Thursday, 1 May 2014

Beckett and the Movement of Sense: Texts for Nothing

The way out, this evening its the turn of the way out, isn't it like a duo or a trio, yes, there are moments when it's like that, then they pass and it's not like that any more, never was like that, is like nothing, no resemblance with anything, of no interest.
"an unbroken flow of words and tears"

I wanted to write something more about the movements of sense in Beckett, the various ebbs and flows. By 'sense' i mean not just meaningful propositions, or propositions that acheive Meaning, but images, memories - whatever seems to arrest the flow and offer definition and recognition.

By 'bubbles of sense- no sooner formed than dissolved, retracted' - i mean passages like this:
When I think, no that won’t work, when come those who knew me, perhaps even know me still, by sight of course, or by smell, it’s as though, it’s as if, come on, I don’t know, I shouldn’t have begun.
Sense stutters, barely emerging before collapsing  in the ‘murmur':
Name, no, nothing is nameable, tell, no, nothing can be told, what then, I don’t know, I shouldn’t have begun.
Or words scramble breathlessly to replace each other, gasping for air:
It’s a winter night, where I was, where I’m going, remembered, imagined, no matter, believing in me, believing it’s me, no, no need, so long as the others are there, where, in the world of others, of the long mortal ways...
But there are also pools or eddies of sense -  images, memories, fictions, the little bays in which the narrator finds provisional rest. ..  The image of Mother Calvet foraging in the garbage (Text ii), quickly drawn characters or brief grotesques from the world of Dublin betting shops and republican politics (Text iii), the hand-drawn itinerant companions – “I’ll have a crony, my own vintage, my own bog, a fellow warrior,” “Vincent arriving in sheets of rain”(Text iii), like the flotsam of other lost fictions, brief wrecks of beauty, the narrator’s own creatures - offering the brief promises of embodiment (“To be bedded in that flesh or in another”).... all of these inhabit only a conditional tense, all are dispersed in the flow of the prose.  This flow and movement are the basic facts of the prose - the way in which sense collects, reforms, breaks up, and the cadence and affect which is absolutely immanent to this movement.  We would need to look at how movement modifies or defies sense. For example "name, no, nothing is nameable, tell, no, nothing can be told" has a sense, clearly, but running through it is a little lullaby of negatives sung to the absent self. Or the various motifs (e.g. “When come those who knew me, Text xi) – where each reoccurrence of the motif, regardless of its content, is a kind of affirmation, a persistence, a rising again to the surface where sense is sinking.  The flashes of sense that jump and fizzle, the repetitions, the divisions and splitting of the “I” in the ebb and flow, the I turning into He as soon as uttered (Text x, for example: "I've slept, He's slept") .. all this constitutes a movement traced on the mind of the reader like a breeze on water.
The temptation - and it is probably impossible to avoid - is to look at particular temporary pools of sense – propositions, assertions, images - and treat them as if they were exempt from this movement. A sentence or proposition from the text is made to act as a key to the text, or a mirror in which the text as a whole - or its essential problems - can be seen.

This, it seems to me, is what has happened in Badiou’s interpretation of a passage from Texts for Nothing xii. Here, first, is the passage:

... pah there are voices everywhere, ears everywhere, one who speaks saying, without ceasing to speak, Who’s speaking?, and one who hears, mute, uncomprehending, far from all, and bodies everywhere, bent, fixed, where my prospects must be just as good, just as poor, as in this firstcomer. And none will wait, he no more than the others, none ever waited to die for me to live in him, so as to die with him, but quick quick all die, saying, Quick quick let us die, without him, as we lived, before it’s too late, lest we won’t have lived. And this other now, obviously, what’s to be made of this latest other, with his babble of homeless mes and untenanted hims,  this other without number or person whose abandoned being we haunt, nothing. There’s a pretty three in one, and what a one, what a no one.
Here is the text as quoted in Badiou,

"[...] one who speaks saying, without ceasing to speak, Who's speaking?, and one who hears, mute, uncomprehending, far from all [..] And this other now [..] with his babble of homless mes and untenanted hims [...] There's a pretty three on one, and what a one, what a no one"

And then Badiou's interpretation:

How is this infernal trio distributed?
1) First there is the "one who speaks" [Qui parle], the supposedly reflexive subject of enunciation, or the one capable of also asking 'Who's speaking?' [Qui Parle], of enouncing the question concerning itself [...]
2) Then there is the subject of passivity, who hears without understanding, who is 'far away' in the sense of being the underside, the obscure matter of the one who is speaking. This is the passive being of the subject of the enunciation.
3) Finally, there is the subject who functions as the support of the question of identification, the one who, through enunciation and passivity, makes the question of what he is insist [..]
             The subject is thus torn between the subject of enunciation, the subject of passivity, and the questioning subject. The third of these subjects is ultimately the one for whom the relation between the other two is at issue, the relation that is, between enunciation and passivity.
What I would like to return to is why I think this reading is questionable, questionable not simply in what it asserts but in how it reads the text, it’s method. I would like to open up those ellipses [above, in Badiou's quotation] and make a case for restoring to the passage the element of temporality. And perhaps to suggest that to extract an image or a proposition which would interpret the rest of the text is arguably precisely what the prose denies. In other words, the movement of the prose is to seek succesively-  and sucessively to reject  -such ports of sense.


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