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Hugh Culik (Michigan Humanities Council)
Beckett, Aphasiology and the Crisis of Representation

Modern neuroscience evolves through a discourse that increasingly relies on notions of biological function. The history of the discipline understands that shift as beginning with the phrenologists, accelerating with the work of Broca, and re-problematized by Kurt Goldstein's study of brain-injured soldiers in World War I. Throughout this evolution, the fundamental task increasingly turned to how the nervous system works rather than what it is; philosophy was displaced by concern with biological and adaptive functions. This shifting question about the representational strategies within the emerging disciplines of neurology and neurolinguistics resonates with similar concerns in mathematics and psychology during that same time. That Beckett finds these discursive shifts useful to his own interest in the limits of language has been well documented. Aggregating Beckett, neurolinguistics, mathematics, and neurology points to a general crisis in representation that has afflicted Western culture, a crisis distributed throughout its prominent discourses. The anxiety of representation and the strategies that contain the threats implicit in those anxieties is embedded in Beckett's use of the threads that makes these discourses kindred. It is both Beckett's place in this network and the network itself that can be understood through his fiction.

The neurological, neurolinguistic, and the other systematic languages that pervade Beckett's work form a strategic network of references that imbricate his work in dominant concerns of the late-modern and postmodern worlds. His interest in neurology/neurolinguistics measures both his acute sense of a fundamental of cultural contention - the doubled binary of construction/solipsism and transcendence/totalism - that he and others have exposed as both a defective structure and a paradox that re-opens the artist to a literally infinite number of occasions for expression. Linguistic acts of re-presentation serve as artificial interruptions in the functional processes underlying language. Representational claims become linguistic artifacts that are distinctly different from the objects that occasion them. Any theoretical/representational claim re-enters the field of objects-to-be-explained by its links to historical iterations of its underlying concerns. We see this in the phrenological and neurological allusions of Mercier et Camier, in the bizarre mathematical historicism of Watt, the astrological/astronomical linkages of Murphy and in its Cartesian/neurological linkages, the features of a Wernicke's aphasia in Lucky's monolog, etc. By these multiple enfoldings of the contemporary in the historical, the contemporary becomes a transitory artifact of the representation dynamic. The work moves forward to the next instantiation of a partial and inadequate expression of a dynamic drive toward closure, completion, meaning, and nameability. The strategy is however, distinctly without nostalgia; there is no pining for order, but rather a reorientation of the aspiration for order into a future-oriented framework where the problematic becomes generative. Failures form an element of the dynamic that moves forward the creative act. To read Beckett as a transitional figure between the modern and the postmodern thus makes excellent sense, but it must be cautious of the differences between Becket's temporal orientation and its implicit sense of praxis and the residual nostalgia implicit in some questions that appear in discussions of the post-postmodern.

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