That the impossible should be asked of me, good, what else could be asked of me? But the absurd! Of me whom they have reduced to reason.
The above quote is from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable. I have separated some of the following videos out from a prior post in order to associate the work with varying essays, reviews, and archives. More snippets with links for, my purposes and, your potential reading leisure.
Not I represents symbolic death and/or the continuation of the life cycle (death/rebirth). This play has but one speaker: a mouth only. Beckett’s use of “character” in this manner provides us with a window into the theoretical gap that is fundamental to postmodern thought. This “gap” represents that absurdity of language: simultaneously, language provides us with an excess of meaning while also providing a lack of meaning because language is always already overdetermined. Language is slippery; we explain concepts through the use of other concepts, via the chain of signifiers; thus, we can never “get to” the truth — we are alienated from (or lack) absolute truth. This lack or “decentering” is born from the failure of language to convey meaning and, by extension, a tearing of the existential, foundational assurance caused by the destruction of metaphysics that preoccupies postmodern thought. Not I, it could be argued, represents the emptiness that results when one attempts to confront one’s identity, which is describable only in words, and finds it indescribable. As Kristeva states: “This [narcissistic] emptiness, which is apparently the primer of symbolic function, is precisely encompassed in linguistics by the bar separating signifier from signified and by the ‘arbitrariness’ of the sign, or in psychoanalysis by the ‘gaping’ of the mirror” (257).
From Beckettian Drama as Protest: A Postmodern Examination of the “Delogocentering” of Language by Jennifer Martin.
Foucault frames his essay “What is an Author?” with a quotation from Beckett: “‘What does it matter who is speaking,’ someone said, ‘what does it matter who is speaking'” (Harari 141-60); and Beckett figures prominently in the seminal post-structuralist Anti-Oedipus by Deleuze and Guattari, to whom Foucault acknowledges an extensive debt in a note to Discipline and Punish. Foucault’s essay was the first to discuss the question of the “non-empirical author,” positing the author as a “way of being within the discourse” (Eco 46); Beckett’s reflexive thematization of these issues is scrupulous to the point of obsession. Foucault’s quotation of Beckett refers us to a further theoretical issue, one that is described succinctly by Jacques Derrida: “Metaphor is less in the philosophical text [. . .] than the philosophical text is within metaphor” (258).
From Beckett and Foucault: Some Affinities by Michael Guest.
Textuality, however, is a essential part of the silent film, since it uses text in the form of subtitles and intertitles to organize its repertoire of expressive visuality; language entered the movie theaters not as the spoken word, but as writing. The written word was constantly superimposed onto the visuality of the film object, and thus became part of the technique and expressive vocabulary of the silent film and, most importantly, of the montage. Far from being a necessary embarrassment, writing was systematically integrated into the pictorial expressivity of the silent film. Sentences as intertitles were taken apart and cut with scenery, and directors selected their layout with care. The need to insert pieces of language into the succession of pictures testifies to the extent to which the visuality of the silent film needed to be inscribed by language…The silent film constitutes a unique space in which visuality and language interact with and counteract one another.
From Textual Cinema and Cinematic Text: The Ekphrasis of Movement in Adam Thorpe and Samuel Beckett by H. Martin Puchner (New York).]
There are few difficult passages in Beckett which cannot be understood with the help of the gloss, comment c’est. This is how things are; and if our world looks very different from the one Beckett describes, it may be foolhardy to assume that he is the one who is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Many of those who find Beckett’s ideas strange favour a world view which originated with the rationalists, materialists, and empiricists; that is, they are more comfortable with the ideas of Locke, Hume, Descartes, or Hegel than with those of Kant, Berkeley, or Schopenhauer. Most of us at least implicitly tend to believe in the normalcy and solidity of time and space; next to it the purely mental world seems unreliable and unpredictable.
Beckett, however, agrees with Berkeley and Schopenhauer that the world of time and space is less substantial than it seems. Beckett’s early heroes—Murphy and Watt in particular—longed to penetrate to the other side of what Schopenhauer called ‘the veil of māyā’ the illusory world of time-space phenomena. But the human sensory apparatus and intelligence provide poor equipment for such a quest.
From Time, space, and verisimilitude in Samuel Beckett’s fiction by Rubin Rabinovitz.
So Beckett reverses traditional character development, increasingly stripping away details of personality. He is not mainly concerned with aspects of individual identity, but with what it’s like to be alive and how we try to cope with it. As Vladimir says in Waiting for Godot: ‘At this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us.’
From an essay found at Becket On Film.
“Indeed, these negative proofs extend to Beckett’s relationship with philosophy as a whole: the following comments demonstrate an awareness of philosophical terms, while at the same time pleading incomprehension with respect to their meaning.”
What is more true than anything else? To swim is true, and to sink is true. One is not more true than the other. One cannot speak anymore of being, one must speak only of the mess. When Heidegger and Sartre speak of a contrast between being and existence, they may be right, I don’t know, but their language is too philosophical for me. I am not a philosopher. One can only speak of what is in front of him, and that now is simply the mess.
From Beckett to Tom Driver (Summer 1961), reprinted in Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman eds., Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage (Routledge and Kegan Ltd., London: 1997), p.219. Ref’d in Returning to Beckett Returning to the Presocratics, or,’All their balls about being and existing’ by Matthew Feldman (Genetic Joyce Studies Issue 6 Spring 2006).