Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beckett the Prophet

In 1946, Samuel Beckett began work on his novel, Malloy, the first in a trilogy that was to include Malone Dies, and the Unnamable. All three were ground-breaking works that redefined the novel. Interpretations of the works fill volumes. One interpretation is that the works represent an extended critique of a Cartesian rationalism that is crippled because it can only express itself in language, and language, as Beckett is quick to remind us, is limited in its ability to capture define reality, let alone express it.

But there is one passage in Malloy that gives us an insight into another side of Beckett that is never mentioned: that of prophet. In an age of Patriot Acts, surveillance camera on every corner, Military Commissions, legalized torture, drone attacks on civilians and the targeting of American citizens for assassination, see if this passage, written in 1946, doesn’t sound frighteningly familiar:

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. It may begin again in the early afternoon, after the banquet, the celebrations, the congratulations, the orations, but it’s nothing compared to the morning, mere fun. Coming up to four or five of course there is the night-shift, the watchmen beginning to bestir themselves. But already the day is over, the shadows lengthen, the walls multiply, you hug the walls, bowed down like a good old boy, oozing with obsequiousness, having nothing to hide, hiding from mere terror, looking neither right nor left, hiding but not provocatively, ready to come out, to smile, to listen, to crawl, nauseating but not pestilent, less rat than toad. Then the true night, perilous too but sweet to him who knows it, who can open to it like the flower to the sun, who himself is night, day and night. No there is not much to be said for the night either, but compared to the day there is much to be said for it, and notably compared to the morning there is everything to be said for it. For the night purge is in the hands of technicians, for the most part. They do nothing else, the bulk of the population have no part in it, preferring their warm beds, all things considered. Day is the time for lynching, for sleep is sacred, and especially the morning between breakfast and lunch.

Does it remind you of anything?