Thursday, July 25, 2013


The Moran part and the Molloy part of the book gesture at a meeting but they never meet; Lousse might want to communicate with Molloy but she must hide in a bush and stare at him like a shy cockroach, and the Moran and Molloy parts might be the same story in two registers but that's not definite: this is a conclusion that needs to be approached from two directions (a Molloy direction and a Moran direction, the cry from one answered by the other, some firm clue that Moran is writing Molloy, for example -- evidence that he is deranged and imagining his prey on a bicycle as he himself has been on a bicycle and in a forest as he has been in a forest) but the points do not touch and merge (there are only those similarities that are so uncannily like coincidences, and then a further gesture -- go and find Molloy, Moran's told, and he does not find the man's body but he finds the shapes of his behaviour, which he inhabits in his own way, riding a bicycle or bopping people), so there is no certainty, only the possibility of one if some further conditions are met but they are not met, they are only announced, they are possible -- and once you've finished enumerating them you will have to say that they are not conclusive, so you have gone all this way to dwell in ambiguity, "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason," wrote Keats -- and many things are possible; it is possible that Molloy might be able to speak unselfconsciously one day, for example; it is possible that his hat might stay on, although by positing these possibilities only to deny them and in fact make that denial part of the essential character of Molloy's universe the book makes sure that they are impossible.

There are gaps between the possible and the achievement of the possible and I think these gaps produce an illustration of stasis -- in another book the action might move into the possible climax but in this book it can't. The characters struggle but they struggle stilly. Even going backwards would be a direction. And when I write "direction" I remember those ways in which the prose will develop an intense concentration on the location of a thing: is the stone in the right trouser pocket or the left shirt pocket, and is a person in Turdy or are they in Turdyba? But the idea of location is conjured up only so that it can be made ridiculous, with this man arranging stones in his pockets and these areas named after turds. Then the ridiculous mother, who is also a location.

The two narrators are trying to get somewhere but location itself seems silly; the fundamental nature of their quests was mad from the start, for they are trying to reach these ridiculous things, locations. And there is an edge of ridicule in the location of the cows because the language gives them the characters of rote objects. Which is not merely Beckett's language but language he has borrowed.


  1. The ridiculous, pointless movement to nowhere continues in "Malone Dies" and by the time you get to "The Unnameable," there's no movement at all. I never saw the stones moving from pocket-to-pocket as representing Molloy/Moran's useless movement over Ireland, with Molloy a stand-in for Ireland itself and the stones standing in for Molloy, but now (after reading this post), that's how I imagine it.

    Anyway, there are these four narrators talking about the absurdity of talking or trying to talk or moving or trying to move or looking or finding, and it's unclear which of them is the center of the story, if there is a center of the story.

    "these gaps produce an illustration of stasis" is good, an excellent way of putting it. Beckett spends a lot of time sort of lying down and squirming in these three books.

    1. I think "movement" and "motion" together are one of his strongest binary pairs (he has a number of basic ideas in common with Mervyn Peake now that I think of it: stories-through-binaries is one of them, and "illustration of stasis" is another one -- thank you for liking that phrase, I'm tickled); and the experience of watching him pare them down and toggle them and do them over again is one of the pleasures of reading the trilogy, for me; and then there's How It Is, where he goes back to them and everything in the world is either "lying down and squirming" or spasms attacking the other being, or stillness.

      But by then (I'd have to re-read to make sure) he's stopped working to elude the "centre of the story", and it's easier for a reader to say, "This book is about ..." with "about" describing what's going on and who's saying what, which is not so possible with Molloy. He straitens himself, perhaps.

    2. Yeah, How It Is, down in the mud, but the mud isn't the point, or is a given. Even the movement (or, maybe, it's just motion but no movement) in the mud--before the movement stops--is sort of beside the point. You can see that the thing is about being alone. Krapp's Last Tape, another late one, is pretty clear regarding the center of the story, the aboutness. And almost a realist work.

      Digression: I'm trying to decide if Krapp a lesser work than Molloy, or if it's just more immediately understandable. Do I buy into the idea that complexity is objectively "better"? I hope not.

      "He straitens himself" is good.

    3. The mud as mud is valuable though. He uses mud so often. And filth. Embodiment is the problem in his books, or predicament might be a better word, because "problem" hints at the possibility of an answer or a solution, and there is no solution. People are embodied, therefore people are moving through time; they can be blinded because their bodies need to see, and they can be sludged with mud because they need to rest on a surface, and they can be separated from their friends because fleshy bodies are separate, and Krapp can be made desolate because he moves through time. (This is the sort of thought that occurs to me when I try to consider that scene with the sheep in Molloy -- that sense of time pausing and the elevated clarity of the atmosphere. Does he give up those contrasts in How It Is? The mud-world interrupted for a moment by an air-world?)

      I don't know about Krapp and Molloy. It would take a strange kind of evaluation process to work out a set of scores between them and decide if one was better. I prefer Molloy. But that's not an answer.

  2. Your post has helped me appreciate a performative aspect of MOLLOY.

    There are many journeys in the novel. But at least three stand out in stark relief, unlike A and B in that vanilla expanse.

    There's a Molloy journey to mom, a Moran journey to Molloy, and a reader's journey through MOLLOY to Molloy, Moran, Louse, Beckett, him/herself, and others.

    In my reflections on MOLLOY, I keep returning to fragments of experience that Molloy and Moran have in common, experiences with gardens, forests, bikes, and voices.

    These fragments, what you call "similarities uncannily like coincidences," make it difficult for the reader to know whether this bike-experience by M is numerically different from that bike-experience by other-M, because qualitatively they're so damn similar.

    The result is that the reader becomes befuddled, uncertain and must dwell in ambiguity.

    The novel, then, is an instrument of art for producing the states and conditions that MOLLOY troubles itself with in the first place.

    A nifty little trick and quite an achievement.

    1. "Your post has ..." That's gratifying, thank you. It has that uncanny way of being a riddle with no answer: the reader dwells in that place where the answer would be, if it had one. It puts you in a pre-answer state and leaves you there. And thinking back on it, or trying to work it out, pushes you even more firmly into that state. The wiser you try to be, the more ignorant you get.