From Identity to Sameness. The global «there» in Stirrings Still.
Av Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg
I want you to imagine a movement in Becketts work, an inventive transportation from «identity» to what I call «sameness». The outcome of the movement is the construction of a fictional ontology that is entirely submerged in «ontic monism». By «ontic monism» I mean a ubiquitous, finite world, stretching along in all directions, and unhampered by tensions pertaining to a split between Sein and Seiende, what Heidegger calls «ontological difference», or simply Die Unterscheidung.
Becketts fictional world, by contrast, is finite and literal, and nothing but finite and literal. - And it is an indifferent unity: everything is there, nothing is hidden away. This global and irreducible concretion entail a rather peculiar version of «sameness», and my object will be to outline, in a few rough sketches, some of the aesthetic coordinates of sameness, with a particular emphasis on the duplicity of the notion of «there» in Stirrings Still (1988). In a sense, this entire paper is devoted to drawing out a few of the implications of Hamms scream to Clov, in Endgame (1958):
«Use your head, cant you, use your head, were on earth, theres no cure for that!».
First, Im going to give you a brief overview of early Becketts execution of identity. Then Ill try to pin-point a few salient traits of so-called sameness. And finally Ill throw a very haste glance at Stirrings Still. - my primary objective is to describe the movement from Identity to Sameness in Becketts work.
But before we get there, I should say that my project is motivated, at least in part, by a mildly polemical purpose. Namely to rectify a certain, perhaps by now conventional mode of reading Becketts differences, or the play of différance in Beckett - in the sense that my counter-claim is that in Beckett everything is fully present, and everything is totally the same. Late Becketts world is filled to the brim with sameness.
«Sameness» à la Beckett is distinct from Identity in that it concerns the complete loss of relations, and the possibility of comparison. Normally, we can perceive a set of likenesses and differences between this and that - and we are placed in a mediated relation to this differential phenomenon. Not so with sameness. If everything is everywhere «the same» we cant form comparisons, and we cannot place ourselves in a distanced position over and above the universality of sameness. We lose the power to evaluate, discriminate and judge.
Early Becketts initial world is, however, founded on the sardonic and energetic critique of the concept of «identity», be it in the shape of personal or logical or semantic identity....Ill give you a few quotes from Dream of fair to middling Women (1932), from Proust (1931), and from Molloy (1951) to give you an idea of this general animosity towards the notion of identity.
In Dream it is said of Belacqua, its dismal anti-hero, that: «he was bogged in indolence, without identity, impervious alike to its pull and goading. The cities and forests and beings were also without identity, they were shadows, they exerted neither pull nor goad.»(121). Clearly, the force of gravity is considered as having lost its ability to make the world stick together -- the world is out of joint. In Proust, Beckett famously asks: «But what is attainment? The identification of the subject with the object of his desire. The subject has died - and perhaps many times - on the way»(14), and emphatically adds that: «The individual is the seat of a constant process of decantation.»(15).
In general, subjects and even artworks are stigmatised or celebrated as veritable cess-polls of disintegration. In Dream, Belacquas friend Lucien is described in these terms: «His face surged forward at you, coming unstuck, coming to pieces, invading the airs, a red dehiscence of flesh in action (...) his whole person a stew of disruption and flux»(116). Likewise, the sphere of Art is contaminated by this violent destruction of stable self-identity. Belacqua remarks, on art, that: «I have discerned a désuni, an Ungebund, a flottement, a tremblement, a tremor, a tremolo, a disaggregating, a disintegrating, an efflorescence, a breaking down and multiplication of tissue, the corrosive ground-swell of Art.»(138).
It would seem that various notions of an ideal present and a valid self-identity - be it of the physical world, of persons or of meaning and form - is aggressively dismantled as disgusting illusions of unadulterated Presence, and smugly convenient Identity.
So, perhaps we have on our hands, a nice little full-fledged Derridean, combined with a touch of dated, but still not entirely uninteresting Deleuze and Guattari of the 70ies? In that case, the Beckettian movement would be from - Unity to Multiplicity, from - Stability to Explosion, from - Identity to Difference....and Beckett would be cast as a libidinal adventurer on the high seas of massive equivocation....
As I said, I disagree entirely with this stand, and now Ill move on and try to give you an image of some of the defining traits of Beckettian sameness. By way of a gentle presentation, Ill zoom in on three passages from Beckett. They concern, in order, 1. the status of objecthood, 2. the workings of perception, and, lastly, 3. the veridical articulation of sameness.
1. First, objecthood. I quote from Proust again: «But when the object is perceived as particular and unique, and not merely the member of a family, when it appears independent of any general notion and detached from the sanity of a cause, isolated and inexplicable in the light of ignorance, then and only then may it be a source of enchantment.»(22-23). The plain and idiotic singularity of this «thing» - severed from classification and causality - bespeaks a strange joy, which is a property of late Becketts monism, bereft of the stench of differentia specifica.
My point, though, is that when a thing is always itself, and nothing but itself, then it cannot and will not ever become different from other things, or from itself - but then it is unable to enter the game of identity and difference. We cant compare it with anything. It is embedded in a field of global sameness, which is exactly what happens in late Beckett.
2. Next, perception. I qoute Molloy this time: «The blood drains from my head, the noise of things bursting, merging, avoiding one another, assails me on all sides, my eyes search in vain for two things alike, each pinpoint of skin screams a different message; I drown in the spray of phenomena». Apparently, Molloy is at the nadir of an agitated swirl of uncontrollable differences. But the net-result is, that the empirical and phenomenological erosion of the resources of identity and resemblance, come out as the inability, of the drowning ego, to apperceive anything separately and distinctly. The final outcome is the dominance of incalcitrant sameness. Sensuous weakness, having lost the ability to operate with categorial schemas, is left with the frightful task of determining placement, in a world that is rapidly drowning in universal sameness.
3. Finally, the truthful formulation of sameness. We all know that Beckett never beats around the bush; sometimes, hes incredibly blunt. In Enough (1966), Becketts late text on love, the narrator at one point compare the flowers at her or his feet in the narrating present, with those in the narrated past: «I see the flowers at my feet and its the others I see. Those we trod down with equal step. It is true they are the same.». The flowers arent «similar», they dont «resemble» each other, across physical and temporal distances. And of course theyre not strictly speaking «identical». They are implanted on a fictional turf, on which they are of necessity always and everywhere the same - which apodictic fact is concisely articulated by the narrator: «It is true, they are the same.».
In brief, 1. late Becketts objects are idiotically singular and concrete, 2. perception is bereft of the power to produce discrimination and distinction, it is abandoned to diffuse sameness, and, 3., the simple but autocratic truth of this fictional fact is carefully articulated in Becketts work.
My overall contention, then, is that once Beckett overcame the crisis pertaining to the critique of identity, he was set free to roam the infinite and infinitely unconcerned realm of sameness. The erosion of a functional and legitimizing conjunction between subject and world - due to the loss of the force of gravity - is replaced by an immanent monism, a world in which everything is present on a mindless horisontal plane. To my mind, this is the true import of that oft-cited, rhetorical question: «Quimporte qui parle?», or «What matters who speaks?» On a literal reading, the answer is, that its all the same.
Why is it all the same? Because Becketts enunciative voice is the outcome of a speaking creature, a worm, a sensing body; not an authentic humanist, absolved of all the superficial chatter of everyday Gerede; not a disseminated and fluctuating rambling and murmuring among refractory signifiers.... Becketts people are characters in a version of sub-humanism, neither humanism, nor post-humanism. This is why Hamm complains that: «Ah, the creatures, the creatures, everything has to be explained to them»(43) - at one point he even allows himself to dream of an escape: «Lets go from here, the two of us! South! You can make a raft and the currents will carry us away, far away, to other...mammals»(34). Whereas the narrator of Dream talks adoringly of his people as «pets»: «Pets every one of them.»().
This is what Kierkegaard, in a socio-historical context, called «Nivellierung», the levelling off of all differences, be they generic, perceptual, social, economic, personal or conceptual - and what is baptized, in Dream, «dogocracy»(159). What remains, is not the transhistorical essence or Wesen of Man, but the disorienting lack of classificational schemas and social distinctions in a world that neither seems to begin, nor to end. And strange to say, this is our hyper-democratic home.
III. Stirrings Still.
The textual site of Stirrings Still (1988) is construed as a double plane, featuring on the one hand an old man sitting at his desk, while on the other hand displaying an examination of borderlines and placement between inner and outer world, self and nature, present and past. The text thus harbors a level of immanent and inconspicuous concretion - and at the same time a virtual suspension of the notions pertaining to literalness (hic et nunc, tangibility, steady coordinates, a stable ground, lack of surplus meaning).
The text stages a movement and an examination. An alleged movement from inner to outer world, and back again; and an examination of possible, valid criteria for distinguishing between inner and outer, present and past. The central problem of SS is that of location - crudely put, the essential question is: Where am I? , Or Where can I be said to be?
Now, the text is a triptychon, and is composed of three, numbered parts of diminishing size; while part 1 stages the problem, and the set of elements used to deal with it (cries, strokes of clock, light and darkness), part 2 launches a thorough, if ultimately unsuccesful examination of it; and in conclusion part 3 apparently focus on mental interiority, but this is only the screen for a renewed reflection on the thereabouts of the textual subject. SS ends with a muffled protest against being in it all the time, a futile hope of termination, «Oh all to end.».
The text opens with an image of concretion, only to immediately blur its outlines: «One night as he sat at his table head on hands he saw himself rise and go.»(259). This initial description presuppose that the male is in his right mind, that he knows where he is, and what he is doing. The instant erosion of this setting attack the most basic and most well-known foundation of calendar-time, namely the difference between night and day, quite simply by adding: «One night or day.»(259) - we cant be sure which is which.
The entire first page is then given over to a chiastic turning and returning of the distinctions between the outer alternation between light and darkness, and the possible relation between the inner «natural light» of reason, and the cosmological light of the outer world: «This outer light then when his own went out became his only light till it in its turn went out and left him in the dark. Till it in its turn went out.»(259). Confusion results: if all darkness went out, where exactly is the male? The first part then introduce the presence of strokes of a clock and cries, allegedly coming somewhere from the outside. But once again, the problem is that this doesnt solve a thing. The strokes, e.g., are now faint, now clear, and yet the male is always at the same place: «The same place as when left day after day for the roads.»(260).
At the end of part 1, two symmetrical statements claim apparently contradictory things: «Nothing to show not the same», and «Nothing to show not another»(261). The sense of bewilderment is further aggravated - this is apparent by the frequency of the use of the modifier «perhaps» in the last lines of part 1, e.g. «Then such silence since the cries were last heard that perhaps they would not be heard again»(261). Unfortunately, the confusion is subtended by a nagging sense of interminable sameness: «Then all as before. The strokes and cries as before and he as before (...) Then all as before again. So again and again.»(261). The repetition of sameness is abhorrent, because it doesnt point to a distinct place of origin, and because it doesnt promise to ever terminate. Becketts male is unable to die, and to die away from things. Heideggers Sein-zum-Tode is extinct, and what remains is never-ending stirrings, the nightmare of life ensconced in irremissible, ontic reality.
Confronted with this unsettling scenario, the male in part 2 mobilize, in vain, all his powers of mind and senses to settle the score. He is patently unable to establish any significant differences between the sound-level of the strokes of the clock and the cries inside the room, and outside, in what ought to be first nature: «and so in a sense at first a source of reassurance till finally one of alarm as being no clearer now than when in principle muffled by his four walls»(262). He carefully stipulates that this does not stem from a faulty memory.
This incapacity result in a discrete gliding from the agile activity of «listening» and «looking», to the passive and indifferent and monotonous act of «seeing» and «hearing». Things go from bad to worse, and end up in ignorance: «So on unknowing and no end in sight.»(263). Quite literally, when the male look about him in the outer world, there is no end in sight, there are no boundaries, no discriminations, no hierarchies: «no limit of any kind was to be discovered»(263). The male is placed in a global zone of indistinction, and this fills him with horror.
Part 3 resume questioning the problem of position and location, and ask: «In any case whatever it might be to end (...) was he not already (...) was he not (...) already there where never till then?»(264). This would seem to indicate that the male has reached a destination of sorts. But this interpretation is quickly undercut by the following: «There then all this time/ where never till then/ and so far as he could see in every direction (...) no danger or hope as the case might be of his ever getting out of it.»(264). He has been at the place called «there» all the time, but he has only arrived just now?! This is to say that he is in «another place at the same place», as part 2 puts it.
This ambiguous site is unable to engender any deontic set of predicates that would delimit its scope; «danger» and «hope» fade away, as anthropomorphic markers belonging to an entirely other fictional ontology. The «there» of SS is immune to projections of terms that originate from the outside, from the world of Sein and Schein, of identity and difference.
The sameness of its ontic monism necessitates the use of «so-called»: «Time and grief and self so-called»(265). These are words from another planet, a world in which people actually are born and die, a world that begins and ends, a world in which stirrings one day will die away. This does not and cannot happen in the neutral domain of Becketts ontic monism - and it is the terrifying certitude of this indifferent eternity that breathes through the unbelievable sobriety of the closing words: «Oh all to end.»(265). For the very conception of «an end» has already been laid to rest in the title of the text, Stirrings Still.
I hope you have had a chance to comprehend, in very broad outline at least, the strange and twisted line from Identity to Sameness in Becketts work. And if you havent, its all the same.....
Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg, f. 1968, København. Studeret Litteraturvidenskab 1990-97 i Århus og København. Besvaret prisopgave, skrevet oktober-december 1994, indleveret januar 1995, belønnet med Universitetets Sølvmedalje, juni 1995 (Romanens transformative mellemrum. Om Joyces Finnegans Wake og den moderne eksperimenterende romans problematik). Antaget til udgivelse på Litteraturhistorisk Forlag, Århus Universitet, 1995. Cand.phil. 1996 på en omskrevet udgave af førnævnte, stud.mag.art. 1996-97, Ph.d.-stipendiat februar 1997 på et projekt om Begreb og fortælling. Om paralitteratur som en moderne hybrid mellem filosofi og litteratur, med særligt henblik på den tidlige Samuel Beckett. Visiting Scholar ved Columbia University, New York, 1997-1998, og ved Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature, University of Warwick, UK, 1998.
Mer om forfatteren på følgende webadresse: http://staff.hum.ku.dk/zang/
1 Die Überwindung der Metaphysik (1938), in: Metaphysik und Nihilismus, Gesamt-ausg., bd.67, pp.73-82: «die Unterscheidung des Seienden und des Seins (...) Die Unterscheidenheit (des Seienden und des Seins) hat sich in aller Metaphysik bereits ereignet...»(73).
2. Cf. Badiou: Théorie du sujet, Paris: Seuil 1982, chapter IV on materialism, especially pages 206-216, in which Badiou clarifies his stand on this issue. He basically affirms materialist monism via two theses: the thesis of identity (being is nothing but matter) and the thesis of primacy (matter comes before thought), ibid., 209. It is the poetic and textual affirmation of this circumstance that is enacted, in manifold ways, in Becketts work.
4Beckett 1995, p.189.
5Implying a strong critique of Heideggers cultivation of Blut und Boden, the Ort, and the Heimat; cf. Neither (1976).
6»Reality», in this connection, roughly corresponds with Clément Rossets «le réel», cf. Le réel. Traité de lidiotie, Paris: Minuit 1977.