Samuel Beckett – Murphy (1938)

Murphy sits most of the day in his rocking chair, to which he ties himself, restricting his body in an attempt to free his brain. He is a student of Wylie, who has supposedly mastered the art of stopping his heart. Much of this novel will focus on the break down of this Manichaeism. He is romantically involved with Celia, who wants him to get a job. A troupe of minor characters are looking for him throughout the entire book, each with their own reason: romantic, financial, sinister, etc. Chapter six, which is constantly referred to beforehand and after, deals with intricacies of Murphy’s brain: quite simply, a paradoxical fantasy of solipsism that cancels itself out. Eventually Murphy gets a job at an insane asylum through his friend Ticklepenny. He is really good at his job because he can identify so well–too well–with the patients. However, before something goes awry–he loses a chess game to a madman (recounted in full detail)–which leads him to go to his room (resembling a cell), and rock his chair until he dissolves into “superfine chaos.” His remains are entrusted to the drunkard Cooper, who gets into a fight in a bar which leads to Myphy’s ashes being used as a soccer ball, before exploding and integrating with “the sand, the beer, the butts, the glass, the matches, the spit, the vomit.” The final scene shows Celia taking care of Mr. Kelly before the final refrain closes: All out.

The opening line: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Murphy sat, as though he were free, in a mew in West Brompton.” The two sentence mirror one another, thus implicated language itself in the cycles of repetition and habit that structure our lives and determine our possibilities. The reference to Ecclesiastes performs that staleness of the reference. Yet this time–historical time–is offset by Murphy’s existential time, which runs deliberately counter to these objective structures. The fantasy of Murphy being able to establish his own time is held out throughout the novel until he is eventaully dissolved by the forward moving mill of the plot itself. He is metabolized by time.

The caress vs. the kick – Murphy delineates the demands of objective mediation–the violence of bringing the fantasy of the caress into the real world. The caress can never be anything but a kick.

Talk about the dissolution of the body in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

The heart – relate to Yeat’s portrayal of the heart (Innisfree, Circus Animal’s Desertion), and Ford’s “heart problem.”

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One response to “Samuel Beckett – Murphy (1938)

  1. I read “Murphy” years ago. Today I remember it as a very-very funny book. The philosophy, the chess, romances – it all ends up in surrealistic moves, doesn’t it?

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