Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Badiou on Beckett

I'd like to use Alain Badiou's interpretation of Beckett, and of a passage from Texts for Nothing in particular, as a way in to some more general reflections on literary interpretation. I'd like to start by addressing what I think are some real problems with Badiou's reading and approach. Before that, an excerpt from Badiou's On Beckett:

The Texts for Nothing proceed in a more theoretical way, since they are less engaged in the terrifying fcitional set-ups of the solipsistic subject. The main discovery that these texts bear witness to is that the cogito, besides its tormenting and unbearable conditions, is ultimately without finality, because identification is impossible. The injunction that the "I" addresses to itself concerning the naming of its own founding silence is object-less:  in effect, the cogito is not a reflection, a Two (the couple of enouncement and enunciation), rather, it sketches out a three-fold configuration.There are three instances of the "I" that cannot be reduced to the One except under conditions of total exhaustion, of the dissipation of all subjectivity.

The crucial text in this regard is the twelth 'text for nothing', one of the densest and most purely theoretical texts written by Beckett. Here is a passage that undertakes the analytical decomposition of the cogito:

"[...] 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 in one, and what a one, what a no one"
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.
The passage from Beckett, without the ellipses reads:
... 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.
I'll be referring back to this in subsequent posts.

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