The Event of the Event: The Unnamable
There is at least one obvious objection to what I have just said about Watt, and a not-so-obvious objection to what I have said about Murphy. The two objections coincide. First, does Beckett really categorically exclude the possibility of the event from Murphy? The obvious answer would seem to be yes, look at the first line of the novel: ‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new’ (MU, 5). It seems to proscribe the event from the start, not least in its deliberately banal allusion to Ecclesiastes, and thus to introduce us to a world that is very remote from Badiou’s. But to say just this is to ignore the relationship between the locution and what it says. The strange, exquisite phrasing makes the sentence itself seem to wriggle out from underneath the sentiment it expresses.¹ It aims a perky little kick at the very inertia it posits and of which it takes the weight. This exactly captures the curious, wry, unrelentingly perverse quality of the most important strain in Beckettian irony. It even comes close to summing up my argument about his oeuvre as a whole. In any case, before long, the novel is telling us that, if the sun must shine on the same dreary old scenario, the light also never wanes ‘the same way twice’ (MU, 5). This does not corroborate the impression of unrelenting sameness conveyed in the opening line.
As far as Watt is concerned: Beckett himself refers to Watt’s ‘incidents of note’ as events. But these events are pedestrian if not trivial. Am I really justified in conflating Beckett’s use of the word ‘event’ with Badiou’s? Certainly, Badiou does so himself. But in what sense can the Galls and the piano-tuning be equated with Paul’s intellectual recognition of the truth of the resurrection?
1 Cf. Christopher Ricks’s account of this in Beckett’s Dying Words (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 62–3.