Samuel Beckett's Trilogy, Alain Badiou and the Subtraction from the State and the Community

By Lopez, Maria J. | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Samuel Beckett's Trilogy, Alain Badiou and the Subtraction from the State and the Community


Lopez, Maria J., Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Introduction

According to Anthony Cronin, "the Beckett man belongs to no category, no class, no nationality or community" (2006: 88). This statement epitomizes an important current in the critical reception of Samuel Beckett that has emphasized the centrality in his works of the solipsistic and self-enclosed individual, and the absence--or deprecating undermining--of meaningful forms of collective affiliation. This critical tendency has generated a series of concepts and ideas that have become commonplace in our reading of Beckett, such as the Cartesian split between mind and body; (2) the isolated and alienated subject; (3) or the impossibility of communication, mainly due to the barrier erected by language between ourselves and others. (4) Beckettian characters are presented as alien to operative communities of any kind--national, religious, political or ideological--, (5) something which cannot be seen as separate from what Cunningham (2008) has called the "abstraction" of Beckett's writings: the extremely oblique, ambiguous, formalized and scarce presence of social and historical references, if they appear at all. (6) The protagonism of the isolated individual and the absence of the community are counterbalanced in Beckett's narrative and theatre by what we could call an intermediate social form, namely, the pair of characters or the couple: Gogo and Didi, Pozzo and Lucky, Winnie and Willie, Nagg and Nell, Hamm and Clov, Murphy and Celia, or Mercier and Camier. This has been seen as a device used to explore other issues and concerns. (7) However, the most common critical tendency has been to identify in Beckett's engagement with the pair of lovers, friends or relatives a parodic or sardonic portrayal of love, friendship and family that undermines any high ideals we may associate with them and that points to the impossibility of going beyond our individual desires and needs, (8) together with a reflection on the power, cruelty and potential suffering that haunts every human relationship. (9)

In any case, what the persistent presence of the pair of characters highlights is the impossibility of complete isolation and solipsism, the way the ego is always haunted by imaginary or real others, (10) and the tension between individuality and collectivity. In the particular case of the The Trilogy, which constitutes the focus of this essay, the novels' main characters and narrators are haunted by certain others who seem to function as their doubles, with whom their identities end up merging, but whose existence is uncertain. Thus, in the second part of Molloy, the agent Jacques Moran sets out on the search for Molloy, whose story is traced in the first part, only to end up uncannily resembling him. Malone creates a character called MacMann, who seems to become Malone himself, and in The Unnamable, it is impossible to draw a line between the speaking voice and the stories he tells of Worm and Mahood.

But I would like to go beyond the pair of characters and analyze the presence, however veiled and indeterminate, of a wider collectivity that assumes different forms along the Trilogy --the anonymous 'they' to whom Molloy hands in his texts, the organization to which Malone belongs, the asylum in which MacMann lives, or those whom the Unnamable calls his "delegates" (Beckett 1955: 297) and "tormentors" (347)--and to which the different narrators always resist. My argument is that the subtraction from forms of community and collective affiliation that we find in the Trilogy can be seen in the light of Alain Badiou's critique of communitarian ethics and his conception of the state of the historical-social situation as dealing with collective subsets and not with individuals (2007: 105). Following Andrew Gibson's response to Badiou and Beckett, and in particular his vision of The Unnamable as a text characterized by rage and the rejection of established ideas, I would like to explore the possibility that it is their refusal to become part of a community and their resistance to a state demanding conformity and obedience that leads Molloy, Malone and especially the Unnamable to become isolated egos. …

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