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.