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Curt Willits (Florida State University)
Worstward Ho’s “Fidelity to Failure”: A Blanchovian Reading

    Beckett’s Nohow On novels, the second and last “so-called” trilogy—Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, and Worstward Ho—map (as does The Unnamable, Texts For Nothing, and How It Is) the milieu of the Blanchovian, subject-less writer in situ. Having relinquished hold upon authority, the writer exists utterly alone, not as an alienated, paranoid, lone ego, but rather as essentially “no one” (which “Nohow On,” as anagram, both as is and backwards, puns). The writer abides at the limen of the il y a, at the “step not beyond” of what there is after everything has disappeared—where (although nowhere) an echoing, incessant, voiceless other-ness speaks. In dreadful “fascination,” “blind, dumb, and numb,” the writer, powerless to express, thoughtlessly, compellingly, records the “ill seen ill said” limit-experience. The script that materializes strains to finish, to represent at last the silence, the nonrepresentative “exteriority” of language; but, of course, it always and already fails, for language relentlessly represents. The demise of the author-position, however, releases language to ghost its own non-signifying “reality,” to parody its own opaque, nondialectical being (as trace, surface, pure becoming); and so the writing necessarily goes on, although it cannot go on, driven toward its own becoming-void yet stymied by the very proliferation of that becoming, “expressing” in vain its nameless “outside” situated in the impossible un-“saying” of the meaning-laden “said.”

But how may we characterize such an ideally unproduced, unproductive, “misread” script? Foucault indicates (following Blanchot) that such writing exhibits a kind of contesting of language in a continual play of contradictions, paradoxes, and aporeas, and so avoids “any inner confirmation [. . .] but [unfolds as a catastrophic movement] toward an outer bound [. . .],” not of a negating dialectically, but of a casting language “ceaselessly outside of itself, to deprive it at every moment not only of what it has just said, but of the very ability to speak. [. . .] of [language] hollowing itself out.” A kind of “symmetrical conversion,” Foucault argues, distinguishes Blanchot’s “language of literature.”

This paper proffers a reading of Worstward Ho (as an example from Beckett’s post-Malone Dies novels), by way of the Blanchovian paradigm, that demonstrates Beckett’s “aesthetics of failure.” As “a speech? And yet not speech [. . .]” (Blanchot), Worstward Ho chronicles by similar methodical “conversions” an interminable, spiraling movement worstward of language (as if as a strategy) toward impossibly naming its own unnamability: therefore, what appears to be a dialectical contradicting is rather a contesting thought-lessly effacing; what appears to be an interiorized, incremental repetition of reflection is rather an exteriorized, excremental repetition of forgetting; what appears to be an exiled speaking in search of hope and reconciliation is rather a tortured and relentless droning; or what appears to be a mind laboring to make sense is rather language beside-itself (burdened by a witless writer), compulsively engaged in an unending, linguistic gnawing away toward its own “outside.”

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