Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

THE EXTENDED MIND AND MULTIPLE DRAFTS: Beckett's Models of the Mind and the Postcognitivist Paradigm

Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

THE EXTENDED MIND AND MULTIPLE DRAFTS: Beckett's Models of the Mind and the Postcognitivist Paradigm

Article excerpt

Insofar as writing can be regarded as a form of thinking, authors' manuscripts may serve as tools for interdisciplinary research in the area between literary studies and cognitive philosophy. This article studies the manuscript versions of Beckett's late texts "Ceiling" and Worstward Ho as a case study to analyze the ways in which genetic Beckett studies can contribute to recent "enactivist" developments in cognitive philosophy. In terms of methodology, the article proposes to extend Brian Richardson's concept of "denarration" with a genetic dimension in order to study the way Beckett "decreated" traditional models of the mind and prefigured new ones.

The image of the mind as an "inside," contrasted with an "outside," is based on a Cartesian model of the mind as an interior space, which is becoming increasingly implausible due to recent developments in cognitive science. "Look within" was Virginia Woolf's motto (1972, 106) and critics of modernism have (perhaps all too) readily adopted the image of the mind as an interior space. Literary modernism is often characterized by means of a so-called "inward turn," which David Herman recently referred to as a critical commonplace (2011, 249). This commonplace becomes thematic in Samuel Beckett's last works. In the first draft of Worstward Ho, he referred to the head and the "inward staring eyes" as "That commonplace!" (UoR MS 2602/1, 9r; Beckett 1998, 177). The aim of the present article is to show that, in spite of the prominence of the so-called skullscapes and descriptions of "l'intérieur de mon crâne lointain" ("the inside of my distant skull"; Beckett 1953, 26), Samuel Beckett anticipated the untenability of this internalist proposition and never stopped searching for alternative models of the mind.

Murphy's Model of the Mind: Descartes and Geulincx

Beckett's Murphy is a suitable starting point. Life "in" Murphy's mind is said to have given him pleasure, "such pleasure that pleasure was not the word" (Beckett 2009a, 4), but what exactly does the preposition "in" refer to? Murphy's mind is not described "as it really was" but as "what it felt and pictured itself to be" (69). It pictured itself as "a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without" (69) and it felt so "bodytight" that he did not understand how his mind and his body were related. Yet, he did admit that they had "intercourse apparently" (70).

The thematization of the mind/body split in Beckett's work has perhaps too frequently, too readily and too exclusively been linked to Descartes, as Matthew Feldman has argued; and Arnold Geulincx' s legacy has duly been acknowledged (Feldman 2006; Uhlmann 2006; Tucker 2011; 2012). Still, whether one reads the description of Murphy's mind against a Cartesian or against a Geulingian background, it does not become less of a parody. After Murphy's initial aspiration to a pure separation of body and mind, the mind is eventually scattered - along with the body - among the beer, the butts, the spits and other particulars (Beckett 2009a, 171), in the form of Muiphy's ashes.

Arnold Geulincx described the bipartite condition humaine as "ineffable":

Our Human Condition falls into two parts, namely, the action we have on our body when we seem to move certain bodily parts from their place; and the passion with which we are acted upon by our body [...] With respect to both parts, however, we observe our condition to be ineffable, and that we are incapable of understanding either how our body is moved at our will or how we are moved by bodies existing outside us, and above all how we are moved by the motions of the body that we call ours, and which imbues us with such diverse perceptions.

(2006, 83; emphasis added)

The key word is "how." Something is called ineffable according to Geulincx when we understand that it exists, but do not understand how it exists or came to exist. Human beings are self-conscious and know that their minds somehow act upon their bodies, and that their bodies act upon their minds, but of how this works they are "abysmally ignorant" (84). …

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