Thursday, 25 April 2013

Beckett, Watt: An Unencrypted Voice

I was reading Samuel Beckett's Watt on tube to work today. In section three, in the asylum, where the narrator, Sam, describes Watt's way of walking backward and, correspondingly, his various ways of talking backwards:

"Watt began to invert, no longer the order of the words on the sentence together with that of the sentences in the period, but that of the letters in the word together with that of the sentences in the period.
The following is an example of this manner:
 Lit yad mac, ot og. Ton taw, ton tonk. ton dob, ton trips. Ton vila, ton deda. Ton kawa, ton pelsa. ton das, ton yag. Os devil, rof mit."

If you read this aloud (as Sam the narrator would have heard it), it sounds like some cabbalistic chant, odly insistant, spell like. If you read it silently, it's a vaguely Celtic looking clot of hieroglyphs. And if you read it, with the key that Sam has provided, you hear this:

"Till day came, to go. Not Watt, not Knott. Not Body, not spirit. Not alive, not dead. Not awake, not asleep. Not sad, not gay. So lived, for time."

It's important, I think that we hear rather than see these words, because the effect is to me rather beautiful. 
The words bubble up like ghosts from behind the encrypted surface, somehow all the more evocative. It comes through as a pure voice released from the clasp of encryption. But a phantom voice. And to a retrospective ear, it sounds like the ghost voice of a later Beckett.

Simultaneously, the actual print disappears, as it does here:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

In Beckett, as in this Cambridge experiment, print disappears and releases the unencumbered voice.




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