The Break with Doxa: Murphy, Watt
Badiou has recently called for an end to talk of the ‘end of representation’ (CR, 85) and shown interest in novelists whose work is comparatively representational (Melville, Conrad, Faulkner).¹ His aesthetic position has none the less always been closely linked to radical abstraction in art. Not surprisingly, then, he has nothing to say about Murphy or Beckett’s early realism, or Beckett’s turn away from realism after Murphy. This is one of the more striking lacunae in his narrative of Beckett’s career. There are very good reasons, however, for not neglecting Murphy here. First, the change in Beckett’s orientation that takes place between Murphy and Watt seems almost as decisive as the change that happens after Texts for Nothing, of which Badiou makes so much. Surely the logic that requires an emphasis on the second break also requires at least some attention to the first? Secondly, as we’ve seen, for Badiou, Beckett’s initial commitment is to a labour of subtraction. But Murphy is the Beckett text perhaps most explicitly concerned with this labour. Indeed, at the very centre of the novel is an image of radical subtraction, Murphy tied to his rocking chair, withdrawn from ‘the breakers of the world’ (MU, 66).
At the same time, however, subtraction in Murphy is not merely a thought and a practice. It is also a theme for thought. This in itself is an indication of how far the novel complicates Badiou’s thesis. Here, at its very inception, his narrative of Beckett needs to be revised and its coherence cast into doubt. For Badiou, Beckett is neither the subject of an event, nor concerned with the emergence of a subject or subjects as the consequence of an event. He rather shares the classic modernist concern with getting beyond the existing encyclopedia and the veridicity of established knowledge. Yet there is no truth without an event. There is only veridicity. This leaves the early Beckett with
1 See OB, 36; CR, 44.