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Brian Richardson (University of Maryland)
Extreme Narration in The Unnamable

    Narration in the fiction of Samuel Beckett tends to revolve around two antithetical poles, both of which work to negate the basic epistemological drama of multiple narrators with differing perceptions that animates most of the work of major modernists like James, Joyce, Broch, Faulkner, and Woolf. The first pole is solipsistic, as seemingly disparate narrative voices turn out in the end to be mere projections of a single isolated consciousness. Company (1980) is exemplary in this regard: it begins with the statement, “A voice comes to one in the dark” (7); much of rest of the text is an investigation of the nature, status, and identity of that voice. In the end, it turns out that “huddled thus you find yourself imagining you are not alone while knowing full well that nothing has occurred to make this possible” (61); the voice is not that of another, there is no one else . Such a failed attempt to generate “company” also appears in Malone Dies, “Cascando,” “Not I,”and other texts, narrative and dramatic, which follow the trajectory described in The Unnamable: “I am of course alone. . . . I shall have company. In the beginning. A few puppets. Then I’ll scatter them, to the winds, if I can” (292).

    The other, opposite tactic is the uncanny and inexplicable intrusion of the voice of another within the narrator’s consciousness. Unlike the solipsistic gambit, which is readily situated within existing theories of narration, this other movement threatens to violate the principle of an autonomous, individual conscious that is the presupposition of all current theories of the narrator. To get a full sense of the force of this transgression, we may trace the emergence and development of the intrusive alien voice as it is played out in Beckett’s trilogy. In the second section of Molloy, Moran refers to “a rabble in my head, what a gallery of moribunds. Murphy, Watt, Yerk, Mercier and all the others. . . . Stories, stories. I have not been able to tell them” (137). This statement overthrows the ontology of the work. Moran claims to have in his head voices of other characters created by Beckett—and in the case of Mercier, one inhabiting a text that had not yet been published. This ontological violation further problematizes the idea of voice: what can the source of such a voice be?

    The rest of this paper will be devoted to unfolding the curious features of the voice(s) that narrate The Unnamable, a text that begins with a question concerning the nature and identity of its speaker. I will argue that current narrative theory has no existing category capable of containing this most unusual kind of narration, and will propose that a new type, which I will call the “permeable narrator” be recognized that added to existing theoretical constructs.

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