Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

CHANGED MODALITIES IN MALONE DIES: Putting Sapo in His Place

Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

CHANGED MODALITIES IN MALONE DIES: Putting Sapo in His Place

Article excerpt

Preliminaries

Literature is so often parasitic upon itself - Dante 'rewriting' Virgil; Don Quijote redefining chivalry, with the help of Ariosto; even Gaber and/or Youdi importing 'life' into Keats (Beckett 2009b, 172)1 - that it seems safe to suppose that any educated reader wanting to 'situate' Beckett's Malone Dies will find it difficult not to think in terms of Marcel Proust, famous for writing his huge novel in bed in his apartment in the Boulevard Haussman. But beware the parasite that, in literature as typically as in life, works to undermine the host it has invaded; or the potentially useful analogy which turns out to have little substance (Beckett 2009b, 179; Beckett 1983, 19).2 Malone Dies is not in any meaningful sense an À la Recherche du temps perdu in disguise, even though it may seem occasionally to prey upon its great predecessor. The mission of Proust's alter ego in the Recherche is to demonstrate that "[literature] is the only life that is really lived" (Bersani, 215), whereas Beckett's Malone is much closer - and in every sense much closer - to his immediate predecessors in the "Three Novels," Molloy and Moran. Following the latter as he does, Malone is even more reluctant "at this late stage [...] to give way to literature" (Beckett 2009b, 158), having - if only for fictional purposes - reached an even later stage of de-composition, and having apparently convinced himself that writing is little more than a game to be maintained to the best of one's ability: "Now it is a game, I am going to play" (Beckett 2010a, 4). In his Proust essay Beckett says "Death has not required us to keep a day free" (Beckett 1965, 17). But Malone Dies is in large part the product of the freedom we enjoy (or endure) before the inevitable end to which we shall all have to come. Malone intends to enjoy this freedom by starting out under the aegis of "a certain kind of aesthetics" (4), although the aesthetics he has in mind are swiftly reduced to an increasingly moribund monologue monitoring his "Present state" (6) on the one hand, and a gradually diminishing repertoire of stories on the other. This apparently simple division of labour, tacitly predicated on the distinction between self and not-self, proves unsustainable, any 'Proustian solution' having been turned inside out and poured out quicker than any decanter could cope with (Beckett 1965, 36, 22). It bears emphasising that in Malone Dies, in spite of the future tense with which the novel opens ("I shall soon..."), everything is streaming towards what is past, whereas Proust's Recherche only retrieves past time (strictly speaking temps perdu) in the hope of ultimately arriving at a kind of vanishing point. Proust's Marcel is in pursuit of "the fictions of life and of art" with the idea of making them either coincide or interact (Bersani, 206ff.); Beckett's Malone - never really in pursuit of anything tangible - carries out his creator's distinctly differential wish to demonstrate that these are two 'fictions' which must always remain incommensurable.

Nothing better illustrates Beckett's deviant (and in many ways destructive) impulses in Malone Dies than his treatment of Sapo. From early on Malone insists that "Nothing is less like me than this patient, reasonable child, struggling all alone for years to shed a little light upon himself, avid of the least gleam, a stranger to the joys of darkness" (18), which virtually destroys Sapo from the outset; but it does so at the cost of leaving unanswered the troubling question as to why (if not "to shed a little light upon himself") Malone should ever have brought Sapo into 'being' in the first place. Now it may be easy to see that the Sapo passages offered Beckett the opportunity to work off the unfinished business of his two years in Roussillon.3 What is less obvious is that because Sapo cannot be allowed to survive, neither can the style of writing embodying him survive. Farewell Sapo, farewell Realism. It is as if Beckett were determined once and for all to put at least one old chestnut behind him, the Nouvelles and Molloy having failed to deliver the absolute coup de grâce in this connection. …

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