Saturday, November 6, 2010

Molloy, Malone Dies, and the Unnamble: The best trilogy since the Anaconda movies!

This is a shot from Samuel Beckett's famous play Waiting for Godot. If you've never seen the play and can't tell from the picture, its a very bizarre. The whole thing takes place in front of that scraggly tree and consists of only four characters who each seem to be copied and pasted out of completely different plays. Because Waiting for Godot was my introduction to Beckett, I thought it would be a good way to introduce Beckett's trilogy Molly, Malone Dies, and the Unnamable; plus it was a great opportunity for a photo to be on my blog for the first time ever!

I'm sort of at a loss on where to start with these books. I can't really talk about plot, setting or characters because Beckett went to great lengths to make sure none of those things made it into any of these books. Well I guess that's not completely true, there are characters they just change names several times and sometimes become objects instead of people - unless people are really just objects in which case I suppose there are lots of characters in the books. In fact you could say there is setting too, if the the inner-mind of a armless, legless man sitting in a garbage can is a setting. There's actually plenty of plot to be spoken for as well, for instance in Malone Dies there seems to be someone dying, and someone is definitely looking for something in Molloy...

If I sound conflicted about this trilogy it's because I absolutely am. In these three books Beckett seeks to define the human condition in a way I've never before experienced in literature. In each book Beckett jettisons every literary convention (plot, character, time, setting) to see if maybe, hiding beneath one of them is the solution to the absurdity of existence.

He starts with Molloy, a man who says he is trying to find his way back to his mother's house but seems much more interested in discovering an effective method to suck on rocks, a dilemma he discusses for five straight pages. Next comes Moran, a detective assigned to find Molloy. Moron, however, eventually gets lost on his way to the job and becomes obsessed with establishing an abusive relationship with his son. Malone, in the second book of the series, is a dying man in a bed with only a notebook and a pencil to his name. His quest is to make a list of all his possessions before he dies which leads him into a deep scouring of his twisted brain. Finally, in The Unnamable, we have no names except the few the narrator arbitrarily decides to call himself only to abandon a few pages later. Whoever this narrator is has no arms or legs, can't talk or hear, and is sitting in some type of garbage can outside a chinese restaurant.

By the time The Unnamable begins the only remaining point of reference for the reader is that the words are still in English. Beckett's prose throughout the series resembles the structure of thought more and more until, in The Unnamable, even punctuation is largely abandoned. Throughout the trilogy, Beckett abuses and exhausts language as if it were a butter knife he's trying to use to hammer nails.

In the end, after Beckett has turned the novel-form upside down and inside out, the search for meaning proves inconclusive. Language still fails to communicate pure meaning. Pure meaning still doesn't seem to exist. I think Beckett is the only author I know of, however, who comes to this conclusion and makes it feel hopeful. The book seems to say, even if life's greatest dilemmas are no more meaningful than sucking on stones, at least there are plenty of stones to suck, and that is more than enough to justify existence, or as the last lines of The Unnamable read:
"I'll go on, you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."
So I realize that blog post was really long and might not have made lots of sense, but since you read all the way through you get a surprise! If you are the first person to make a comment after this post goes up, you win a free copy of Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man! Can you believe that?! That book is awesome and you get if for free! The comment doesn't have to be anything meaningful, just say, "I want my free book!" or something.


  1. I want me free book.

    PS I love Waiting for Godot, and I have a strange love for the existential thought. I have never read the book, but just seen the play. I think I shall read these now.

  2. Your description of his writing sounds exactly like my high school students essays. They break every rule of language- use no punctuation, have no subject, plot or thesis statement. Maybe they will have a play on Broadway some day. How about reading a good Oprah book next???

  3. I just finished reading "Endgame" by Beckett. I don't really have words to say right now. Everything is trying to process.
    Thanks for being my guide into modernism. That's what I have to say to you, Parker.