Elements of Criticism: In Two Volumes: v. 1-2 (Natural Law Paper)

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To attempt to extract it would be to damp its spirit.

Sicilian Defense: Scheveningen Variation

But if the theme of the book defies description, not so the writing. The portrayal of scenes is masterly; there is a diversity of simile which could only proceed from a mind well-stocked with many seemingly antagonistic branch- es of knowledge, and the author possesses an encyclopaedic vocabulary.


The style is leavened with a Celtic waywardness which is as attractive as it is elu- sive and leaves the reader questioning the source of his enjoyment. Never concrete, indeed. Celtic waywardness, God blast you. Little wonder that the novel did not attract many subscriptions. Immediate sales were few, and when Beckett returned to London after the war, it was to find the book out of print, some copies having been sold to an untraced buyer perhaps destroyed by enemy bombing.

There were no waiting royal- ties, though some came in belatedly [Knowlson, ]. All in all, an inauspicious start. Poor sales in England, worse in Ireland, mediocre reviews, a disastrous French translation, and a failure to interest any American pub- lisher. This figure, owing to the glittering vitrine behind which the canvas cowers, can be only apprehended in sections. Patience, however, and a retentive memory have been known to elicit a total statement approximating to the intention of the painter. It would be an extravagance to list all the books Beckett is known to have read in the years leading up to Murphy; indeed, I tried at one point to do so, and, like Neary [55], soon left off, appalled.

And it would be an even greater impertinence to imagine that by so doing one might track the maieutic mysteries to their dark zone. No, the aim must be to create an Image of that process.

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Relevant details will be noted in the commentary; here, the intention is to sketch a broad picture. The Trinity syllabus was demanding and thor- ough. The system encouraged wide reading: not just Andromaque, but all of Racine; not just the Drapier Letters, but all of Swift. Trinity was not so much an education as a corner stone of knowledge.

In Paris Beckett met McGreevy and Joyce, learned to drink, published his first essais, and came back a writer. Several elements contributed to the transition. He read widely in Descartes, Bruno, Vico and other writers he knew only superficially. Both are indicative of his mode of composition at this time. The Exagmination essay is erudite, compelling—and totally derivative. McQueeny shows that the Proust essay differs significantly from the earlier one, in that Beckett engages in an implicit dialogue with his sources and himself.

Murphy is in direct descent from Proust in this respect, its unacknowledged references not so much plagiarisms as parts of a private dialogue. Joyce, Beckett would repeat, made him realize artistic integrity [Bair, 73]. I had a great admiration for him. The Trinity experience was by no means wasted. His teaching of Racine taught him much about dramatic structure, and would shape the comic novel as yet unconceived.

His Rimbaud lectures may not have impressed his students, but they informed his own understanding. A major discovery was Jules Renard [see During this period a number of poems were written, as well as some of the stories that would become More Pricks than Kicks. And this was true of the major piece of work done in the years , the novel published in as Dream of Fair to middling Women, which was thoroughly cannibalized for More Pricks than Kicks and Murphy.

These years were not good ones for Beckett, with his physical problems the irrational heart of Murphy very much the product of a morbid obsession in self [Knowlson, ], but the eclectic read- ing and accumulation of straws of knowledge that took place formed a necessary apprenticeship for the work to come.


Psychotherapy was an important part of the process during the London years Again, this illustrates a tendency to take relatively minor works and use them as con- sistent points of reference. Knowlson argues [] that this letter offers the first convincing explanation of how the arrogant, narcissistic young man of the early s could evolve into someone noted later for his extraordinary kindness, courtesy and almost saintly good works. Beckett the religious writer is not the contradiction it seems, for his agnosticism always found expression in the images of the Christian faith; his later dismissal of this as a familiar mythology [Duckworth, lvii] is a little too easy.

Extensive notes taken from Augustine, close readings of the Bible Luke his preference , and his curiosity about the theolog- ical impasses into which the 17th century rationalists fell all bear witness to his fasci- nation with religious matters. That he could not believe in it impossibile est was no more of a paradox than his feelings for the 17th century artists and philosophers whom he also loved but in whom he could no longer have faith.

Chapter 6 of Murphy offers the necessary critique. The novel is premised on Cartesian dualism, but Descartes is less an active presence than a deus absconditus; references are to the system rather than specific works. The simple outline is complicated, as my notes to the chapter reveal, by similar paradigms created from Greek philosophy, Christian mysticism, depth psy- chology and post-Newtonian physics [see Beckett found in the Atomists Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius an ironic anticipation of this, and a school at odds with the mainstream of Greek philoso- phy Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle , whose affirmation of the immortal soul fueled the tradition of Christian rationalism.

Reactionary became Agnostic.

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Early in Beckett set about reading more widely, with an emphasis on the novel and authors who could improve his technique. And if I follow any tradition, it is his. Many are so recondite that one must ask why they were chosen, particularly when the impetus for so doing is not allusion in the usual sense. He probably believed that his novel should do for his London the dear indelible world of the 16th, 18th, and 20th centuries what Ulysses had done for Dublin.

It was not to be. And Synge, whose poetic influence was inestimable. Such a study would consider the impact made upon his writing by the visual arts, and the growing dialectic between his reverence for the Old Masters, and his sense that they would no longer do [see These are better treated in the annotations.

Yet out of the blooming buzzing confusion of the Big World [see 4. Despite the infinitude of sources, those that actually shaped the kosmos were few. Initially, the novel may be defined as a Cartesian machine, a cosmos governed by laws that are clear and distinct. Accordingly, its inhabitants must recognize the ratio- nalist tradition, in which the right pursuit of reason is the highest activity of the immor- tal soul, and leads to the love and understanding of God. This is the 20th century equivalent to the chal- lenge made to the mainstream of Greek thought by Leucippus and Democritus, whose denial of the immortality of the soul was a direct threat to the teaching of Plato and Aristotle.

In sum, the cosmos of Murphy may be seen as a would-be Occasionalist universe which is blown apart by the guffaw of the Abderite [see This paradigm applies to the monads within the macrocosm. Hippasos is an emblem [see In the rationalist tradition, of which Descartes can act as emblem, the soul seeks God by cul- tivating the highest activity of the mind; in the mystical tradition, Christian vision or Cartesian dream, the seeker confronts the paradox of an enlightenment which is not of this world, and returns with knowledge of that experience to communicate to oth- ers.

Murphy discovers in his confrontation with Mr. Endon that he can- not take the final step into the serenity or otherwise of the microcosmopolitan world because—and only Beckett could have come up with this twist, and all its attendant ironies—the cost would be his sanity. This is a price he is not prepared to pay, for if he can no longer apperceive himself then he can no longer exist. This is an irresolvable antinomy, and one to which Beckett would return in later works, such as Film.

Time and space thus form the Cartesian co- ordinates or analytical grid of the mechanical world: Murphy is more beastly circum- stantial [13] than almost any novel in the realist tradition.

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Yet time and again, in one place or another, the text is problematical. Unreliability creates the comedy of absurdity, and synthetic rea- soning in a contingent world [see Even such a basic question as, How did Murphy die?


The combination of particularity and absurdity, I argue, gives the world of Murphy its demented definition. But call it not so.

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This faded. The Elizabethan details at the back of the Notebook cannot be dated in this manner, and Beckett did not use the pages sequentially. Comedy is notoriously impossible to define, and the above indicates only some of the forces that went into the shaping of Murphy. Yet the novel may be placed, ten- tatively, within a tradition. My notes indicate a range of affinities, from Jacobean City comedies to Jonathan Swift, Tom Jones, and The Egoist, to say noth- ing of the rags and tags from Burton and countless others. Were I to be taxed with the obvious, the incongruity of offering a tragedian as a model for comedy, I might add a comment from Schopenhauer [WWI, I.

The life of every individual, if we survey it as a whole and in general, and only lay stress upon its most significant features, is really always a tragedy, but gone through in detail, it has the character of a comedy. For the deeds and vexations of the day, the restless irritation of the moment, the mishaps of every hour, are all through chance, which is ever bent upon some jest, scenes of a comedy.

But the never-satisfied wishes, the frustrated efforts, the hopes unmercifully crushed by fate, the unfortunate errors of the whole life, with increasing suffering and death at the end, are always a tragedy. Thus, as if fate would add derision to the misery of our existence, our life must con- tain all the woes of tragedy, and yet we cannot even assert the dignity of trag- ic characters, but in the broad detail of life must inevitably be the foolish char- acters of a comedy.

One of the curiosities of this novel, devoted obsessively to the little world of the mind, is its eschewal of interior consciousness; even the one broken dream [] is painted on a flat surface. This is classical detachment taken to an extreme. Mays discusses the linking of the two plots of Murphy by echo and repetition, parallels of sound and action; and unlike Rabinovitz, whose approach to this aspect of the novel is dogged- ly mechanical, he shows how the geometrical principle of its structure controls the humor and leaves room for exploitation of emotions like savagery and tenderness.

The overall organization could be called a Gestalt one, with geometrical shapes e.

Murphy is a novel of surfaces rather than symbols, and its modular principle not unlike that of Watt, though better connected is the paragraph centered on a particular theme voyeurism, 90 , which integrates the images. Or on an image which integrates a theme the voltaic pile, This is a method essentially visual in its conception, though the images and themes may be drawn from various fields. Murphy is a very funny novel. A Pythagorean academy in Cork, Neary doing bat- tle with Cuchulain, the touching little argonautic in the Park.