The project I propose to undertake finds itself situated within what we might call the broad domain of a reading of “micronarratives” in literature after the seeming aftermath of European modernity. It will examine the shorter fiction of two authors, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett to arrive at a certain postulation of their textual strategies which foreground the role of language in literature. The basic motivation behind such a project was to view the act of postmodern writing as dealing with dispersed realities, where the author abdicates his sacrosanct position as the figure of authority who mediates between his work and the body of readers he seeks to address. “Writing”, for the postmodernist writer is no longer a complete exercise of the free will. It consists of multiple fragmented subjectivities and a random dispersal of constituent pieces that might be thought to constitute such subjectivity and a deliberate evasion of the self in a domain of applied objectivity (with the painful awareness that this objectivity can never be brought to its logical conclusion).
The methodology to be followed would draw largely from the body of post-structuralist thought that has invaded the domain of literary studies since the last four decades, following the “linguistic turn” in Critical Theory that abandoned the (broadly speaking) liberal humanist understanding of texts. I would first like to deal with three key terms in my thesis, trying to pinpoint the ideological predilections that situate them in literary discourse:
(i) The epithet “Postmodern”: Perhaps the term “postmodern” is the one which would require the most qualification. By the term, I broadly mean the movement in the arts, its set of cultural tendencies and associated cultural movements which have come to dominate the aftermath the Second World War in Europe and finds its theoretical underpinnings in the works of theory after the demise of Structuralism as shown through the works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francoise Lyotard, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Baudrillard, Giles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and the Tel Quel group of critics. The publication of Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) may be regarded as one of the events which brought a methodological break from the clutches of an all-encompassing European modernity. (Lyotard 1984) Another of Lyotard’s essays, “Answering the question: What is Postmodernism?” (1982) has been considered by the critic Peter Barry as an appendix to Lyotard’s book. (Barry 2010) Lyotard’s famous definition of “postmodernism” can be summarized in his phrase “the incredulity towards metanarratives” of progress, essential human freedom and perfectibility. Difference, multiplicity and pluralism are to be seen as the hallmarks of the term which are pitted against “the idea of a unitary end of history and of a subject.” (ibid.)
The degree to which I accept Lyotard’s explanation is variable at discrete points. Innovation and artistic experimentation, while being essential features of the postmodernist project are not postmodernism’s alone. The quest towards novelty, as Habermas had proclaimed, was already contained within the project of modernity for post-Enlightenment Europe. A group of relatively less audible voices in the discourses of the humanities have already announced the demise of postmodernism. New coinages were introduced by Andrew Hoborek in his introduction to an issue of the journal Twentieth Century Literature titled “After Postmodernism” in 2007— Raoul Eshelman (performatism), Gilles Lipovetsky (hypermodernity), Nicolas Bourriaud (Altermodern), and Alan Kirby (Digimodernism, formerly called Pseudo-modernism). (Hoborek 2007) These developments point to the fact that theoretical indicators of the movement can be treated as historically grounded, which would expand and push the limits of its scope so as to accommodate works of an immediately preceding generation who anticipated most of its impending possibilities for development. The notion of the “dialogic” as introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin becomes useful in this context. Both Borges and Beckett’s work can be considered as being in constant dialogue with their successors, grounded within the common historical matrices of postmodernity. (M. Bakhtin 1981) The “dialogic” can also be thought to be in consonance with Eliot’s idea in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (Eliot, Tradition and Individual Talent 1917) that "the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past". All literature, as indeed is all language, is dialogic in the sense that they are ever-changing, fluid and always relational in nature. Therefore, for me, to consider Borges or Beckett’s works under the umbrella of the “postmodern” is not an aberration but a meaningful exercise.
(ii)Language Games: The term here is used broadly in the sense used by Lyotard. Stated in its most rudimentary form, Lyotard used the term to describe diverse set of linguistic utterances which are used in varied contexts. The formal conditions of the enunciation assist in “situating” the utterance in time and space. Utterances can be classified into different groups “in terms of rules specifying their properties and the uses to which they can be put – in exactly the same way as the game of chess is defined by a set of rules determining the properties of each of the pieces, in other words, the proper way to move them.” These enunciations, as Wittgenstein had observed, do not find their signification from something intrinsically inherent in them, but according to the specific conditions in which they are used and re-used. Different contexts of enunciation are objects of implicit or explicit contracts between the players involved in the “game”. Even small changes in the rules alters the structure of the game as a whole—the “game” becomes a different game. No game can take place in absence of rules, and each linguistic enunciation is a discrete “move” within the game. (Lyotard 1984) Bakhtin in “The Problem of Speech Genres” had also posited something similar—the “linguistic utterance” as the basic unit of the individual speaker is never construed within vacuum; they gain their meaning only when placed within dialogue. (M. Bakhtin 1986) And each dialogue, we must remember, is a game played between two (or more) speakers based on a set of rules implicit to the society in which these speakers belong.
How is the “being” of language brought out by “language games”? As Lyotard had stated, any “move” within the game can be made for the sheer pleasure of linguistic invention, “of turns of phrase, of words and meanings, the process behind the evolution of language on the level of parole. But undoubtedly even this pleasure depends on a feeling of success won at the expense of an adversary – at least one adversary, and a formidable one: the accepted language, or connotation.” In both of these authors, “language games” are precisely what take place to hold up a mirror to language for language in the construction of literature.
(iii)Micronarratives: Just as a metanarrative could be defined as "a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience", micronarratives are more modest, localized structure embedded within, and generally lost to the overarching presence of the metanarratives. These are products of a stance of historical pluralism that allows space of rupture and local colour. Although Lyotard did not use the term with respect to shorter forms of narratives, I find the term particularly suited to the texts I am about to examine. These texts are largely self-sufficient and are aptly legitimized by distinct (and differing) forms of language games which are valid only within the particular text(s) in which they take place.
With these preliminary qualifications then, we might begin. The project will try to examine four particular aspects of such “language games” considered of importance by the author. Although all four of these aspects are perhaps significant to both the fiction of Borges and Beckett, particular emphasis will be laid on two aspects for the fiction of Borges and two for Beckett. The two textual strategies to be followed for Borges are likely to be:
a. The foregrounding of literary language as something different from other forms of language in terms of its self-referential nature; in other words, the construction of literary infinity with due emphasis on points where thematic projections of infinity become metaphors for literary infinity.
b. The act of writing as a “game” of linguistic ‘play’, taking into account the willfully fantastic meanderings within the ideological labyrinth of language and forcing language to take on a variety of textual functions at once.
With Beckett, the textual strategies are likely to be:
c. The radical exhaustion of language through an endless proliferation of words —their duplication, modification and destruction— as denoting the unstable condition of a fiction that pursues its own limits.
d. Trangression and madness as necessary aspects to the enterprise of literature through a “double-negation” in the order of signification, challenging the integrity of the experiencing subject as well as the coherence and logical flow of the literary text. This will finally lead to textual silence and non-being on part of the author.
1. The Construction of Literary Infinity
In Michel Foucault’s “Language to Infinity” is recounted an exemplary tale from Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus, on his way home, is faced with a seemingly never-ending series of menaces which threaten him with death. Yet each time, he escapes this well affirmed certitude, the close to obligatory stance that Death presents him, through an intricate description of the ways in which he is able to avert death. And even so, the moment Odysseus begins to speak of his own guile to avert them, the dangers return, ready to push him over the line that separates this life from the next. The delicate balance that is maintained in the epic between life, death and the illusory power of language remains, for Foucault, an apt illustration of the “infinite resourcefulness of speech”. The gift of language that the gods grant the mortals help them, as it were, to infinitely defer the moment of impending death that is about to engulf them. And this is all the more evident when Odysseus faces a country bard who sings his tale to him, but one in which his death, perhaps in no less grandiose a manner, is recounted. It is as if Odysseus, through the web of language is brought before himself by the power of narration through the selfsame language; and this is a self he cannot (or would not agree to, at least for the present) recognize. Therefore, he in turn informs the country bard of his own true identity, affirming his own life that has not yet reached its end. And finally, it becomes a matter of no less irony when we, readers, discover that Odysseus’ tale was to made immortal by the songs of this very bard, for whom, the hero is already as good as dead and his deeds have become legendary. For Odysseus, the hero who remembers the tale of his own life, the bard’s tale is a worthy counterpoint wherein his impending death in the real world is averted through language and his fictional death, though yet unforeseen, seems to outlive his ‘real’ death. (Foucault, Language to Infinity 1977)
Language, when faced with death—which is also the symbol for its extinction within the human consciousness—inevitably defers death. It looks inward, and is thus self-reflexively turned towards the point where it first began—from a birth preceded by a necessary death—and was stretched through life up to this point. The process is endlessly renewed until the whole of our being tends to become trapped within an endless maze, a labyrinth of language from which there is no escape. Perhaps it is not incidental that the “essence” of language is an originary breach in the order of its signification. Any act of signification consists of one signifier pointing to an endless series of other signifiers pointing to yet another series ad infinitum. Therefore, as Derrida has pointed out, all human enunciation is essentially a ‘reduplication’ and to carry the argument one step forward, all language is auto-representational in nature in so far as it always fails to unveil meaning completely; but paradoxically, positions itself so as to assert its own ‘being’ in the interim.
1.1 A Foucauldian Genealogy of Representation
Perhaps our attempts at infinite meanderings within this arbitrary prison-house of language can be better understood if a Foucauldian genealogy of Representation can be drawn. Representation in the “Classical” Age, for Foucault, was identical to thought. To think was to represent the vast order of objects—their transformation into the order of ideas was another name for thought. The nature of representation relied on arbitrary correspondence between the abstraction of things in the “real” world and those in the order of thought. Foucault provides example of a map of a city street. The lines, designs and colours on paper cannot be seen as identical to the streets that were being represented. They are merely representations of an abstracted form of those tangible “real” streets. From the particular street, an abstraction (the first representation) of a street has being drawn in the human mind, which is again represented on paper. The redoubling nature of such representations was however, not something which Classical epistemology made much of. For example, how could one know that the idea of a street was not the street itself? How was it to be treated as an adequate representation of the “thing” that it represented? Not, for Foucault, through a separation of the street and its representations, since to do so would require thought, which, for the Classical age, was synonymous with representation. There is no escape from the paradox of this order. Therefore, the only alternative left to the thinker is situated within the order of “intuition” or “belief”. An idea must necessarily foreground its “represented” quality in order that we know that it is a representation. No amount of deduction can lead us to this inference, and we must helplessly rely on intuition and belief. Only a self-referential stance would unveil the constructed nature of the idea.
The key to the Classical episteme was then, the idea—a mental representation of something other than itself. In so far as all forms of human knowledge relied on the idea to understand reality, it was unanimously granted that ideas (and by extension, language) were only vehicles to understand causality in the natural world and conversely, it was only a higher order function possessed by human beings, as it were, to “process” reality. Therefore, language was denied a “being” of its own which would develop as part of a historical process and for the Classical episteme, language had no fundamental role in furthering human knowledge. (Foucault, The Return of Language 1989)
It was with Kant (though Foucault acknowledges that he was a historical product of a larger movement in Western philosophy) that the first decisive “turn” in occurred for understanding the nature of representations. The process at work which allowed an idea to become a representation of a real order was examined and questioned. Ideas were no longer deemed to be ‘unproblematic’ vehicles of reflection. It was seen as essential, as Kant did, to understand what constituted an idea and its power to represent and to what degree it was successful in doing so. Presenting the first doubt did not however, presuppose that Kant was trying to refute that ideas, as representations, were necessarily invalidated in their production of human knowledge. In all probability, Kant acknowledged that most branches of human knowledge still relied on representation as a mode of expression. However, Kant’s doubt sought to explore if representation could have its source in something else. (Foucault, The Place of the King 2002)
1.2 The Transcendental Subject and the Return of Language
Kant had located idea as having their origin in the human mind. The human mind, for him, was part of an epistemic entity, which he called the “transcendental subject”. It was not possible for human beings to know the order of things as they are “in and of themselves”. Schopenhauer too had defined Kant’s transcendental idealism as a “distinction between the phenomenon and the thing in itself, and a recognition that only the phenomenon is accessible to us because "we do not know either ourselves or things as they are in themselves, but merely as they appear." The order of ideas, which is supposed to represent the world to us, can only do so through the constraints of language. Language is the means by which all knowledge is historicized, which also brings our attention to the fact that language itself is a contingent historical entity. But although every form of knowledge may be traced to their respective historical origins, for Kant, the normative validity of all knowledge presupposes a form of transcendence that is although not objectively perceptible, can be deduced through intuitive reasoning.
But there occurs a decisive change by the beginning of the nineteenth century whereby language is rescued from its mere vehicular function. The paradigm shift occurs in the nature of knowledge-formation which had eclipsed language and its multivalent profusions during the Classical age. For Foucault, it was primarily the role of "discourse, which ensured the initial, spontaneous, unconsidered deployment of representation in a table. When discourse ceased to exist and to function within representation as the first means of ordering it, Classical thought ceased at the same time to be directly accessible to us." This was the threshold which distinctively separated Classicism and Modernity (although Foucault uses the terms only suggestively)—the point where language ceased to function only as representation to "provide a spontaneous grid for the knowledge of things" but "rediscovered their ancient, enigmatic density" (Foucault, The Return of Language 1989). Although this "freeing" of language can take up many major forms such as techniques of formalisation specific to philology, one might also think of the "being" of language as autonomous. Since it has been freed from its subordination to ideas, the "truth" of language becomes an articulation of its own being. It speaks independent of a human subject and forced to turn on itself infinte times over. Whereas Nietzsche had posed the genealogical question: "Who is speaking?", Mallarme tries to show this very aspect of language: "...what is speaking is, in its solitude, in its fragile vibration, in its nothingness, the word itself- not the meaning of the word, but its enigmatic and precarious being." (Foucault, Language to Infinity 1977)
1.3 The Autonomy of Language: Borges and Literary Labyrinths
It is perhaps useful to begin the discussion on Borges from the point where Foucault describes the infinity envisioned by literary language in terms of Borges’ story “The Secret Miracle”. (Borges, The Secret Miracle 1970) The story describes the life, works and death of Jaromir Hladik, author of the “unfinished” drama entitles The Enemies, or Vindication of Eternity. On the discovery that most of Hladik’s works very based upon Jewish sources and that his study on Jakob Bohme had a remarkable “Jewish” emphasis, Hladik is sentenced to death by the Gestapo and is delivered his death sentence in a few days’ time. Faced with the certitude of his death days away, Hladik asks for one more year of life from his God to complete his play. The work is a dramatic unfolding of events in the life of one Baron Romerstadt who encounters a few unknown, but secret enemies who seek to destroy him. By the end of the second act, Romerstadt has already learnt that these people are secret conspirators and is forced to kill one of them. Mention is made of one Jaroslav KUbin who had, at one time, pressed his attentions on his sweetheart Julia von Weidnau. Incoherencies increase, and by the end, Romerstadt learns from one of the “strangers” that he himself is the miserable amnesiac Jaroslav Kubin. The descriptions that begin the play (“A clock was striking seven, the vehemence of the setting sun’s rays glorified the windows, a passionate, familiar Hungarian music floated in the air”) reverberate identically through the incidents that take place (or are only imagined to take place) by the end. The first lines of the first act of the drama are again reiterated by one of the actors and Romerstadt replies in the exact words as he had done during the first act—the drama, evidently, never took place or if it did, it was validated only within the space of Romerstadt’s circular delirium and not outside it.
Hladik’s play, in fact, mimics the tale of his life and his impending death. The play, composed entirely in Hladik’s mind in hexameters in the moments before facing the firing squads, hold up a mirror not to his own life, but to the authorial articulations of it. Borges’ third-person narrator narrates the story of Hladik, the writer condemned to face the firing squad who finishes a tale moments before his death; one where the main character, Romerstadt infinitely stretches out the moments that constitute the length of the play, just as for Hladik the moments that lead to his death are stretched to a year to allow him to finish his play. The two literary constructs act like mirrors facing mirrors, where the self-referentiality of one is reflected back onto the other through a circular delirium that is Hladik’s and yet not Hladik’s alone. The autonomy of language here is projected at the level of a singular conundrum—during the year which passes as a raindrop trickles along Hladik’s cheek and the smoke of his cigarette vanishes into thin air—which allows language, the domain of endless repetition as well as guile, to stand at a distance from both of its enunciators. The last epithet Hladik finds remains an enigma even to the mind of God, the seat of omnipotence and eludes the structural limits of both tales, as Hladik is executed in the moments following the appointed time of his death.
The last epithet, of course, forms the domain of the unknowable for both the authors and their readers. It is the miniscule moment of absolute autonomy granted to language itself, which enunciates, as if from its magical vicissitudes, itself. It is not unlike another example that Foucault provides, the account of a singular night where Scheherazade tells the story of the circumstances that led her to oblige her listener Shahriyar (and readers) with a thousand stories. It is as if the stories, which were contained exactly within the space of a thousand nights, needed this one night where the language of Scheherazade’s narration, indeed all narrative language by extension, could reveal the truth of itself by self-reflexively turning back on itself through self-expression. The night is a miniature of the entire work and is a mirror in which the entire work is reflected infinitely, as it describes itself as already preceding the act of narration—it is simultaneously a part of those ancient tales of wondrous delight. This is the disconcerting presence that unsettles the entire construct of linguistic artifice—it is, to borrow Derrida’s phrase, the unreachable centre that governs “the structurality of the structure”. It is at the same time “within the structure and outside it”:
“The centre is at the centre of the totality, and yet, since the centre does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its centre elsewhere. The centre is not the centre.” (Derrida 2001)
In a retrospective sense then, the nature of the linguistic edifice is an essential conflict between en the “metaphysics of presence and absence”, between being and non-being. In both Scheherazade’s “story” of the circumstances that led to her recounting of the One Thousand and One Nights, and the “last epithet” that eludes even the mind of God is nurtured the seeds of a rebellious language.
Other stories such as the celebrated “The Library of Babel”, “The Book of Sand”, “Death and the Compass” and “The Aleph” reiterate thematic projects of infinity which could be considered as a metaphor—I would say a textual decoy—for representing linguistic infinity. A structural analysis of them would be likely to reveal Borges’ own reading of the conundrums of movement and stasis by the Eleatic School of Thinkers, most notably Parmenides and Zeno of Elea. They are notable commentaries on his part on the nature of space and time and our understanding of the universe.
2. Writing as “Game”
While the broad objective of my project is to accommodate the notion of “language games” in all the texts I am about to examine, certain stories by Borges seem to overtly project the act of writing as a game. Of these the most iconic is of course, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, which most critics have regarded as perhaps the most decisive and groundbreaking production in Borges’ literary career.
2.1 “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”
Published in 1939, it determined a large part of the trajectory Borges was to follow in his later works. In their anthology, Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Elizabeth Bellalouna et al (Bellalouna, Milne and Lablanc 2000) have identified the story as anticipating the overall movement of postmodernism in the art through an enactment of the parodic use of language. (Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote 1970)It is the tale of the ambitious author Pierre Menard, who attempts a rewriting of Cervantes’ work. The finished part of Menard’s work however—just two chapters and the fragment of a novel—incredibly reiterates Cervantes’ text word for word, without altering a single punctuation. The story radically challenges commonplace ideas regarding the power and authority invested in the figure of the authors. It asks of its readers whether all texts are endless repetitions of what has been already said before; “a raid on the inarticulate/ With shabby equipment always deteriorating” (Eliot, East Coker 1963), to use Eliot’s phrase. Was Menard an impostor? Not so, according to the narrator of the tale. Between the three hundred years that separate Cervantes and Menard is contained the polysemic nature of his work. Instead, the narrator concedes that although Cervantes’ text and that of Menard are exactly identical, the latter is “almost infinitely richer”. Menard has played a paradoxical game whereby he was motivated to use two antithetical principles:
a)He would attempt to modernize whatever struck him as too archaic in Cervantes, including dialect, description and local colour.
b) He would try to accommodate such innovations, as far as possible, within the oeuvre of Cervantes’ language,. So as to keep it unchanged
The incredible product that is born is the story that simultaneously inhabits two different times and places at once. But what is asserted through this half-sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek game of sorts is the immemorial nature of classic that is Don Quixote. Menard, without altering a single comma, has thus succeeded in transforming Cervantes’ work through a radical metamorphosis that has not altered the tale in the least.
2.2 Mirrors Facing Mirrors: “The Garden of Forking Paths”
Physical labyrinths are perhaps easier to decode, for they are endowed with the quality of “being”, i.e. presence—physical labyrinths are constructed from tangible boundaries, beyond which they do not exist. But fictional labyrinths are dubious because they are built out of authorial peevishness into a realm of incertitude. “The Garden of Forking Paths” (Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths 1970)begins with an allusion, as the critic Ethan Weed has pointed out, to Liddell Hart, “the apocryphal historian”. Hart is a historical person, “who has written various books on European wars, but apparently none of them are called Historia de la Guerra en Europa. In 1930 he published The Real War, a work on the First World War, and in 1934 the same work was republished as A History of the Real War 1914-1918. (Weed 2004)False leads pervade the story at various levels, but these are not played out by the author as a joke on the reader, but to engage him within a dialogue with the text. The other important allusion the story holds is to the Chinese labyrinth of “Hung Lu Meng”:
“The Hung Lu Meng is an enormous Chinese novel from the 18th century, and its story sounds as if it were taken from a Borges fiction. It circulated first in manuscript copies containing eighty chapters, but without an ending.” (Weed 2004)
Through a host of such allusions, Borges carries the endless play of texts referring to other texts, which in turn refer to yet other texts. The core of the labyrinth is thus pushed further and further from the reader, yet at a distance that remains titillating. Tsui-Pen’s labyrinth within the story becomes a metaphor for signification, containing figures who are doubles for each other (Tsui-Pen-Stephen Albert, the narrator and his antagonist, Captain Richard Madden). The entire story is a riddle placed, the answer to which is never revealed. The microscopic embodiment of such a riddle is of course, given in Albert’s metaphor of a riddle on a game of chess, the answer to which would be the word “chess” itself; hence it is carefully evaded. The linguistic game at hand always posits immediate answers to be pursued and worked out to their logical conclusions; but the final solution is always something other than itself. This is the game which the narrator adopts while communicating to his immediate boss, the name of the town about to be bombed. But inspite of all his attempts to communicate, the narrator is never sure whether he has been able to penetrate the final mystery, as it were, “the enigma of all enigmas”.
Borges’ story ‘On Exactitude in Science’ opens up another avenue of enquiry into the nature of represented spaces: the problem of scale. The story is a short paragraph, so it is useful to quote it in its entirety:
“…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not sofond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.” (Borges, On Exactitude in Science 1999)The Map which is constructed by the labors of the cartographers in the story is unique in the sense that it represents the “real” space of the Empire through a point-to-point exactitude. As a problem for geography, when the scale of a cartographic representation is fixed, the represented space of the map grows independent of the other variables involved in the analysis; But Borges magnifies the scale to make the representation exactly like the object it represents. This begins the problem the Map poses for the human perception and understanding: space is not simply space when represented through a point-to-point exactitude; it falls within the domain of simulated spaces.
Jean Baudrillard, in his treatise, Simulacra and Simulation, has pointed out that in or times, meaning has solely been exiled to a system of signs, symbols and icons. Human experience is a simulation of a supposed “reality”. Yet it is never possible to uncover that “reality” beneath the domain of the simulacra, Baudrillard writes: “...The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true” (Baudrillard 1998)
Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the "precession of simulacra". In the story, the tattered ruins of the Map points to an example of simulacra. Divorced from the order of its origin, the real geography of the Empire, its claim to reality is of the same order as all other signs within its universe (“Animals” and “Beggars” who inhabit the landscape). Therefore, the need for any further representation through the “Relics of Geography” has already become unnecessary and irrelevant. Consequently, the map that is reproduced through point to point exactitude is now indistinguishable from the landscape—a terrain of hyperreality has pervaded the landscape (or the Map)—the simulacrum has become the “real”.
3. The Radical Exhaustion of Language
In his essay on “The Literature of Exhaustion”, John Barth assumes an elegiac, or at best a placatory stance to contemporary literature when he laments the increasing number of “turn-of-the-century” novels being produced after the manner of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy or Dickens, writing “only in mid-twentieth century language” about contemporary incidents and characters. Taking up a remark attributed to Saul Bellow that to be technically up to date was the foremost task of the writer; Barth tries to show that narrative history has already reached a point where any turning back might yield nothing but a heap of exhausted possibilities. He applauds the fiction of writers such as Nabokov, Borges and Beckett as the ablest for his generation to have stepped in the shoes of Kafka and Joyce. (Barth 1984) In my thesis, I would like to argue that Barth’s position evokes a paradox central to most of twentieth century’s literary theorizing—at one point, he applauds the quest for radical innovation in authors such as Beckett or Borges, but at other points, celebrates the figure of the author as the sole connoisseur of literary value. Beckett’s innovations, in my view, broadly belong to the “other” side of all debates about literary construction. Perhaps I will be required to elucidate my point further.
3.1 Meaning in Absentia
“The pure work implies the disappearance of the poet as speaker, yielding his initiative to words, which are mobilised by the shock of their difference; they light up with reciprocal reflections like a virtual stream of fireworks over jewels, replacing the perceptible breath of the former lyric impulse, and replacing the poet’s passionate personal directing of the sentence” (Mallarme, Poetry in Crisis 2004), writes Mallarme in Crisis in Poetry (1896). The function of poetic language, he contends is not representational, still less is it expressive, reflecting the ideas of its author. The writer is now concerned with mobilizing the “shock of [a word’s] difference,” which can only mean its difference from itself and, thus, its capacity to signify beyond a writer’s communicative intention. “‘I say flower,' Mallarmé writes, 'and outside the oblivion to which my voice relegates any shape, insofar as it is something other than the calyx, there arises musically, as the very idea and delicate, the one absent from every bouquet” (Mallarme, Selected Poetry and Prose 1982) The word “flower” corresponds to flowers in the real world, but only imperfectly so, because by “flower” is signified the idea of the flower and not a flower. Words bear no, or at best only an arbitrary relation to the “thing” they signify. Everyday use of language bypasses this independence of the word, but literary language remains fascinated by the gap that remains between the word and the thing. The word bears meaning because it is something “other”, a negation of the “thing”. But at the heart of literary language is a further recession because it deals with the gap between these two orders of signification, both of the word and the thing. Literary language is thus based on a double-negation, floating within the interim space of two different orders of signification.
For Blanchot in The Infinite Conversation, writing holds this relationship between the self and the word in terms of a conversation. Speech, throughout its own course, radically, repetitively, eternally reinvents itself through its relationship to the infinity of meaning. “Meaning” however, in the “space of literature” is signified only in absentia. "The prodigious absent, absent from me and from everything, absent also for me" that Thomas the Obscure speaks of is not a being or an authority but the continuous shift of myself outside myself, by means of which there comes, although always pending, the "pure feeling of his existence." (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation 1993)
If every experience of literary composition can be regarded as a foregrounding of meaning in absentia, the selection of signifiers in chains of literary signification might well as be random. Yet what is absent is also present via negativa. The pinning down of meaning to stable signifiers limits the ‘play’ of literary discourse. The absence of meaning can be regarded as a supplement in Derridean terms which would come allegedly secondary to; to what is more "original” and “natural”. But the act of supplementarity itself is an indefinite process because the supplement “is a plenitude replenishing another plentitude”, within and without the whole that it supplements. The scope of the “whole” is infinity in the realm of meaning, but the very presence of the supplement points to a lack within the whole. We are reminded of that familiar sloka from the Isha Upanishad which runs,
“That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added, Infinite remains Infinite”
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added, Infinite remains Infinite”
3.2 Orderly Disorder or Regulated Chaos: “Lessness”(1969) and “Ping”(1966)
“Lessness” was published in 1969 and is a story which is one of its kind, that takes the exercise of linguistic selection as one based on randomness or pure chance. Random permutations of sixty sentences make up the structure of the story, with its two halves being only two of the 8.3 x 1081 possible orderings of these sentences. (Drew and Haahr 2002)The fact that the published text of the story is only a small subset of the infinitesimal range of possibilities point to the gigantic store of articulations that remains unwritten within the course of the story. (Beckett, Lessness 1995)
As the text describes a small grey body standing upright among ruins under the grey sky, memories of a distant past are constantly accepted, denied or effaced. The series of sentences are highly resonant in reverberations of rhythm, alliteration and assonance, but perhaps such a rhythm is unavoidable, since Beckett begins with a carefully selected range of original sentences from the very beginning. A section from the story can perhaps reveal the extent of its regulated chaos:
“Figment light never was but grey air timeless no sound. Blank planes touch close sheer white all gone from mind. Little body ash grey locked rigid heart beating face to endlessness. On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud. Four square true refuge long last four walls over backwards no sound.
Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand. Little body same grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one all sides endlessness.”
Edith Fournier first demonstrated that the 60 sentences in “Lessness” could be grouped according to 6 thematic categories, which Philip H. Solomon has designated as paradigms. These are (a)décor (b)body (c)ruins (d)refuge forgotten (e)time past and (f)time future. (Solomon)The architecture of the text presupposes the presence of temporality within the space of the story, which also points to the unchanging nature of time where the protagonist remains trapped within a limbo.
The markedly aural pattern of arrangement points to the chance arrangement of sentences. But meaning is produced and reproduced through the gap between the ordering of the present arrangement and the randomness of other (absent) possibilities which are not actualized in the story. Similar formations abound in “Ping” (1966) (“Bing” in French) (Beckett, Ping 1995) that was originally supposed to be a piece of monologue within “The Lost Ones”. As one of Beckett’s “closed-space tales”, “Ping” is a cryptic tale following the pattern of random arrangement in “Lessness”, but one in which such randomness is not carried out to the point of mathematical precision. Maria Helena Kopschitz (Kopschitz 1987)presents a radical analysis of the text where she breaks up the story into each of its constituent sentences (70) and analyses them through patterns of recurrent repetition. The “plot”, as Kopschitz realizes, following Ralph Freedman, is “an instance of awareness”, bearing “traces of symbolism through its thematic use of colour” The source of the greatest enigma is the question of how one is to read the titular word “Ping”, repeated 33 times throughout the story without no definite semantic association to anything other than itself, forming the core of the story’s refusal to make itself amenable to meaning. Beckett himself once explained “Ping” as “a recurrent twang (pizzicato) punctuating icecold monotone”. Perhaps the earliest attention to the problem of reading the story was provided by David Lodge in his essay “Some Ping Understood”. (Lodge 1979) But Lodge’s approach was at best a struggle to situate the story in terms of conventional lines of reading the plot in terms of realistic framework. He understands the story as presenting the “the struggles of an expiring consciousness to find some meaning in a situation which offers no purchase to the mind or to sensation”, but as Gontarski points out, the questions evaded by Lodge are properly to be regarded as “narratological ones”:
“We have then, not just the psychologically complex but narratologically transparent image of a self imagining self imagining itself, often suspecting that it is being imagined itself”. (Gontarski 1995)
In these late stories in Beckett’s career, the narrator remains in most cases unnamed and is placed in the interim space that separates conception and writing. “The psyche weaves this or that thought out of itself; for the mind is invention; under the compulsion of necessity”. “Ping” and “Lessness” are but the more extreme examples of the “elegantly formalized bricolage” that Beckett had used in his Molloy trilogy.
4. Transgression and Madness
It is perhaps self-evident that two of the terms mentioned above will begin from a Foucauldian understanding of the two concepts. Yet, we must also remember that Foucault studied these concepts separately—“A Preface to Transgression” (Foucault, A Preface to Transgression 1977)formed part of Foucault’s studies on authors considered icons of transgression for the times, namely Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche, and Georges Bataille. A study of transgression effectively reveals the origins of Foucault’s stance as an anti-humanist and also the theoretical position which has helped in shaping much of the broader discourse of post-structuralist thought. In 1961, Foucault’s book A History of Madness tried to understand the categorization, segregation and (necessary) repression of madness in Europe of the “Classical” Age (the Age of Reason) not just on the exterior but more at the level of discursive practices. Yet the experiences of transgression or madness as historically constituted were studied by Foucault in terms of literature. Perhaps this is the link which would help us in bringing them together.
Since the humanism that pervaded much of Western critical thought in the aftermath of the Enlightenment was understood by Foucault as a repression to the “will to power” that was characterized through transgression, Foucault turned to the prose of Marquis de Sade, which could step outside the limits of propriety to expose most of the social, moral and civil codes that characterized a necessarily ‘bourgeois’ state after the French Revolution. For Foucault, Sade’s “philosophy of the bedroom” was taken up in the 19th and 20th century as a philosophy of transgression that posited sexuality as its primary force. In Nietzsche, Foucault found the twofold division between the Apollonian and the Dionysian ethos of creation. The Apollonian fixes the limit of our self and culture through the “illusion of form” while the Dionysian represents the dynamic and chaotic realm of flux and motion that the Apollonian seeks to control. The “crossing over” from one ethos to the other is best demonstrated in the history of Western art. It is the “field”(champs), to borrow, Pierre Bourdieu’s phrase, which has seen the constant struggle between these two different modes. Foucault designates sexuality as the ultimate metaphor for the transgression of the Apollonian realm into the Dionysian symbolized through the literature of Sade, Nietzsche and Bataille, who explore the limits of madness beyond the “dialectic of good and evil” in form of a spiral where each antithetical form brings into play its “other”. (Foucault, A Preface to Transgression 1977)
4.1 The Thought of the “Outside”
In an interview following the publication of The History of Madness in 1961, Foucault had mentioned Maurice Blanchot as the “what motivated and guided me [him] as a certain form of the presence of madness in literature”. (Foucault, Dits et Écrits 1954–1988 1994) Blanchot’s readings of Sade, Bataille, Holderlin and Artaud had influenced not just Foucault, but also Deleuze and other poststructuralists to a possible relation between speech and silence, as well as literature and death. In The Book to Come, Blanchot writes “…what is first is not the plenitude of being, it is the crack and the fissure, the erosion and the tear, intermittence and the gnawing privation”, (Blanchot, The Book to Come 2003) referring to the rarified space in literature that reveals itself only through the gradual withdrawal of the subject into a realm of absence an non-being. When the author releases himself to the interminable in the order of language, he has entered the domain not of integration, but that of a dispersal of his subjectivity. This, Peter Pal Pelbert writes quoting Blanchot, “is the work as an experience which ruins all experiences and places itself underneath the work, “a region[ … ] where nothing is made of being, and in which nothing is accomplished. It is the depth of being’s inertia (désoeuvrement).” (Pelbart 2000)
For Deleuze, there is an “outside” in all of us, the subjective realm of infinite possibilities. “As long as the outside is folded, the inside is coextensive with it”, he writes. But once the passage to the outside is opened, we are at the risk of opening up the subjective field to self-disavowal, madness and death. In The Logic of Sense, he compares the works of Lewis Carrol to those of the schizophrenic playwright Antonin Artaud, to illustrate the imperious desire that invades every thinker to tear apart the “flat” surface of sense into a form of “schizophrenic depth” through the articulation of words into a multiplicity of “bodies-without-organs” (BoW), a term derived from Artaud’s radio-play, To Have Done Away with the Judgement of God. Schizophrenia becomes a cultural metaphor for thought, which makes Deleuze ask whether it is at all possible to think without the experience of liminality and madness. (Deleuze 2004)
4,2 The Order of Silence(s): Texts for Nothing
If “Ping” and “Lessness” had demonstrated forms of regulated chaos in Beckett, Texts for Nothing (1-13) (Beckett, Texts for Nothing (1-13) 1995) achieves something perhaps not seen earlier. Written in conventional arrangement of grammar and syntax, these texts reveal the relationship between creativity as it develops over a span of time and that of the disintegration of an artist’s subjectivity. Many of the texts are conceivable in forms of dialogue. Each of the texts dwell on small vignettes that combine description and are connected through the affirmative and negative interjections, “yes” and “no”. The progressive use of “yes” and “no” leads to the negation of what has just been affirmed before. This dual position is in consonance with the implication within the texts that there remains no meaning of meaning:
“‘No, something better must be found, a better reason, for this to stop, another word, a better idea, to put in the negative, a new no, to cancel all the others, all the old noes that buried me down here . . .’” (Text 11) (Beckett, Texts for Nothing (1-13) 1995)
Intertextuality abounds throughout the space of the Texts ranging from the wryly humourous literary joke, the cliché (‘cock and bullshit’) or through an elegant, sardonic synthesis that combines music hall and vaudeville traditions. What is woven again, into the fabric of the texts is the logic that perhaps they are not meant to be fully understood. Hannelore Fahrenbach and John Fletcher have maintained that these texts “girate anxiously towards a meaning which can never be reached and constitute perhaps the only possible epic a contemporary poet could write, in that their chief subject of concern is with the difficulty of literary creation in a world of cosmic absurdity. In their acute contradictions, ranging from an oxymoron like ‘a voice of silence’ (121) to whole sentences cancelling affirmations previously confidently made, they repeatedly suggest that life itself has no meaning, that chaos (like cruelty in the world of the Marquis de Sade) is not the aberrant exception, but the rule.” (Fahrenbach and Fletcher 1976) Brian Finney refers to Beckett’s letter to a friend in 1937 where he asks why that terrible arbitrary materiality of the word's surface should not be permitted to dissolve...?" (Finney) In these texts, Beckett almost succeeds in passing over the semantic order of words.
What the texts finally succeed to show is the gradual disintegration of the artistic consciousness over time from a rational "counterpoint to an “insane “one. The process takes a decisive turn when the poet refuses to acknowledge him as “the poet” but as X. His recession into “non-being” as Blanchot had shown, leads him to question everything else around—the notion of all essence—him. By Text 10, the protagonist has already started to “give up”:
“Give up, but it’s all given up, it’s nothing new, I’m nothing new” (Text 10)
Text 12 shows the complete estrangement of the self from the world and also from himself. While there are still faint traces of being in the past, “’believing in me, believing it’s me . . . with a voice . . . the power to move now and then’ but soon such a hope is dissolved in the nearness to the end he desires:
“Nothing matters any more because the end, which is all I yearn for, is near: what a blessing it’s all down the drain, nothing ever as much as begun”
By Text 13, complete disintegration has been achieved and “being” has been completely effaced. Although Fahrenbach and Fletcher’s reading locates this effacing in the “universal problem of the contemporary alienated poet”, this present thesis would like to interpret it as symptomatic of the artist’s madness and non-being that finally culminates into ineffable silence.
Thus with a broadly poststructuralist methodology, this thesis hopes to show the shorter fiction of Borges and Beckett could achieve at least a prefigurement of postmodern aesthetics by highlighting instability and displacement within the order of language within the ambit of literary production.
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