Sunday, July 21, 2013

without hedges or ditches or any kind of edge

Samuel Beckett has ambient country cows and so I see that they are safe from no human being, these poor concepts known as cows, "It was on a road remarkably bare," says Molloy, "I mean without hedges or ditches or any kind of edge, in the country, for cows were chewing in enormous fields, lying and standing, in the evening silence." Always there like props or trees, the interior foreigner of British literature, present, reliable, and inhuman, with their unreadable minds and their unknowable possibly violent, vicious, or conniving characters, weirdly four-legged, and so steady in the background that they are like Indian servants when an old story is set in the Raj, though destined eventually for stew, chops, shoes, or fertiliser, an undertone not often mentioned.

The qualities of Beckett's cows are so roundly and carelessly enumerated (and in the present or else eternal with no past or future state for the cows except perpetual exercise of the identical activities) that they are like a summary of other writers' cows, of cows that have belonged to scenes forever, and the reader I believe is not close to the cows because they are not particularised cows, they are not detailed, they are tapped on like dabs of paint that represent tree leaves, roughly in the correct position as taught by other teachers and not offensive to any mild or general critic.

So that the promise of contentment in these cows seems somewhat false and distant; they are a hallucination of peacefulness that the reader is reminded that they cannot touch, though they see it represented.

The cows have offered me a segue from the last post into the subject of Molloy, which is a book that Kevin Neilson at Interpolations has asked me to discuss or talk about, and yet states of extreme separation, I notice, are present throughout Molloy, and nonsegue could be in fact the essence of the book or a significant part of the essence anyway, not the essence I think but something at least, and maybe a clue or more than idle thought: the two narrators themselves never meeting, the polarisation between silence and speech being a primary source of action or torment, the separation too of locations (Molloy imprisoned in a room or extremely outdoors, Moran at home or away from home); and then there are the clumsy physical acts that perpetually will undo or ruin a possibly-spiritual state of perfection or unity as if one part of life is by default at war against the other, like sin and not-sin, humanity living in a state of hopeful damnation.

Why else is it sad and ridiculous, the hat on the lace attached to the buttonhole, if there is not an ethereal position of flawlessness that it might otherwise have inhabited?


  1. Hi. Like, you, I'm drawn to the cows. That, and segues. But first the cows. I detect a resonance with Hegel, his famous quip about the night in which all cows are black. Hard to distinguish one black cow from another under the cover of darkness. Tough to read the lay of the land when there are no prominent landmarks, no ridges, no ditches, no edges. Whether this or that person is A or B is tough to ascertain when the mind has difficulty making connections with the world. That is, making a segue from a mental representation to an objective fact. No wonder Molloy and Moran are beset by extreme isolation. I plan to re-read (this will no be my third time in less than a month or so) MOLLOY and pay particular attention to pastoral settings -- i.e., cows and sheeps and farmers -- and intimations of transcendence. You know, hearing the silence of which the universe is made, etc. What a damn fine book! I'm glad your push and shove prompted me to read it.

  2. That's true about it being tough to read the lay of the land with "no ditches, no edges." The place-names are soft around the edges too. "Turdy" and "Bally" are both obscene in the same nutty schoolkiddish way (which detaches them from the idea (and this is the sort of idea that a different kind of fiction book would want to create) that they're the actual names of actual areas. "That's insane," I think is going to be the automatic reaction of most readers, "you can't seriously have people naming their homes after turds -- it's made-up -- it's a joke --"), and they both have the same rhythmic shape -- turd-y, ball-y -- as if they're secretly both trying to be mistaken for the same place. They're not firm names. They don't plant themselves and settle. Now I can suddenly imagine someone reviewing it like a fantasy novel. "The author creates a strange and mystical land where anything can happen!" Which is not untrue.

    I wanted to put the sheep in this post but they wouldn't fit. I'll get to them later.

  3. Funny thing about Turdy and Bally. They may not plant and settle themselves in the mind. But they do nicely reinforce some of Beckett's preoccupations with bowel movements and testicles. Obscenities are good that way. I'm reminded of that lengthy passage wherein Molloy laments his pair of fellas pathetically twisting and twining at uneven heights.

  4. I think they're all sub-examples of an idea that expands and finds new avenues for itself throughout the book -- the idea that existence is a joke because existence depends on bodies and bodies are jokes, bodies emit turds and grow uneven testicles, bodies are clumsy and asymmetrical, they leave you open to misinterpretation and persecution (example: the policeman seeing Molloy on his bicycle), they are vehicles of chaos and mess.

    I wouldn't mind seeing someone write a comparison between Beckett's tone when he mentions this kind of body-obscenity and the tone of Patrick White when he does the same thing, which he does, regularly: I don't think I've read a book of his that didn't have anuses and farts in it somewhere. But his schoolboy-tone tends be harder and fiercer, as if he thinks he's presenting you with something you're ashamed to read about, and he's proud of himself. His turds are moral judgments. Beckett's aren't.