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Kristin Czarnecki (Georgetown College)
'Being as Ill-being': Kristevan Abjection in Beckett's Molloy

    My paper examines Beckett’s novel Molloy through the lens of Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982). “There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being,” Kristeva states, “directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside” (1), a concept resonating with Molloy and its characters’ twinned physical and psychic declines. Molloy and Jacques Moran face the uncertainty of being and memory in conflicted and conflicting self-reflexive narratives, each inexorably driving toward a state of abjection. “I experience abjection only if an Other has settled in place and stead of what will be ‘me,’” Kristeva writes (10), elucidating Molloy and Moran’s immersion into each other after “a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it [the revolt of being] literally beside himself” (1).

    Kristevan abjection, the obliteration of the self, establishes “[s]uffering as the place of the subject. [. . .] Being as ill-being” (140), exemplifying Molloy’s conflation of narrative pretense with bodily degeneration. Lying in his mother’s bed, musing on his past, professing to remember his own birth, Molloy manifests the paradoxical nature of narrative—its dual impulse to move forward yet retreat into the past to recover the semiotic, Kristeva’s term for the pre-linguistic space of the womb. Moran, conversely, strives for the symbolic, the ordered structure of language and identity, his opening lines reestablishing narrative harmony by referring to solid objects and other human beings. Unlike Molloy, wandering restlessly through the muck of abjection, Moran busies himself with fastidiously arranging his affairs and controlling his son. Attempting to cleave his semiotic and symbolic selves, however, he only represses and deepens his abjection.

    Kristeva’s theory that “a certain control is exerted by a horror that remains hidden, unanalyzed, a compulsion to obsess over miserable physical and mental states” precisely pinpoints Beckett’s characters, enslaved by such obsessions, eventually discovering the uselessness of language to make sense of or identify their worlds. Ascendant to such a discovery, however, is narrative’s allure, as Molloy, Moran, and Beckett himself attempt to express, in writing, that writing is an unfit medium of expression. Manifesting “on one side, what is base”—Molloy/the semiotic, and “on the other, the speech”—Moran/the symbolic (Kristeva 143), Molloy read alongside Powers of Horror illuminates the paradoxical inertia of Beckett’s narrative and linguistic innovations.

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