The Unnamable by Beckett

Is there another book that uses the power of first-person narration to the same degree as The Unnamable? Thomas Bernhard maybe? Beckett makes any other form of narration appear flaccid, aloof. In this last book of his Trilogy Beckett offers an existential discourse from an observer using language (for what other apparatus do we have) trying to pin down identity. How to define self? As Emily wrote,  “We pretend, for example, that we are the same person from moment to moment, when our reality may be more fragmented and unpredictable.”

This observer speaks but we ‘know that it lies,’ invalidating each affirmation. This time there are no Molloys, Malones or Murphies, no characters with motivations, however indefinite. There may be memories, or dreams, or perhaps not. There are lots of perhapses. The narrator, presumably creator, ponders whether such inventions will be necessary.

Perhaps I shall be obliged, in order not to peter out, to invent another fairy-tale, yet another, with heads, trunks, arms, legs and all that follows, let loose in the changeless round of imperfect shadow and dubious light. But I hope and trust not.

How are we to read a fiction that fails to find a subjective  voice, that is not in a distinct past, present or future?

What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered, or sooner or later?

Like the narrator the reader must go ahead, inevitably trapped by Beckett’s rambling negations of his own declarations.

With Beckett’s fiction but particularly in The Unnamable I am reading against gaping cognitive abysses in my knowledge of philosophy (particularly epistemology and metaphysics) and linguistics, without even covering Beckett’s literary erudition. With The Unnamable I read the last eighty pages in a misty daze. The language is intoxicating, so rich that reading five pages takes an hour. But did I understand what I was reading? Not really, parts perhaps, more perhapses. I need to read around The Unnamable. As Hugh Kenner said I need someone to help me think about it. Or to quote Beckett, “To tell the truth, let us be honest at least, it is some considerable time now since I last knew what I was talking about.” Yes, Mr. Beckett, I am with you, but you tell it so beautifully.

Perhaps I should feel inadequate but to quote Harold Pinter from a letter he wrote to a friend on Beckett:

The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him. He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy – he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not – he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty. His work is beautiful.

2 thoughts on “The Unnamable by Beckett

  1. Pingback: My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: September 29, 2011 « Hungry Like the Woolf

  2. Pingback: A Year in Reading: 2011 « Time's Flow Stemmed

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