Monday, September 12, 2016

Samuel Beckett, "The Unnamable"

 – e-book

Read from: September 25th to October 3rd 2013

My rating:

Imagine the creative impulse is a black hole from which rises a bewildered narrative voice, which tries to make sense only of itself, not of the world. Which tries to become a character, or a body, or a feeling, or a story, and struggles to accept both sides of every coin. Like a picture made only of colours, colours that burst, that flow, that spring from the canvas in no apparent order and coherence – The Unnamable is made only of words, whirlwinding round and round the reader in an endless monologue, questioning, negating and accepting, forever defining the unity of opposites:

I'm there already: I'll start looking for me now, I'm there somewhere. It won't be I - no matter, I'll say it's I. Perhaps it will be I.

It is the same cadence, the same majesty, and the same quiet contradiction Rig-Veda uses to describe that weak powerful Unit preceding creation: “He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”

It is a voice speaking. Of nothing. Of nothingness. And of everything. Of everythingness (well, well, I caught it, too!). Trying to cover all possibilities of an issue while questioning what issue is there. It is the Voice speaking of itself, feeling whole and barren altogether, pushed by a compulsory narrative disorder J while trying to keep silent:

Ah if only this voice could stop! This meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing, just barely prevents you from being nothing and nowhere - just enough to keep alight this little yellow flame feebly darting from side to side, panting, as if straining to tear itself from its wick.

It is the desire to create (Rig-Veda again!) despite the wariness, the fatigue and the sense of futility.  That’s why it is (whereas it’s not) a good example of what l’aventure de l’écriture could mean in the nouveau roman acceptation. That is why you can read it (but can you?) in a deconstructivist way, since it seems to prefigure Derrida’s idea of a language “caught at a moment of crisis”.

All these “it is” whereas “it isn’t” or maybe “it will be” although “it won’t” form the essence of a narrative that speaks about the  vicious circle of the creative impulse caught between creative angst and creative obsession and unable to stop. Thus the first words: “Keep going, going on (call that going, call that on)”, which mirror the last: “I can't go on. I'll go on.”

Did I find this kind of narrative interesting? Of course I did – it’s always fascinating to see how an author manages to stretch the conventional borders of a genre in order to experiment new forms. Would I like to read more in the same style? I don’t think so – my conventional, somehow conservative view of the novel makes me seek characters, and a plot, and a dialogue. I can be diverted for a while, and look curiously into another approach, but I keep faithfully returning to old models.

But, on the other hand, what the heck? Every voice that rings true has a right to be heard. The rest depends, as usually, on the reader’s horizon of expectations.

Anyway, as Stephen Spender warned in his New York Times review, it’s better not to get overawed by the obvious narcissism of a work that superciliously closes within: “Nevertheless, it is important that the Beckett cult should not blind us to his limitations. The interest hovers on the edge of complete solipsism, and his contempt for everyone and everything outside groping self-awareness, verges on the automatically facile.”

And yet. And yet. Can you really not hear the sombre sarcasm that shadows and reveals (solitaire cloud overpassing the moon) a portrait (too complex to be suspected of automatic facility) of doomed humanity in quotes like these?

Ah mother of God, the things one has to listen to!

I never made anyone suffer, I never stopped anyone's sufferings: no one will ever stop mine.

No need of a mouth: the words are everywhere, inside me, outside me.

I use them all, all the words they showed me.

But the question may be asked, why time doesn't pass? (Just like that, off the record, en passant - to pass the time.)

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