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James Lyons (Stanford University)
Exploring The Problematics of Representation in Beckett: the interaction of Postmodern aesthetics and the energy of consciousness

    Not I combines a narrative and a physical presence of an implied "character" speaking or listening to a discourse. This model of figure and text dominates Beckett's dramatic writing from 1972 onwards. For example, in the later short play, Rockaby, a woman in a rocking chair listens to a recorded narrative outlining a terse biography as she moves rhythmically in and out of light. In the more enigmatic prose narrative, Ill Seen Ill Said, the text reports a slightly more expansive biography of an old woman that may refer to the speaker or to an observed or invented presence that the narrator describes. In witnessing a performance of Rockaby, I assume that the character of the woman whose behavior is detailed in the narrative text is identical to the figure represented by the physical presence of the actress. In the prose piece the narrative becomes more equivocal and the connection between speaker and text more hypothetical. Looking at Beckett’s dramatic works such as Not I, That Time, Piece of a Monologue, Rockaby, and Ohio Impromptu from a behavioral perspective, I find similar presentations of a figure attempting to resolve a self-consciousness image of the self by implementing two rhetorical strategies: by reporting or inventing of a biographical narrative that focuses upon a moment near death and, secondly, by distancing the narrative in a refusal to merge its principal figure with the act of speaking.

    My intention with this paper will be to isolate and to characterize the desire that prompts these conflicting strategies. One approach to conceptualizing this desire will be to view it as a representation of the will in terms analogous to those defined by the Situationist Guy Debord. I suggest Beckett scholars view this desire as a manifestation of an energy that works through aesthetic images of a subject that cannot be perceived in Hegelian terms as directed by reason. The desire to speak and, therefore, to sustain consciousness is, with Beckett, irrational. The ironic questioning that insists upon the fictional nature of these assertions is, undeniably, an equally strong presence in these works. Yet, the interplay between assertion and denial defines a dialectic that actually sustains speech in the stichomythia of Beckett's dialogue whether that interaction takes place within the co-ordinates of a single speaker or as dramatic dialogue. And speech--as the manifestation of desire or will--protects the subject of Beckett's fiction and drama from the irredeemability of death. The fact that "the discourse must go on" may not be a cause for celebration, as discourse is confinement in language, habit, the accumulated detritus of civilization, but the impulse to speak is, at the very least, the manifestation of an energy that implies an ontological presence.

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