Thursday, January 21, 2010

You must change your God

First, the famous final lines of Molloy, which present an intricate textual puzzle:
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.

Throughout the novel, Beckett has consistently foregone quotation marks, so dialogue is not separated out from the flow of the narrator’s ruminations by any special punctuation mark. This has led to frequent moments of uncertainty—did a character speak this line, or did the narrator only think it?—but here, at the end, the uncertainty expands to fill the limits of the Beckettian universe, for it pertains no longer to speech within the diegesis but to writing: the writing that is also within the diegesis (Moran has gone into the house to begin composing his report about his search for Molloy), and the writing on the page in front of the reader. The uncertainty is this: does Moran also write in his report, “It was not midnight. It was not raining”? Does his report present both the assertions of midnight and rain as well as their contradictions? Or has he offered the contradictions to us only, as the secret truth of the matter, and not to Youdi, for whom the report is intended? This is the same as to ask: have we been reading the report to Youdi? For the first lines of the second half of Molloy, the half pertaining to Moran, were indeed “It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows,” and the narrator warned us, way back then, that his “report” would be long. But the contradictions proliferate: at the beginning, the narrator claimed that at the moment of composition, of the midnight and the raining, his son “is sleeping,” but at the end the narrator has not seen his son in many months; and so on.

Therefore, second, Moran’s attitude toward the dancing of the bees he keeps.
And in spite of all the pains I had lavished on these problems, I was more than ever stupefied by the complexity of this innumerable dance, involving doubtless other determinants of which I had not the slightest idea. And I said, with rapture, Here is something I can study all my life, and never understand. And all during this long journey home, when I racked my mind for a little joy in store, the thought of my bees and their dance was the nearest thing to comfort. For I was still eager for my little joy, from time to time! And I admitted with good grace the possibility that this dance was after all no better than the dances of the people of the West, frivolous and meaningless. But for me, sitting near my sun-drenched hives, it would always be a noble thing to contemplate, too noble ever to be sullied by the cogitations of a man like me, exiled in his manhood. And I would never do my bees the wrong I had done to my God, to whom I had been taught to ascribe my angers, fears, desires, and even my body.

One may substitute Beckett’s own text for the dancing of the bees. It is certainly stupefyingly complex. Each half of the novel alone contains a critical mass of allusions, repetitions, variations and contradictions; but when the two halves are considered together, one feels that one might indeed study all one’s life without fully understanding. Take a decision, then: frivolous, and meaningless? or noble, and with the power to deliver us into rapture? The dance of the bees thus resonates with another dance, this one from David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me: the dance performed by Lil for Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Agent Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland). Gordon Cole—played by Lynch himself—claims that Lil is his “mother’s sister’s girl,” but this assertion, and the dance itself, serve only as parts of a message intended for Desmond, encoded like a rebus (a red wig means the agents are headed into a dangerous situation, a relative missing from a formula—such as the uncle in “my mother’s sister’s girl”—means someone involved in the case has a relative of that type in prison, etc.). Why not convey such information simply and directly? A line of dialogue unfortunately deleted from the finished film provides two rationales: Cole “talks loud. And he loves his code.” Indeed, Cole, hard of hearing, does talk loud, and would always be likely to be overheard. But it is Cole’s portrayer, Lynch, who “talks loud” when he attempts to use language simply and directly—hence the vast distance between his subtle and enigmatic works of art and his simplistic, dogmatic apologias, in interviews and evangelical tracts, for the religion of Transcendental Meditation. What we are left with, in the indirect mode of address that characterizes art, is a shared love of the code.

Yet we are not in Cole’s position; we do not know the code, in Beckett as in Lynch. Seeing that everything happens as if dependent on an infinitely complex code we do not know, can we love the dance anyway? Beckett’s text does not belong to nature or to God, but to the culture of, as the narrator minimally specifies in this passage, the West. But as for me, sitting near my sun-drenched pages, I remember and partake in the attitude of worshipping literature (especially a certain strand of romanticism and modernism) as my nature-God, transcendent in its nobility, demanding my cogitations but remaining ineffable, to which my angers, fears, desires and body must not be ascribed, but on which I lay down my angers, fears, desires and body as one lays down a burden. More’s the pity, for isn’t it precisely Beckett who shows us no pocket exists that could ever be emptied of these four leaden articles? (I can’t go on, I’ll go on.) Molloy gives us bodies and embodied minds beginning to exhaust themselves, this is why the text dwells upon movements as translations in space which fail to transform the whole.

Thus three figures for God: God, appearing for instance in the passage on the bees’ dance, a word employed by Moran in the usual way; Youdi, the unseen commissioner of Moran’s quest, who communicates only through Gaber (gabber, Gabriel, the Enunciator) and who, Moran is certain, will wrathfully exact punishment for any failure (thus who himself is thought to have angers, fears, and desires, if not also the fourth article); but finally the Obidil, his name a mirror-image of libido, who is mentioned only once:
And with regard to the Obidil, of whom I have refrained from speaking, until now, and whom I so longed to see face to face, all I can say with regard to him is this, that I never saw him, either face to face or darkly, perhaps there is no such person, that would not greatly surprise me.

Only a page later the narrator first mentions savoring his exhaustion. Moran would so like to see the Obidil face to face—what Beckett’s Parisian contemporary Jacques Lacan would call becoming the subject of the drive—but he cannot abandon his faith in the commands of Youdi, God as the Other. The Obidil, life-energy, is the only aspect of God that may be doubted by a man still in Youdi’s thrall; but, for such a one, the Obidil may be doubted only after his power has begun to wane. For as long as the Obidil remains strong, before we begin to approach the exhaustion of life, not even our faith in Youdi can cause us to doubt. And even then the Obidil tries to love us: for it is the waning Obidil who drives us to savor even our exhaustion . . .