Academic journal article Style

The "Moreness" or "Lessness" of "Natural" Narratology: Samuel Beckett's "Lessness" Reconsidered

Academic journal article Style

The "Moreness" or "Lessness" of "Natural" Narratology: Samuel Beckett's "Lessness" Reconsidered

Article excerpt

In Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (1996). Monika Fludemik reconstitutes narativity on the basis of experientiality, i.e., humanity's embodiedness in the world, and claims that incomprehensible texts can be made more readable if one attempts to narrativize them. Since Samuel Beckett's short prose work "Lessness" is one of the most enigmatic texts of the twentieth century, it serves as an ideal test case for this new narratological paradigm. "Lessness" does indeed lose its initial strangeness if one reads this piece as narrative. Moreover, although a "natural" narratological analysis paves the way for a new interpretation of "Lessness," the new paradigm provides only a partially satisfying analysis of it. To make the text fit into the new consciousness-oriented paradigm, Fludernik's quasiuniversal naturalizing mode has to ignore certain aspects such as the mechanical structure of "Lessness." Beckett's later prose work challenges narrativization and the "natural" narratological project. A reading of "Lessness" should be liberated from the confines of experientiality and instead concentrate on the role of chance and chaos. Beckett's text must be located in a counterworld, a limbo between signifier and signified. One should allow this limbo world to seep into the "real world" and not attempt to explain this different counterworld by means of "real-world" knowledge.

1. Introduction

According to J. E. Dearlove, the fragmentary short prose works that Samuel Beckett produced in the period following the publication of Comment C'est(1961), i.e., "All Strange Away" (1963-64), "Imagination Dead Imagine" (1965), "Enough" (1965), "Ping" (1966), "Lessness" (1969), and "The Lost Ones" (1966, 1970), might strike readers as "utterly alien and incomprehensible," and by thrusting the burden of creating order and meaning on readers, "demand a new critical response" ("Last Images" 104, 116). Similarly, Mary Bryden points out that some readers have reacted adversely to Beckett's later prose, seeing it as "perversely uncommunicative" and "teasingly mysterious" (137). The short prose work "Lessness" is definitely one of the most enigmatic texts of the period after How It Is. Because of the initial shock that this strange and incomprehensible prose work might produce in readers, it may be used as a case to test the new narratological approach Monika Fludernik puts forward in Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (1996).

Fludernik attempts to counteract some of the shortcomings of classical narratology and other traditional approaches to narrative theory. Her aim is the radical "reconceptualization of narratology" and "the creation of a new narrative paradigm"(xi), a paradigm, however, that despite its interdisciplinary make-up, will still be identifiable as narratological. As Gibson notes, Fludernik sets out to redefine narrativity in terms not of plot but of cognitive or what she calls "natural" parameters. These parameters are based on our experience, on our sense of embodiedness in the world ("Review" 234). Whereas structuralist narratology employs formal categories defined in terms of binary oppositions, Fludernik wishes to institute organic frames of reading. She reconstitutes narrativity on the basis of experientiality, a feature derived from research on oral narrative established by Labov (Language). At the same time experientiality relates to Kate Hamburger's thesis that narrative is the only form of discourse that c an portray consciousness, particularly the consciousness of someone else (83). Since, for Fludernik, the prototypical case of narrative is given in its oral version (textual make-up is considered to be a variable), the "natural" narratological paradigm, as Ronen suggests, identifies narrativity with conversational parameters in a storytelling situation (647). Furthermore, Fludernik wishes to institute a reconceptualization of the term "natural" within a more specifically cognitive perspective. She argues that "natural" narratives, i. …

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