November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
Just finished: Molloy, by Samuel Beckett.
Reading next: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.
Molloy felt like the perfect book for one of the most disturbing, confusing months in recent American history. After a while, it began to sink in that part of Beckett’s point was that it’s always one of the most disturbing, confusing months in recent human history. We’re messed up.
Later I will write about the book’s insanity, which reminds me so much of Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. For now I want to focus on its sanity, its stunning moments of clarity.
Molloy is a drifter. A vagrant. A bum, okay? And he’s maybe dead, or maybe it’s just that everyone treats him like he’s dead. He has some trouble with the police.
Molloy: And now enough of this boulevard, it must have been a boulevard, of all these righteous ones, these guardians of the peace, all these feet and hands, stamping, clutching, clenched in vain, these bawling mouths that never bawl out of season, this sky beginning to drip, enough of being abroad, trapped, visible. Someone was poking the dog, with a malacca…. His death must have hurt him less than my fall me. And he at least was dead.
Moran, on the other hand, is an “agent” of a shadowy organization, a detective or some such figure. He is an authoritarian, a megalomaniac. He is also possibly Molloy, or contains Molloy within himself. The word violence recurs, over and over, in his report.
Moran: When I can give pleasure, without doing violence to my principles, I do so gladly.
Plot and narration — the fiction and the metafiction — are constantly mingled in Molloy, in both Molloy’s monologue and the report of Jacques Moran. It’s a story that calls attention to the fact that it is being created; a story of creation and creation’s immediate, inevitable decay. “Saying is inventing,” Molloy says.
Molloy: And truly it little matters what I say, this, this or that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson…
Moran: It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.
Some lessons are recited much more often, and much more loudly, than others. We get lessons on the trustworthiness of authority figures like police officers, teachers, and football coaches from a very early age. We hear less about economic inequality, or excessive use of force by American public servants on the citizenry to which they are ostensibly accountable.
Molloy: Can it be we are not free? It might be worth looking into.
Moran: The servant wishes to rest? Let her retire to her room. In the kitchen all must be of wood, white and rigid. I should mention that Martha had insisted, before entering my service, that I permit her to keep her rocking-chair in the kitchen. I had refused, indignantly. Then, seeing she was inflexible, I had yielded. I was too kind-hearted.
It is almost as though we have forgotten that people who are inconvenient remain people. It is almost as though we have allowed (or even encouraged) institutions to see themselves as the real people, now, the ones to be protected against illnesses and abuses such as dissent, protest, scandal, free access to information, outsiders.
Molloy: Morning is the time to hide. They wake up, hale and hearty, their tongues hanging out for order, beauty, and justice, baying for their due. Yes, from eight or nine till noon is the dangerous time. But towards noon things quiet down, the most implacable are sated, they go home, it might have been better but they’ve done a good job, there have been a few survivors but they’ll give no more trouble, each man counts his rats.
Moran: If there is one question I dread, to which I have never been able to invent a satisfactory reply, it is the question what am I doing. And on someone else’s land to make things worse! And at night! And in weather not fit for a dog!
But there’s astonishing beauty, too, and astonishing humor, and a grasp of what we are capable of.
Molloy: And that night there was no question of moon, nor any other light, but it was a night of listening, a night given to the faint soughing and sighing stirring at night in little pleasure gardens, the shy sabbath of leaves and petals in the air that eddies there as it does not in other places, where there is less constraint, and as it does not during the day, when there is more vigilance, and then something else that is not clear, being neither the air nor what it moves, perhaps the far unchanging noise the earth makes and which other noises cover, but not for long. For they do not account for that noise you hear when you really listen, when all seems hushed. And there was another noise, that of my life become the life of this garden as it rode the earth of deeps and wildernesses. Yes, there were times when I forgot not only who I was, but that I was, forgot to be. Then I was no longer that sealed jar to which I owed my being so well preserved, but a wall gave way and I filled with roots and tame stems…
I wish for all of us such a moment. This is a contribution to the People’s Library.
To him who has nothing it is forbidden not to relish filth.