The first time I read The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, I took notes on my own experience for my Phenomenology Anthropology class. This was the end result:
Reading The Unnamable
Even the name itself is initially daunting. As I look at the cover and the name, I trace the letters with my finger. I feel like I already know what it is going to be about. Beckett’s novels always plainly spell out the undercurrents of my own thoughts. They drag up what I may not necessarily want to be dragged up, but I always seem to find some sort of answer in his work. But it’s always one little answer along with a new wave of questions.
I underline the lines that strike me. I read them in my head and I can feel the neurons in my brain jump to attention. “Where now? Who now? When now?” I can almost see the black ink leaking out of the pages, waiting for my to soak it up with my fingers like a sponge. I don’t know what “it” is either. I have a companion on my side. Beckett is writing about the very things that tie my own heart into knots. Yet he helps me remember that it’s all just nothing.
Every sentence throws me back to a thought I’ve had. I’m not reading Beckett. He’s reading me. With every period comes a new memory, with every comma a sigh, reminding me to keep breathing.
I chuckle at his word games. As I reach the end of the first page my eyes run back up over what I have underlined and I feel a match being struck in my chest. More lines to add to my collection, to the filing cabinet in my mind. Words of others that I’ll hold dear and true, though never to an absolute. His sentences: for now they are short, sweet, and always doubling back, just like me. He reminds me to check whatever I think. I cannot stand in one place too long. It’s like he said, and now my mind jumps back to the first page: you think you’re resting, and then you realize that you cannot move. And now my mind jumps to my philosophy class and modalities. This is why I read Beckett. He isn’t trying to tell a charming story that will distract me from the world. No. What he’s doing is redirecting my attention back to the world, and my thought/memory is my magnifying glass.
But now I feel tense. A little anxious. I have to take a break and smoke a cigarette. I’m uncomfortable in the magnified world.
He asks a question, and then states “what a question” at the same time as me. I’m tripping back and forth between reading a transcription of my thoughts and this darkened world that he is slowly starting to paint around me. But I’m beginning to think that perhaps it was always there. It always goes back and forth between what would be best, and what I have to do. Stuck in the same dichotomy as always. But then a rhyme makes me chuckle. I smile in memory when he mentions his previous characters. I feel as though I know him, I know who he was, and I think I can see what he is now trying to be. I can see why his previous books were names of others, and now he realizes that what he is trying to write about is simply unnamable.
There are no days in his world, no time, but he still uses the traditional expressions for time. As he mentions time, or lack thereof, I realize that the past few minutes have entirely disappeared from my life. I was so engrossed in the text that the rest of the world, along with time, didn’t exist for that brief window.
There’s an obsession with depth. My mind wanders to the serious, and then I remember Beckett’s own words about play in Malone Dies. Depth is just another expression. I can’t let myself hang on this one word.
He plays the same game I do. He asks questions, says no more questions, and then he keeps asking questions. The back and forth tennis math between what I want to do and what I have to do. And then regardless of the dichotomy, at the end he reminds that he and I have no opinions on these matters.
Reading this feels like stretching a rubber band back and forth. These aren’t words to rush. I rush through what I cannot wait to consume. This I must take a bite at a time. Otherwise it will consume me.
I mimic the character’s self-description. How did he know I love owls? He makes me think that even in my ideal world of individuated isolation, I would still feel the same pain. No matter if I am in being or nothingness, I will feel human. I must remember not to infer that things will not change. The past is no good experience. Remember that meaning escapes, my own just as much. I love the backtracking. He seems human.
Malone keeps coming by. Circling. Going nowhere. Coming from nowhere.
Ah yes, the need to know everything. It’s not a spirit of curiosity. It’s an addiction. It’s pride. It’s why I inhale these novels and books with my eyes. I need to know everything. He mentions the play of lights again. Even lights can be unpredictable.
Change. Principal of disorder. It is impossible not to keep my mind from wandering. I look up every few moments to glance at the window, at the sun and life outside. Every few moments. It’s my breath of fresh reality to keep me afloat.
What is the nature of change? Does it even have a nature? If it had a nature than that nature would be unchanging. Thus negating the whole concept of change. And anyway, all this is according to my own knowledge. How trustworthy is that? Do I even trust myself to read these words and understand them vaguely to what Beckett had intended? But wait. That is the wrong approach. I can only get what my mind takes. And I’ll never get the full meaning of what Beckett intended. All that I will ever get is our relationship, which is in itself an entirely new construct. I will construct my relationship towards Beckett. That is what he intended.
Centre, circumference, or anywhere in between. Is it relevant? Or even in perceptual, it is all possible. Is disorder just a probable illusion? Should all changed be feared? What is this incomprehensible uneasiness?
Time is bizarre. It is up to me to assign a beginning, and yet I am constantly caught between forever and not forever.
He keeps bringing up necessity. VàN/I. No actuality in his world. Mania of yet wanting to explain everything. He heard a cry. I think of every time I heard a noise and my mind rushes to explain. But others do it out loud and stupidly. I remember being at home and hearing my parents raise their voices. Now even when it’s not towards me, I still stiffen with anxiety. Noises are threats, no matter how far and faint.
Halley’s comet. Some men will die before ever seeing it. I immediately light a cigarette and look up the dates for the comet. It last passed in 1986. It will return in 2061. Will I live that long?
Do I want for a place or does a place want for me? Beckett jumps from absolutes like I do. He prefers the former. Existence before essence. But both are distasteful. He knows he must find a middle ground. Beginnings, coincide at the same instant.
Why are his eyes fixed in one direction? It’s like he is stuck in Plato’s cave, forced to keep looking forward at the shadows, unable to turn his head around and see what is making the shadows. He can only see his immediate front and beside himself, and his visibility is incredibly poor.
All knowledge is indebted to those I’ve never made contact with. Reading books by those long gone and yet still interacting with them. Is there any innate knowledge? Good or evil? No. There is no innate knowledge.
The gift of life is forced down your throat. You’re surrounded by fellow creators. There’s never any isolation or objectivism. Cursed with intersubjectivity.
I pause between paragraphs again and look out my window. Even with the daylight I can feel myself falling into his own pit. And it’s alright. I know what’s down there and I want him to guide me through it. Everything is in orbit. Like the planets. I think of the ending from War and Peace. How by assuming the heavenly bodies are stationary, we arrive at absurdities. But by assuming their motion, which we do not feel, we arrive at laws.
How could he know that the intervals vary if there is no clock? What’s one’s own sense of time? Is it even trustworthy? The orbiters do not disturb, but they are there. There has only been one collision. There may be more. All possibilities must be taken into account. The search for an end if what enables the discourse to continue. Don’t think—simply utter. Concern oneself with only the truth. But what is the truth. Whose truth?
He is man and all the rest are divine. This paragraph gives me pangs in my chest. Colours. Grey: a combination of bright and black. Like fire and tobacco, creating grey smoke. One could know anything, but shall not know. At least not at this time. à What is said is in relation to what I am.
It has all been said, but why not repeat it? Why not repeat this endless motion of flipping pages, reading words that have already been said in countless different orders. What makes this order so special? He is still here. Unchanging. One more attempt to put an end to all this, but the end still won’t come. The end always causes more discourse. More questions. There can be no end. It’s all just words taking up space, filling the void that leaks like an hourglass. He says that to end would be wonderful. He says this so early on, but then he keeps going for another 100 pages. I don’t want him to end, but at the same time I do. To end would be wonderful. But at the same time if he were to end, then our relationship would also end. All that would remain are lingering memories and feelings that Beckett inspired in me. I don’t want this experience to end. To go on. He recounts my exact feelings of going on. It requires so much while standing still requires so little.
The second you being to know something, you realize you’ve been here before. It’s all about remembrance. Like what Proust said. Wanting and not wanting strains against my head. He’s afraid most of himself. You are your own worst enemy. Speak and say nothing. That is the ultimate goal. But once something has been uttered than it becomes something and will never again be nothing. And yet you are compelled to vocalize. It’s a catch-22. It’s all in the spirit of the method.
He mentions Prometheus. My favorite. He obliged humanity.
Don’t put an end, but go silent? Is that the solution? Characters waste time, but talking about himself is even more difficult. How can he know what he really remembers. Does that mean that I waste time reading about characters when I should be writing? But I read because I feel like I don’t know enough to write. I will write when I have something to say. But wait remember that is not the point. The point is to speak and say nothing. I should have written more when I knew nothing. Remember to always backtrack like Beckett. Whatever was said is in the past. Suddenly there’s only silence. Black. He starts over again. It’s all just another infinite regress.
It was all invented by him. All means of understanding invented to explain what doesn’t matter. Now it is all about him. No more distractions. I crave this individuation. “I, of whom I know nothing”. Oh man this beginning. If I don’t know I, what do I know? He only knows his eyes are open because he can feel the tears. He can barely see. He only knows through consequence/effect. Everything he knows is from touch. It’s one of the only reliable senses. He can feel pressure from the chair, so he knows it is there, but he doesn’t know what it is. How can one know anything?
Every detail must be mentioned to rule out all other possibilities. Check and recheck. Establish the position of one’s body. One’s space in the world is important.
Nothing is certain. Not even the position of one’s head. If there are no certainties then is there no necessity? Wait. Don’t jump to conclusions yet. I have to stop myself just as he does. He cannot talk of himself without referring to others. No matter how much he wants to be alone, he can’t be. That’s the sad truth of life I think. That no matter what, you’re never truly alone or individuated. Your actions will always inevitably affect others. No matter how much he wants to talk only of himself, he can’t. It’s impossible.
Tears down his chest, sides, and back. How do they even get onto his back? Is he being bathed in his tears? Why is he crying? My heart pangs for him. He mentions his beard, and then says wait no there is no beard. There is no certainty. No actuality even. He doesn’t even have a shape. He is formless. He describes himself as an egg with two holes. Is he fragile? All that exists are eyes. Where is the brain.
No sex? No nose? What is the connection? Gogol’s The Nose maybe? Anything that once distinguished and described him has fallen away. He is making himself into a blank slate. Objectifying himself. All concepts and ideas were invented to get away from oneself. Is that what it all is? Distractions to prevent us from looking at ourselves? This whole while I go back and forth between my racing mind and taking notes of what I am thinking, what this book is inciting in me. The book is a distraction keeping me from looking at myself, and at the same time it is forcing me to take the closest looks at myself and everything that I thought I thought.
He says God is unavoidable, but I disagree. You can avoid him. He helps form calm, but it never helps to believe. It is impossible to know what exists, but that is beside the point. What point. I’m not even sure. All that matters to Beckett is that he is round and hard. He is the egg. But how can that be a certainty when there are no certainties. What am I if I need to reduce myself to find what I am. I always liked threes. Maybe I’m a triangle
Renounce black. Light and darkness are constructs. Now he goes into a movement of balls. Because even though he doesn’t not move, he thinks the ball does. Or perhaps it does not.
The right of silence. Does silence have a right? Does noise have a right? Is there a fear of silence?
“I was not always sad. I wasted my time”. Me too. Suffering for nothing. Suffering because of nothing. Nothing is the waste that takes up time. One must speak, but one must not forget to listen. It cannot be one or the other. Dichotomies do not apply anymore. There must be that middle ground that I so desperately would like to frequent.
He seeks a lesson. Was it a lesson he once knew and then forgot? How many lessons that I learned and then forgotten. Making the same mistakes. Proust. Remember.
His word play is magnificent. He truly accomplishes saying nothing. Nothing points to an opinion. Even though it is also unimportant. There’s no way to measure importance. This is how I must look at my life. Nothing is important until I take the time to regard it and give it an importance. It’s how nothing is an experience unless I refer to it as one. Otherwise putting on my socks everyday would be an experience. He only thinks to preserve me from going silent. Is that really thinking? But I’m always thinking. My mind never shuts off. Even when I don’t mean to think of anything I still think of something. So the infinite speech is an attempt to silence the silence. Reading is another way to silence the silence. What is thinking? Why does he not want the silence? I crave the silence.
Assume nothing. It is unimportant anyway. I can feel what he describes. What clamors at me. Knowing nothing tears at me. Oh hey. Tears. Tears. Depending on how you look at it, those are two completely different words. You mind chooses a definition based on the context. That’s all that matters. Context. These words have all been used before in different combinations. And now all the meaning is what I give to it based on its construction and how I then construct them according to my own rules. That is what all this really is for. To fill that nothing but it can never be filled because it isn’t anything to be filled. A bottomless tea cup. You can’t have any less. It’s very easy to have more than nothing. Whose voice is this? It must be mine.
The voice in your head. No one else. But it cannot be mine. There is no voice. It’s a silent voice. There’s a presence of a voice but no voice itself. It does not speak in a language. There is no vocalization. Would silence be better? Wait he said no more questions. Questions prevent discourse from ending.
Always can à possibility
The only truth is theirs? Who are they?
Is writing something?
He mentions how he wishes to hear music, and I find myself putting on music. For him. I put on the Mendelssohn E minor concerto. First movement. I played it once on the violin.
He keeps slipping into thinking. I know how he feels. It’s hard to avoid. It’s impossible to stop oneself from thinking, and it’s even harder to keep your mind from over-thinking. He ends up slipping towards fables. It is impossible to reject stories. Why else would man have invented fiction? The first fables were by Aesop. 600BC. Stories are necessary for the evolution of the mind of man.
I can feel the anxiety of wanting to finish this. To eat the book and consume it. Have it in be. Be a part of me. But I cannot rush it. Every word is essential. Necessary. What counts? Not time. Short time=long time. It doesn’t matter unless I count it. And how would I even do that? My internal clock is vaguely dependent on cell death. How accurate can cells be anyway? There are many kinds of silence. The other voices always talk over my own. They weave themselves into my own voice. I cannot even tell anymore what my own voice is or even once was.
Nothing is so individuated. You need others. You cannot avoid them. It prevents me from saying who I am. Every aspect of me is somewhat dependent on other. Hopefully the other voices will disappear since they are no longer being renewed. I need to isolate myself to the extent that I will figure out what is truly me once all else has faded away. In order for that to happen, I must speak. I cannot drown in silence.
It is better to listen. That is why I read. I want to listen to all that has been said before I speak. Everyone is punished for being born. Life is a prison. Because he forgot his lesson. But what lesson?
It is an objection to speak of myself? What is required? What is even warranted?
He has forgotten most of what he has said. And so have I. All I am fixed on is the present. The actuality of the moment. This is where I fault. In my forgetting. If I could retain and remember more than I would have learned my lesson years ago and have been done with this whole charade. And whatever isn’t forgotten is always unsure.
The only thing to do is to forbid everything, and then go along breaking the rules. Play games with yourself. Play. There’s that word again. Wittgenstein loves his language games. The only reason to construct rules is to break them. Because you’re the only one who values their existence as rules.
He doesn’t want himself happy. His masters want him happy. But who is the master? What is even the purpose of being happy? Why has that always been regarded as a better thing to be? Just because it is preferable to us as humans to be happy? Because it feels better? Better according to what? And we’re the only ones that have ascribed better as good. Stop asking so many questions. You’re the reason this discourse will never end. Even when the book is over the discourse will go on.
With every sentence my mind wanders. I ask questions. And I reprimand myself for doing so as he does.