Samuel Beckett's trilogy––Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable––has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for a few years. The novels seemed daunting to me; I felt I had no way into the work, even though in the past I'd read the "difficult" modernist novels of Thomas Bernhard. But then, two weeks ago, I rented the filmed version of Waiting for Godot, a play I'd never seen; my innocence in regards to Beckett's work was a large hole in my cultural understanding. Godot was amazing: frustrating, involving, off-putting, nonsensical, brilliant, hilarious, serious and profound, and in the end, deeply human, with our uncertainties and silliness and meanness and need and love. With all its confusions and wordplay, it nevertheless left me feeling elevated.
So I was primed to begin reading Molloy, the first of the three novels. I'd already found a beautiful sentence––"To restore silence is the role of objects."––in the book when I randomly opened it, as I wrote in my post on my commonplace book. As I began reading I found more and more stunning writing, that made me stop, go back, reread, and read again. The book is now bristling with colorful little page markers, the color dependent on where I was reading the book at the time: pink for bed, blue for livingroom, yellow for kitchen table. Another beautiful sentence, intensely visual, making the landscape alive to feelings:
The road, hard and white, seared the tender pastures, rose and fell at the whim of hills and hollows.As I read this book, I felt swept along by a flood of unrelenting words, while having to pay close attention to each sentence, or risk being tangled up in a messy thicket of verbiage. Attention is necessary in the reader, just as Beckett pays close attention:
My eyes caught a donkey's eyes, they fell to his little feet, their brave fastidious tread.
At last I began to think, that is to say to listen harder.
It seemed to me that all language was an excess of language.
Not one person in a hundred knows how to be silent and listen, no, nor even to conceive what such a thing means. Yet only then can you detect, beyond the fatuous clamour, the silence of which the universe is made.
The sky sinks in the morning, this fact has been insufficiently observed. It stoops, as if to get a better look. Unless it is the earth that lifts itself up, to be approved, before it sets out.
Within all this gorgeous language is the dilemma of personhood: what does it mean? can we preserve our selves intact, our bodies working? The character Moran found himself "dispossessed of self". And Molloy mused, in phrases achingly beautiful:
And that night there was no question of moon, nor any other light, but it was a night of listening, a night given to the faint soughing and sighing stirring at night in the little pleasure gardens, the shy sabbath of leaves and petals and the air that eddies there as it does not during the day, when there is more vigilance, and then something else that is not clear, being neither the air nor what it moves, perhaps the far unchanging noise the earth makes and which other noises cover, but not for long. For they do not account for that noise you hear when you really listen, when all seems hushed. And there was another noise, that of my life become the life of this garden as it rode the earth of deeps and wildernesses. Yes, there were times when I forgot not only who I was, but that I was, forgot to be.And the story itself must be questioned, nothing is fixed, all is fluid. At the last, Moran writes his report:
Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.