Samuel Beckett – Molloy (1951)

First of the trilogy is divided in two chapters, both extended monologues. The first is from the vagrant Molloy’s perspective, broken into two paragraphs, one about 1.5 pages long, the second about 75. He is at his mother’s house. From there, he narrates his journey to that house…journey on road, runs off Madame Lousse’s dog with a bike, goes to Lousse’s house to convalesce, leaves, goes to forest without bike, encounters shepherd, gets lost in forest, kills someone, but eventually sees the light of day once gain. The second monologue is from Jacques Moran’s perspective. He is a detective who goes with his son to look for Molloy, a mission given to whom by Youdi via the messenger Gaber. They set off one evening for Bally (Molloy’s country), pitcha  tent in the forest, Moran’s knee starts hurting, sends his son to get a bike, kills a man while his son is away, son returns with bike and they make it to city, son deserts him, he wanders but eventually follows orders to go back home and write a report. He gets there and writes the first lines of the account.

Narrative frame and time: both stories foreground the retrospective narration. Moran’s narrative begins with “It is midnight. The rain is beating on the window,” and ends with the same two sentences with the coda “It was not midnight. It was not raining.” This comes just after he claims to be better understanding “the language” of the voice that comes to him from apparently nowhere >> the point is that the time (And action) of narration is a real and present counterfactual to the time and action of the plot. The final “It was” plays on the indeterminate past tesne: does it refer to the time of writing or the time of the plot? Past and present are thereby unhinged from their normal coordination with plot vs. writing. Compare with The Good Soldier and Lord Jim, for example, where that sort of temporal ordering is confusing but nevertheless stable. Molloy comments on this early on: “It is so easy to speak in the present tense, when speaking of the past. It is the mythological present.” Curious to see the sort of equivalence of all identity and things and time, etc. as achieving some sort of epic or mythic status in this novel….” Contrast to Joyce and Eliot.

Identity: Identity is bound up with power relations and, relatedly, territory and possessions. Not to mention the relation between Molloy and Moran (strangely similar life experiences), each of these characters have unstable ego-boundaries which they are obsessed with marking out the contours of. “here’s my beginning,” says Molloy, and it is as if marking out the contours of his story somehow doubles the process of forging a cohesive identity. he fails on both ends. This is of course related to the Cartesianism that Beckett would play with in Murphy, but whereas as that remains a more or less negative approach to philosophy attempting to divide mind and body, here we see Beckett showing how characters (and readers, too) begin to build up identities through the material and social worlds. This often takes the form of life as decomposition itself (Molly seems to melt into the garden at Lousse’s house; as Moran’s body breaks down, is limbs become detached and he has a moment of clarity abotu who he is). Molly says, “To decompose is to live, too” (25). Moran calls the world “slow and massive,” something that must be joined along with the “ponderous oxen.” But it also a move not emphasize the stable contours of Cartesian ego, but instead to emphasize its plasticity as it extends in various ways in the world. Molloy actually calls the mind a “lump of melting wax,” which combines these ideas of decay with that of plasticity.

Passages to remember:

The sucking stones passage: think of as basic units of property that expand and contract without any recognition. Their circulation is also arbitrary. Further, it is one of the many scenes that Deleuze would identify as “exhaustion,” thus connecting it to the biscuits in Murphy and the iteration of mothers and fathers, etc. in Watt.

When Moran talks about the stories he would tell, of “Murphy, Watt, Mercier, etc.” which positions Moran as an author of sorts. “A gallery of moribunds,” he calls them.

To get out of the forest, having heard that men accidentally walk in circles, Molloy decides to walk (or crawl) in circles in order to walk in a straight line out of the forest. It eventually works. Connect this to the logic of the narrative. But also to Finnegan’s Wake opening and ending, as well as the opening of The Cantos. They somehow begin mid-cricle. Also, perhaps, the Four Quartets (the end is our beginning, knowing it for the first time, etc.)

Molloy calls the asshole the “true portal of our being” and the “symbol of all those passed over in silence” (80).


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