Ann Banfield – Beckett’s Tattered Syntax (2004)

Beckett’s work accuses this compensatory wisdom of preventing “suffering…[from] open[ing] a window in the real (Proust, 28). But it is inly via conception of history, both personal and literary, that runs counter to the myth of progress–“in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation”–that all can “change utterly,” that an individual might escape the round of generation, that “the object of desire might be perceived as particular and unique and merely the member of a family” (proust, 22), that art can find a language to say something new…Beckett’s linguistic crisis is hence one of the mother tongue. (7)

Here we are returned to the theme f generation. Beckett pares down the reproductive organs  over and again to the digestive processes of the most primitive and rudimentary  organism, ‘‘Worm’’; generation is ‘‘a question of elimination’’ (Unnamable, 365).  The model is a conduit with an aperture—mouth, ear, eye, or the hole Molloy’s  ‘‘muse’’ makes him mention—at either end, for the entrance or exit of substances:  variously air, liquid, or solid. Moreover, there is no difference between entrance and  exit. This gives ‘‘the anatomy the geometry’’ of  How It Is (55), where the series of individuals in the mud are linked by ‘‘contact of mouth and ear’’ (140). Engender- ing is ‘‘pumping one’s likes,’’ the infinite series of‘ ‘brotherly likes,’’ Murphy, Molloy,  Malone, Mercier and Camier, Pim, Pam, Bem, Bom, Kram, Krim, Skom, Skum: ‘‘We are talking of a procession advancing in jerks or spasms like shit in the guts  till one wonders…if we shall not end…by being shat into the open air’’ (How It Is, 124). (9)

This same model produces language similarly via the conduit, speakers ‘‘launching their voices, through the hole, there must be a hole for the voices too’’ (Unnamable, 359). ‘‘Two holes and me in the middle, slightly choked. Or a single  one, entrance and exit, where the words swarm and jostle like ants.’ ’Words ‘‘keep pouring out of my mouth,’’ the Unnamable says, ‘‘dribbling,’’ or, alternatively,  ‘‘ramming a set of words down your gullet,’’ you are ‘‘branded as belonging to their breed’’ (Unnamable, 310,324). (9)

We can hypothesize that the minimalism of Beckett’s late style is a result of an attempt to create an art made largely out of syntacticon, while scarcely exploiting the dictionary–forming what Beckett calls “tattered syntaxes” or “syntaxes up ended.” (17)

For it is the proper name that fails first. Only a language weaned of such productive categories, like that of Swift’s Struldburgs, can “back unsay” and write the elegy for the lost mother tongue in a pure grammar, accomplishing the revolution of the syntax. It produces a work of memory in which the series of fathers and mothers is replaced by a losswards history. (23)


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