totally alloyed molloy

Finally, after years of staring at it mutely staring at me on the shelf, I freed it from the agony of other books.

Molloy by Beckett, the first of three novels. Starting late at night seemed like a fine idea. Why not.

I swallowed the first paragraph whole as an anaconda swallows a tapir. Zero indigestion, very enjoyable, a tasty little treat.

I widened my appetite and strained to consume the second paragraph. You know, the one that goes on for over 80 pages or so. No go. Something tore. It hurt.

My inner monologue began to chafe against the character’s inner monologue. Were there two inner monologues, or really only one with its own warp and woof? I couldn’t say where his thoughts and feelings ended and mine began. I was confused. I yawned, then slept. I realized this only when the book fell on me and elbowed me in the chest, rudely waking me up. A demanding mistress. I have a headache, I said.

Still, I aroused my desire and tried to read again.

Words crawled like ants over, around, and under other ants. A ticklish, writhing colony of confusion, surely what one feels when madness asserts itself. Things just didn’t make sense, like fragments of conversations overheard at a restaurant or a park, at a store or a coffee shop: “He’ll take it tomorrow for sure.” “No, over there, where the sign spins.” “She doesn’t know anything from nothing.” That sort of thing. They make just enough sense to not make any sense at all.

Reading experiences can go awry in many ways. Because I wasn’t ready for the rigors of Beckett, I apologetically stuffed Molloy back on the shelf, where it mutely suffers the throng of other books.

When my head is in the right place, I’ll return to it. I will.

For now The Killer Angels.

16 Responses to totally alloyed molloy

  1. Fred Runk says:

    I read Molloy, mainly because it was an assigned reading for a course I had signed up for. I doubt that I would have finished it on my own.

  2. Scott W. says:

    It certainly helped to have read this in a class taught by a Beckett scholar. That was 20 years ago, but I remember laughing a lot. Best of luck with it next time it’s night and raining and you feel like resuming it. Or even if it’s not night and raining.

  3. Pykk says:

    Out of interest, since you say “interior monologue,” do you read it as if the narrator is talking to himself? I came to Beckett through his plays and I tend to experience his novels and short stories as if they’re private performances given by voices that expect me to hear or overhear.

    • This isn’t an innocent question! Molloy is speaking; he is even writing at times. But it’s not clear, at least to me, if what we’re reading is the written production of what Molloy has wrote. So there may or may not be an audience in mind. Add to that that Molloy is an unreliable narrator, forgetful, confused, unwell. His expectations, what there are of them, aren’t stable; they shift as readily as his voice shifts from this or that scene, action or recollection. All in all, Molloy reads like directionless or audienceless talk.

      • Pykk says:

        Not innocent, no; I was thinking of the emphasis on voice in Beckett’s work, not tone but the act of actually speaking, the short play that has the actor’s lips illuminated and nothing else, Not I, the woman in the radio script who gets distracted by the unnaturalness of her own voice coming out of her own mouth (I don’t remember the title but she mentions the problem to her husband, who agrees, he has the same experience — then the suggestion that this is normal really, even in dear old Ireland — I think that gets in there somewhere, dear old Ireland or your dear old Irish accent), and Lucky’s logorrhoea or Vladimir and Estragon speaking with hats and other items of clothing, clown-speech, and saying that they will do something but never doing it, or the narrator in Texts for Nothing who says this in their monologue: “enough vile parrot I’ll kill you.” A parrot being a talking-bird. The overall struggle in Molloy to say anything that seems true, and the apparent desire of the narrator for a character that can be expressed by a voice, or words, and that is not just the expression of a voice, or words: “The pale gloom of rainy days was better fitted to my taste, no, that’s not it, to my humour, no, that’s not it either, I had neither taste nor humour […] Perhaps what I mean is that …” It occurred to me that giving voice in Molloy is a destructive act, it makes Molloy less able to know what he means, if he was ever able in the first place, or it makes him aware that he was always incapable and didn’t know it until this moment. So that when I read the words “interior monologue” I thought the word, “voice.” And realised that I thought of Molloy’s monologue as a monologue in the sense that Hamlet’s monologues are monologues, and not the way that a monologue on the page to be purely read not spoken, is a monologue. From there I wonder if part of Beckett’s achievement was to make writing seem as difficult as speech.

      • What a wonderful comment! A shame it’s buried in my comments. You should promote it to your blog, I encourage you to. You know your Beckett. A lot more than I. I’ve read Waiting and 20 or 30 pages of Molloy, and would have to really think through the distinctions between voice, tone and monologue. Not entirely sure I buy the claim that giving voice to M is destructive, if only because voice has to be creatively bestowed to fashion a character at all. Anyhow, promote, promote, promote, I say!

  4. Jeffry house says:

    That was really funny! I think it applies to a lot more than “Molloy”.

  5. Pykk says:

    “… creatively bestowed …” — and that’s a paradox; Beckett had to create a voice so that he could refer to silence and the extinction of the voice. Like an artist drawing two dots because they want the viewer to consider the space between the dots. Which could be one way of looking at drawing in general. You can draw a tree not by drawing a tree but by drawing the outline of a tree. People will still say, “You’ve drawn a tree.” They could also say, “You’ve drawn the space around a tree,” but they usually don’t. Quick idea, may or may not be relevant: the character is the tree, the silence is the space around the tree.

  6. I have miles to go before I think. Your claim is fascinating but I lack the critical perspective on MOLLOY — right now; later, no — to decide whether I agree. I’m very slow that way, not necessarily slow in a bad way, just in a really annoying way. Plodding. Anyhow, not sure Beckett is referring to silence. In the opening scenes of the book, he appears to be referring – again and again – to forms of isolation that separate the cacophony of interior worlds, one from the other. Silence, not sure. Separation, loneliness, inability to communicate — think: Molloy tapping on Mag’s head four times to say money! — and other threats to connection and community, these seem to be the things Beckett is gesturing at, not silence. But I could be wrong, am probably wrong. What kind of silence do you have in mind? BTW, I’m at the part of the novel where police have taken Molloy in custody for indecently resting on his bike. Enjoying it so far on my second attempt. Cheers.

    • Pykk says:

      Just making a comment to let you know I’m not ignoring you; I went away to read the book. The silence I’m thinking of is a voidish ur-state that the characters seem to natively inhabit, and which they try to struggle away from, by talking, or by making gestures, or by writing. (Moran in the second half refers to “the silence of which the universe is made.”) The struggle is a compulsive, demented, hopeless activity, like trying to get away from quicksand. Conversations in this book are parodies of communication; nobody understands anyone else. They’re incapable, they’re dumb, they’re hostile, they’re reluctant, or they’re lazy. Knocking on another person’s head to say a simple thing like Yes or No and even failing there, is a disgraced and fallen version of the unification of minds that communication seems to promise. Beckett likens mouths to anuses several times: speaking is as useful as shitting. The flesh fails the soul. (Which is the essence of clownishness too, and so, I think, you have those clown-gestures throughout the book, the hat with the pathetic shoelace, the bad leg, the activity in Lousse’s garden that never achieves anything. “Men were always busy there, working at I know not what. For the garden seemed hardly to change …”)

      • You went a way to read the book; I’m still reading it! I’m deep enough now in the novel that I’ve swung around to your view on silence. It’s everywhere in the book. And I especially appreciate your latest comment, capturing very nicely the connection between silence, clownishness, and conversations, as well as other forms of evacuation, like the forced evacuation administered by the brutal Moran to his son. Anyhow, here’s my gripe with Beckett and his entirely unwholesome view of language: Isn’t it interesting that you and I have been affected by MOLLOY, I mean, moved by an understanding of Beckett’s intent and vision? Isn’t it interesting that you and I have had a conversation about MOLLOY such that I understand where you’re coming from and have actually been persuaded to your view? Isn’t it interesting in other words that Beckett in MOLLOY and pykk and Kevin with respect to MOLLOY have succeeded where the picture of language presented in the book predicts our failure? Yes, I think Beckett and pykk and Kevin have given the lie to MOLLOY. That’s my philosophical objection, in a word. I still have a ways to go before I finish. But I’m sufficiently annoyed by Beckett at the moment that I want to box his ears, or knock his hat off, or punch him in the nose, something, anything to make him see that reality belies his cynicism, and not by a little, either.

  7. Pykk says:

    I wouldn’t call him a cynic though. I ‘d say an idealist. A real idealist, not an example of that old quote about a cynic being an idealist gone sour. Despairing but not sour. He doesn’t seem sour to me because he hasn’t given up. He considers writing. He considers speech. He considers gestures. He probes. He strips his characters. He keeps going. Molloy hasn’t given up on speech. He keeps adjusting himself as if he’s going to get to the right word sooner or later. “I came on a kind of crossroads, you know, a star or circus of the kind to be found in even the most unexplored of forests.” I think this is optimism. Moran looks at the sheep. I don’t know if you’re up to the sheep yet, but here’s Moran, looking at these sheep and this shepherd. He wants to stay. He might be sensing a kind of Eden there. I don’t believe that Beckett is the cynic who says that heaven (or the ideal, or an extreme stillness, or something that might be represented by those sheep, the silence of the universe maybe; I haven’t dwelt on it too much) doesn’t exist and we’re idiots for thinking about it. He writes as if it exists, or the longing for it exists, and that longing might put us in clownish situations because we’re physical creatures, but it isn’t a longing that needs to be despised or sneered at. He doesn’t sneer. His heart breaks. “But from time to time. From time to time. What tenderness in those little words, what savagery.” He’s exaggerating, with the bangs on the head and the garbled conversations — he knows that people can communicate the way we’re communicating here or he wouldn’t be writing at all. He wouldn’t have written his short book or long essay on Proust. But we’re not (or I’m not, I won’t try to put words in your mouth, but I know I’m not) at the point that’s he’s at: the point of pushing to an uttermost farthest state. I’m dawdling. He’s sprinting. So he’s the one with the muscle ache.

  8. Given the difficulties of self-knowledge and knowledge of others in MOLLOY and given the uselessness of acoustic blasts that escape mouths straining like anuses, and the frustration that results from these blasts (pardon me!), one wonders why Becket is optimistic at all, if that is in fact what he is.

    If he is, I don’t share his optimism at the moment, assuming of course I adopt his picture of mind and language. Which I don’t.

    I have more work to do before I’m comfortable defending my thesis.

    Maybe that will come in time.



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