Sunday, August 11, 2013

think of another, because mamma is no longer here

Molloy's mother is absent and unattainable although she isn't: he tells us about their time together, he remembers himself kissing her and naming her Mag, so she's there for us but not for the character, who is not with her and must go to her -- we don't have to of course, as I've said, we've already got her -- we've reached her in the way that readers of books reach the characters, that is, we read about them; and we're as close to her as we are to him.

The author degrades both sides of parenthood, Moran the father as well as Mag the mother, the father from the inside point of view, the mother from the outside, "And I called her Mag because for me, without knowing why, the letter g abolished the syllable Ma and as it were spat on it, better than any other syllable would have done," a name that removes her by one letter from a reasonable and harmless utterance, Meg, or even from the name of Samuel Beckett's own mother, May. A g is so close to a y when you look at it. And her own name is in his, she was May Barclay before she married, he was Samuel Barclay Beckett.

So the character's "Mag" is only slightly wrong, or in other words painfully teasingly wrong, and perhaps excruciating. She is so close to being right. I remember now that Moran is one letter away from Moron. May died in 1950, Molloy was published in 1951, ”I am what her savage loving has made me” (in a letter, October 1937), he goes travelling through a manuscript, giving the names Turd and Balls to the fictional representation of his birthplace Ireland, his mother's burial place, her remains reposed in some exact spot; Doris in The Silent Sea by Catherine Martin goes through her salt brush on a cart and dies because her mother is dead, abolishing the gift of life her mother gave her, destroying with her absence the garden where they lived together -- Doris and her fatal crisis of accurate self-foreshadowment, the garden never visited again after her death, the book ending quickly -- "If you had your choice, would you not sooner be back with your mother?" she hints to her friend Victor, and, "‘I would never have left my mother, never—never," she says when she learns that he has remained in Australia while his mother travels overseas.

‘How strange it would be,’ continued Doris, ‘if one of us two died like that little --’

‘Oh, don't, Doris -- don't speak or think of anything so dreadful!’ said Victor, in an imploring voice.

She was silent for a little time, and then said softly: 'But, Victor, you must think of it one day. Even if we lived here a hundred years, what a tiny speck of time it is compared to the thousands and thousands that have come and gone. Everything and everyone goes away after a little time. That is why I try so often to think what the other world can be like.’

‘But, my own Doris, is not this world enough for you just now? Why think of any other?’

‘I must think of another, because mamma is no longer here,’ she answered, fixing her eyes, wide opened, on his face.

Later she engages in that strange almost-passive wandering in the cart in the brush, the plot guiding her there and herself trailing along with it, not resisting, having asked it to take her there with all these suggestions, Martin's books are much about suggestions, with this result: that the endings puzzle me sometimes because she appears to have aimed for a point, but what is that point? The weight of cumulative hinting events seems too heavy for the small light piece of news with which the narrative finally terminates. There is a twist but it is not dramatic enough to justify everything; it drifts onto the page and the book ends on a descending muffled note or dud fade.

And I come away from her books with the idea that she herself does not see her stories clearly enough to describe them and guide them or that she feels shy when they seem to be confronting her with their concrete existences, and so she withdraws from their society, or goes through them dazed, with vague understated ideas, behaving in some respects like Doris, and believing that if she drops enough hints then she will arrive finally at her destination by nearly unconscious default; that the universe will have pity and take her there, a craftless mystery, I say to myself, but Beckett's mystery is crafted, what are the clues, I say to myself: how did I know, how do I think I detect the author's plans through the page?

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