjecta , 26) and "auto-symbolism" in Proust (60). By attending to the intrinsic qualities of literature—above all, to literature's existence in and as language—he implies, the writer risks the freedom of experience outside the stable mental, moral, and linguistic frames that render everyday life intelligible. Experience beyond these limits is close kin to madness, both because unintelligibility appears mad to those content to stay within the commonplace and because the line between radical art and insanity is all too easily crossed. Yet willingness to suffer for authentic experience is, in the critical view of the young Beckett, the test of the modern artist's integrity.
Beckett delineates here a rationale for modernist literature similar to that later articulated by Michel Foucault in Les mots et les choses (The Order of Things). In its efforts to uncover the essence and source of language, Foucault argues, modern literature confronts those structures that constitute the limits of "the world"—a world mediated by the grids and codes of intelligibility, by the architecture of propositions rendering the unknown knowable. Literature becomes a "counterdiscourse" to the discourses of the natural and human sciences: a collocation of darknesses in the midst of their illuminating sentences, a mutism and madness at the heart of reasonable speech. Literature, Foucault writes, "encloses itself within a radical intransitivity . . . and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming . . . its own precipitous existence." In Foucault's view, this intransitive language emerges most clearly in relation to real madness—for example, that of the writers Raymond Roussel and Antonin Artaud—because the experience of limits that literature represents points to an impossible, unbearable, in-sane experience of spaces and intensities outside these limits. In his earlier study Madness and Civilization , Foucault argues that madness is the moment of truth of the work of modern art and at the same time its abolition. Modern art and madness are imbricated in a paradoxical dialectic:
There is no madness except as the final instant of the work of art—the work endlessly drives madness to its limits; where there is a work of art, there is no madness ; and yet madness is contemporary with the work of art, since it
inaugurates the time of its truth. The moment when, together, the work of art and madness are born and fulfilled is the beginning of the time when the world finds itself arraigned by that work of art and responsible before it for what it is.
Taken to its acme, modernist art realizes the "absence of the work"—the madness that was all along the truth of the modernist artwork yet unrealizable as (that) work. Both madness and its manifestation in the modernist artwork contest the "reasonable" world of knowledge, labor, and rationalized bureaucratic power.
Analogously, Beckett appeals to a holistic mental experience as essential to art, an experience able to include not just the rationally or traditionally sanctioned but also the radically new or "other." In a defense of the poet Denis Devlin in a 1938 review, he thus asserts the comprehensive scope of artistic consciousness against restrictive demands for "clarity": "The time is perhaps not altogether too green for the vile suggestion that art has nothing to do with clarity, does not dabble in the clear and does not make clear, any more than the light of day (or night) makes the subsolar, -lunar and -stellar excrement. Art is the sun, moon, and stars of the mind, the whole mind" (Disjecta , 94). The "whole mind," Beckett implies, includes not just the rational portions but those that are irrational, silent, or mad as well. Devlin's creativity, he concludes, allows "a minimum of rational interference"; his "is a mind aware of its luminaries" (Disjecta , 94). In a dialogue between Belacqua and "the Mandarin" in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, the abandoned precursor of More Pricks Than Kicks , Belacqua offers a related view of Beethoven and Rimbaud: "I was speaking of . . . the incoherent continuum as expressed by, say, Rimbaud and Beethoven. . . . The terms of whose statements serve merely to delimit the reality of the insane areas of silence, whose audibilities are no more than punctuation in a statement of silences. How do they get from point to point." The "statements" of modern art return to the source of music or literature, revealing in their singular concentration on sound or language an alter-ity inherent to the medium: the silence and in-significance from which music and language emerge. They set figure and ground in play, exposing the limits of humanly produced significance by making sensible, as a kind of dim halo around the work, the madness and contingency kept at bay by the artist's imposition of aesthetic necessity.
These arguments of Beckett and Foucault, intended to defend and legitimate modernist writing, also reflect general assumptions and
concerns of modernism. Although peculiarly inflected, their concern with a self-reflective, self-referential, essentializing practice of intransitive writing can be seen as participating in high modernism's fore-grounding of epistemological problems in their relation to writing. Modernist literature stages a crisis in the linkage between the mind and reality, between subject and object: "the rupture," as Beckett put it in his 1934 review of "Recent Irish Poetry," "of the lines of communication" (Disjecta , 70). For Beckett, the crucial point about this epistemological "breakdown" is not any one particular response of the writer; there are several he entertains as valid:
The artist who is aware of this [rupture] may state the space that intervenes between him and the world of objects; he may state it as no-man's-land, Hellespont or vacuum, according as he happens to be feeling resentful, nostalgic or merely depressed. . . . Or he may celebrate the cold comforts of apperception. He may even record his findings, if he is a man of great personal courage. (Disjecta , 70)
Rather than this or that response, none of which may on grounds of content be favored, the degree of awareness embodied in the work is the ultimate standard of value. This consciousness is, above all, cultivated in and communicated through the intrinsic nature of writing.
In its essentials, Beckett's position is not unlike the classic modernist position articulated more than three decades earlier by Joseph Conrad in the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus . Conrad's artist, confronted by the "enigmatical spectacle" of the world, "descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife . . . finds the terms of his appeal"; he is abandoned to "the stammerings of his conscience and to the outspoken consciousness of the difficulties of his work." Beckett, in turn, as late as 1934, reaffirms the heroic ethos of high modernism, in which the artist, tough enough to relinquish his illusions, may risk sanity and social approval for lucid awareness of his situation. Part of Beckett's "untimely" commitment, in his critical work, to a high modernist stance may follow from the apparent backwardness of the Irish context that he addressed in his early writings. As John Harrington puts it with understated irony, "common thought in Ireland or out of Ireland would question whether Dublin in the 1939s was an indubitably representative example of a 'modern society.' " In answering with regard to his own case, Beckett might have quoted his own "Dante and the Lobster," from the quickly censored More Pricks Than Kicks : "It is not." Beckett had to travel to London to be psychoanalyzed, for in the
Ireland of the time Dr. Freud's talking cure was proscribed as a temptation to atheism and sexual license. If in France and Britain claims for modernism's oppositional character were already subject to doubt, the Free State surely would have seemed to Beckett still in need of some modernistic kicking against the pricks.
In a 1938 review published in transition , Beckett argued that the objective situation itself dictated a modernist response from the writer. The social situation—the modernist crisis of both subject and object, the political context of fascism and communism—required art to return to its essence as question, as what Foucault calls "counterdiscourse": "Art has always been this—pure interrogation, rhetorical question less the rhetoric—whatever else it may have been obliged by the 'social reality' to appear, but never more freely so than now, when social reality (pace ex-comrade Radek) has severed the connexion" (Disjecta , 91). The artist's challenge to the status quo, whether that of Ireland or of Europe, of literary habit or of repressive political regimes, lies in his consciousness of art's social separation. He must vigilantly occupy the autonomous space of literature and maintain his awareness against any illusions of reconciliation.
For since when were Watt's concerns with what things were, in reality?
Samuel Beckett, Watt
So far the picture I have given of Beckett is that of a young critic committed to the defense and legitimation of high modernist writing in the tradition of Conrad, Joyce, Proust, Eliot, and others. Yet this image refers primarily to his criticism, which is also to say, to his role as a reviewer and commentator within the Irish literary context. Recent investigations of both genre and nationality, however, should alert us to possible differences between and within genres of cultural production, especially as these genetic distinctions intersect with national ones (the "French novel," the "English novel," etc.). To take a simple example, thus, "modernism" may look quite different in a particular span of years depending on whether one is examining the English, the Russian, the German, or the Argentine context. Similarly, within the limited context of "Anglo-American writers in Paris in the 1920s," there may be
relevant distinctions between developments in the novel, in lyric poetry, and in the singular invented genres of a writer like Gertrude Stein.
Accordingly, distinctions between criticism and other literary genres and between the Irish setting and the Parisian environment may prove to be decisively relevant to reading Beckett's work historically. It is easy enough to understand how an artist working in several genres or media might have advanced at a different pace in one than in another. To take an extraliterary case, it was often remarked that John Coltrane's soprano saxophone playing always seemed to be about six months behind his pathbreaking tenor work. Yet if this is intuitively easy to grasp, such an observation has nevertheless left surprisingly little mark on the historical frameworks of literary study, which deal uneasily with multiple contexts and untidy careers. In the fascinating case of Beckett, a writer who worked in multiple genres and wrote within an intricate national-linguistic complex (Irish/English/French), the interplay of various contexts makes for a particularly complicated picture, in which many different rhythms of development can be observed within a single author's corpus. I want to trace out one part of this picture, and in turn, account for the challenge Beckett as a late modernist poses for literary history and criticism, precisely because of the resistance his writing mounts against the schemes for situating his works and, through critical interpretation, rendering them meaningful.
Insofar as Beckett presented himself as a critic in the arena of Irish cultural politics, I suggest, he adopted a high modernist stance, with its cosmopolitan emphases on consciousness, epistemological concerns, and the refinements of an autonomous literary writing. His early fictions More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy , however, addressed a different audience, an international community reading Anglo-American and continental modernist writing, even as these works still present recognizably Irish contents and characters. In composing and trying to publish these books, the Irish tyro had to confront the "actuality" of the small but sophisticated community within which modernist fiction was written and read. In this process, Beckett began to subject the high modernist stance—his own, with regard to the narrow horizons of his native Ireland—to a withering reexamination. Precisely at the moment, then, that he is articulating a coherent modernist critical position, advocating the modernism he discerns in the fiction and poetry of other writers, he is also working to sabotage its functioning in his own fiction. Perceptible already in More Pricks Than Kicks and even in parts of the Proust essay, Beckett's unease with the modernist posture plays a deter-
mining role in the tone, characters, and action of Murphy and Watt . Along with his divided position with respect to audience and context, the functional distinction between criticism and fiction as modes of writing shaped Beckett's ambivalent modernism. Whereas the young critic felt it necessary, on the whole, to defend the modernist tendency within which he wished to situate his own work, Beckett's stance became far more vexed and agonistic when it came to applying his critical positions to the writing of fiction. Perhaps at first defensively and only later as a "positive" strategy, Beckett would turn to parody and self-ridicule to call in question a number of modernist authorship's basic assumptions.
I have noted that Beckett's explicit aesthetic—like that of earlier modernists and of the early "modernistic" Foucault—emphasizes epistemological problems and the concomitant value of "awareness" as a response to these problems. The primary evidence of this epistemological awareness is the writer's self-conscious handling of literary point of view and other formal and discursive aspects of the text. These formal aspects, skillfully manipulated, create the impression of a particular mind struggling within itself to lend order to the phenomena it confronts. This struggle is often a defensive one, a struggle to maintain autonomy against overpowering external forces, and it in turn frequently constitutes a self-reflexive figure of the author's struggle to master discursively the recalcitrant matter of the modern world. This battle for autonomy, moreover, may exact a high price on the struggling consciousness dramatized in the modernist work. As Patricia Waugh notes, "In modernist fiction the struggle for personal autonomy can be continued only through opposition to existing social institutions and conventions. This struggle necessarily involves individual alienation and often ends with mental dissolution."
The status of consciousness in Beckett's fiction has from very early on occupied his critics. Jacqueline Hoofer, in her 1959 article on Watt , suggested that Watt could be read as a "philosophical satire" on logical positivism and related Beckett's fiction to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus . Hugh Kenner, in his classic Samuel Beckett: A Critical Stud), , read Beckett's trilogy as a reductio ad absurdum of Cartesian and post-Cartesian philosophy in its "fatal dream of being, knowing, and moving like a god." In the wake of these early studies, numerous articles and books relating Beckett to existentialism, phenomenology, Jungian psychology,, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and deconstruction have appeared, becoming mainstays of the criticism. In
introducing his own reading of Beckett, Eric P. Levy gives an apt summary of this tendency:
The aspect of Beckett's fiction exciting the most controversy is the preoccupation with self-consciousness. Critics have had great difficulty determining the appropriate frame of reference in which to understand the introspection of the Beckettian narrator. Is this self-consciousness primarily that of the artist trying to grasp his own creative act or is it that of a person withdrawing from the world of others either through insanity or sheer impotence? In contrast, does this self-consciousness involve something more basic—an exploration of the very nature of the self?. If so, is this self to be construed in Cartesian, Hegelian, Kierkegaardian, Sartrian, or neo-Freudian terms, to list just a few explanations attempted?
Levy goes on to offer another interpretation of this self-consciousness, in terms of Beckett's supposed epistemological concern: "Beckett's fiction no longer concerns merely the objective pole of experience . . . but now addresses the very process of structuring experience into the poles of subject and object" (4).
I do not wish to discount the value of this body of criticism, which has provided many important insights into Beckett's work. Nevertheless, by recontextualizing Beckett as a late modernist who puts in doubt the presuppositions of modernist writing, I must reopen the question of how important epistemological problems really are to Beckett, as well as question the "epistemological bias" of the criticism. Provisionally, I would claim that epistemology—that corpus of issues about how the mind may connect with the world "outside," about the nature of consciousness and its problems in knowing the world—is largely without consequence for Beckett. I am not just suggesting that an essentially modernist Beckett can be read against the grain "without epistemology" (as Gerald L. Bruns has done brilliantly with Wallace Stevens). I am making the more sweeping claim that Beckett—in his early fiction at least—has little interest in the mind and its vicissitudes as such. From her correspondence with Beckett about his reading (in 1929 or 1930) of the Austrian philosopher of language Fritz Mauthner, Linda Ben-Zvi cites the following significant verse:
For me it came down to:
Such was my levity.
Nor is this just retrospective revision on the part of a writer no longer taking seriously the philosophical enthusiasms of his youth. In a letter of July 1930 to his close friend Thomas MacGreevy, Beckett discussed his recent reading of Arthur Schopenhauer: "I am reading Schopenhauer. Everyone laughs at that. . . . But I am not reading philosophy, nor caring whether he is right or wrong or a good or worthless metaphysician." Having returned to Schopenhauer in September 1937 during a bout of illness, Beckett once again writes to MacGreevy: "it is a pleasure also to find a philosopher that can be read like a poet?"
It is my contention in what follows that Beckett's repeatedly asserted "levity" about philosophical thought should be taken seriously. One can, I am furthermore arguing, track Beckett's turn from modernism along the lines of escape marked out by this unburdening of epistemology, this uncoupling of rhetoric from questions of truth, this vaporization of weight into lightness, unbearable as it might later prove to be. Insofar as epistemological questions appear in Beckett's early work, it is by way of parodic reference to a modernist stance from which he is taking leave. Or as Beckett himself wrote in a review published in 1945, "There is at least this to be said for mind, that it can dispel mind" (Disjecta , 95). Accordingly, in his confrontation with earlier modernist paradigms, Beckett debunks modernism's epistemological concerns and depicts the mind's autonomy as hopelessly vulnerable to the extramental and excremental contingencies of the body as the object of pleasure, pain, social power, and death. As Charles R. Lyons has suggested, comparing the implicit concerns of Beckett's plays with Foucault's late investigations of self-formation, Beckett abandons the (typically modernist) focus on subjectivity and the question of knowing in favor of "exploring" (a trope often literalized by his nomadic characters) the conditions that inform and infirm the subject. Beckett declines problems of consciousness into matters of suffering and solace, domination and servitude, while exposing how social relations like mastery, solidarity, and free encounter depend little or not at all on their "groundability" in knowledge.
In his rhetorical adoption of epistemological questions only to void their rhetoric of its epistemological importance, Beckett takes a significant literary risk. For problems of consciousness and knowledge served modernist writers as crucial points of departure for formal and
linguistic choices, as they composed works of fiction outside of traditional models of plot and character. The degree of awareness the writer exhibited in handling these problems served as the ultimate standard for the integrity and value of the work, while the literary qualities of the work were, reflexively, taken as evidence of this awareness. Beckett takes a step outside of the specular closure this value system presumes, an autonomy of both author and work from extra-artistic determination, to call in question the whole centering of literary value in consciousness and to unleash the "idiocy" of language freed from the burden of intention and truth. Put otherwise, and taking more distance from modernism's aesthetic ideology: Beckett breaks the modernist juncture between textual figures of subjectivity (whether tropes or larger-scale forms) and knowledge, the presupposition that aesthetic value and truth converge in such figures and that the author's task is to seek indefatigably to uncover them from their hiding places (suppressed traditions, mythic archetypes, the unconscious, the etymological depths of language) and renew them for the present ("Make It New"). He aims instead to desublimate, wholesale, such figures of consciousness straining after the fleeting beauty of anguished truth.
In his early fiction, from More Pricks Than Kicks to Watt , Beckett desublimates consciousness not just through wicked parody of the seedy intellectual- or artist-type characters in his works, in the flaws and foibles of his comic semblables , but also in making his own act of writing ridiculous, his risible handling of literary enunciation and narration. If the character Murphy, for example, in keeping with Henri Bergson's definition of the comic, exhibits a mechanical inelasticity, an inability to adjust to the modern, bureaucratic-commercial London that lies outside his mind, that maladjustment is equally a feature of Beckett's composition of Murphy . His ostentatiously clumsy handling of chronology; his prosaic cross-referencing from section to section, typical of academic and technical discourse but not literary narrative; the battery of clichés, asides, arcanities, and malapropisms—all these exhibit at the level of narrativity the same loss of control in the face of social rationalization that makes Murphy a comic figure in the text. The specular closure of author and language is broken by a third factor, a force irrupting from without: a technological-social force, which leaves its trace in the automatisms, the creaking syntactical rat traps, the "mechanical inelasticity" of those very images of voice, body, and affectivity that should, yet cannot, converge into mimetically plausible "characters." Instead of projecting meanings for a future hermeneutic reading, a labor of dis-
closing truths blocked and mocked in advance by deliberate erasures and dead-end allusions, Beckett's late modernist works assiduously cancel meanings, suspend interpretations, in defensive laughter. To the modernist investment of form with a pregnancy of meaning, Beckett counterposes the (in-, de-) forming principle of "riant spaciousness."
Beckett's compositional risk-taking extends into his relation with cultural tradition. For modernist writers saw consciousness not simply as an index of cultural crisis but also as an agency for the redemption of the past, especially as embodied in texts. In his provocative essay "Against Ulysses ," Leo Bersani draws out the way in which Joyce's modernism envisages literature, pulverized and reconstituted within Ulysses , as the salvation of culture as such:
Ulysses indulges massively in quotation . . . but quoting in Joyce is the opposite of self-effacement. It is an act of appropriation, which can be performed without Joyce's voice ever being heard. . . . Joyce miraculously reconciles uncompromising mimesis with a solipsistic structure. Western culture is saved, indeed glorified, through literary metempsychosis: it dies in the Joycean parody and pastiche, but, once removed from historical time, it is resurrected as a timeless design. Far from contesting the authority of culture, Ulysses reinvents our relation to Western culture in terms of exegetical devotion, that is, as the exegesis of Ulysses itself.
In contrast, Beckett presents the cultural allusion as inconsequential, at best an effect of language's incessant dialogue ("Hearing nothing I am none the less a prey to communications"), at worst an automatism, a kind of reflex action or mental dribbling ("Anything rather than these college quips"). As Bersani notes:
Beckett's authentic avant-gardism consists in a break not only with the myths fostered by cultural discourse but, more radically, with cultural discourse itself. The mystery of his work is how it is not only sustained but even begun, for intertexuality in Beckett . . . is not a principle of cultural continuity . . . but the occasion for a kind of psychotic raving. Cultural memories exist in the minds of Beckett's characters like fossils belonging to another age.
I might quibble with Bersani's use of the term "avant-gardism," which raises more questions than it resolves; but seen in light of what I take to be his intent, to illustrate Beckett's break from the modernist use of allusion, the point is well taken.
The strains in Beckett's relations with Joyce, both literary and personal, can already be seen in the unpublished Dream of Fair to Middling
Women and its successor, More Pricks Than Kicks . As the linguistic textures of Dream reveal, Beckett tried out the Finnegans Wake style. The excerpted chapter entitled "Sedendo et Quiesciendo," published in the March 1932 transition and obviously linked to the stories collected in More Pricks Than Kicks (it concerns Belacqua's trip to Germany to visit the "Smeraldina"), rings like an excised section of Work in Progress :
In Perpignan exiled dream-Dantes screaming in the planetrees and freezing the sun with peacock feathers and at last at least a rudimentary black swan with the bloodbeak and HIC! for the bladderjerk of the little Catalan postman. Oh who can hold a fire in his hand by thinking on the frosty Caucasus. Here oh here oh art thou pale with weariness. I hope yes after a continental third-class insomnia among the reluctantly military philologists asleep and armed as to nasals and dentals. Laughter. (DFMW , 64)
By the end of the first paragraph, Beckett has run through many of Finnegans Wake's signature mannerisms: references to sleep ("dream-Dantes," "weariness," "insomnia," "asleep"), the coupling of myth and popular song (Prometheus: "Oh who can hold a fire in his hand by thinking on the frosty Caucasus"), comically recontextualized literary tags ("art thou pale with weariness"), sonic declinations of words (hero: "Here oh here oh"), and punning references to language and interpretation (armed to the teeth: "military philologists," "armed as to nasals and dentals"). The problem with all this is, of course, that technically skillful and ironically self-aware as it might be, it is a dead end if one's name is not James Joyce but Samuel Beckett. It may be argued, of course, that Beckett is consciously parodying Joyce here, and certainly Beckett is aware that he is not offering his reader the "pages and pages" of "direct expression" that he claimed for his elder's Work in Progress in "Dante . . . Bruno. Vico. . Joyce." At the same time, however, it is easy to detect the lack of a determinate and independent voice in Dream of Fair to Middling Women as a whole, and Beckett was not wrong when he remarked of "Sedendo et Quiesciendo" that it "stinks of Joyce in spite of most earnest endeavours to endow it with my own odours."
In his Dream of Fair to Middling Women , which never came together into a publishable work, Beckett ironically expressed doubts about his ability to master his complex material and give it a unified form. One passage, for example, involves Belacqua's vision of a book: " 'If I ever do drop a book, which God forbid, trade being what it is, it will be ramshackle, tumbledown, a bone-shaker, held together with bits of twine, and at the same time as innocent of the slightest velleity of coming
unstuck as Mr. Wright's original flying-machine that could never be persuaded to leave the ground.' But there he was probably wrong" (Disjecta , 50; DFMW , 139-140). Beckett later cannibalized the rejected manuscript of Dream for his short story collection More Pricks Than Kicks . The declining course of this work, from a Finnegans Wake -like novel to a Dubliners -like short story collection, would seem to indicate that Beckett's swerve from the Joycean model was in the first instance impelled by his inability to handle the complicated mode of writing that Joyce had evolved over years of dedicated literary work. Yet as Harrington argues, Beckett was no more able to develop a positive revisionary relationship to Dubliners than he was able to beat Joyce at his own (language-) game in the mode of the Wake . For unlike Joyce, Beckett was unable to facilitate any dialogue between his representations of Irish cultural paralysis and the possibilities of renewal implied in the sophisticated narrative consciousness arranging the stories. In fact, for Beckett, Dublinerswas one more part of the problem, one more cultural encrustation among others. "In More Pricks Than Kicks, " Harrington writes, "the example of Dubliners appears unsalvageably rigid. . . . Beckett's use of Dubliners , updating without positive revision, could not be assimilated by a literary culture committed to some social salvation."
Where Beckett made an advance in More Pricks Than Kicks was, instead, in his relation to his own earlier text, a relation that he would later generalize to intertextuality as such. A clue to the nature of this relation can be found in the last story, "Draff," which recounts the events following the death of the book's antihero Belacqua due to an accident during routine surgery. Beckett writes of Belacqua's friend and successor in the affections of the redoubtable Smeraldina, Capper "Hairy" Quin:
Belacqua dead and buried, Hairy seemed to have taken on a new lease of life. . . . Perhaps the explanation of this was that while Belacqua was alive Hairy could not be himself, or, if you prefer, could be nothing else. Whereas now the defunct, such of his parts at least as might be made to fit, could be pressed into service, incorporated in the daily ellipses of Capper Quin without his having to face the risk of exposure. Already Belacqua was not wholly dead, but merely mutilated.
Within this passage is a subtle nod to the intertextual logic of More Pricks Than Kicks , its mutilation and partial incorporation of the failed Dream of Fair to Middling Women , which also had Belacqua's life as its central thread. In turn, mutilated "incorporation" will become
crucial to the radical unhinging of narrative authority in Murphy and Watt . The footnote to Watt's addenda explicitly points to this process (which, as the manuscripts show, accurately reflects Beckett's composition of the book): "The following precious and illuminating material should be carefully studied. Only fatigue and disgust prevented its incorporation."
In these passages, the first indications of a technique that furnished an astounding continuity to Beckett's literary production over six decades make their appearance: the reappropriation of his own texts in "mutilated" or "defaced" form. To the modernist sublimation of culture in the self-reflexive mastery of literary language and form, Beckett counterposes an aesthetic of entropic decay, deformation, debasement, and disfiguration. To the modernist self-presentation of consciousness, Beckett opposes a deliberately "surgical" handling of textual matter, "self-depiction as autodefacement." It is even possible to read this development in his fiction as a reactivation of a latency already present in the Proust : essay, but muted there by Beckett's explicit adherence to a high modernist stance. Like a rot hidden within this modernist polemic is a derisive counterdiscourse, waiting for the proper conditions to emerge. It speaks of deformation, of decantation, of malignancy:
There is no escape from yesterday because yesterday has deformed us, or been deformed by us. The mood is of no importance. Deformation has taken place. (Proust , 2)
The individual is the seat of a constant process of decantation, decantation from the vessel containing the fluid of future time, sluggish, pale and monochrome, to the vessel containing the fluid of past time, agitated and multicoloured by the phenomena of its hours. (Proust , 4-5)
My analysis of that central catastrophe [the Marcel-Albertine liaison] will clarify this too abstract and arbitrary statement of Proust's pessimism. But for every tumour a scalpel and a compress. Memory and Habit are attributes of the Time cancer. (Proust , 7)
Under the aegis of remarks about Proust's attitude to time, Beckett is setting in place a framework through which to begin to think for himself, beyond modernism's redemptive project, about cultural memory and intertextuality. In leaving behind modernism's attempt to reassemble the fragments of culture in the form of a grand anamnesis (for memory is an "attribute of the time cancer"), he isolates with increasing economy and precision culture's self-consuming tendencies: its autodefacement in its entanglement with time and history, the ways in which
without fail "deformation has taken place," whatever the mood might be in which we greet the discarded torso.
By 1938, the date of Murphy's publication, Beckett had, by his own testimony, rejected Joycean modernism—with its redemptive emphasis on consciousness, literary mastery, and cultural anamnesis—and was weighing as a possible alternative the "logographic" practice of Gertrude Stein. In a letter to a German correspondent, Axel Kaun, dated 9 July 1937, Beckett expresses his aggressive desire to tear the conventions of language to shreds: "As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute. To bore one hole after another into it, until what lurks behind it—be it something or nothing—begins to seep through." "With such a program," Beckett continues, "the latest work of Joyce has nothing to do" (Disjecta , 172). Far from destroying language (and implicitly, the cultural heritage reposing there), Joyce apotheosizes the word. In contrast, Gertrude Stein, by practice if not wholly by intention, is more destructive. Her reduction of language into assemblable bits attacks the word's embeddedness in petrified cultural, semantic, and grammatical systems, treating it nominalistically and making the texture of language "porous" (Disjecta , 172-173). On this basis, Beckett goes on to discount the idea of a unitary modernism that would lump Stein and Joyce together. Their methods, he claims, represent tendencies and intentions as opposed as medieval nominalism and realism. He concludes, however, by arguing that Stein's ironizing of language does not go far enough, for his purposes: "It is not enough for the game to lose some of its sacred seriousness. It should stop" (Disjecta , 173).
Beckett only gradually, in his late works, achieved the radicality of language that these remarks would imply was his goal. His early fiction instead concentrates on higher levels of literary organization—narration, character, plotting—and over time introduces a more innovative linguistic texture (evident, for example, in Watt ). In part, this concentration on "literary" over (strictly speaking) "linguistic" concerns (despite his stated intentions) reflects his choice of genre: fiction, rather than lyric or a hybrid genre like Stein's or his own late prose-lyric, which might have given more immediate range to linguistic experiment. In a broader sense, however, it also signals Beckett's emergence from the modernist aesthetic he had advocated in his criticism. If consciousness was this aesthetic's castle of purity, then the formal conventions of modernist fiction, with its finely developed techniques for representing consciousness, was the point at which to lay siege on that citadel.
Murphy , probably more than any other of Beckett's fictional works, offers an explicit social analysis of its eponymous hero's tendency to regress—supposedly into pure consciousness—as a doomed form of symbolic resistance analogous to that of modernist art. Beckett establishes this analogy through his general depiction of Murphy as a pompous, worthless bohemian intellectual, but also in the book's specific meditations on form, abstraction, and beauty. In the character of Murphy, Beckett skeptically explores a trend that, even after World War II, he would champion in his few critical essays on the visual arts: modern art's increasing tendency to become abstract or even purely conceptual.
Murphy, bluntly put, is a portrait of the artist who no longer works, from whom works should not be expected. For Murphy's art is expressed not in works but in not working. Celia, his Irish prostitute girlfriend, represents a kind of aesthetic halfway station for Murphy, on the way to the pure conceptuality of his inner world. She offers him a potentially harmonious compromise between embodied sensuality and abstraction, the "music" of her sexual rhythms. Similarly, briefly spared by her relation to Murphy from selling her beauty on the streets, Celia is able to share with him for a short time the aesthetic life. Yet Murphy is torn between the cash nexus, sensual beauty, and pure conceptuality as competing claims on the modern artist. His eventual attempt, in his job as an attendant at the mental asylum, to satisfy his needs for money while pursuing his conceptual utopia fails ludicrously. Yet not without a paradoxical outcome: aesthetic beauty is thrown back out on the street, for after Murphy's untimely death, Celia must resume her prostitution. As if by a kind of dialectical cunning, Murphy's absolutism, his pursuit of total autonomy from any shared, socially determined world, destroys the aesthetic life and subordinates it in the most brutal way to economic necessity.
Beckett situates Murphy within a definite ensemble of social institutions and forces, and his regressive withdrawal can be seen as a response to increasing pressures threatening the presumably autonomous subject of consciousness. His character, then, viewed in relation to this social background, provides an index of Beckett's doubts about consciousness as a basis of artistic value. In turn, by openly airing Beckett's late modernist skepticism toward the modernist investment in art, Murphy offers
a perspective from which the historical meaning of Beckett's later, more contextually reticent works might be reconstructed.
The novel begins with Murphy naked in his rocking chair, in a West End (West Brompton) fiat that has been condemned. After six months of residence, "he would have to buckle to and start eating, drinking, sleeping, and putting his clothes on and off, in quite alien surroundings." Outside a newsboy is plying his wares, and his shouts sound to the abstracted Murphy like "Quid pro quo!" Already by the end of the first paragraph, Beckett has suggested a good deal of contextual information: Murphy is a resident of London, a metropolis that is undergoing rapid change, and that in turn subjects its denizens to sudden, involuntary, and frequent adjustment to "alien surroundings." This environment is unified by the cash nexus, the exchange principle, the quid pro quo of money and institutional power.
Later in the book, Beckett returns to the neighborhood of this first apartment to provide still more precise information. Cooper, a detective engaged by the Dublin trio of Neary, Wylie, and Miss Counihan to find Murphy, picks up Murphy's trail and follows him to West Brompton. At the corner of Murphy's mew, he sees "a glorious gin-palace," a pub "superior to any he had ever seen" (Mur , 120). Cooper goes in and drinks until closing time, when "doors closed, the shutters rattled down, the wings of the grille came together. The defence of West Brompton, against West Brompton, was taking no chances" (Mur , 120). Besides providing a joke at the expense of the hapless native of Cork, this information also gives a point of reference for the condemning of Murphy's flat. The neighborhood is being "gentrified." Thus, when Cooper returns to Brompton after a weeklong dipsomaniac binge to take up the track of Murphy, he finds a disconcerting scene: "The ruins of the mew were being carted away, to make room for an architecture more in keeping with the palace on the corner" (Mur , 122).
In his first apartment, Murphy had an agreement with the landlady, whereby the rent bill to be paid by his uncle in Holland (his "Dutch uncle") would be "cooked": they would charge him higher than the actual rent and split the difference (Mur , 19). With the small' income this scheme provided, Murphy could survive without working. But the landlady of his new apartment, significantly situated between the Cattle
Market and the Pentonville prison, refuses to participate. Murphy is forced by circumstances and the blandishments of his prostitute-companion Celia to seek work. Although he avoids it assiduously, work eventually finds him, in the form of a plea by the Dublin pot-poet Austin Ticklepenny, who accosts Murphy in the British Museum, to serve as a replacement for him as an attendant at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat sanatorium. Murphy's final transplantation, into a tiny garret in the M.M.M., eventually leads to his accidental death, after a gas heating contraption rigged up by Ticklepenny goes wrong. Murphy's narrative course is not simply a comic distortion of a quite ordinary urban experience, frequent changes of rented residences; it is explicitly the contingencies of urban speculation and development, the quid pro quo of city life, that is the "prime mover" of Murphy's story. To put it bluntly, urban capitalism, and not the epistemological dilemmas of mind and body, is the motivating force behind Murphy's perilous course from West Brompton to Islington to the suburban mental institution where he meets his death. Murphy's mind/body drama, so heavily the focus of critics, is at best a defensive protest against the contingent social forces that constantly undermine his illusory autonomy.
Beckett underscores this tension between Murphy's striving for pure consciousness and the rationalizing dynamics of urban "progress" in two other scenes, framing his fateful encounter with Ticklepenny. Not wishing to lose Celia, who goads him to seek work, Murphy applies for a "smart boy" position at a chandlery in Gray's Inn Road. He is not just turned down; he is brutalized with insult and scorn:
" 'E ain't smart," said the chandler, "not by a long chork 'e ain't."
"Nor 'e ain't a boy," said the chandler's semi-private convenience, "not to my mind 'e ain't."
" 'E don't look tightly human to me," said the chandler's eldest waste product, "not rightly." (Mur , 77)
Worn down by his tribulations, Murphy looks for a place to sit down:
There was nowhere. There had once been a small public garden south of the Royal Free Hospital, but now part of it lay buried under one of those malignant proliferations of urban tissue know as service flats and the rest was reserved for the bacteria. (Mur , 77)
Service flats are something like protocondominiums, in which services, especially domestic, are paid for in the price of the rent. (Clearly such upscale housing is out of the reach of the seedy bohemian Murphy, the emigrée prostitute Celia, and their ilk.) Speculative development, in
league with the institutional iron cage of market, hospital, asylum, and prison, is closing in on Murphy's mental refuge. His regressive fantasy explicitly unfolds as a protest against social rationalization:
He leaned weakly against the railings of the Royal Free Hospital, multiplying his vows to erase this vision of Zion's antipodes for ever from his repertory if only he were immediately wafted to his rocking-chair and allowed to rock for five minutes. To sit down was no longer enough, he must insist now on lying down. Any old clod of the well-known English turf would do, on which he might lie down, cease to take notice and enter the landscapes where there were no chandlers and no exclusive residential cancers, but only himself improved out of all knowledge. (Mur , 79)
Nevertheless, Murphy is foiled in this desire by his own weariness and the lack of public space in the city. Having nowhere to lie down, he has no choice but to have tea "an hour before he was due to salivate" (Mur , 79) and go to the British Museum to contemplate the antiquities. After his encounter at the museum with Ticklepenny, who convinces Murphy to take over his post at the mental institution, and further adventures with Miss Rosie Dew, whose dog eats the cookies Murphy has laid out on the grass, Murphy finally gets his long-needed chance to regress. After some vain attempts to think through his situation, he lets go:
He . . . disconnected his mind from the gross importunities of sensation and reflection and composed himself on the hollow of his back for the torpor he had been craving to enter for the past five hours. . . . Nothing can stop me now, was his last thought before he lapsed into consciousness, and nothing will stop me. In effect, nothing did turn up to stop him and he slipped away, from the pensums and prizes, from Celia, chandlers, public highways, etc., from Celia, buses, public gardens, etc., to where there were no pensums and no prizes, but only Murphy himself, improved out of all knowledge. (Mur , 105)
This time, Beckett's repetition of the cliché "improved out of all knowledge" and his punning suggestion of the phrase "(col)lapsed into (un)consciousness" underscore that Murphy's mental autonomy is really a lapse from consciousness, a jettisoning of knowledge so as to deny the alterity of a social world that may cause suffering. Yet subtly, Beckett also suggests the fragile and illusory nature of Murphy's defense. When he writes that "in effect, nothing did turn up to stop him," he implies that Murphy's success was a contingent one. Something could have just as easily happened along to disturb him: like the policeman that keeps Murphy's precursor Belacqua moving along in the story "A Wet Night," for instance.
For a short while, Murphy will consider the mental asylum where he works as a refuge from the outer world of service fiats, cops, and the quid pro quo. Perhaps here, in the solipsistic enclosure of madness, he can achieve his long-sought mental autonomy from the contingencies of everyday life. Yet Beckett subtly exposes the shadow of a heteronomous social power darkening even the arcadian glades of the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat—on the one hand, in the economic privilege of the patients, which allows them to live in a private, relatively benign institution; on the other, through the bullying head nurses Tom "Bim" and Tim "Bom" Clinch. These latter figures are highly significant, because, through a largely occulted allusion, Beckett mocks not just the comic face of social domination but also his own quixotic search for a modernist utopia in the Joycean "revolution of the word."
The names "Bim" and "Bom" allude to a pair of clowns, first played in 1891 by Ivan Radunskii and Felix Kortezi. While Bim remained the exclusive property of Radunskii for the more than half century that Bim-Bom was active, Kortezi's Bom was replaced by four different partners up through 1946. Radunskii and his partners were formerly jesters in the circuses of czarist Petersburg and Moscow, latterly made to perform in public spectacles in the Soviet Union. Throughout their career, they combined satire and publicistic commentary with song and acrobatic clowning, using brooms, saws, flying pans, visiting cards, and reading stands as improbable musical instruments. They toured in Paris, Budapest, Berlin, Prague, and other European capitals and were frequently recorded on gramophone and film. After the revolution, their act spawned numerous imitators whose names reproduced their model's original phonemic stammer in countless new guises: Din-Don, Bib-Bob, Fis-Dis, Viis-Vais, and Rim-Rom.
Bim and Bom were, in effect, the fools of despotic power. They were known for their absurdist antihumor, their banal non-sequiturs concealing a sly social satire. In Alexander Serafimovich's novel of the Russian Revolution, a gramophone recording of Bim-Bom's play The Laugh grips the advancing Red Army troops in a paralyzing spasm of laughter, nearly bringing the revolution to a halt. It is only when a grimly determined Bolshevik smashes the reactionary gramophone that the day is saved. Yet despite Bim-Bom's "counterrevolutionary activities" (at least in literature) during the civil war and their topical satire of Bolshevik foibles, they flourished even during the dark years of Stalinist terror. Radunskii died at the age of eighty-two in 1955.
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The Russian clowns seem to have captured Beckett's imagination enough that, fifteen years after their premiere appearance in his work in Murphy , he considered using their names again for the two clowns of Waiting for Godot , where early drafts refer to Didi and Gogo as "Bim" and "Bom," the "Stalinist comedians"; he also used the names for two characters in the late play What Where . It is possible that Beckett may have first encountered them in the epilogue of Richard Aldington's novel The Colonel's Daughter , where, inexplicably finding themselves in a postwar English landscape, they engage in some metafictional jesting. When Aldington's Bim betrays his nervousness about being in the land of "Baldwin the Boujois," with its roving bands of bloodthirsty, fox-hunting Whites, Bom offers him a peculiarly Beckettian reassurance: " 'We're under diplomatic protection—for what that's worth from the Whites. We're the Epilogue.' " Bim and Bom, however, had earlier circulation in the English-speaking world in Fülüp-Miller's 1926 account of the communist revolution in culture and everyday life, The Mind and Face of Bolshevism , which in turn Wyndham Lewis recounted in a significant polemic in the second issue of his journal The Enemy (September 1927), the leading edge of Lewis's pitched battle in the late twenties with transition , Joyce, Stein, and others of the modernist vanguard. In the first issue (January 1927), Lewis had published the first version of his critique of Joyce, "An Analysis of the Mind of James Joyce," included shortly after as a chapter in Time and Western Man . Given that Beckett's initial involvement with both Joyce and the transition circle dates from these years, it is difficult to imagine he would not have been familiar with the venomous attacks of Lewis on his master and idol and on his new literary acquaintances. This intertextual web thus forms a crucial part of the historical meaning of Beckett's later employment of Bim and Bom in Murphy , and to a brief reconstruction of it I now turn.
The Enemy ran for three issues from 1927 to 1929 and was almost exclusively an instrument for Lewis's attacks on rivals, critics, and ex-friends. The first issue carried Lewis's notorious savaging of Pound, Stein, and Joyce, "The Revolutionary Simpleton," which later constituted the first part of Time and Western Man . This attack was answered by the editors of transition ("First Aid to the Enemy") and by Joyce ("The Mookses and the Gripes" episode of Finnegans Wake ) in transition . Lewis returned to the attack in full force in the spring of 1929, with his third and final issue's blast against transition , "The Diabolical Principle." This polemic appeared while transition's defense of Joyce's Work in Progress, Our Examination Round His Factification for Incamination
of Work in Progress , to which Beckett contributed his "Dante . . . Bruno. Vico. . Joyce" essay, was in preparation. In "The Diabolical Principle," Lewis sharpened his previous attack on transition's favored circle of artists, arguing that their "revolution of the word," far from transcending and transfiguring the degraded social world, delusively reflected the leveling of language and thought resulting from social rationalization and massification. The aesthetic anarchism of transition was, in Lewis's view, little more than a fig leaf for collectivization. (I offer here a much-cooled-down summary of Lewis's wild, scattershot argument.)
Lewis announced and anticipated at length his forthcoming pillory of transition in the editorial note of the previous issue, which featured his slap at the "Paleface" of modernist primitivism. In "Paleface," under the chapter heading " 'Black Laughter' in Russia," Lewis introduces, through a long quotation from Fülüp-Miller's book on Soviet Russia, the Bolshevik clowns Bim and Bom. After the triumphantly announced social experiments of the Bolsheviks had begun to fail, the story goes, a mocking irony began to emerge among the people. Soon, the report explains,
the dreaded masters of the Red Kremlin themselves trembled at this rising of laughers and jokers. In order to prevent an elemental outburst of all-dissolving universal mirth and to deprive this grave danger of all significance, the authorities hit on the clever idea of having recourse to an old institution, which has always been inseparably bound up with despotism, the office of the court fool. . . .
. . . "Bim" and "Born" were the names of the two "merry councilors" of the new tsar, the mass man; they alone among the hundred millions of Russians were granted the fight to express their opinions freely; they might mock, criticise, and deride the rulers at a time when the most rigorous persecution and terrorism prevailed throughout the whole country.
. . . In spite of their impudent criticisms, Bim and Bom were nevertheless one of the chief supports of the Bolshevik régime: the universal discontent would have burst all bounds if it had not been dissolved by the two clowns. . . . Their attacks were never directed against the whole, but only against details, and thus they contrived to divert attention from essentials. Besides, every one of their jokes contained a hidden warning to the laughter lovers: "Take care: Look out, we know you! We are aware of what you are thinking and feeling!"
Read through the prism of this passage and the context of the debate between Lewis and transition in which it is embedded, Beckett's choice of Bim and Born for his twin male nurses takes on a deeper and more
unsettling resonance. First, it sharpens and politicizes Beckett's antiutopian debunking of Murphy's failed solidarity with the inhabitants of the asylum. In the context of the midthirties, it allegorically depicts the often grotesque futility and self-delusion of many artists' attempt to embrace communism. Beckett satirically exposes the regime of domination behind the rhymed depersonalized self of madness (Murphy's utopia) and the super-personal self (the communist utopia) of the militant intellectual.
Second, it humorously seconds Lewis's contention that the modernist revolution of the word subtly conforms to the social order it professes to transcend. For oddly enough, though apparently opposed to the vulgar managerial mentality of his clownish bosses, Murphy does their work far more efficiently than a more conventional warder: "His success with the patients was little short of scandalous. . . . [T]he patients should have identified Murphy with Bom & Co. . . . The great majority failed to do so. . . . Whatever they were in the habit of doing for Born & Co., they did more readily for Murphy. And in certain matters where Born & Co. were obliged to coerce them, or restrain them, they would suffer Murphy to persuade them" (Mur , 182). If the mental asylum is, in fact, a microcosmic society, then Beckett depicts here one of the cruxes of modern politics: the relation between force and consent in the governing of society. Like the radical artist whose oppositional gestures are exhibited as evidence of the state's tolerance, Murphy represents for the asylum a margin of dissidence recuperated by the system of power, fostering consent rather than provoking repression. The oppositional intellectual, represented by Murphy, becomes the unwitting tool of the "art of being ruled." To put it somewhat differently: if the mental patients represent a general withdrawal from the discourse and activin, of "normal" life, they "suffer" Murphy to persuade them, to bring them back into the discursive fold, where power may be more subtly effectuated on bodies. Murphy, in his aesthetic longing for a transfiguration of everyday experience, becomes the happy colonizer of social heterogeneity. Where before existed only the crude subdialogue of rejection and answering violence, Murphy establishes a con-sensual discourse, thus converting brute power to perlocutionary speech.
Finally, the specter of "repressive tolerance" conjured by the Soviet clowns Bim and Born haunts Beckett's own literary project, as he himself was painfully aware. Late modernist fiction recognizes its own fatal complicity with the fallen world it explores; it offers not a utopian exit
but a riant expression of impasse. Laughter, Beckett suggests, occupies the thin edge between subversion and recuperation, between the freedom to dissent and the imperfect surveillance that anticipates and preempts that freedom. There is, he suggests in Murphy , no longer any clearly defined inside or outside of social power, and hence no lasting asylum from it in art, madness, Proustian remembrance, or any other modernist locus of transcendence. No clear-cut opposition of society and its carceral institutions, and hence no utopian exteriors. Only resistances and withdrawals, stations in the relay between forest and hospital, beachhead and holding cell: neutral points—the crossroads, the waiting room, the ditch, the bed—where a stiffening burst of laughter might sound, for a moment, to lend relief.
Beckett replaces self-reflexive consciousness as a literary organizing principle with means that emphasize social and semantic contingency and an irreducible alterity at the heart of the word (including the word "I"). His choice of titles, for .example, offers an index of this shift. In an essay on "the language of modernist fiction," David Lodge suggestively observes the difference between the titles of earlier realist novels and those of modernist fiction: "The Edwardian realists, like the Victorians before them, tended to use the names of places or persons for titles (Kipps, New Grub Street, Anna of the Five Towns, The Forsyte Saga ), while the moderns tended to favour metaphorical or quasi-metaphorical titles (Heart of Darkness, The Wings of the Dove, A Passage to India, The Rainbow, Paraders End, To The Lighthouse, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake). " Beckett's first work, More Pricks Than Kicks , would appear to fit in with the modernist "metaphorical" titles, although his punning conjunction of the Bible with the "pricks" of Dublin bohemia already dispels much of the aura of profundity that surrounds his predecessors' resonant titles. His next five novels, however, break with this pattern: Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies , and The Unnameable . Yet while these rifles are drily unevocative, they nevertheless hardly represent a return to the realistic, "metonymic" titles of the Victorian and Edwardian novels. Instead, Beckett's titles are purposely empty signs: abstractions, "common" names, or even puns that redouble the contingency of the reference of an undistinguished name like Watt (what?) or Murphy to a particular "character."
Beckett also employs such contingent devices as the pun or parodic allusion in the figuration of his characters. In a joke that could refer as much to the comic artist-creator as to its ostensible divine target, the narrator muses in Murphy : "What but an imperfect sense of humour could have made such a mess of chaos. In the beginning was the pun. And so on" (65). Punning is implicated in the genesis of a character like Murphy, with his rocking chair complement. In her excellent study of Beckett's comic devices, Ruby Cohn notes the "book-long importance" of the "combined misplaced literalism and pun, 'off his rocker.' " This figure, she notes, itself totters between literal and figural senses, the polarities of which are antithetical: "In the world's eyes, Murphy is 'off his rocker' when he is rocking blissfully and nakedly. But for Murphy, that is the best way of retiring into his microcosm. It is in the macrocosm, literally off his rocker, that he feels figuratively off it" (53).
Cohn's insightful analysis could be extended. lust as Murphy's inversion of values sets the literal and figural dimensions in mutually opposed play, the real inversion of the rocker in chapter 3 sets in motion another oscillation played out over the course of the narrative: between Murphy's suspension of bodily life in his rocking-induced trances and the punctuation of real bodily death. At the end of chapter 1, Murphy is rocking, and the narrator tells us, "Soon his body would be quiet, soon he would be free" (Mur , 9). Looming death, in the form of a heart palpitation, interrupts Murphy's rocking, and he overturns the chair. Celia finds him in chapter 3 in a discomfited state:
Murphy was as last heard of, with this difference however, that the rocking-chair was now on top. Thus inverted his only direct contact with the floor was that made by his face, which was ground against it. His attitude roughly speaking was that of a very inexperienced diver about to enter the water, except that his arms were not extended to break the concussion, but fastened behind him. (Mur , 28)
Beckett performs this comic violence not just against Murphy but also against the natural spatiality of his figure of the rocking chair. In doing so, he loads further puns onto an already teetering construction: Murphy, like the idealist Hegel in the view of Marx, "stands the real world on its head," while "ground" can either be taken to mean a "foundation" (and this might be taken as a philosophical, an architectural, or an anatomical reference) or the past participle of "to grind" (a mechanical action akin to that of the rocker). Not only, then, does Beckett play
between the connotations of "off" and "on" his rocker, he also plays on the idealist and basely material senses of "standing on one's head" and "inversion" (later developed in its sexual sense in the person of pot-poet Austin Ticklepenny).
This figural cluster, generated out of puns and wordplay, in turn disperses into narrative functions, key plot nuclei, in fact. Rear-up and face-down, Murphy greets Celia, who, significantly, notices for the first time Murphy's huge birthmark on his fight buttock. More than two hundred pages later, this scene recurs in altered form. At the end of chapter 11, Murphy goes up to his mew and rocks for the last time. The narrator again tells us, "Soon his body was quiet" (Mur , 253), and we shortly learn that Murphy has once again been interrupted by death, this time definitively, in the form of an accident with the gas line. Murphy's charred corpse, in need of identification, must once again be turned over in an ironic repetition of the previous "upending." Celia, having once by accident seen Murphy's birthmark, is now able to identify him by its remnants. In the final end, Murphy's whole system of values is overturned: neither his name nor his mind is any proof of identity, but only this scarlet maculation of his basest part.
The comic figural and narrative functions of the rocking chair do not, however, exhaust the effectiveness of this image in Murphy . For along with its basic comic tenor it carries disquieting resonances. I would suggest that these overtones come from Beckett's evocation of an unsatisfying, irritating, even sadistic sexual apparatus—as if in the text's imaginary the bound, naked Murphy, blankly staring out into the semidark of the room, were the uncanny double of a man tortured (or burned, as indeed the case is) to death. Here the comparison to contemporaneous sculptural work of Alberto Giacometti (with whom by 1939, Beckett had formed a lasting friendship) is striking. Giacometti's work of the 1930s, influenced by his contact with the surrealists and with the circle around Georges Bataille's Documents , took the surrealist interest in the poetically resonant object into a previously unexplored area: perverse and sadistic eroticism, figured in Giacometti's work by frustrating gamelike assemblages. An example with close imagistic analogies to Murphy's rocker is the 1931 work, Suspended Ball . It consists of an upturned, crescentlike wedge over which a ball is suspended by a wire. The ball rests on the wedge's sharp concave edge and is grooved along the axis where it makes contact. Its simple, machine-like elements are ambiguously coded: masculine/feminine, mobile/ static, animate/dead, erotic/celibate.
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Rosalind Krauss has suggested that Giacometti employs techniques similar to Marcel Duchamp's in his Large Glass (which I discussed in conjunction with Barnes in chapter 4), while escalating Duchamp's urbane coldness into a more violent sadism. Suspended Ball , she writes,
is . . . like Duchamp's Large Glass , an apparatus for the disconnection of the sexes, the nonfulfillment of desire. But Suspended Ball is more explicitly sadistic than The Bride Stripped Bare . For the sliding action that visibly
relates the sculpture's grooved sphere to its wedge-shaped partner suggests not only the act of caressing but that of cutting: recapitulating, for example, the stunning gesture from the opening of Chien Andalou , as a razor slices through an opened eye. 
Beckett's chair might also be accurately characterized, in its mediation between Murphy and Celia, as "an apparatus for the disconnection of the sexes." It draws Murphy close to the part of himself that he loves (the mind) and away from that part of himself that he hates, which in turn draws him to Celia and the euphemistically designated "music" he makes with her. Yet, like Giacometti's sculpture, it is haunted by a sexualized violence quite different from the unfortunate couple's verbal "cutting of the tripes" out of one another when they are together.
My comparison of Murphy's rocker to Giacometti's Suspended Ball is intended to shed light on a peculiar, derisive logic of disfiguration or automutilation in these works. Immanent to their central images is an instability, an exposure of the abstracted human figure to a defacing violence coming from beyond its limits. This violence is not so much figured—that is, successfully represented by an intentional consciousness—as dramatized in the shattering of the figure's integrity, an index of the mind's failure to contain exterior violence by representing it. The corporeal figure, continually de-formed by the very oscillations of its mechanism, becomes no more than the tangency of continually shifting rays of interpretations, simultaneously determined and discredited by a ceaseless mobility. As Krauss writes (again referring to Giacometti's Suspended Ball ), "In its continual movement, its constant 'alteration,' this play of meaning is thus the enactment in the symbolic realm of the literal motion of the work's pendular action." Yet the "play" Krauss describes might just as well be called the interdiction of play, no more play, since it enacts in the symbolic realm that realm's contingency as a whole, its vulnerability to an outer violence in which meaning unravels and dissipates.
Murphy's last rock, in fact, is a desperate attempt to defend himself against that disfiguring violence. After his chess game and his disillusioning recognition that the perfect withdrawal achieved by the schizophrenic Mr. Endon is closed to him, Murphy abandons his rounds and goes outside into the night air. He strips off his clothes and lies down in the grass. He tries to imagine, without success, the faces of Celia, his mother, his father. His mental images become more and more fragmentary until "scraps of bodies, of landscapes, hands, eyes, lines and colours evoking nothing, rose and climbed out of sight before him, as
though reeled upward off a spool level with his throat. It was his experience that this should be stopped, whenever possible, before the deeper coils were reached" (Mur , 252). Murphy is in danger—the anatomical precision of "a spool level with his throat" should not be missed—of "losing his head." He hastens to his garret to rock his mind into peace, but meets a painful, disfiguring death instead.
This fate is not only a ludicrous fulfillment of the threat Murphy sought to evade. It is also an elaborate redoubling of the sexual-sadistic visual pun already. implicit in Murphy's chair. The agent of Murphy's death is the makeshift heating system rigged up by the homosexual ex-poet Ticklepenny. Having found a gas line in the WC below Murphy's garret and a small radiator, Ticklepenny uses an assortment of odd parts to make the connections:
The extremes having thus been established, nothing remained but to make them meet. This was a difficulty whose fascinations were familiar to him from the days when as a pot poet he had laboured so long and so lovingly to join the ends of his pentameters. He solved it in less than two hours by means of a series of discarded feed tubes eked out with caesurae of glass, thanks to which gas was now being poured into the radiator. (Mur , 172)
Murphy., comically, will be done in by the faulty construction of a bad poet. But the whole scene that Beckett establishes by means of this apparatus stages Murphy's death as a grotesque mechanical simulacrum of intercourse and orgasm. The naked Murphy, bound to his chair, rocking back and forth, eyes open, in the dark; the tight, womblike space of the garret filling up with the moisture of Murphy's breath and the acrid scent of gas; Ticklepenny's phallic contraption worming in from below; Murphy's rocking faster and faster—the sudden explosion. Seen as an elaborate visual pun, the scene of Murphy's literal disfiguration and defacement (his only remaining feature being his posterior birthmark) contains an underlying sadistic phantasm: Murphy tied up and sodomized by a dysfunctional machine.
The debasing character of Beckett's punning, both verbal and imagistic, can be clarified by comparison to that of his predecessor (and hero of the surrealist and ex-surrealist French writers with whom Beckett had contact), Raymond Roussel. Roussel used techniques like taking two homonymic sentences (more easily found in French than English) as the beginning and end of a story, and writing a narrative to provide a motivated relation between their accidentally contiguous statements. In his posthumously published testament, How I Wrote Certain of My Books
(1935), Roussel unveils the even more recondite set of techniques by which he created his fantastic novels, Locus Solus and Impressions of Africa . These books were systematic concatenations of images generated out of puns. Thus, to take just one example, he would take an ordinary expression of two parts joined by a preposition—revers (lapel) à marguerite (daisy, often worn in a buttonhole )—and substitute for the constitutive terms secondary meanings: revers (military defeat) à Marguerite (woman's name). The first, generative seed would never appear in the text, but rather the narrative unfolding of the second, improbable image: "hence the battle of Tez lost by Yaour dressed as Faust's Marguerite." Roussel's stories float eerily above everyday speech, pointing to the blank spaces in it while concealing the secret filaments that tether his literary wonderland to the banal cosmos of és. Foucault sees Roussel's technique as a kind of animation and personification of the structural features of language itself: "It's as if the form imposed on the text by the rules of the game took on its own being in the world acted out and imitated on stage; as if the structure imposed by language became the spontaneous life of people and things." Yet this "animation" is bound in a disquieting way to death and repetition. It is a way of mortifying language through its infection with chance (the pun) while opening out the already-said onto a fantastic vista beyond life and death (the fantastic image that unfolds narratively). As Foucault writes, Roussel's writing "does not attempt creation, but by going beyond destruction, it seeks the same language it has just massacred, finding it again identical and whole" (45).
Beckett's use of the pun and related techniques is neither as extensive nor as systematic as Roussel's. Its function is more localized, focused destructively on the conventional structures he employs concurrently. By opening up a void of motivation (the linguistic and phantasmatic substructure of Murphy's chair) at the center of motivating structures like intrigue (Who will find Murphy first?) and point of view (the omniscient narrator), Beckett dramatizes the corrosion of novelistic conventions by a contingency and violence traversing language, society, and perhaps even being as such.
Roussel's Africa and even more clearly his Locus Solus represent a kind of last solace of artistic autonomy: the transfiguration of the commonplace into a linguistic utopia, the cliché into the unheard-of, and the linguistic rule into a magical machine. In contrast, Beckett's word- and image-play tends to what we might call "automimetism," manifest in Beckett's signature use of echoing repetitions and seemingly
unmotivated associations through similarity. In Beckett's fiction, the language begins to resemble , intransitively, without a precisely situatable model. This contagious resemblance weakens the impression of the work's autonomy: something not precisely determinable seems to afflict the text, causing a blurring of distinct structures and a leakage of figures into their context (including the linguistic environment). Rather than open up a literary free space beyond repetition and death, Beckett's pun is entropic or even violent, mutilating the literary figure and draining the life from it.
This automimetism affects the image of characters throughout Beckett's work. Common to all of his central characters is their surrender to an intransitive and often-repetitive movement, Molloy's circling, Watt's spavined gait, Murphy's rocking, or Belacqua's "gress":
Not the least charm of this pure blank movement, this "gress" or "gression," was its aptness to receive, with or without the approval of the subject, in all their integrity the faint inscriptions of the outer world. Exempt from destination, it had not to shun the unforeseen nor turn aside from the agreeable odds and ends of vaudeville that arc liable to crop up. This sensitiveness was not the least charm of this roaming that began by being blank, not the least charm of this pure act the alacrity with which it welcomed defilement.
What appears here under the guise of Belacqua's grotesque aestheticism will, with only slight modulation, become the more regressive motilities of Murphy, Watt, and Molloy.
Another index of this mimetism is Beckett's use of "pseudocouples," whose names imply that their only difference is a minimal phonemic one and hence that their existence is logical rather than substantial: Murphy's male nurses Tom "Bim" and Tim "Bom" Clinch, Watt's punningly hypothetical Art and Con Lynch, Godot's Didi and Gogo, Happy Days ' Winhie and Willie, or How It Is's exquisitely mimimalized Pim and Born, along with Bern, Kram and Krim. Here character has regressed back into the schemata of language from which the history of literature liberated it—the precise opposite of Roussel's animating transcendence of linguistic rules and conventional expressions.
Beckett's most consummate images of automimetic regression, however, involve the unmediated fusion of body and language, as if consciousness and meaning had volatilized, leaving language's material hull conjoined to the spiritless automatism of the body. This elision of consciousness is poignantly illustrated in Watt's reflexive disturbances in motility and syntax: "As Watt walked, so now he talked back to front."
Yet, as presented in the novel, Watt's systematic breakdown of spatial and linguistic orientation forms a kind of uncanny double of the linguistic experiments of the modernist poet. (Likewise, the narrator "Sam," with his desperate attempt to master discursively the mad errancy of Watt, and with his comical delirium of chronology and point of view, parodically represents the modernist fiction writer.) At first, Watt's permutations amount to a lyricizing of his speech:
Day of most, night of part, Knott with now Now till up, little seen oh, little heard so oh. Night till morning from. Heard I this, saw I this then what. Thing quiet, dim. Ears, eyes, failing now also. Hush in, mist in, moved I so. (Watt , 164).
Beckett underscores this quality by having Watt's interlocutor "Sam" give a rhetorical analysis, itself not unpoetic in its anaphora, of Watt's discourse:
From this it will perhaps be suspected:
that the inversion affected, not the order of the
sentences, but that of words only;
that the inversion was imperfect;
that ellipse was frequent;
that euphony was a preoccupation;
that spontaneity was perhaps not absent;
that there was perhaps more than a reversal of
discourse; that the thought was perhaps inverted. ( Watt , 164)
Yet Watt's increasingly extreme "revolution of the word" has little to do with artistic intentionality or self-conscious purification of the language of the tribe. Instead, it testifies to Watt's loss of autonomy, his increasing subjection to an impersonal language-machine—be it true that at first the "inversion was imperfect," that for some time still, "spontaneity was perhaps not absent" from Watt's deranged kennings.