circle of death


this is the kind of book and bookmark combo i live for.

the TRILOGY has lived up to the hype. i can see its influence on Wallace and maybe Saramago, but there’s really nothing else like this. it’s chock full of allusions without the pyrotechnics of encyclopedic narrative, laugh out loud funny, and has simply been one of those kinds of great moments in my reading life, like Dara’s LOST SCRAPBOOK, when the door seems to have opened just a little wider and all these possibilities for prose without drama make an appearance.

Now that we know where we’re going, let’s go there. It’s so nice to know where you’re going, in the early stages. It almost rids you of the wish to go there.

we first meet Molloy in his mom’s room, and then he goes on a journey to find his mom. like those great English 18th c. novels of old, this novel is a manuscript written by the character, though it becomes way more problematic here. Molloy is aware, obsessed even, by his being a construct of language. he has a difficult relationship with his mom, resentful for the horrible crime:

of her who brought me into the world, through the hole in her arse if my memory is correct. First taste of the shit. 

[on the opposite page:]

And at the same time I satisfied a deep and doubtless unacknowledged need, the need to have a Ma, that is a mother, and to proclaim it, audibly. For before you say Mag you say ma, inevitably. And da, in my part of the world, means father. Besides for me the question did not arise, at the period I’m worming into now, I mean the question of whether to call her Ma, Mag or the Countess Caca…

Mag being one of two other women in Molloy’s life, on which he cant help but project his mother. (Molloy’s sex life is hilarious. “Toiled and moiled” til he came or gave up trying, he cant remember.) giving birth and taking a shit amounts to the same thing for Molloy — he’s like a post-Schopenhauer anti-natalist: bringing more human souls into this shit hole of a world without their consent is an ethical catastrophe. perhaps its for the best that voices like Molloy’s are left out of the abortion rights discourse. but it’s all so wonderfully blasphemous.

you cant say Mag without ma, and you cant say Molloy without mol, which im told is the suffix meaning “to soften, liquify,” like in mollify. Molloy’s name melts into Mollose by Moran, a detective or agent sent to track down Molloy in the second part. Vagina and ass hole melt together. it’s possible that Molloy and Moran are the same self, that the two equal parts of MOLLOY are presented in reverse order and show the narrative of one man whose body steadily breaks down.

i havent even talked about the sucking stones. actually there are several amazing set-pieces like it, which work like parodies of those awful math problem sets in grade school. the exact sciences dont appear to be so exact. language is in the way of everything. on the plus side, when understanding is blocked off, the way opens to something else, not understanding, but other.

i admit i found the opening Molloy section hard going, but Moran, despite being a misogynist scumbag, was better company because he’s ridiculous. If part one was about the mother, part two is a story about fatherhood. you can tell because for one thing, the second part has dicks everywhere. my favorite occurrence is late in the novel, when Moran is on the road to find Molloy (the most leisurely thriller plot ever). he encounters a stranger with a face

which I regret to say vaguely resembled my own, less the refinement of course, same little abortive moustache, same little ferrety eyes, same paraphimosis of the nose, and a thin red mouth that looked as if it was raw from trying to shit its tongue.

paraphimosis being a condition of an uncircumsized penis stuck in a particular way. and noses (like Laurence Sterne?) are not the only things that melt with the dingus: Malone in the middle book sees an eye between his legs, sensible enough, given how much he likes to jerk off onto himself.

you could view them as foils. Molloy keeps sucking stones (or rather suckling stones), Moran keeps a ring of all the keys to his house (mastery, penetration). there are sixteen stones to be distributed in Molloy’s four pockets, Moran puts down sixteen funny theology questions.

the novel’s framed by two circular journeys, to find mother Molloy and Molloy himself. their telos is also the origin. but instead of continuity, the circle feels more like a trap. there is only impotence, and human reproduction is abhorrent (have the queer theorists worked on these books yet?). not to mention that the next novel puts incest on the table.

ive already picked up some author hagiography (and Deirdre Bair’s life of him has rocketed to top-priority reading), how Beckett witnessed so many broken bodies from the First War, that Molloy’s consciousness reflects the rise of eugenics, fascism, as well as birth control. Beckett was deeply committed to political engagement, a hero of the Resistance, but in his work everything becomes wrenched at least a quarter of the way, so we could call them “apolitical” if we didn’t know better. but the TRILOGY contains all sorts of intellectual history that was in the air, like the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis — i havent done a long excerpt like this in a while, but see what you can identify in it.

MOLLOY by Samuel Beckett

I looked at my son. He had his mouth open and his eyes closed. Was it you blabbed on us? I said. He pretended not to know what I was talking about. Did you tell Martha we were leaving? I said. He said he had not. And why not? I said. I didn’t see her, he said brazenly. But she has just been up to your room, I said. The pie was already made, he said. At times he was almost worthy of me. But he was wrong to invoke the pie. But he was still young and inexperienced and I refrained from humbling him. Try and tell me, I said. a little more precisely, what it is you feel. I’ve a stomach-ache, he said. A stomach-ache! Have you a temperature? I said. I don’t know, he said. Find out, I said. He was looking more and more stupefied. Fortunately I rather enjoyed dotting my i’s. Go and get the minute-thermometer, I said, out of the second right-hand drawer of my desk, counting from the top, take your temperature and bring me the thermometer. I let a few minutes go by and then, without being asked, repeated slowly, word for word, this rather long and difficult sentence, which contained no fewer than three or four imperatives. As he went out, having presumably understood the gist of it, I added jocosely, You know which mouth to put it in? I was not averse, in conversation with my son, to jests of doubtful taste, in the interests of his education. Those whose pungency he could not fully savour at the time, and they must have been many, he could reflect on at his leisure or seek in company with his little friends to interpret as best he might. Which was in itself an excellent exercise. And at the same time I inclined his young mind towards that most fruitful of dispositions, horror of the body and its functions. But I had turned my phrase badly, mouth was not the word I should have used. It was while examining the shepherd’s pie more narrowly that I had this afterthought. I lifted the crust with my spoon and looked inside. I probed it with my fork. I called Martha and said, His dog wouldn’t touch it. I thought with a smile of my desk which had only six drawers in all and for all, three on each side of the space where I put my legs. Since your dinner is uneatable, I said, be good enough to prepare a packet of sandwiches, with the chicken you couldn’t finish. My son came back at last. That’s all the thanks you get for having a minute-thermometer. He handed it to me. Did you have time to wipe it? I said. Seeing me squint at the mercury he went to the door and switched on the light. How remote Youdi was at that instant. Sometimes in the winter, coming home harassed and weary after a day of fruitless errands, I would find my slippers warming in front of the the fire, the uppers turned to the flame. He had a temperature. There’s nothing wrong with you, I said. May I go up? he said. What for? I said. To lie down, he said. Was not this the providential hindrance for which I could not be held responsible? Doubtless, but I would never dare invoke it. I was not going to expose myself to thunderbolts which might be fatal, simply because my son had the gripes. If he fell seriously ill on the way, it would be another matter. It was not for nothing I had studied the old testament. Have you shat, my child, I said gently. I’ve tried, he said. Do you want to, I said. Yes, he said. But nothing comes, I said. No, he said. A little wind, I said. Yes, he said. Suddenly I remembered Father Ambrose’s cigar. I lit it. We’ll see what we can do, I said, getting up. We went upstairs. I gave him an enema, with salt water. He struggled, but not for long. I withdrew the nozzle. Try and hold it, I said, don’t stay sitting on the pot, lie flat on your stomach. We were in the bathroom. He lay down on the tiles, his big fat bottom sticking up. Let it soak well in, I said. What a day. I looked at the ash on my cigar. It was firm and blue. I sat down on the edge of the bath. The porcelain, the mirrors, the chromium, instilled a great peace within me. At least I suppose it was they. It wasn’t a great peace in any case. I got up, laid down my cigar and brushed my incisors. I also brushed the back gums. I looked at myself, puffing out my lips which normally recede into my mouth. What do I look like? I said. The sight of my moustache, as always, annoyed me. It wasn’t quite right. It suited me, without a moustache I was inconceivable. But it ought to have suited me better. A slight change in the cut would have sufficed. But what change? Was there too much of it, not enough? Now, I said, without ceasing to inspect myself, get back on the pot and strain. Was it not rather the colour? A noise as of a waste recalled me to less elevated preoccupations. He stood up trembling all over. We bent together over the pot which at length I took by the handle and tilted from side to side. A few fibrous shreds floated in the yellow liquid. How can you hope to shit, I said, when you’ve nothing in your stomach? He protested that he had had his lunch. You ate nothing, I said. He said no more. I had scored a hit. You forget we are leaving in an hour or so, I said. I can’t, he said. So that, I pursued, you will have to eat something. An acute pain shot through my knee. What’s the matter, papa? he said. I let myself fall on the stool, pulled up the leg of my trousers and examined my knee, flexing and unflexing it. Quick the iodex, I said. You’re sitting on it, he said. I stood up and the leg of my trousers fell down over my ankle. This inertia of things is enough to drive one literally insane. I let out a bellow which must have been heard by the Elsner sisters. They stop reading, raise their heads, look at each other, listen. Nothing more. Just another cry in the night. Two old hands, veined, ringed, seek each other, clasp. I pulled up the leg of my trousers again, rolled it in a fury round my thigh, raised the lid of the stool, took out the iodex and rubbed it into my knee. The knee is full of little loose bones. Let it soak well in, said my son. He would pay for that later on. When I had finished I put everything back in place, rolled down the leg of my trousers, sat down on the stool again and listened. Nothing more. Unless you’d like to try a real emetic, I said, as if nothing had happened. I’m tired, he said. You go and lie down, I said, I’ll bring you something nice and light in bed, you’ll have a little sleep and then we’ll leave together. I drew him to me. What do you say to that? I said. He said to it, Yes papa. Did he love me then as much as I loved him? You could never be sure with that little hypocrite. Be off with you now, I said, cover yourself up well, I won’t be long. I went down to the kitchen, prepared and set out on my handsmoe lacquer tray a bowl of hot milk and a slice of bread and jam. He asked for a report, he’ll get his report. Martha watched me in silence, lolling in her rocking-chair. Like a Fate who had run out of thread. I cleaned up everything after me and turned to the door. May I go to bed? she said. She had waited till I was standing up, the laden tray in my hands, to ask me this question. I went out, set down the tray on the chair at the foot of the stairs and went back to the kitchen. Have you made the sandwiches? I said. Meanwhile the milk was getting cold and forming a revolting skin. She had made them. I’m going to bed, she said. Everyone was going to bed. You will have to get up in an hour or so, I said, to lock up. It was for her to decide if it was worth while going to bed, under these conditions. She asked me how long I expected to be away. Did she realize I was not setting out alone? I suppose so. When she went up to tell my son to come down, even in he had told her nothing, she must have noticed the knapsack. I have no idea, I said. Then almost in the same breath, seeing her so old, worse than old, ageing, so sad and solitary in her everlasting corner, There, there, it won’t be long. And i advised her, in terms for me warm, to have a good rest while I was away and a good time visiting her friends and receiving them. Stint neither tea nor sugar, I said, and if by any chance you should happen to need money, apply to Mr. Savory. I carried this sudden cordiality so far as to shake her by the hand, which she hastily wiped, as soon as she grasped my intention, on her apron. When I had finished shaking it, that flabby red hand, I did not let it go. But I took one finger between the tips of mine, drew it towards me and gazed at it. And had I had any tears to shed I should have shed them then, in torrents, for hours. She must have wondered if I was not on the point of making an attempt on her virtue. I have gave her back her hand, took the sandwiches, and left her.



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