This study is about the central place of the emotional world in Beckett's writing. Stating that Beckett is ‘primarily about love’, it makes a re-assessment of his influence and immense popularity. The book examines numerous Beckettian texts, arguing that they embody a struggle to remain in contact with a primal sense of internal goodness, one founded on early experience with the mother. Writing itself becomes an internal dialogue, in which the reader is engaged, between a ‘narrative-self’ and a mother.
about the sweet?’ (71, italics
mine). The non-recognition of the world/mother generates invisibility, the narrator sees himself as a pariah, begging for contact on the
margins of the world. He moves from asking for an affirmation of his
identity (i.e. his correct location, the time), to eventually begging for a
‘light’, feeling non-recognition tear at his sense of existence. He
retrieves a sense of being by connecting to the maternal presence
created by the boy’s feeding him the sweet in the earlier, primal,
nurturing/recognizing moment. Failure in early nursing
T HE SIXTH SENSE , an American film of 1999 from an
Indian director, M. Night Shyamalan, with an all-American star (Bruce
Willis), seems a very long way from British cinema of the 1950s. 1 But the boy in this film
(Haley Joel Osment) seems almost a revenant from the British post-war
era, with his lack of teenage quality, his innocence of youth culture
and, more importantly, his anguished concern for
This scene is central to the following study. The internal world of
the infant is its first story – at the beginning of life, this world is a preverbal, archaic, unconscious. It is the mother’s role, as a primary auditor,
to recognize, to hear, to make sense of this world. This relationship is
taken into the child, its stories/world flourish as it develops. To feel
secure in the world, with a vibrancy and love of life, requires a sense of
a loving, primary listener. These early moments of contact are primal
fictions, primal truths, moments of primary
reader will gain an appreciation of what I
believe to be the fundamental emotional force that organizes his work –
a need for contact with a primary, loving other. I will suggest that
deeply embedded in his fiction and dramatic work is an enduring psychological struggle to engage the primal mother, in order to maintain a
complete, enduring sense of selfhood. Within his work, this struggle
and its consequences reflect universal experiences at the edge of the
earliest moments of human life, experiences that have at their core the
integrative qualities of maternal love
. They relax and separate.
Estragon: You gave me a fright.
Vladimir: I thought it was he.
Estragon: Pah! The wind in the reeds.
Vladimir: I could have sworn I heard shouts […] at his horse. (19)10
A sense of disorganized terror accompanies their primal abandonment, now experienced as hostile and sadistic. The mother’s voice, a
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A strange situation
wind in the reeds, is unpredictable and ambiguous, moving along a
spectrum from loving concern to sadistic hostility.
The boy who arrives at the
-mortem situation’, seemingly less tortured,
but no less isolated and despairing than that of Play or The Unnamable.
His refusal to accept a ‘good prayer’ by a ‘godly chandler’ (78), which
might shorten this ambivalent state, highlights his loneliness. The
chandlers’ importance in triggering this whole sequence is clear:
Murphy devises a counterpart to their badness, reflecting the infant’s
primalsense of the world-as-mother split into two halves, the good and
the bad. Now so filled with hate he cannot engage either, his ultimate
journey to Paradise will be difficult, the hill
devastation of this
hope. Thus, Arsene speaks of the Fall, that ‘terrible day’ (42) that begins
with a sense of calm, primal merger with the world: ‘I was in the sun,
and the wall was in the sun. I was the sun, need I add, and the wall, and
the step, and the yard, and the time of year, and the time of day, to
mention only these’ (42). Basking in the glow of the background Knott/
mother, Arsene experiences a oneness with the external world, as a
timeless lack of boundaries pervades his experience. This approximates
a primary monadic bliss, beginning in utero, a vital part of
it in their own image.
Bruce King has argued that the ‘commonwealth writer in
exile’ has, in a sense, stolen a march on his postmodern metropolitan contemporaries in assimilating and creating literary
styles to represent the fissures of a ‘translated’, alienated
existence. He says of these writers:
They are deconstructionists, not out of the logic that led
others from structuralism to post-structuralism, but from
the experience of divided, uprooted, unassimilated lives;
but they are also reconstructionists in that for those
genuinely threatened by chaos the
language and art is, as we have seen, already part of Romanticism.
Schlegel’s conception of irony puts in question the assumption that texts must
inherently be about truth in a limited, propositional sense. Look, for example,
at the essay ‘On Incomprehensibility’, where Schlegel at one point plays with
the strategy of claiming that what he is saying is not ironic, a claim which it
seems impossible to make in the context of a text about irony, because the very
making of the claim ironically undermines it.
The core problem for the interpreter of Nietzsche is that