Mythology: From Ancient to Post-Modern

By Jürgen Kleist; Bruce A. Butterfield | Go to book overview

Sylvie Debevec Henning


Writing The Body: "Qui Tient Le/La Greffe?"

In the world of Samuel Beckett's characters, the body is unruly, messy, faulty. It farts; it pisses; it shits; it even fucks when its desires are too strong for its disgust. It is subject to the ravages of time in very painful ways: disease, disintegration, disarticulation, general dysfunction. This view of the body is, unfortunately, not limited to Beckett's world. It is there because it is here with us; it is the view of the body fundamental to our Judeo-Christian-Platonic culture.

How can such faultiness be corrected? Mortification of the flesh, rational control of the instincts. These two means are graphically staged in Beckett's last novel, Comment c'est, especially in Part II.1 The instrument is the "nail"--la griffe, le greffe.2

Consider the story of the Oriental wise-man, sunnayasin or Buddhist monk, who clenched his fists until the nails grew through his palms, so strong was his desire to subjugate his body and its unruly will. The wise-man, however, could exercise control only over the "conscious" or "voluntary" aspects of his corporeal existence. His nails continued to grow no matter how hard he clenched his fists, or how many times he would have his palms pierced. Moreover, not even the death of his conscious mind could bring an end to this dynamism. These nails, then, even when turned against the body are still part of it. Like Clov, they serve as a means of repression while participating in the repressed. Ultimately it is their inherent ambivalence that reappears to subvert the end that they were supposed to serve. Much like Buddha, the sage finally concedes victory to the phenomenal world. The mind does not have the power to dominate the body completely.

Disregarding this caveat, the narrator of Comment c'est will attempt to escape from the mire by painful but cleansing martyrdom of the spirit-polluting body. Rather than suffer in his own flesh, however, he would, through a sadomasochistic projection, mortify that of his companion, Pim. ( Pim, "en croix de Saint André" (p. 72), is a Christ substitute, as were St. Andrew and all Christian martyrs, the X-shaped cross marking

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