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on beckett
alain badiou

alberto toscano & nina power

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Copyright © Clinamen Press 2003

Translation, introduction
Postface © Andrew

published by Clinamen PTP rl:iT

Unit B
Aldow Enterprise Park
Blackett Street
M12 6AE

'The Writing of the Genenc' publIshed in French This book is dedicated to the memory of our friend Sam Gillespie
in the work Conditions by Editions du Seuil as
'L' ecriture du generique: Samuel Beckett'
© Editions du Seuil, 1992
Editions du Seuil, 27 rue Jacob, Paris

Tireless Desire published in French by Hachette

as Beckett: L 'increvable desir
© Hachette, 1995
Hachette Livre, 43 quai de Grenelle, Paris

'Being, Existence, Thought: Prose and Concept'

published in French in the work Petit manuel d'inesthetique
by Editions du Seuil as

'Etre, existence, pensee: prose et concept'

First English translation © Stanford University Press
Stanford University Press, 1450 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, California

This book is supported by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs

as part of the Burgess Programme headed for the French Embassy
in London by the Institnt Franyais du Royaurne-Uni

All rights reserved. No part of this edition may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written pennission of the publishers.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

hardback ISBN 1903083 26 5

paperback ISBN 1903083 30 3

Designed and typeset in Times New Roman with Verdana display by Ben Stebbing, Manchester
Printed and bound in the UK by Biddies Ltd

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Alain Badiou On Beckett r------01 l Alain Badiou On Beckett


I Notes on References
• • •



Note on the Contributors


Acknowledgements X

Editors' Introduction - 'Think, pig!'


Author's Preface xxxv

I The Writing of the Generic I


2 Tireless Desire

3 Being, Existence, Thought: Prose and Concept 79
4 What Happens 113
5 Postface - Badiou, Beckett and Contemporary Criticism
Andrew Gibson 1 19
Notes 1 37
Index 161

Ala i n Badiou On Beckett r----- l Ala i n Badiou On Beckett

Note on the References I Note on the Contributors

The situation regarding Beckett translations is without doubt a complicated one, for a variety of
oft-discussed authorial and editorial reasons. In order to allow the reader to navigate Badiou's
essays and refer to the Beckett texts when necessary, we have endeavoured to render the references
in On Beckett as practicable as possible, opting for the insertion in brackets of the British (Calder
Publishers and Faber and Faber) and American (Grove Press) page references in the main body
of the text. Because of important terminological differences and due to the interest of Beckett's

own 'self-translations' we have placed the original French (Les Editions de Minuit) quotes in
the endnotes. Any other comments made by the editors will appear in brackets. Page references

are to the editions currently in print by each publisher. The abbreviations used throughout the
I: ,
texts for the British and American editions are as follows:
, '

I Andrew Gibson is Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at

C - Company (Calder Publishers, 1996) Royal Holloway and is the author of Postmodernity, Ethics and the
CDW - The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber and Faber, 1 990) Novel: From Leavis to Levinas. He is currently preparing a book on
CSP - Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980 (Calder Publishers, 1 986)
, Badiou's reading of Beckett.
E Endgame (Grove Press, 1 958)

GSP The Complete Short Prose 1929-1989 (Grove Press, 1995)


HD - Happy Days (Grove Press, 1 983) Nina Power is currently studying for a PhD in philosophy at
HII- How It Is (Calder Publishers, 1 996) Middlesex University, London.
HII US How It Is (Grove Press, 1988)

ISIS - III Seen III Said (Calder Publishers, 1 997)

Alberto Toscano teaches at Goldsmiths College and is the author of
M - Murphy (Calder Publishers, 1 997)
MUS - Murphy (Grove Press, 1 970)
several articles on Badiou, De1euze , Nietzsche and Schelling. He is
NO - Nohow On (Company, III Seen III Said, Worstward Ho) (Grove Press, 1 996) the translator of Badiou's forthcoming Handbook ofInaesthetics
SP Collected Shorter Plays (Grove Press, 1 984)
and The Century.

T - Trilogy (Calder Publishers, 1 994)

TN - Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) (Grove Press, 1991)
W Watt (Calder Publishers, 1 970)

W US Watt (Grove Press, 1 970)


WG - Waiting/or Godot (Grove Press, 1954)

WH - Worstward Ho (Calder Publishers, 1 983)

A l a i n B a d i o u On Beckett r-
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Acknowledgements 'Think, pig!'

An Introduction to Badiou's Beckett


I i The editors wish to thank Leslie Hill for his insightful comments and advice
I These writings on Samuel Beckett by Alain Badiou, assembled here for the
on the original manuscript, Bill Ross at Clinamen for his patience, amiability first time, comprise ten years of work by one of France's leading thinkers on
and useful interventions, Peter Hallward and Ray Brassier for their vital one of the 20th century's most innovative and vital writers. This volume brings
insights into Badiou's thought, Dr Julian Garforth at the Beckett archive together translations of 'Samuel Beckett: L'ecriture du generique' (the

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University of Reading, for his assistance and generosity and Bruno Bosteels concluding chapter of the collection Conditions ( 1 992)); a short monograph
for kindly providing us with his original translation of 'The Writing of the entitled Beckett. L 'increvable desir ( 1 995); a long chapter on Worstward Ho
Generic' . Above all, our thanks go to Alain Badiou for his unflagging support from the more recent Petit manuel d 'inesthetique ( 1 998); and finally 'Ce qui
of this proje ct. arrive' , a brief conference intervention, also from 1 998.1 Viewed as distinct
moments in a prolonged intellectual encounter, these texts reveal a complex
and rigorous reading of Beckett, but a Beckett quite distinct from those of
other French thinkers such as Deleuze, Bataille, Blanchot or Derrida (to note
some of the most obvious of Badiou's 'rivals' in this enterprise), as well as
from the majority ofAnglo-American Beckett scholarship.2 This introduction
will seek to develop two basic theses: Firstly, that Badiou's reading ofBeckett,
whilst in part a response to other currently more celebrated French
interpretations, and, indeed, indebted to some of their key insights (such as,
for example, Blanchot's insistence on the relationship between writing and
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silence, or Bataille's account of Beckett's impersonal ontology) is ultim
ately �,\ I l'\ IlllpiclcJy has this edict of 'timidity' subtended the 'post-humanist' rules
different in kind to them, in its general aims as well as in the detail
of its III (:oll1mentary about Beckett, that it is seemingly impossible to assert
argument s. Secondly, that, whilst Badiou's writings on Beckett functio
n to :lllything at all about Beckett; all one can do is acknowledge that every possible
some extent as occasions for the rehearsal or mise-en-scene of the princi
pal assertion already becomes its negative within Beckett's work itself, so that
components of his philosophy - event, subject, truth, being, appearanc
e, the allY criticism begins already from a position of inherent weakness, prefigured
generic - they are by no means a mere 'application' of Badiou's doctrin
e to a hy thc wry 'admission' that Beckett has stranded his critics in the position of
figure writing (ostensibly) in another discipline. Rather, we shall arg
ue that having nothing left to do. From the outset Badiou's unusually strong reading
the encounter with Beckett forces Badiou to introduce concepts and ope
rations thus upsets the (admittedly understandable) trepidation that has always
which, if not entirely new to his thinking, nevertheless constitute considera
ble, accompanied the more careful readings of Beckett undertaken during the
and po ssibly problematic, additions to, or variations upon, the fundam
ental laller half of the 20th century.
tenets of his enterprise. Taken together, these two lines of inquiry wil
l also Badiou will thus engage in none ofthe rhetoric, so often manifested in
give us the opportunity to consider the vexed question of the relatio
nship thc scholarship, that finds in Beckett so many hypostases ofthe 'paralysing'
between philosophy and literature, as it comes to be defined by Badio
u's i mperative of language and silence, the opacity of the signifier, the end of
recent doctrine of 'inaesthetics' .
1l10dernity, etc. In fact, Badiou fails to even discuss the vast bulk of
contemporary Anglo-American Beckett scholarship, as well as refusing any
protracted engagement with any of his French predecessors. Indeed, he has
1. been explicitly criticised for failing to engage with either of these two strands

of Beckett study.3 Certainly this lack of dialogue is revealing, but arguably

, I In order to indicate in what sense these texts present a unique exposition
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indicates more about the nature of our expectations when it comes to a critical
of Be ckett's thinking, it is worth beginning with one of Badiou's dec

, I :
reading of Beckett rather than demonstrating any outright omission or
formulas: 'the lesson of Be ckett is a lesson in measure, exactitud

e and shortcoming on Badiou's part. It is, above all, Badiou's desire to read Beckett
I courage' . From the outset, we can of course note the polemical nat
ure of 'at his word' or 'to the letter' that indicates that what we are dealing with,
such an affirmation, designed as it is to elicit the surprise and conste
rnation quite simply, is Beckett's texts themselves, and not their critical reception.
of a certain sensus communis pervading both Beckett criticism proper
and We are also a long way here from Derrida's half-humble, half-arrogant
I" I , the reception of his work beyond the narrow confines of the academ
y. In his declaration: 'Beckett, whom I have always "avoided" as though I had always
exploration of Beckett's writings, Badiou outlines a vision of a pared-
down, already read him and understood him too well. '4 In the first place, Badiou
philosophically amenable, and ultimately (and, prima facie, surpri
singly) seems to say, we cannot 'avoid' Beckett, however much he seems to pre­
resourceful literary and intellectual projec t. In stark contrast to pre
valent empt us - the singularity and intellectual weight of his work is such as to
readings of Be ckett's work by either Anglo-American or (the major
ity of) demand an explicitly philosophical response and articulation (without, of
other European commentators, Badiou conceives of Be ckett's oeuvre
as, in course, over-determining its 'literary' qualities; as we shall see below, this
toto, more hopeful than hopeless, more optimistic than nihilistic.
distinction is precisely at stake in Badiou's notion of 'inaesthetics'). Moreover,
Ho w, in the first pla ce, is this affirmative, courageous - thoug
h the complexity ofthe categories and operations deployed in Beckett's work,
atheological and non-redemptive - Beckett possible? The Beckett we
know as well as their transformations, is such that, without a stringent and systematic
from Blanchot, from Bataille, from Ricks on the British side, and
from investigation, it is entirely fatuous to think that we have (always) already
numerous others, necessarily and constitutively cannot be this strong
' ethical' understood Beckett. Indeed, as with all thinking worthy of the name, Beckett's
writer; Badiou's reading must therefore surely betray what Derrida,
above writing draws its force and urgency precisely from the way that it subtracts
all, points to as the 'impossibility' ofwriting defmitively about Beckett. Ind
eed, itself from our impressions and intuitions; in other words, from the manner

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in which it excavates our muddled and spontaneous phenomenologies to reveal the writing itself.
a sparse but essential set of invariant functions that determine our 'generic In the kind of ad hominem argument that would scandalise any good
humanity'. Derridean, Badiou argues that the incessant repetitions in Beckett's early
Where then, does Badiou find the critical resources to present us with works, what he refers to as an oscillation between the cogito and the 'grey
a Beckett so vigorously opposed to many of the shared presumptions of black', led to a crisis for Beckett - both personally and as a writer.s That by
contemporary scholarship and philosophical reception? Simply in order to the early 1960s he had, in some sense, reached a ' last' state; all that remained
orient the reader, we would like to point to one of the crucial instances in to be said is that there was nothing more to be said. 'Saying' had, for Beckett,
which these resources are to be found: The importance ofthe much-overlooked reached its absolutely maximal degree of purification. As Badiou puts it:
and, as Badiou puts it, 'worst understood' 1960s prose text How It Is, and the It was necessary to have done with the alternation of neutral being and
identification of a chronological break (corresponding to a real crisis in vain reflection so that Beckett could escape the crisis, so that he could
Beckett's thought) before and after this text. This will help us the better to break with Cartesian terrorism. To do this, it was necessary to find some
discern the stakes of his approach and the challenge it poses to rival third terms, neither reducible to the place of being nor identical to the
interpretations. We will then move on, in section two, to assess the repetitions of the voice. It was important that the subject be opened up to
consequences - both for his reading of Beckett and for his thinking as a an alterity and cease being folded upon itself in an interminable and
whole - of B adiou's concern with B eckett' s method and with the torturous speech. Whence, beginning with How It Is (composed between
'philosophical anthropology' that the latter implies. 1 959 and 1 960), the growing importance ofthe event (which adds itself to
While the so-called 'Trilogy' (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) the grey black of being) and of the voice of the other (which interrupts
has received copious and exacting attention for its exploration of the
, I'II ,
, solipsism).
vicissitudes of language, SUbjectivity and ' aporetics', and Watt and Murphy
I are seized upon as anticipation oflater problematics and for their characteristic Badiou thus argues that there is a break with two key early positions:
,I humour, How It Is (published as Comment c 'est by Minuit in 1 96 1 , with the schemata of predestination that emerge in Watt and Murphy and the

Beckett's English version published by Calder in 1964) seems most often to oscillation between the solipsist cogito and the 'grey black' of the 'Trilogy'.
be filed under the category of ' anomaly' for many Beckett scholars (although In order, therefore, to understand Badiou's seemingly indefensible claim
there are indications that this is increasingly no longer the case). For Badiou, regarding the affirmation and hope present in Beckett's work, we must now
, " I
however, the text occupies an absolutely crucial role in Beckett's oeuvre, refer to the key concept that sustains this view ofthe later Beckett: the event
indicating a decisive shift in both the themes and the style of his prose. Badiou or encounter. What exactly happens with How It Is for Badiou to find these
nevertheless professes to agree with all those who see impasse and the torture 'third terms ' so crucial? In How It Is the prose is grounded in different
of language in the prose works up to and including the Trilogy and Textsfor categories: the category of 'what-comes-to-pass' [ce-qui-se-passe] and, above
Nothing. But this is not the end of the matter, and Badiou chastises himself all, the category of alterity - of the encounter and the figure of the Other,
for having originally accepted this vision of Beckett as manifesting ' the fissuring and displacing the solipsistic internment of the cogito. In order to
(ultimately inconsistent) alliance between nihilism and the imperative of shed some light on this transformation we will need to shift our focus onto
language, between vital existentialism and the metaphysics of the word, the philosophical armature that subtends Badiou's various readings. As we
between Sartre and Blanchot.' In this respect, we should note that Badiou shall argue, the constellation of concepts employed in these texts is neither
wishes to evacuate the defeatist pathos accorded to the impasse, together (explicitly) Beckett's nor (entirely) Badiou's, but is rather the product of a
with any intimation that we are here faced with the linguistic 'truth' ofhuman philosophical or ' inaesthetic' capture of a literary work which does not leave
finitude or with an episode in the genealogy of nihilism; rather, he intends to philosophical doctrine untouched. The aforementioned division of Beckett's
approach it as a problem that demands resolution from Beckett at the level of oeuvre into two distinct periods, before and after How It Is is crucial to

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understanding the role of the 'event', both for Badiou's reading of Beckett, what else is there 'besides' the prose?). What does this 'lack of limitation'
and indeed, for Badiou's own work as a whole. Bearing in mind this 'shift', mean? Simply that, amidst the Dante-esque crawling and drowning in the
the notion of an unforeseen event or encounter that constitutes subjectivity in mud ofHow It Is, the violent tussles involving can-openers and bashed skulls,
the meeting of an other, radically separates Badiou's 'affirmative' reading the darkness and silence, there is possibility of an existence that is wholly
from any interpretations centred on the notion of a human condition, as in other, wholly new, not only in the life of memory and images, but in the
Martin Esslin's work on the absurd, for example. This is partly because there present, with and through another: 'two strangers uniting in the interests of
is nothing inevitable about the event, only that ' something happens to us' , torment'. The encounter, however temporary, however sadistic, smashes apart
and partly because what follows from the event is absolutely singular, though the solipsistic linguistic oscillation, such that the speaker of How It Is can
(crucially) universalisable. recognise that 'with someone to keep me company I would have been a
The encounter, if it happens at all, is absolutely not pre-determined. different man more universal' . What the temporary, non-fusional, conjunction
Encounters in Beckett always arise by chance: Prior to a meeting there is of the Two allows is an opening onto infinity, onto universality; 'that for the
only solitude. One consequence of this state of solitude is the lack of any likes of us and no matter how we are recounted there is more nourishment in
essential or substantial sexual difference. It is true that Beckett's characters a cry nay a sigh tom from one whose only good is silence or in speech extorted
often seem without sex or androgynous. It is only as a consequence, therefore, from one at last delivered from its use than sardines can ever offer. '
as an effect of the encounter, that sexuation becomes possible. As Badiou
writes: 'In the figure of love ... the Two occurs, together with the Two of the
sexes or sexualised figures. ' The numericality of this newly arisen pair is II.
crucial. Prior to the encounter, the solipsistic One has no resources to escape
!I ' If anything marks out Badiou's approach to the literary and stage works
its One-ness. The encounter, the absolute novelty of the event of love, from
whence arises the Two, does not lead back to a new One, the love which of Samuel Beckett, it is the steadfast conviction that in order to really think

III would be denigrated as 'fusion' in the Freudian sense, or even in a banal, through their uniqueness, a thorough and unapologetic operation of

romantic, popular-cultural sense, but to infinity. One, Two, infinity: For the formalisation is in order, one demonstrating the ultimately unequivocal
voice ofHow ItIs, there is: 'before Pim with Pim after Pim' . This 'exponential character of Beckett's thought, even (or especially) in what concerns its
curve' to infinity derives from the fact that the Two of love, of the pure oscillations and aporias. This position, which can be expediently summarised
encounter is apassage. But to what? Badiou replies: to 'the infinity of beings, as a concern with method- and which does not exclude careful considerations
and experience' . The Two oflove introduces a new opening onto the sensible of both the methods of failure and the failures of method - is undoubtedly
world, away from the endless circuits of language. Love permits 'beauty, what makes these commentaries so alien to the more or less pervasive vision
nuance, colour' . It also permits - in fact, it is the only event to do so - of Beckett as a relentlessly elusive and anti-systematic writer. Whether the
happiness. Perhaps we are now in a better position to see where the 'hope' reader of these pages will recoil in horror at such an unwavering Beckett or
and potential in Beckett's work ultimately lies for Badiou - not, as a reading assent with enthusiasm to their formal systematicity will depend to a
that would wish to re-inscribe him into the long wave of humanism, in the :
considerable degree on the manner in which he or she responds to the claims
commonality of human properties, but, on the contrary, in the absolute' made herein about the existence and nature of a rationally re-constructible

singularity of an unforeseen encounter. and rigorously actualised method. Indeed, it is only by confronting this
What How It Is indicates, then, is a movement beyond the impasse in question that we can come to terms with what constitutes, for better or worse,
the prose itself, and the revelation that, indeed, 'the narrative model is not the uniqueness of Badiou's reading, and what sets it apart drastically from
enough', that something else can happen, within the prose, that is not itself the interpretations of most, if not all, his contemporaries when it comes to
limited to it (here we are obliged to bracket the - always ironic - question: the writings of Beckett.6

Ala i n Bad i o u On
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Beckett ,----- l Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett

In this respect, to focus on analogous identifications of recurrent suhtractive paring-down- or 'leastening' in the vocabulary of WorstwardHo
Beckettian 'themes' that Badiou may share with other writers, or upon is akin to Husserl's epoch?! 'turned upside down'. By this Badiou means
apparently convergent assessments of certain characters or texts would in the tha t rather than 'bracketing' or suspending the world in order to examine the
end divert us from a lucid appraisal of Badiou's challenge. For Badiou, it is purciy formal conditions of that world in and for consciousness, Beckett
only by confronting the characteristic operations or procedures defining slIsfiends the subject in order to see what then happens to being per se. This
Beckett's work that we can really come to terms with the singularity and is an intriguing reversal, and links back to Badiou's initial formulation for
force of Beckett's contribution to thought. In 'Tireless Desire' these are the condition of possibility for the encounter, for the Two. Before this event,
enumerated as follows: there is only the solipsistic 'torture' of the cogito. In other words, we have a
tormented subject oflanguage, on the one hand, and a non-intentional analysis
Rectification, or the work on the isolation of tenns. Expansion, or the of the 'landscape' of being, on the other. Badiou, via Beckett, links the
poetic incision of memory. Declaration, or the function of emergence of circularity of the cogito to the 'nothing' beyond it - this is the noir gris, the
prose. Declension, or the tender cadence of disaster. Interruption, or the 'grey black' ofbeing. It is in this space that the language ofthe cogito attempts
maxims of comedy. Elongation, or the phrased embodiment of variants. to approach its Qwn origin, but necessarily always falls short of its object.
The grey black of being is precisely 'nothing', but as Molloy points out,
It could not be any clearer that what captivates Badiou is not the following the Atomists: 'Nothing is more real than nothing'.
equivocity or impotence claimed for Beckett's writing, but rather the The 'torture' of the cogito is precisely the imperative or 'pensum', as
relentlessness and precision that mark its fundamental moves, those formal Hugh Kenner would argue, to commence again, to say again. Because ofthe
aesthetic inventions which are both technical discoveries and new postures necessary interiority of the cogito, its self-supporting persistence, ' It is
for thinking.7 This is, after all, the crux of the problem: What is thought in necessary that the subject literally twist itself towards its own enunciation'.
I '
I, Beckett's work? This question needs to be understood in both senses. Firstly, We are thus left only with a voice that oscillates, struggling relentlessly
what do Beckett's many texts allow us to think which was previously between temporary self-affirmation and the 'beyond' of being, which is
unthought, whether in literature or philosophy? Secondly, what place does precisely void. For the cogito, all saying is precisely 'ill saying' because it
thought (la pensee, an insistent presence in these pages) have in Beckett's can never come close to touching the void from out of which language speaks.
work? Rather than, more or less explicitly, according to writing the dubious The desire for silence cannot, therefore, succeed, for the imperative to repeat,
, ", I I
privileges of expressive imprecision and fleeting affect, B adiou's to begin again, cannot be matched by the desire for cessation. In this reading
uncompromising penchant for formalisation is designed to affirm the rigour ofthe 'void' and the impossibility of silence, we can see an implicit criticism
ofwriting as a discipline ofthought, a rigour that the seriousness of Beckett's of those commentators who stay with the aporia, who see in Beckett only the
impasses (especially the one sealed by Texts for Nothing) bears witness to. problem of language and its impossible constraint. Beckett himself, as if
The comparisons with Kant and Husserl, as well as the more sustained realising the temptation of following the 'pathless path ', begins The
consideration of Beckett's Cartesianism, should therefore be taken at their Unnamable with an aporetic joke: 'I should mention before going any further,
word. Leaving aside for the moment the vexed question of the demarcation that I say aporia without knowing what it means. '
of the literary (or aesthetic) from the philosophical, it is worth spending a As a second approximation to this delicate question of method, let us
brief moment to elucidate this method of Beckett's, and to do so through the contrast it with the explicit discussion of method through which Badiou
problematic, absolutely central to Badiou's approach, of 'thinking humanity'. elsewhere approaches the works of Rimbaud and Mallarme.8 For Badiou,
The first approach to the question of method is couched in explicitly Rimbaud's work, despite its formidable inventive capacity and unmatched
philosophical parameters. Tracing a lineage from Descartes to Husserl in vigour, is ultimately incapable of accepting the conditions imposed by the
terms of a postulate of suspension, Badiou argues that Beckett's method of undecidable character ofthe event, the fact that the latter can never be transitive


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to, or coincide with, the situation that it affects. In brief, that being and the ( 'artesian torture which so preoccupies B adiou in these pages. The
event can never enter into any sort of communion. Hence the tendency of identification of the functions of the human on the basis of the torsion of the
Rimbaud's poetry, when faced with the non- or extra-ontological demand of cogito onto the imperative of language, together with the cartography of the
the event's emergence, to resort to the operation ofinterruption, which in the places and inscriptions of being, all seem to indicate, in Badiou's reading, an
end denies the 'now' of an event that can itself never be identified with the attempt to 'prepare' for an event that is only liminally introduced through the
situation - thereby signalling both the denial of novelty and the defeat of ligures of the Two and the Other.
language. Given over as it is to what Badiou regards as the 'mirage' of a It could therefore be said that Beckett's method partly inverts the
complete possession of truth, Rimbaud's poetry manifests the incapacity of methods of the two other writers considered by Badiou. In it, the event
assuming the hardships of subjectivation, the painstaking work of a truth that functions as an interruption of torture (rather than an interruption of joy in
can never be immediately present as the truth of things, or as the linguistic defeat, as in Rimbaud) and prose lays out the ontological groundwork prior
celebration of the appearance of the world. to an event (rather than thinking it in its disappearance, as in Mallarme). In
With Mallarme's method, we move instead to a writing that is entirely sum, we have Beckett as the courageous preparation for the event (,before'),
positioned 'after ' the event , or rather, a writing that wholly affirms the Rimbaud as the defeatist decision against the undecidable of the event
undecidability proper to an event that can never be attested in or by the situation ('during'), and Mallarme as the protocol of fidelity in its subtractive
without a long labour of detection and reconfiguration. This is why Mallarme's 'relationship' to a disappearance and to the isolation of a pure multiple (' after ').
method is concerned with the isolation of an event that is constitutively Lest this partition appear all too tidy, it is worth turning now to the peculiar
Ii evanescent, that must be wagered upon in order then to register its traces and and problematic effects that this preparatory or anticipatory character of
I! effects upon a situation. These traces and effects are to be considered in terms Beckett's method has with regard. to the elaborate doctrinal apparatus,

Ii of how the event both inscribes and subtracts itself from an ontological state principally set out in L 'etre et I 'evenement, that allows Badiou to isolate this
I •
of affairs, being as such neither present nor non-problematically individuated method in the first place. To emphasize this more conflictive dimension of
in the realm of appearances. Mallarme's method thus establishes something Badiou's encounter with Beckett, we will now look at the role ofappearance,
like an intrigue of the event 's disappearance, a syntactically driven subjectivity and language in these essays on Beckett, focussing throughout
investigation into the potentially determinate but inapparent effects of on how these notions determine a certain perspective on thinking humanity,
something that can never exactly be said to be. How, in the absence of any that is, on humanity as a pure capacity to be affected by the irruption of
" " ' " ,
normal 'evidence', can we affirm in a given situation that something has novelty and to decide upon the event.
happened, and, on the basis of this wager (this dice-throw) deduce its We have grown accustomed to (and accustomed to criticising) claims
consequences for the situation? Such is the axis of Mallarme's method, that Beckett's work offers us a disquisition on the 'human condition', that it
conferring upon it its singular place as a reference for Badiou's work, as 'the is the bearer of universal formulations regarding 'human nature' . Exemplary
thought of the pure event on the basis of its decided trace. ' of this position is Esslin who, writing in the late fifties and early sixties,
Forcing our schematisation somewhat, we could say that if Rimbaud sought to extract from the dramatic works a Beckett absolutely existentialist
shows us the abdication oflanguage in the face ofthe present demands of the in his proclamations and scope. As he put it: '[Beckett's] creative intuition
undecidable, and Mallarme the retrospective detection of the traces of a explores the elements of experience and shows to what extent all human
vanished novelty, Badiou's Beckett is almost (and this 'almost' marks the beings carry the seeds of such depression and disintegration within the deeper
very place of the event in Beckett's work) wholly devoted to delineating the layers of their personality. '9 Badiou's take, whilst seemingly sharing the
conditions demanded for the emergence of truth and novelty - including those universalising impetus of Esslin's reading, sees in Beckett not so much a
conditions of a cognitive or linguistic order that threaten to forestall any such delving into deeper and deeper layers of humanity (and the subsequent
emergence, consigning the subj ect to the infinite ordeal of solipsism, to that 'redemptive' conclusion that always follows these humanist attempts via the

xx XXI

Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r-------� l Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett


isolation of some unalienable qualities or properties that sum up what it is to in his philosophy, ofphilosophical anthropology. What weight are we to give
be 'human'), but rather proposes that in Beckett's work we encounter an to this attempt to delineate the pre-evental ' ethical substance' of fidelity and
absolutely formal reduction of 'thinking humanity' to its indestructible subjectivation, and what importance must be ascribed to the fact that this is
functions, to its atemporal determinants. done in language?
It is in this respect that Beckett is compared to Descartes - suspending The hypotheses on humanity that Beckett sets out through his derelict
all that is inessential and doubtful before beginning his ' serious enquiry' into figures and desolate landscapes are initially staged by Badiou, as we have
humanity. Certain of Beckett's prose works (Texts for Nothing among them) already noted, in the confrontation between the tortured cogito and the
can therefore be read as asking the following question: What is the composition indifferent cartography of the places of being. The first thing to note, if we
of thought, if it is reduced to its absolutely primordial constituents? With wish to measure the distance between Badiou's own doctrine and how it
explicit reference to Plato's Sophist, Badiou isolates certain generic functions
responds to Beckett's art, is that the 'Cartesian' concerns in the latter's work
of Beckett's characters in the early texts: movement and rest, being and introduce the problem - which is otherwise alien, if not contrary, to Badiou's
language.1o Just as Kant and Husserl vehemently refused any form of stance - of a subject before or without the event. Though Beckett's epoche
'psychologism' in their work, so Beckett can be read, in a similar way, as subtracts the subject in order to lay out the place of being (or rather, of its
proposing, within a literary set-up, the same move away from personal appearance), it turns out that the resolute annihilation of all subjectivity is
! descriptions of ' states ofmind'. Rather than witnessing in Beckett the essential simply impossible - language and its subject abide even (or especially) in the
: f
'miseries' , the inevitable and ultimately 'absurd' 'predicament' that Esslin, most extreme moment of their destitution. As Badiou states: ' all fiction, as
for one, argues universally underlies 'personality' and ' culture' , Badiou views

devoted as it may beto establishing the place of being - in closure, openness

I'' this suspension of cultural and individuating traits in Beckett as anabsolutely or the grey black - presupposes or connects to a subject. This subject in turn
, ,I positive procedure, because it allows one, he argues, to go ' straight to the excludes itself from the place simply by the act of naming it, whilst at the
,I only questions that matter' . What's more: 'Thus reduced to a few functions, same time holding itself at a distance from this name:l l In other words, the
I i

I humanity is only more admirable, more energetic, more immortal' . very attempt to establish a literary or fictional ontology (as opposed to a
However, aside from texts that lie somewhat outside the speculative neutral mathematical ontology) cannot do without the supplementation
core of Badiou's philosophy (namely the Ethics and its discussion of the provided by a subject; to borrow from Badiou's friend Natacha Michel, it
immortal, and the defence of universalism in the Saint Paul), it is hard to say can never evade the problem of enunciation: 'Who speaks? 12
that the notion of humanity receives any sustained formal treatment in Badiou This subject of fiction or subject oflanguage, as acogito constitutively
I ' I ,I ' " "

- something that should not elicit surprise, given both Badiou's fidelity to determined by the imperative to speak and name being, is itself not a simple
the tradition of philosophical anti-humanism and his 'post-Marxist' decision or point-like instance, but rather a tom figure, thrice divided into a subject of
for a theory of the subject that regards it as predicated upon the irruption of enunciation, a passive body ofsubjectivation and a subject of the question.
an event. But as it arises in his readings of Beckett, this attempt to determine On this 'third' subject, it is worth quoting Badiou at length.
an ' atemporal' humanity in its basic functions arguably involves certain
deviations from the mainstays of Badiou's philosophy. For instance, it 'Question' can be taken here in its judicial sense, as when we speak of a
demands an interrogation of subjects that come 'before' the event (something subject being questioned. For what is in fact this torture of thought? As
seemingly written out of his major works). It also requires a consideration of we've already said, the dim - the grey-black that localises being - is
the relationship between the human as capacity and the imperative oflanguage. ultimately nothing but an empty scene. To fill it, it is necessary to tum

Lastly, it demands the introduction of the crucial concept of Badiou's recent towards this irreducible region of existence constituted by speech - the
work, appearance. Something in the critical and ascetic approach of Beckett third universal function of humanity, along with movement and immobility.
can thus be said to lead Badiou to an interrogation, otherwise absent or latent But what is the being of speech, if it is not the speaking subject? It is


\ � � --------- ---- ,
Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett ,------ l Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett
therefore necessary that the subject literally twist itself towards its own works of Beckett? Surely, Beckett's Cartesian scenarios preclude any crypto­
utterance. This time, it is the expression 'writhing in pain' that must be I{omantic dissolution of human subjectivity into the One of language. But
interpreted literally. Once one perceives that the identity of the subject is l�qually, they forestall any thanatological abdications of the obstinate courage
triple, and not just double, the subject appears as tom. that so insistently marks his figures and voices, even and especially at their
most ragged and risible. In this respect, and to the very extent that most of his

It is the tension within this subject of language, and its incapacity to work is driven by the wish to 'ill say', to puncture speech and corrode its

twist free ofthe equivocity that defines its triplicate composition, which will authority, Beckett does demand from Badiou the recognition, otherwise
lead Beckett into the notorious impasses, and chiefly to the crisis which we've I(u'cign to his doctrine, of an irreducibility proper to language or speech as a
already seen is punctuated by and surpassed in How ItIs. What is of interest 'rcgion of existence' . Moreover, though language is not itself an object of
for our purposes is the realisation that this subject of language is in no way spcculation (whether structural or hermeneutic) or adulation (it is the very
that subject ofthe event whose theorisation has abidingly occupied Badiou's stuff of our earthly ordeals), it is nevertheless identified as an ineluctable and
I speculative energies at least from the Peut-on penser fa politique? ( 1 985) incliminable 'function' of the human, an essential component of that capacity

onwards. Unlike the subject of the event, the torsion of this triple subject of /()r thought that determines the existence ofhumanity. It is this role oflanguage I
I I,

that Badiou is obliged to assume and, in a qualified manner, affirm. What his 1
language is transitive to the situation, to the place of being, that it names and ,

rcconstruction of Beckett does not involve however, is any specific attention

configures in fiction. In this sense, it is not rare and dependent on chance,

decision and fidelity; rather, it is an inescapable and constitutive feature of to the 'texture' oflanguage itself- to the operations undergone in Beckett by I'

the fictional set-up, or, if one will allow the expression, it functions as its grammar, to the usage of certain tropes, etc. Whilst the linguistic dimension
intrinsic supplement. is indeed ineliminable, what captivates Badiou when it comes to Beckett as a

Beckett's 'misuse' of language is in this respect initially aimed, via the thinker is precisely what emerges from a subtraction ofand, of course, through I,

aforementioned operations, at the stepwise elimination of this subjective language (though this does not stop Badiou, himself a novelist and playwrigh.w

excess; its anti-humanist drive amounting to an attempt to efface the torture from indicating, on a number of occasions, fertile grounds for discussions of "

of speech into the grey black of being. Badiou's reconstruction of the impasse style and technique).

I thereby amounts to the thesis that it is only in the introduction of another The same impossibility of outright destruction, coupled with the ,I

requirement to subtract and supplement, marks that category which is not

, ,
, ,
" '
supplement (as testified by the figures of the Other, the Two, the Event), a ,

" I
supplement which is entirely incalculable and which is only glimpsed at the simply a 'dimension' but the defining name for existence (as opposed to •

far edge of Beckett's work (namely in the conclusion of Worstward Ho), that being) in Badiou: appearance. The doctrine of appearance, which has been a
the linguistic and ontological ordeal ofthe subject oflanguage can be alleviated chief preoccupation ofBadiou in recent years, finds one of its most elaborate
or interrupted. The mutation signalled by the works after Texts for Nothing accounts to date in the painstaking theoretical reconstruction of Worstward
can thus be conceived as the passage from a nihilist solution to the problem Ho. Whereas the first two of our essays find the counterpart of the cogito in
of a subject oflanguage (the attempt to perpetrate its demise, to destroy even an ontology oflocalisation (the theme ofthe 'place of being' , or 'grey black'),
the voice) to a hazardous but ultimately productive one (the conversion of in 'Being, Existence, Thought: Prose and Concept' we are presented with a
the subject by the event of alterity). In this sense the subject of Beckett's art far more systematic distinction between being ('the void') and appearance
which according to Badiou s inaesthetics is not the author but the work- is ('the dim'). What is at stake is once again the notion that what 'lies behind'
defined by the movement beyond the tormenting excess of a subject of can only 'seep through' (to use Beckett's expressions from his letter to Axel
language towards the futural fidelity of a subject of the event. Kaun) if we begin from the inscription of being in language and things, in
Where does this leave the problem of language, which had initially other words, if we begin from existence. The purity of the void can only be
attracted our young Sartrean cretin (as Badiou portrays his former self) to the attained in the intervals of appearance, through those operations that 'worsen'

Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r------ L A lain Bad i o u On Beckett
existence, divesting it of (almost) all order and ornament. Ultimately, however, J'()l11 antic schema (the key figure here is Heidegger, though neither Nietzsche
the simplification that defines Beckett's confrontation with appearances - hefore him, nor Nancy after, for example, are exempt from the appellation)
with the ' shades', with 'visible humanity', with all that Badiou classes under art alone is capable of truth, and particularly in the form of the poem. In this
the rubric of 'phenomenology' - needs to be supplemented by the only thing schema, philosophy has been ' sutured' to one of its conditions, and no longer
which, in Badiou's eyes, can truly announce an upsurge of the void that would possesses the ability to operate as the formal (and empty) mediator between
not be founded on the pure and simple annihilation oflanguage and existence: one specific condition and the others, as well as between each condition and
the event. It is with the event that for Badiou we attain the maximal purification the abstract indifferent discourse which is set-theoretical ontology. Conversely,
(but not destruction) of language, the 'last state' of saying, when we can Hadiou's schematic presentation ofthe so-called classical view of art indicates
rejoice at the poverty of words. It is also with the event - with beauty, love that, for classical thought, art is 'innocent' of all truth. For such a classical
and the Other - that a novelty beyond the ordeal of speech can make itself stance, whose primary impetus is didactic, art cannot do the work that
known. philosophy does, and there are thus no meaningful parallels to be drawn
between what philosophy says about 'being', for example, and what art says •

about 'being'. Badiou takes a somewhat different tack. For him, art is not ,

III. ' innocent' of truth; there are truths specific to art, and they are always 1

immanent and singular. Art is not blind to its own truth-content, rather, it is
The fact that Badiou's reading of Beckett does not result in any 'the thinking of the thought that it is', though this thought of thought is "

straightforward illustration or ventriloquist application of the former 's p redicated upon the production of works (otherwise, art w'J:ld be
philosophical doctrines, but on the contrary introduces themes otherwise not surreptitiously sutured to philosophy as an ultimately speculative or reflexive ,

prominent in Badiou's work (from the positive characterisation of the Other pursuit). Philosophy as the ' go-between' is thus duty-bound to make the truths "

to the idea ofthe atemporal determinants of humanity), opens the question of of art apparent and consistent with the abstract discourse of ontology, but not

how such an encounter may reconfigure the relationship between philosophy to assimilate them to itself and claim them as its own 'property' (after all, ,

and literature as separate, if interacting, disciplines of thought. Badiou's philosophy itself strictly speaking possesses no truths of its own). It is this

, 'official' position, whilst not the object of a thoroughgoing deduction, is clear 'relation' b etween philosophy and art that Badiou has b aptised as
enough. Against any deconstructionist or postmodernist penchant for ' inaesthetics' , defining it as ' a relation ofphilosophy to art which, maintaining ,I
" disciplinary hybridisation, or worse, for the abdication of speculative that art is itself a producer of truths, makes no claim to tum it into an object •

rationalism at the altar of some supposed literary intuition, Badiou has been for philosophy. Against aesthetic speculation, inaesthetics describes the strictly
proposing for some time a steadfast distinction between the thinking of intra-philosophical effects produced by the independent existence of some
philosophy and the thinking of art. This proposal is driven by his identification works of art. ' 13
of the four intellectual disciplines (or generic procedures, in the technical How then are we to square this inaesthetic protocol of demarcation and
vocabulary) that serve as the 'conditions' of philosophy: art, science, politics vigilant commerce between philosophy and art (literature) with what appear
and love. It is these conditions, and not philosophy, that are responsible for as the invasively philosophical claims made for Beckett's thought, not to
the subjectivating capture of events and the production of multiple truths mention the concepts that his writing seems to suggest or add to Badiou's
(though questions about the number and nature of the 'conditions' remain own approach? After all, there is nothing in the least ironic about the
open). This is why Badiou provocatively describes philosophy as the ' go­ methodological parallels drawn with Plato, Descartes and Husserl - if nothing
between' or 'procuress' in our encounters with truth. else, these essays wish to convince us that there is as much rigour and as
Philosophy itself therefore has no ' truths' of its own, and art, for one, much thought in How It Is as in the Meditations, in The Un namable as in the
remains ent i rely irreducible to philosophy. Under what Badiou calls the Parmenides. The formalising tour de force which generates the systematic

Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett l Alai n Bad i o u :On Beckett


reading of Worstward Ho as a distilled ontology, whilst obviously indebted be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the No ."ngness) behind it.
to much of the work undertaken by Badiou in L 'etre et l 'evenement and the I . . . ] Let us hope that time will come, thank God that m �ain circles it
forthcoming Logiques des mondes, is also an attempt to show, in considerable has already come, when language is most efficiently used when it is most
detail, how literature has nothing to envy philosophy in matters of complex efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should
thought. Indeed, Badiou, as he does elsewhere with regard to that great French at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into
dialectician, Mallarme, avows that in the case of Beckett the practice of disrepute. To bore one hole after another in it, until what lurks, behind it ­
inaesthetic demarcation might find itself stretched, that we might be in the be it something or nothing - begins to seep through, I cannot imagine a
presence of a thinking transversal to those disciplinary borders that Badiou higher goal for a writer todayY
himself sets up to avert the disaster of suture - that reciprocal parasitism of
philosophy and its conditions which periodically announces the weakening If only that, as Badiou is adamant to point out, since the dim can never
or abdication of thinking. This is what Badiou writes in the Petit manuel by go - since appearance or inscription is ineluctable - it is not in the destruction

way of introduction to his formally exacting reconstruction of Worstward o r language (which would amount to the annihilation of humanity and the ,
I imperative to speak that defines it) but in its subtraction and supplementation

Ho: '.

t hat 'the things (or the Nothingness) behind it' can see the light.
Samuel Beckett [ . ] loved to gnaw at the edges ofthat peril which all high
. . It is thus in its very drive to purity - in its wish to purge language of

literature exposes itself to: No longer to produce unheard-of impurities, i tsclf- that Beckett's thought remains impure - never able or willing to fully ,

but to wallow in the apparent purity of the concept. To philosophise, in abandon the injunction and the constraints of utterance, nor to do without its
short. And therefore: To register truths, rather than producing them. Of speculative, universalising desideratum, however corroded by comedy it may •

this wandering at the edges, Worstward Ho remains the most accomplished be. Following Jacques Ranciere, we could appropriate the case of Beckett L

witness. 14 I(lr a critique of the demarcationist purism and philosophical sovereignty

potentially evinced by Badiou's 'conditional' schema. Or we could enlist it ,.

This effort toward purification, Beckett's characteristic ascesis, is in an appraisal of Beckett as a thinker for whom the category of 'art' or
therefore revealed both as the singular resource of his writing (its capacity to 'literature' is far too narrow. Whilst these are both valid pursuits, and the I
. .

vie with the great philosophers in a delineation of both the parameters of questions raised by Badiou's Beckett are perhaps not ultimately capable of


" '.

• •
,I' , appearance and the determinants of humanity) and as the specific threat it doctrinal resolution, in light of the very themes raised in these essays there is •

incurs (that it might tum into an amphibious entity of suture: neither art nor perhaps another avenue worth considering. This consists in seeing Beckett's
philosophy; neither the empty capture of evental truths nor their production writing as centred around the notion of a capacityfor thought, and specifically
in a generic procedure). So that Beckett's work is indeed a specifically artistic around the capacity for thinking through the radical consequences of
or literary confrontation with the resources of language and the power of cncounters and events that defines the very being of thinking humanity.
fiction, but it is also an attempt to think through and beyond the limitations Whilst Badiou is explicit in his affirmation of the multiplicity of
imposed by the linguistic set-up and - in operations ofleastening, worsening, cognitive disciplines and generic procedures,16 and wary of any over­
subtraction - to attain something other than language, something other than determination ofthought either by philosophy or by any one of its conditions,
fiction. This at least seems to be the 'programme' laid out in the famous letter his own encounter with Beckett seems to push us towards the recognition
to Axel Kaun of 1937, the very same that Beckett later dismissed as ' German that there is a place for thinking thought itself, or the capacity thereof, in a
bilge' : manner both transversal to the multiplicity of disciplines and anterior to the
irruption of any event. In brief, that even a doctrine for which every subject
[ . . ] more and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must
. hinges on the incalculable upsurge of a novelty and the systematic deduction


Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r----- l Alai n -I3ad i o u On Beckett


of its consequences has a place for something like a philosophical •• l l llT. 1 / Or: To produce a radically egalitarian notion of the human that would
anthropology, a thinking of generic humanity that pivots around the capacity ':l I l l 1l�how remain entirely faithful to the anti-humanist legacy of Althusser
for thinking and which, whilst never reducible to its linguistic inscription, i 1 l 1 d hllicault, among others � this is what Beckett allows us, or rather forces
moves through a resolute confrontation between subj ects and their I I �; , t o do. 1 8 Whilst Beckett shows us that an inquiry into the atemporal
enunciations. Whether such a capacity is itself open to a formalisation I I l Iguistic and cognitive determinants of humanity on its own cannot but lead
equivalent to that provided for the event is of course a matter that can only be 1 1 .', i nt o the ordeal of the subject and the impasse of fiction, into the wretched
addressed elsewhere in a critical engagement with the resources of Badiou's \ I i I t i I ism of annihilation or (worse) the pieties of humanism, he also manifests
own thought. t h e i nescapable demand that ' thinking humanity' find its fictional and
I I I I i losophical determination, even if this means moving beyond the boundaries
o r la nguage into the realm of the incalculable, moving beyond the 'on' of
IV. spL'cL'h to the invention of operations capable of affirming new beginnings.
I I I t h is light, if we must 'shelter and retain' the truth that arises from an event,

We have seen, briefly, how Badiou can argue that Beckett is a writer of i I ' wc must remain ' tirelessly' faithful to the event, it is because of its
hope, but a hope based on nothing. 'Nothing', because the event or encounter •
potcntiality for thought, and not only for thought, but for action .
with the other does not operate as a principle or foundation that could serve
to plot the outline of a ' hope-giving' series of texts. 'Nothing' , because the Nina Power and Alberto Toscano
ultimate resource from which generic humanity draws its cognitive and
practical capacity for novelty, as well as its courage to confront the torture of 1 An English translation of the entirety of the Petit manuel d 'inesthetique (Paris:
the cogito and the indifference of the dim, is the void, and the way its pure SL'uil, 1998) is forthcoming. See Alain Badiou, Handbook ofInaesthetics, translated
inconsistency can burst through the partitions of apparent order, to reveal the hy Alberto Toscano (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
most radical, and most generic, equality. In this regard, it is indicative that 2 See Andrew Gibson's postface for a critical comparison ofBadiou's work on Beckett
the encounter with the other only appears as a question for Beckett following I() that of recent Anglo-American commentators.
the impasse of the investigations of the operations of language in the ' Trilogy' . :l Again, see Gibson's essay for an analysis ofBadiou's implicit decision not to engage

, ,
'I ,
, ,
" ,

Badiou is clear: We cannot simply rest content with an exploration of Beckett's with other critics and commentators. See also Dominique Rabate's stimulating essay "

, "
work that colludes with the sophistical obsession with language. The major
,I ,

' '',,' ' . Continuer- Beckett' in a recent collection of essays on Badiou entitledAlain Badiou: •

shift in potential that Badiou sees with the encounter fromHow it Is onwards, J>enser Ie multiple, ed. by Charles Ramond (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002), pp. 407-420.
provides Beckett's characters with the only 'way out' of the perpetual linguistic 4 Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, ed. by Derek Attridge (London: Routledge,
oscillation between the solitary cogito and the grey-black of being . Ultimately, 1 991), p. 60.
it is this incalculable encounter that frees generic humanity from the relentless S Regarding this question of the 'grey black' lying beyond the solitary subject, it is
and aporetic contortions of language and subjectivity. Though Beckett allows interesting to note that Beckett has so many words in English for this 'nothing' -
Badiou to consider the ' figural preparation' of this event, or even the quasi­ among them 'half-light', 'dim' (Worstward Ho) and ' gloom' (The Lost Ones) whereas

anthropological invariants required for its irruption, it is the event which in in French, he tends to use penombre across the texts. The French term perhaps better
the last instance permits us to think the figure of ' thinking humanity'. encapsulates the exact sense of the empty, colourless, topography that Beckett seems
Perhaps this is the real challenge posed by the conceptual configuration to wish to convey - it is neither light nor dark, neither one colour nor another. It is, in
that has arisen between Badiou and Beckett: To think the entanglement and effect, a term to designate being ' in its localisation, empty of any event'.
reciprocal determination of a thinking of the human as pure capacity, on the 6 Beckett shares his identification of a method of subtraction or reduction (Beckett's
one hand, and a thinking of the incalculable novelty of the event, on the 'leastening') with two of the 20th century's great philosophical readers of Beckett:

xxx XXXI
- - -- --- -

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett ,----- l Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett

Theodor W. Adorno and Giles Deleuze. In 'Trying to Understand Endgame' (1958), l) Ma r l i n Esslin (ed.), The Theatre of the Absurd (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,
in Notes to Literature, vol. 1 (New York: Colombia, 1 991 ), Adorno explicitly argues I %X), p. 66.
for Beckett's opposition to the 'abstraction' of existentialist ontology in favour of 'an I I ) l Iadiou will write of the manner in which Beckett's 'anti-phenomenological' or
avowed process of subtraction' (p. 246) that reduces it to a single category: 'bare 11< IIl illlentional reduction allows us to grasp the moment when 'movement becomes
existence' (p. 243). However, steeped as it is in the condemnation of 'the irrationality " \ lcrnally indiscernible from immobility' , that is, when movement becomes nothing
of bourgeois in its late phase' (p. 244) and the 'pathogenesis ofthe false life' (p. 247), I I I"'� than a differential of rest, expressing a sort of minimal and ideal mobility. It is
Adoorno's reading of Beckett is, to use Badiou's terminology, strictly 'anti­ IV' II lh noting that Beckett himself draws on this theme from the calculus in his ' Joycean'

philosophical' ; Adorno refuses to see in Beckett any concession to the speculative dlSl'ussion of the thought of Giordano Bruno and its influence on Vico. ' [N]ot only do
drive and also discounts a priori any reading of him as an affirmative or hopeful l i lt' Illinima coincide with the minima, the maxima with the maxima, but the minima
thinker (Adorno concludes that in Endgame ' [h]ope skulks out ofthe world' [po 275] IV i Ih the maxima in the succession of transformations. Maximal speed is a state of
back to death and indifference). In Adorno's estimation, Beckett's 'metaphysical I ('sl . ' See 'Dante . . . Vico. Bruno . . . Joyce', inDisjecta (London: John Calder, 1983),
negation no longer permits an aesthetic form that would itself produce metaphysical I ' ' I Arguably the irreducibility of the 'functions' allows Beckett, in his later
. .
work, •

" II
affirmation' , his 'anti-art' culls 'aesthetic meaning from the radical negation of I.. l IIove beyond this identity of contraries.
metaphysical meaning' (Aesthetic Theory [Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1997], I I I I i s worth noting that the problem of the name, and specifically of the naming of
pp. 348, 271). In this light, Adorno reads Beckett's method of subtraction against Ih" �vent, is far more prominent in the first two essays in this collection than in 'Being, ,'
'modem ontology' and the 'poverty of philosophy' , as revealing 'an existence that is 1 ' \ islence, Thought: Prose and Concept' . This is explained by the fact that the

shut up in itself like a mollusk, no longer capable of universality'; despite his somber 1 kpendence of the theory ofthe event on a philosophy ofthe name has been the object "
acumen and eloquence, Adorno ultimately retains the category of the absurd as the .. r a self-criticism on the part of Badiou - on the basis both of Lyotard's doubts about I

key to Beckett's worrk, and is impervious, in Badiou's terms, to the aesthetic relevance Ihe theory ofthe two names of the event inL 'etre et l 'eVl?nement and ofthe immanent I

of concepts of eternal novelty or generic humanity (see 'Trying to Understand Ikillands of Badiou's own thinking of subjectivity, especially as it has come to
Endgame' , p. 246). In this respect, Deleuze's study of the stepwise, combinatory i l lcorporate a thinking of appearance (see the preface to the English edition of the
'reduction' of language in Beckett's television plays (,The Exhausted', in Essays Fillies, the forthcoming Angelaki interview with Bruno Bosteels and Peter Hallward
, ,
Critical and Clinical [London: Verso, 1997], pp. 1 52- 1 74) bears far greater affinity ' I kyond Formalisation' , and the forthcoming maj or work by Badiou himself, Logiques
, '

.It'S 111 0ndes).

" '
with Badiou's depiction of Beckett as a rigorous thinker of formalising procedures.

Nevertheless, Badiou's preoccupation with the place of 'thinking humanity' in '

, , ,
, , , " "
I 2 See her fine essay on the novel, L 'ecrivain pensif (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1998), pp
Beckett's work - together with its Cartesian and Husserlian echoes - has no counterpart -" )-62.
in Deleuze's reading, for whom Beckett's reductions lead to a becoming-imperceptible, 1 3 Petit manuel d 'inesthetique, p. 7.
to a spiritual and cosmic experience of Life (as he concludes in 'The Greatest Irish 1 4 Petit manuel d 'inesthetique, p. 146.
Fihn Ever Made', also in Essays Critical and Clinical). Needless to say, these diffferent 1 5 Disjecta, pp. 1 7 1 - 1 72.
appreciations of reduction and formalisation find their deeper reasons in Badiou's 1 6 See Conditions, p. 1 4 1 .
polemical engagement with Deleuze's philosophy in Deleuze: The Clamor ofBeing 1 7 This link between a capacity for thought and the event (of the Two) is one of the
(Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 2000). principal objects of Badiou's essay ' Qu' est-ce que I ' amour?', from Conditions. It is
7 Badiou's own philosophy is itself articulated in terms of such' operations, many of a I so a crucial materialist postulate of Badiou's that we cannot consider thought outside

which are drawn from the domain ofmathematical thought, operations such asforcing, of its inscription in bodies and places (i.e. in appearance) and that any straightforward
intervention, avoidance, subtraction, connection . The very process of evental identification of a transcendental subjective capacity (one unhinged from the irruption
subjectivation is eminently operational in character, a trait clearly attested to by of the event and the procedures that can ensue in its wake) would merely occlude the
Badiou's recurrent references to the production (rather than intuition) of truths. ordeal of the cogito for the sake of a meta-head, thereby ignoring the seriousness of
8 See Conditions (Paris: Seuil, 1 992). Beckett's impasses, as well as their singular resolution.



Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r----- L Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

1 8 In this respect, it would be interesting to measure and interrogate the gap that
separates the dictum from The Unnamable of which Badiou is so fond - 'I alone am
man and all the rest divine' - from the classically humanist pronouncement from
'Dante . . . Vico. Bruno . . . Joyce' : 'Humanity is its work itself. [ . . . ] Humanity is divine
but no man is divine' (Disjecta, p. 22). The humanity recast in the later Beckett under
the (empty) sign of the generic is a humanity stripped of such transcendence, and
'blessed' with immortality only through the arduous fidelity to a vanishing event.
Whence Badiou's Beckettian programme, as formulated in 'What Happens' : 'To
relegate the divine and its curse to the periphery of saying, and to declare man naked,
without either hope or hopelessness, relentless, surviving, and consigned to the
excessive language of his desire.' At the antipodes ofthe divine, it would be of interest
, ,
to consider how the capacity for thought which sustains Badiou's Beckettian venture A u thor's Prefa ce

into philosophical anthropology also signals a caesura within man separating him, as "

rare but Immortal subject ofthe event, from a 'nihilistic' substrate of corporeality and "

', I
animality - whence the emblematic nature of Pozzo's exhortation: 'Think, pig ! ' . 1\,' I

I , ,

I "

, ,:r
, ,
I , ,
, , I,

, "
: ! !ere then is what I have tried to say about Beckett in French brought back •

i l l i o English, moving contrariwise to my French capture of this immense ,


, writer of the English language. •

' I
, ,

, , For we can say that Beckett, from a French perspective, is an entirely J

' ! �nglish' writer. He is so even in the translations made on the basis of his
( I Wn French, which amount to something quite different than translations.

W ho can fail to see that in English any of Beckett's fables simply do not
sound the same? They are more sarcastic, more detached, more mobile. In
short, more empiricist. French served Beckett as an instrument for the creation
( 1 f an often very solemn fonn of distance between the act of saying and what

i s said. The French language changed the paradoxes of the given into
metaphysical problems. It inscribed into verdicts and conclusions what, in
I hc English, led to irony and suspension. French - the language of Descartes,
Beckett's great philosophical referent - changed picaresque characters into
the witnesses of the reflexive Subject, into victims of the cogito. It also
permitted the invention of a colder poetics, of an immobile power that keeps
the excessive precision of the English language at bay. Beckett's French

Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r-------.
l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett
substitutes a rigid rhetoric that spontaneously lays itself out between ornament
and abstraction for the descriptive and allusive finesse of English. There is
something of the 'grand style' in Beckett's French. However, radical as his
inventions are - like the asyntactic continuum of How It Is - in Beckett's
prose we glimpse the elevation of Bossuet, the musical grasp of Rousseau,
the finery of Chateaubriand, far more in fact than the taut 'modem style'
which is characteristic of Proust. This is because, like Conrad in English, the
language that serves Beckett as a model is a language learned in its classical
form, a language to which he resorts precisely so as not to let himself be
carried away by familiarity. A language adopted in order to say things in the
least immediate way possible. It is thus that Beckett's French is 'too' French,
' "
just as Conrad's English is a much 'too' mannered sort of English. The Writing of the G eneric1 •

So that when Beckett returns to English, he must undo this 'too much', '


this excess, and thereby attain a strange 'not enough' - a kind of subtracted ,

English, an English of pure cadence. He abandons himself to speed and its VI

variations. His English is a French laid bare. .
And what of me, placed in this in-between of languages? This is for "
the reader to say. It must be noted, nevertheless, that what I have described is ·,

Beckett in French, even when this language did not exist for him (such is the •


case of Worstward Ho, translated into French by Edith Fournier). You will ,
, ,'I
, read a French philosopher speaking of a French writer. Who is 'English'. ,

And of whom I am here speaking of in English. Speaking of what? Of his

1 . T h e I m p e ra ti ve a n d its D esti n a t i o n
English? Of his French, reconfigured here into English? l

It is impossible to find our bearings here. But thought, in the end, •

Our starting point: some verses of doggerel, a mirlitonnade written by I
speaks no language. Plato claims that philosophy 'starts from things, not •

Beckett around 1 976.2 It is quite singular, in that it brings Mirliton together

from words' . But Beckett too starts from things ! So let us simply say that
w ith Heraclitus the Obscure:
these essays, between Beckett and me, speak the Anglo-French of things.

flux cause flux causes

que toute chose that every thing
tout en etant

while being
toute chose every thing
donc celle-la hence that one
meme celle-la even that one
tout en etant

while being
n est pas is not
parlons-en speak on3 t

-- ---�--- ---.------ . --


Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett
To speak will always remain an imperative for Beckett, but an imperative ' : 1 1 1 immcdiately pinpoint what I will call Beckett's fundamental tendency
for the sake of the oscillation or the undecidability of every thing. The thing l o w a rds the generic. By ' generic' desire I understand the reduction of the
is not withdrawn, it can be shown, it is this thing, and yet, once determined, " 'lllplcxity of experience to a few principal functions, the treatment in writing
it oscillates according to its flux between being and non-being. We might " I I hat which alone constitutes an essential determination. For Beckett, writing
then say that writing - the ' speak on' - holds itself at the place of a decision I : : a l l act governed by a severe principle of economy. It is necessary to subtract

as to the being of the thing. It is clear, if only because the doggerel form is I l lorc and more � everything that figures as circumstantial ornament, all

suited to it, that this decision will never be sublated by a dialectic. The image I 'lTiphcral distraction, in order to exhibit or to detach those rare functions to
of the flux conveys the fact that the thing can stand simultaneously at the which writing can and should restrict itself, if its destiny is to say generic
place where it is and at the place where it is not. But this flux is never the h IIl1lanity. Initially, at the beginning ofthis prodigious enquiry into humanity
synthesis of being and non-being, and is not to be confused with Hegelian I ha I Bcckett' s art constitutes, these functions are three in number: going, being,
Becoming. a l id saying.
, I I I

Writing installs itself at the point where the thing, on the verge of In Beckett's 'novels' , this subtraction of ornaments has an inner •


disappearing, summoned by the non-being of its flux, is exposed to the I l l daphor: the characters, who realise the fiction of generic writing, lose their ;1

, , undecidable question of its own stability. This is precisely why writing - i lll;sscntial attributes in the course of the text: clothing, objects, possessions, U
\' !
never destined by what is immobilised in its being - presents itself, with hody parts and fragments of language. Beckett often lists what must be lost �i
, '

respect to the uncertainty of the thing, in the guise of an imperative. so that the generic functions may emerge. He does not miss an opportunity to

In quite general terms, what this interminable imperative must contend (';Ist unpleasant epithets upon these pointless ornaments and possessions; in 11'
with is the curse of the oscillation rfleau d 'oscillation] between being and I his way he points out that it is only by losing and dissipating these peripheral ,

non-being - of the balancing and weighing of the thing - but this curse is calamities that the essence of generic humanity may be grasped. Consider,



also transformed into a number of questions.4 lill' i nstance, one of these lists in Rough for Theatre II: ,
, I
, ,
Kant's thought organised Critique around three questions: What can I ,
, ' ,


, know? What should I do? What may I hope? There are also three questions in Work, family, third fatherland, cunt, finances, art and nature, heart and I


Beckett, caught up in an ironic analogy that characterises his relationship to conscience, health, housing conditions, God and man, so many disasters I
, . I

(CDW, p. 238; SP, p. 78).1

, :
philosophy. These three questions are clearly stated in Texts for Nothing. I

Here is one variant:

The subtraction of 'disaster s' gives rise within Beckett's prose to a
Where would I go, if! could go, who would I be, if! could be, what would fictional set-up of destitution [dispositij de denuement] . I think it is very
I say, if ! had a voice [ . . . J? (CSP, p. 82; GSP, p. 1 14)5 i mportant to relate this set-up to the function that it has for thought, because
i 1 has far too often been interpreted - taking what is simply a figuration too
The three-fold interrogation bears on going, being, and saying.6 Such Ii Icrally - as a sign that for Beckett humanity is a tragic devastation, an absurd
is the triple instance of an 'I' that is transversal to the questions themselves, a bandonment. Allow me to say that this is the point of view of an owner, for
of a subject captured in the interval of the going, the being, and the saying. whom possessions are the only proof ofbeing and sense! In fact, when Beckett
U ntil 1 960, and perhaps a little after, in what constitutes the best-known part presents us with a subject who is at the extreme point of destitution, we are
of Beckett's work, the 'character' will be - always and everywhere � the man dealing precisely with one who has succeeded - volens nolens - in losing,
of a trajectory (going), the man of an immobility (being), and the man of a amidst the vicissitudes of experience, all the disastrous ornamentations of
monologue (saying). circumstance.
I laving grasped this triplet of elementary situations of the subject, we We must repudiate those interpretations of Beckett that are filtered

2 3
.-- -
- ' -
-'�---�------- - - - - - -- -
- --- - -- -

.- �-------

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r------

l Alain Bad i o u On Beckett
through the 'nihilistic' worldliness ofthe metaphysical tramp. Beckett speaks I , , ' IllIi advient] . How is the event as a supplement to immobile being to be
to us of something far more thought out than this two-bit, dinner-party vision I hollght? For Beckett, this problem is closely related to that of the capacities
of despair. Beckett - who is very close to Pascal in this respect - aims at , " lallguage. Is it possible to name what happens or what takes place, inasmuch
subtracting the figure of humanity from everything that distracts it, so as to , IS i I lakes place?

examine the intimate articulation of its functions. 4) That of the existence of the Two, or of the virtuality of the Other.
The fictional device of destitution is, first ofall, a progressively purified T h i s is the question that ultimately ties together all of Beckett's work. Is an
operator for the presentation of 'characters' . It is also, in the flesh of the , . l'ii:etive Two possible, a Two that would be in excess of solipsism? We might
prose, an altogether flagrant process that moves, from Beckett's first to his : i l so say that this is the question of love.
last writings, towards a kind of rupture that submits the prose to a hidden
poem. Finally, it is a restricting of the metaphorical aspect of the prose to a
finite stock of terms, whose combination and recurrence in the end organise 2 . T h e G rey B l a c k a s t h e P l a c e of Be i n g
the entirety of thought.
' "

iI ' I,

, Little by little, Beckett's text is oriented towards an economy that I Since the originary axiomatic is that of wandering, immobility and the 11
I "


would readily call ancient, or categorial. We have already seen that the vo ice, can we, on the basis of this triplet, grasp any truth whatsoever [une 'I
, ,

primitive functions are movement, rest, and logos. Ifwe note (and how can I ','Tite quelconque] regarding what is, inasmuch as it is? The operator of truth, '1
we not?) that, from 1 960 onwards, the centre of gravity shifts to the question however, is never indifferent [quelconque] . For Beckett, who is an artist, this r:

ofthe Same and the Other, and, in particular, to that of the existence - whether (lpcrator is a set-up of fictions [un dispositijdefictions] , so that the question ·'

,, ,
"" ,
real or potential - of the Other, we will argue that behind the trajectory of this hl�comes one of place. Is there a place of being, that can be presented in the i
, ,

, '
body of work are the five supreme genera (or kinds) of Plato 's Sophist. These i'ietionalising set-up [le dispositijfictionnant] in such a way that the very ..
,I : : ,
" '
" , ,
, " ' ,, genera are the latent concepts that capture the generic existence of humanity, h e i ng of this place of being becomes transmissible? :!
I "' : . ,,
, "'" , "
' .,
and they underlie the prosodic destitution, understood as what makes it Ifwe consider the entirety of Beckett's work, we find that there exists "
, ,
I ' " . ,

:: , " I ,' '


possible to think our destiny. We will say that these supreme genera ill fact a kind of interweaving of two ontological localisations, which indeed I,
' "

" . ", ' ,
' (Movement, Rest, the Same, the Other, Logos) as displaced variants of the seem to be opposed to one another. I
, ' "I � ,
., '
, " , :
, -" ,
" ,
Platonic proposal, constitute the points of reference, or primitive terms, for The first localisation is a closure: arranging a closed space, so that the

an axiomatic of humanity as such. set of features of the place of being may be enumerated and named with
On the basis of these axiomatic terms we can grasp the questions proper precision. The aim is that 'what is seen' be coextensive with ' what is said' ,
to Beckett's work, those that organise the fiction of a humanity treated and I Inder the sign of the closed. This is obviously the case for the room in which
exhibited by a functional reduction oriented towards the essence or the Idea. t he characters of Endgame are confined; it also holds for the bedroom where
I will limit myselfto treating only four of these questions. The work of Malone dies (or does not die), or for Mr. Knott's house in Watt. It is also true
Beckett is a summa, simultaneously theological and a-theological, and it is of the cylindrical arena of The Lost Ones. These are some instances of closure,
not possible here to exhaust its set-up [disposition] . The four questions are of which many other examples could be given. In the text entitled Fizzle 5
the following: /Closedplace}, Beckett writes the following:8
1 ) That of the place ofbeing, or, to be more precise, that of the fiction
of its truth. How does a truth of being enter the fiction of its place? Closed place. All needed to be known for say is known
2) That of the subject, which for Beckett is essentially a question of (CSP, p. 1 99; GSP, p. 236).9
identity. By means of which processes can a subject hope to identify itself?
3) That of 'what happens' [ce qui se passe] and of 'what takes place' This is exactly the set-up of fiction with regard to the question of the

4 5

Alain Bad i o u On Beckett r------ l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

place of being, when this set-up is that of closure: a strict reversibility of 1 1 1 1:; slIpl:rimposition is achieved in How It Is, where the journey and fixity
vision and diction in the register of knowledge. This requires an especially ; 1 1 \' I w o major figures of generip humanity. However, these two figures are in
ascetic type of localisation. II, , · "'"11/(' place, whereas earlier, wandering and closure remained disjoined
But there is also a completely different set-up: an open, geographical I I Il'iaphors oflocalisation, split between Molloy, the novel ofthe journey, and
space, a space of transit which includes a variety of trajectories. We encounter A '"/0111' Dies, which is the place of saying fixed at its point of death.
it, for example, in the countryside - planes, hills and forests - where Molloy This final and unique place, the anti-dialectical grey black, cannot fall
undertakes the search for his mother, and Moran his search for Molloy. Or in I I l 1dn thc regime of clear and distinct ideas. The question of being, grasped

the city and the streets of The Expelled, and, even, though it tends towards a I I I l i s IOl:alisation, does not allow itselfto be distinguished or separated by an

uniform abstraction, in the expanse of black mud on which the larvae of I t ka l articulation. In Molloy, we find this peremptory anti-Cartesian utterance:

essential humanity crawl in How It Is. Or in the beautiful Scottish or Irish

mounds, covered with flowers, where the old couple ofEnough wander around I I hink so, yes, I think that all that is false may more readily be reduced, to
'I "
in happiness. Ilotions clear and distinct, distinct from all other notions
Both in the spaces of wandering and in the closed places, Beckett tends ('I', p. 82; TN, p. 82),u

" , I
to suppress all descriptive ornamentation. This results in a filtered image of
the earth and sky: a place of wandering, for sure, but a place that is itself akin I[ere the Cartesian criterion of evidence is reversed, and we can see
to a motionless simplicity. In the text called Lessness, we find the ultimate w h y : if the grey black localises being, reaching the truth of being requires "

I hat onc think the in-separate, the in-distinct. By contrast, what separates and

purification of the place of crossing, or ofthe possible space of all movement: .



d l st ing uishes - what separates dark from light, for example - constitutes the

I ', ' Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand. Little body same p l acc nf non-being and of falsehood. ,

grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one The localisation by the grey black ultimately entails that the being of
I' " I ,I

all sides endlessness (eSp, p. 1 53; GSP, pp. 197-1 98).10 i w i ng cannot be said as an isolatable singularity, but only as void. When the
, '

I ll'I ion that fuses the darkness of wandering and the darkness of immobility

At the end of its fictive purification, we could call the place of being ( Iperatcs, we notice that what this place presents as the form of being can

i i" i :, II oilly be named ' the nothing', or 'the void', and has no other name.

(or the set-up that bears witness to the question of being in the form of the
I' , I

place) a ' grey black' [noir gris] . This might suffice. This maxim, which from the localisation of being in the grey black
What is the grey black? It is a black such that no light can be inferred to ' I ITivl:s at the void as the name of what is located, is basically established as

contrast with it, an 'uncontrasted' black. This black is sufficiently grey for no ('arty as Malone Dies. Malone's voice begins by warning us that we are dealing
light to be opposed to it as its Other. In an abstract sense, the place of being is w i t h a terrible phrase, one of those little phrases that 'pollute the whole of

fictionalised as a black that is grey enough to be anti-dialectical, separated :;pcl:ch' . This phrase is: 'Nothing is more real than nothing' (T, p. 1 93 ; TN, p.
from all contradiction with light. The grey black is a black that must be grasped I ()2),'1

in its own arrangement arid which does not form a pair with anything else. This cardinal statement about being pollutes the entirety of language
In this grey black that localises the thought of being, there operates a w i t h its inconceivable truth. Many variants will follow, but the most

progressive fusion of closure and of open (or errant) space. Little by little, accomplished is to be found in Worstward Ho. In this text, we find the
Beckett's poetics will fuse the closed and the open into the grey black, making li)II()wing:
it impossible to know whether this grey black is destined for movement or
immobility. This is one of the conquests of his prose. The figure that goes All save void. No. Void too. Unworsenable void. Never less. Never more.
and the one remaining at rest will become superimposed at the place of being. Never since first said never unsaid never worse said never not gnawing to

6 7
- --------�
Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r-----� l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

be gone (WH, p. 42; NO, p. 1 1 3)Y \\' I wle existence 'indistinguishes' itself, we can stipulate that this Presence is
I i t ' i l h er an illusion (the sceptical thesis) nor a truthful and sayable
This is the ultimate point that the fictionalisation of the place of being t t ' 1 1 Iprehension (the�dogmatic thesis), but rather a certainty without concept.

allows us to attest: being as void 'inexists' for language, subtracted as it is l i ne i s what Beckett has to say in this regard:
from every degree. But it is precisely being's subtraction from language that
arranges it between its first two categories, movement and rest, and the third So I shall merely state, without enquiring how it came, or how it went, that
one, speech [la parole] or logos. i ll my opinion it was not an illusion, as long as it lasted, that presence of
That being qua being is subtracted from language is something that what did not exist, that presence without, that presence within, that presence
Beckett says in a great many ways, but perhaps, above all, by means of the between, though I'll be buggered if I can understand how it could have
always possible equivalence between dit and mal dit, said and missaid. This been anything else (W, p. 43;W US, p. 45).16
equivalence does not amount to an opposition between well saying and ill
, " " , I
saying. Rather, it presents the missaid as the essence of language; it states This text tells us three things. Firstly, that presence, which is a gift of
that being inexists in language and that consequently, as Molloy says: ' all I w i l lg [donation d 'etre] from what is not in a position to exist, is itself not an

language was an excess of language' (T, p. 1 1 6; TN, p. 1 1 6).1 4 I 1 I I Is i on. Secondly, that it is distributed both within and without, but that its

The main effect of this conviction is to split being and existence asunder. prl'il:rred place is no doubt rather the 'between', the interval. And, thirdly,
Existence is that of which it is possible to speak, whereas the being of existence t h a i i t is impossible to say more about it than that it is a subtraction from .

· , :.
, .
remains subtracted from the network of meanings, and 'inexists' for language. l'\islence, and, consequently, that presence entails no meaning whatsoever.


,I : I

II '
II :
I, " I
Even though it is only in the later works that this split between being I k s i des, this impossibility is also a prohibition, as the vocabulary of castration
II' ,

, '"

, , ' I
' and existence with respect to language unfolds according to its true fictional I I I Beckett's original French crudely suggestsP "
, ' ,
I "
operator (the grey black), it dates far back in Beckett's work. In First Love,

II '"
It is thus obvious why there cannot be any clear and distinct idea of

" "
" ,,
.. '

, :: I :

, "

, '

, ,
, , ,
• from 1 945, we already find the following: presence. Such an idea could not exist because what remains of it for us is
, , ,

p l l rcly a proper name: 'void' or 'nothing' . This name is the beam lfleau] in
' "

I. i i
, , I But I have always spoken, no doubt always shall, of things that never I lIe I I eraclitean balance. Beneath its absence of sense, it effectively proposes

: 1 : ;.
. ,
existed, or that existed if you insist, no doubt always will, but not with the ; 1 veritable being which is not an illusion, but it also proposes a non-being,
, ,I, I ,

existence I ascribe to them (eSp, p. 10; GSP, p. 3 5).1 5 s i l lee it refers to the inexistence of being, which is precisely its unsayable
" ,i ll. •

This delicate separation between the thing that does not exist and the If there were only the fictional set-up of the grey black, whose virtues
same thing which - inasmuch as it is seized by speech - always exists with we h ave exhausted, we would be forced to agree that we are very close to the

an other kind of existence brings us back to the oscillation of the Heraclitean vmious negative theologies, a point that is often made about Beckett. But
doggerel: the ' speak on' must operate at the place of being, the place of the I I l erc is something that comes before this localisation of being, something
grey black, which maintains an undecidable distinction between existence I hat cannot be reduced to the being of the inexistent, and which is reflection
and the being of existence. as slIch, the cogito. Because the onefor whom there is the grey black and the
The clearest statement about this question is perhaps to be found in I I l 1sayable presence does not stop reflecting and articulating both the
Watt. Following an ontological tradition that Beckett takes up in his own local isation and its impasse.
way, we can call being 'Presence' inasmuch as it 'inexists' for language. In a certain sense, the movement that goes from the void to the cogito,
More generally, we can call 'Presence' that aspect of being which remains despite the anti-Cartesian statements that I quoted above (concerning the
unpresented in the existent. If being presents itself at the grey black place cri tcrion of evidence), is itself very Cartesian. Indeed, we know that Beckett
was raised on Descartes. The reference to the cogito is explicit in many texts,
8 9

. ..

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r---- l A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett

and it is set out in an entirely rational manner - albeit with an ironic grasp of , d ' I I I I ',hkrhouse. This 'I' is doubly closed: in the fixity of the body and in the
this rationality - in the outline of Film. 1 ,, ' I : ; l s l l'llee of a voice with neither answer nor echo, it endlessly persists in
Film is indeed a film, a film whose only character is played by Buster I I V i l l I ', 1 0 find the path of its own identification.
Keaton. It concerns a man - an object 0, says Beckett - who flees because he What does it mean for this repetitious voice of the cogito to identify

is pursued by an eye, named E . The film is the story of the pursuit of 0 by E, 1 1.';el l? It means - with the help of a vast array of enouncements, fables, fictional
and it is not until the end that one is meant to grasp the identity of the pursuer 1 I I I I Ia i i v es and concepts - producing the pure and silent point of enunciation
and the pursued, of the eye and the man. When Beckett published the script, ,I:; :;l Ich. Of course, this pure point of enunciation, this 'I', is always antecedent
he introduced it with a text called Esse est percipi, where we can read the I I I pres upposed since it is that which makes both the voice and the
following: " l I l l l l l leements possible. It is the voice's place of being and as such is itself
: l l I h l ractcd from all naming. The relentless aim of the solipsistic voice - or
All extraneous perception suppressed, animal, human, divine, self­ I he voice of the cogito - is to attain this originary silence, whose being is

'I' ,
perception maintains in being. (l)lIsl i tuted by its enunciation, and which is the SUbjective condition of all
Search of non-being in flight from extraneous perception breaking down 1·1 l0U IlCements. In order to identify oneself, it is necessary to enter this silence
in inescapability of self-perception I ha l supports each and every word. This will be the hope of the 'hero' of The
." :
(CDW, p. 323; SP, p. 1 63). 1 8 l il/I/amable:
, '

t This is the argument of the cogito, save for the ironic nuance which [ . J there were moments I thought that would be my reward for having
. .

spoken so long and so valiantly, to enter living into silence [ . . . J

" <'

derives from the fact that the search for truth is replaced by the search for
I' l'
I: , ,
" , I
I: ,

(T, p. 400; TN, p. 396).20

non-being, and, moreover, that by an inversion of values, 'the inescapability
of self-perception' - which for Descartes is one of the first victories of certainty

This entry into silence, holding death at a distance ('living'), has been

- appears here as a failure. The failure of what, exactly? Of the extension to

, ,
" ,
, ,
" ,

described perfectly by Maurice Blanchot as an ' endless recapitulation'


the All[Ie Tout] - subject included - of the general form of being, which is

, I
It I the void. The cogito undermines this extension. There is an existent whose I n ·s.I'assement] of writing which simultaneously effectuates its point of
I being cannot inexist: the subject of the cogito. l'llunciation and wants to capture or signify it.
We are now appproaching our second question, after the one concerning Beckett soon finds out, of course, that this point of identification - the
the place of being: namely, the question of the subject as it is caught up in the si l ent being of all speech - is inaccessible to any enouncement whatsoever. It
closure of the cogito, which is also the question of enunciation [I 'enonciation], would be too simple to believe that this inaccessibility is the result of a formal
tortured by the imperative of the enouncement [I 'enonce]. 1 9 paradox: the necessity that the ontological condition of all naming be itself
I I llnameable. The figure of the impossible, or the unnameable, is trickier than
I h at it fuses together two determinations that Beckett's prose consigns to an

3 . O n t h e S o l i p s i st i c S u bj e ct a s To rtu re i l lsistence without hope.

The first determination is that the conditions of this operation - the
The fictional set-up that deals with the closure of the cogito is the one conditions of the cogito considered through the sole resort of its capture by a
that structures the best-known part of Beckett's work. This is the set-up of li xed voice - are, in a very precise sense, unbearable, charged as they are
the motionless voice - a voiceput under house arrest by a body [qu 'un corps with anxiety and mortal exhaustion.
assigne a residence] . This body is mutilated and held captive, reduced to Under the second determination it becomes evident, upon closer
being no more than the fixed localisation of the voice. It is in chains, tied to inspection, that the cogito is a situation far more complex than simple self-
a hospital bed, or stuck in a jar that advertises a restaurant opposite the

10 11

Al ai n Ba d i o u On Beckett r-
--- --' ..--- l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett
reflection. Indeed, the cogito involves not two but three tel1lls
. The schema I I I l l I l l l l I a t ioll of the voice's obstinacy is also that of an unbearable torture.
of Film the eye and the objec t - is insufficient.
1 1 1 I 1 I1 1 I , ho l i l the Unnamable, tears stream down the face of the speaker.
As for the conditions of the cogito, or of a thinking of think
ing [une � ; l Ich heroism on the part of the cogito designates an impasse. Following
pensee de la pensee], they are terribly restrictive. This is beca
use speech is 1 I 1 1 I 1 1I·. ! I : l t Icy upon The Unnamable we have Textsfor Nothing, which occupy
never relentlessly repetitive or mobile enough and, at the sam
e time, it is 1 1 1 1 1 t:;.-iy I he place of dying, where the temptation to abandon the imperative
never insistent or immobile enough. It would be necessary
to find a vocal I I I IV t l l l l l g . . to rest from the torture of the cogito - imposes itself. This is the
regime that could simultaneously reach the apex of veheme
nce and of the I I II I I I I ! ' I I I when the relation between the 'you must go on' and the '1 can't go
vociferating multiple and, in its restraint, be the almost-nothi
ng, on the edge " I I ' \ " : :>0 tense that the writer is no longer sure he can sustain it.
of breathing. The voice cannot maintain this tenuous equilibr
ium, and what ' I ' he Textsfor Nothing proceed in a more theoretical way, since they are
escapes it is the unnameable, which could be said to be locate
d exactly at the j. " l I gaged in the terrifying fictional set-ups of the solipsistic subject. The
. .
. .

point of caesura between the two opposing regimes.

I l Ii l l l l d iscovery that these texts bear witness to is that the cogito, besides its
This is because in order to reach this point an inner violence is
necessary, 1 1 I 1 1 I H' l I t ing and unbearable conditions, is ultimately without finality, because
a superegoic perseverence capable of literally submitting the
subject of the I t k i l l I lieation is impossible. The injunction that the 'I' addresses to itself
I cogito to the question, to torture. The cogito's confession of
silence would "lu'l"\'IIing the naming of its own founding silence is object-less: in effect,
I need to be extorted from it. Beckett underscores the fact tha
t if the '1 think '

:I I I I l ' ( 'ogito is not a reflection, a Two (the couple of enouncement and

II wishes to mark its own thinking-being - if thought wishes
, " ,
to grasp itself as " l l l I l Ic iation), rather, it sketches out a three-fold configuration. There are three
I "' the thinking of thinking - the reign of terror will commence •

. This resonates 1 1 I : : I : l l lces ofthe 'I' that cannot be reduced to the One except under conditions

I ,"" ,
'" with the famous letter in which Mallal1lle , in a paroxysm "
of anxiety and
" "

I, i : I I I I l o l a l exhaustion, of the dissipation of all subjectivity. \'

, "
i crisis, declares : 'My thought has thought itself, and I am pe
rfectly dead ' .21
" The crucial text in this regard is the twelfth 'text for nothing' , one of •

Be ckett, on his part, points to the suffering rather than to de

, ath itself. In the I I I\' densest and most purely theoretical texts written by Beckett. Here is a
, words of the hero of The Unnamable:
p: l :,sagc that undertakes the analytical decomposition of the cogito:
, '
I only think, if that is the name for this vertiginous panic as
I . . ] one who speaks saying, without ceasing to speak, Who's speaking?,
II of hornets .
, smoked out oftheir nest, once a certain degree of terror has bee
n exceeded and one who hears, mute, uncomprehending, far from all [ . . . ] . And this
, " (T, p. 3 5 3 ; TN, p. 3 50).22
other now [ . . . ] with his babble of homeless mes and untenanted hims [ . . . ] .
There's a pretty three in one, and what a one, what a no one
The 'I think' presupposes terror, which alone compels the vo
ice to over­ (eSp, p. 112; GSP, p. 1 50).24
extend itself towards itself, in order to fold back, as much
as it is able to,
towards its own point of enunciation. Like all terror, this on
e is also given as How is this infernal trio distributed?
an imperative without concept, and it imposes an obstina
cy that gives no 1) First, there is the 'one who speaks ' [Qui parle], the supposedly
quarter and allows no escape. This imperative, indifferent to
all po ssibility _
1l" llexive subject of enunciation, or the one capable of also asking 'Who's
this terroristic commandment to sustain the unsustainable
- concludes The . speaking? ' [Qui parle], of enouncing the question concerning itself. It is this
s l Ibject whom the hero of The Unnamable seeks to identify beneath the terror.
2) Then there is the subj ect of passivity, who hears without
[ . . . ] you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on (T, p. 4 1 8 ; TN,
p. 4 14).23 understanding, who is 'far away' in the sense of being the underside, the
obscure matter of the one who is speaking. This is the passive being of the
Sin ce what is ne ed ed is pr ec ise ly that which is impo ssi
bl e, the subject of enunciation.
3) Finally, there is the subject who functions as the support of the

12 13
. . -- - - - --- -- - -- - - -- .

Al a i n Ba d i o u On Becke tt ,------ ..:. I-=a..:..:in..B:...:
l..A..:..: .:.....:: a::...: .:,o..::.
: d.:...i ::- u_ .O
_ _e_
n_B _e_t_t
ck ___

e of the gr ey bla ck ; th ere ne ve r wa s a tim e or a pl ace when
question of identification, the one who, through enunciation and passivity, i l I I I 1 1I ' 1 I 101 'ia i peac
we re 'd ea d th e wh ol e br oo d no so on er ha tch ed '.
makes the question of what he is insist, and who, in order to do so, submits 1 1 1 1 ' J l ll' s l ion s
ly tra pp ed in th e im pa ss e. Th e co gi to is lit er ally
himself to torture. We are complete
ab le. Th e so lip sis m th at is giv en ov er to the
The subject is thus tom between the subject of enunciation, the subject I I I I I w ; l I ah l e but it is
, als o ine vit
ifica tion is int erm ina ble an d po int les s, it ca n no lon ger sustain
of passivity, and the questioning subject. The third of these subjects is 1 11 1 1l 1'�;S of ident
pl ac e of be in g we lco m e us . Th is is wh y Be ck ett 's
ultimately the one for whom the relation between the other two is at issue , II 1 1 1 1 l 1 g, but neither can th e
tsf or no th ing . W ith ex tra or din ar y lu cid ity, they
the relation, that is, between enunciation and passivity. I . .� I :, i'rom this period
are tex
ing ne ss of th e att em pt in pr og re ss . Th ey co m e to the
Enunciation, passive reception, question: this is the 'pretty three' of I l ' i l l i S of the noth
th ing (B ec ke tt wi ll ne ve r be a ni hi list), bu t tha t
Beckett's subject. And, if we wish to join them together, to count all three of l I ' n l isa l ion , not that there is no
sh ow fo r its elf . Th es e tex ts tel l us th e tru th of a
them as One, we find only the void of being, a nothing that is worth nothing. \\' 1 I I i I Ig has nothing more to
ett at th e en d of th e fift ies : wh at he ha s wr itten up to
Why is it worth nothing? Because the void of being does not itself claim to ii l i l ia l ion , that of Be ck
. im po ssi bl e to go on alt ern ati ng , without any
be the question of its own being. In the case of the subject, instead, we have l l i a l p o i nt can 't go on It is -

ee n the ne ut ra lit y of the gr ey bl ac k of be in g an d

I I ll'd iation whatsoever, betw
,,11" " 1 1

I this terrifying rambling of the question which, were it to issue into the void
su stain
, I

th e so lip sis tic co gi to . W rit ing ca n no lon ge r

pure and simple, would turn the torture of identification into bitter buffoonery. I I Il' en dless torture of
, I

I I"'i I :
I! Every question implies a scale of values (what is the answer worth?), and if, I I :w l r by means of this alternation.
ett did go on . Un les s w e im ag in e th at it wa s a matter of
1 1 1 'r in the end, we find only what was there before every question - that is, being And yet, Be ck " ,

I ", "I
slavi sh ob ed ien ce to an im pe rativ e wh os e va cu "

,I 'I " as the grey black - then the value of the answer is zero. I I s i mp le obsession, or of a

I ' "

", "
"I ,
m us t as k ou rse lves throu gh wh at th is co nt inuation I
·1' . ,
II " ,
Of course, one might think that the only solution is to abandon all I ll' I acitly acknowledge d, we �;

,I : : I
,, , , "

I co nv ince d th at it ha pp en ed thr ou gh a re al artistic and ..

rr: : ' ,
questions. Would rest, serenity and the end of the tormenting question of r a l l l e to pass. am
' .,
I : ,,," I i
. ,

" ,
, "," I and m or e pr ec ise ly th roug h a ch an ge in the
I , , ", , . identity not reside in a pure and simple coincidence with the place of being, I I lte llectual transformation,

, 'r" ,
I """
, "" ' "
, 26
I" "
", " ,
, " ,, , , ,
': " I , : : '
with the unquestionable grey black? Why wish for the silence of the point of , ,";entation of thought. ,

", ' , "

, , ", , "' ,, I
" ' "
" , . ' " I'
enunciation rather than for the silence as it is, as it has always been, in the '"
," 'I

"" I I ' I ,'

'"I anti-dialectical identity of being? Can the subject not rejoin the place from
4 . T h e Tra n sfo rm a t i o n i n Beckett 's w o rk
, ,

, 'I I
" '" I'
which all questions are absent, can it not desert and deconsecrate the dead
", I ,:: 1
a fter 1 9 6 0

', I '' "

end of its own identity?
" " "" ,

Well, the answer is no, it cannot do this. The question, because it is one
It is not true that Beckett's enterprise develops in a linear fashion on
ofthe instances ofthe subj ective triplet, insists without appeal. Beckett, inIll
Ihe basis of its initial parameters. It is also utterly wrong to maintain, as
Seen III Said, expressly says that it is impossible to reach a place, or a time,
much critical opinion would have it, that his work drove itself ever deeper
where the question has been abolished:
into 'despair', 'nihilism' , or the defeat of meaning.

Was it ever over and done with questions? Dead the whole brood no sooner Beckett treats a set ofproblems in the medium of prose; his work is in
no way the expression of a spontaneous metaphysics. When these problems
hatched. Long before. In the egg. Long before. Over and done with
tum out to be caught in a prosodic set-up that either does not or no longer
answering. With not being able. With not being able not to want to know.
allows them to be solved, Beckett displaces, transforms and even destroys
With not being able. No. Never. A dream. Question answered
, this set-up and its corresponding fictions.
(ISIS, p. 37; NO, p. 70).25
This is, without a doubt, what happens at the end of the fifties, after the

The idea of disarticulating the subjective trio by suppressing the

Textsfor Nothing. We can take How It Is - ultimately a little known book - as
the mark of a major transformation in the way that Beckett fictionalises his
questioning instance cannot be put into practice. One cannot rejoin the

14 15
Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r----- l Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett
thinking. This text breaks with the confrontation that opposed the suffering In order to grasp the discontinuous interweavings [intrications
cogito to the grey black of being. It attempts to ground itself in completely 1. /. 'III/aires] of the subj ect (or of what is dispersed within the subject) the
different categories: the category of 'what-comes-to-pass ' [ce-qui-se-passe] I I lollologue/dialogue/story triad must be deposed. At the same time, we cannot
- present from the start but now recast - and, above all, the category of alterity, :q wak of a poem in the strict sense, since the operations of a poem, which are
of the encounter and the figure ofthe Other, which fissures and displaces the a lways affirmative, do not involve fictionalisation. Instead, I would say that
solipsistic internment of the cogito. I he prose - segmented into paragraphs - will come to be governed by a latent
In order to remain adequate to the categories ofthought, the construction II(ll'fI1. This poem holds together what is given in the texts, but it is not itself
of the texts also undergoes profound changes. The canonical form taken by I ', ivcn. The thematic recurrences appear on the surface of the text, characterised
the fictions of the 'early' Beckett alternates - as we have seen - between by their slow motion. Beneath the surface, however, this movement is
trajectories (or wanderings) and fixities (or constrained monologues). This Iq�lIlated or unified by an inapparent poetic matrix.
form is progressively replaced by what I would like to call thefigural poem The distance between the latent poem and the surface ofthe text varies.
o/the subject 's postures. Beckett's prose is no longer able to retain its usual " or example, the poem is almost entirely exposed in Lessness, whereas it is -


'novelistic' functions (description and narration) - not even when these are ( kcply buried in Imagination Dead Imagine. Yet in all these texts there is a
reduced to their bare bones (the grey black that describes only being, the k i!ld of subversion of prose and of its fictional destiny by the poem, without
pure wandering that narrates only itself). It is this abdication of the fictive I I IC text itself actually entering the realm ofpoetry. It is this subversion without
functions of prose that leads me to speak of the poem. With regard to the lransgression that Beckett was to refine after 1 960 with a great many

" subject, what is at stake in this poetics is no longer the question of its identity, hcsitations, of course - as the only regime of prose adequate to the generic "

" o
an effort which the monologue of The Unnamable had subjected to its own intention. ,I,
brand of torture. Rather, Beckett's concern will tum to the occurrences of the From a more abstract point of view, Beckett's evolution goes from a ,


, subject, to its possible positions, or to the enumeration of its figures. Instead progrannne of the One - obstinate trajectory or interminable soliloquy - to
,, of the useless and unending fictive reflection of the self, the subject will be I he pregnant theme of the Two, which opens out onto infinity. This opening
, pinpointed according to the variety of its dispositions vis-a-vis its encounters orthe multiple will give rise to combinations and hypotheses reminiscent of
- in the face of 'what-comes-to-pass ' , in the face of everything that cosmology. These combinations and hypotheses are captured in their literal
supplements being with the instantaneous surprise of an Other. objectivity; they are given, not as suppositions, but as situations. Finally, we
" In order to track the discontinuity ofthe subject's figures - as opposed have the passage from a set-up of fictions, whose stories are perhaps intended
to the obstinate repetition of the Same as it falls prey to its own speech - 1 0 be allegorical, to a semi-poetic set-up that puts situations into place. These
Beckett's prose becomes segmented, adopting the paragraph as its musical situations will allow us to enumerate the possible fortunes or misfortunes of
unit. The subject's capture within thought will take place in a thematic network: Ihe subject.
repetitions ofthe same statements in slowly shifting contexts, reprises, circles, As far as the question of the Other is concerned, this new proj ect
recurrences, etc. oscillates between realisations of failure and flashes ofvictory. We could say
This evolution is typical, I think, of what I am trying to present here I hat in Happy Days, Enough or III Seen III Said, it is the positive inflection
under the name of 'the writing of the generic' . Since what is at stake is a Ihat predominates, under the signifier of a 'happiness' that cannot be abolished
generic truth of Humanity, the narrative model - even when reduced to the by the writing's ironic tone. In Company, by contrast, which ends with the
pure feature of its trajectory - is not enough, and neither is the solipsistic word 'alone ', there is a final deconstruction of that which - in the sublimity
'internal' monologue, not even when it produces fictions and fables. Neither ofthe night - will have been but the fiction of a Two. However, this oscillation
the technique ofMolloy nor that ofMalone Dies - both of which remain very itself constitutes a principle of openness. The second half of Beckett's work
close to Kafka's textual procedures - suffice to submit the prose to what is in effect marks an opening onto chance, indifferently sustaining both success
indiscernible in a generic truth?? and failure, the encounter and the non-encounter, alterity and solitude. Chance

16 17
Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----- l A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett
contributes in part to curing Beckett of the secret schema of predestination, I II Watt, on the other hand, we encounter the crucial problem of what
evident in the work between Watt and How It Is. 1 1 11 lino calls 'incidents', which are themselves quite real.
Of course, in the earliest of Beckett's works we can already find traces /Vlltt provides the allegorical arrangement of a structural place: the
of this break with the schema of predestination, of this opening up to the h"I I:;I' of Mr. Knott.31 This place is both immemorial and invariable, it is
chance possibility that what exists is not all there is [qu 'il n y aitpas seulement \ "' 1 1 1 , ), a s All and as Law:
ce qu 'il y a]. These traces are linked to the muffled exposition of the schema
itself. I am thinking, for instance, of the moment when Molloy declares: ' one I J nothing could be added to Mr. Knott's establishment, and from it
. . .

is what one is, partly at least' (T, p. 54; TN, p. 54).18 This 'partly' concedes a 1 I(llhing taken away, but that as it was now, so it had been in the beginning,
point to the non-identity of the self, which is where the risk of a possible alld so it would remain to the end, in all essential respects, any significant
freedom lies. This concession prepares the judgment ofEnough: ' Stony ground presence, at any time, and here all presence was significant, even though
but not entirely' (CSP, p. 1 40; GSP, p. 1 87).29 There is here a breach of being, it was impossible to say of what, proving that presence at all times [ . . . ]
a subtraction from the indifferent ingratitude of the grey black. Or, to borrow ( W, p. 1 29; W US, p. 1 3 1).32
I" ,
a concept from Lacan, there is the not-all, both in that coincidence of self
,, ' with self that speech exhausts itself in situating, and in the earth's stony Mr. Knott's house binds presence and meaning so closely that no breach
, '
" ingratitude.29 I I I i t s being is thinkable, whether by supplement or by subtraction. All that

What is this breach in the totality of being and self? What is to be ( Il l e can do is to reflect the Law of invariance that governs the place ofbeing. .'
" ,;
" found in this breach that is simultaneously the not-all of the subject and the I l ow does the house function over time? Where is Mr. Knott, at any given .'


grace of a supplement to the monotony of being? This is the question of the I I IOlllent? In the garden, or on the first floor? These are questions that relate 1
, "
event, of 'what-comes-to-pass ' . It is no longer a matter of asking the question to pure knowledge, to the science of place; they are the rationalisations of ,,'


'What of being such as it is? ', or ' Can a subject who is prey to language :;( li llcthing like a 'waiting for Mr. Knott'. ,t

" ' rejoin its silent identity?' Instead, one asks: 'Does something happen?' And, But besides the law of place and its uncertain science there is the
" ,
, more precisely: 'Is there a name for the surging up, for an incalculable advent problem of incidents. This is what will arouse Watt's passion as a thinker.
, ,
that de-totalises being and tears the subject away from the predestination of Speaking of these incidents, Beckett will say - in a formula of major
its own identity?' l i llportance - that they are 'of great formal brilliance and indeterminable
," purport' (W, p. 7 1 ; W US, p. 74).33 What are these incidents? Among the . ""
1I10st remarkable ones, let us cite the visit of a piano tuner and his son, or the
5 . Event, Mea n i n g , N a m i n g pulting out of Mr. Knott's dish for the dog in front of the door, a dog whose
origin is itself an 'impenetrable' question.
The interrogation concerning both what comes to pass and the possibility What provokes thought is the contradiction between, on the one hand,
of a thinking of the event as it arises motivates some of Beckett's earliest I he formal brilliance of the incident (its isolation, its status as exception),
texts. It is central to Watt, which dates from the forties. But, to a considerable and, on the other, the opaqueness of its content. Watt takes great pains in
extent, it was obliterated by the works that brought Beckett fame. In addition 'formulating hypotheses about this content. It is here that his thought is really
to Waiting for Godot, this means essentially the trilogy of Molloy, Malone awakened. What is at issue is not a cogito under the torturing compulsion of
Dies, and The Unnamable. What common opinion retained from these works I he voice, but rather calculations and suppositions designed to raise the content
was precisely that in the end nothing happened, nothing but the wait for an ofthe incidents up to the level of their formal brilliance.
event. Godot will not come; Godot is nothing but the promise of his coming. In Watt, however, there is a limit to this investigation, a limit that Beckett
In this sense, the role of the event is akin to that of woman in Claudel: a will not cross until much later: the hypotheses about the incidents remain
promise that cannot be kept.

18 19
A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----:.. n B_a___d_i_ On_B ck
e_ _t_t__
l�A___I--=-a_i_ o_u__ � _ "
captive to a problematic of meaning. We are still within the confines of an ( ' 1 'oV: [Impatiently.] What is it?
attempt ofthe hermeneutic type, in which one is supposed to bring the incident, I I A M M: We're not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?
by means of a well-conducted interpretation, into agreement with the ( ' I ,OV: Mean something ! You and I, mean something ! [Brie/laugh.] Ah
established universe of meanings. Here is the passage that lays out the I llat's a good one!
hierarchy of possibilities that are open to Watt as the interpreter, or hermeneut, ( '[)W, pp. 1 07-1 08; E, pp. 32-33)35
of the incidents:
Ultimately, Beckett replaces his initial hermeneutics - which attempts
[ . . . ] the meaning attributed to this particular type of incident, by Watt, in I t ! p i n the event to the network of meanings - with an entirely different
his relations, was now the initial meaning that had been lost and then t '11\ Tat i on, that ofnaming. Confronted with a chance supplementation ofbeing,
recovered, and now a meaning quite distinct from the initial meaning, and l Ia l i l i ng does not seek any meaning at all, but instead proposes to draw an
now a meaning evolved, after a delay of varying length, and with greater I l i vented name out of the very void of what takes place. Interpretation is
or less pains, from the initial absence of meaning I hncby supplanted by a poetics of naming that has no other purpose than to
(W p. 76; W US, p. 79).34 /1 \ I hc incident, to preserve within language a trace ofthe incident's separation. "'


The poetics of naming is central to III Seen III Said, starting with the } •
The hermeneut has three possibilities: if he supposes that there is a \,\,1 y title ofthe text. Indeed, what does 'ill seen' mean? 'Ill seen' means that
meaning to the incident he can retrieve it, or else propose an entirely different w h a t happens is necessarily outside the laws of visibility of the place of being.
one. If instead he supposes that there is no meaning, he can generate one. Of W l lat truly happens cannot be properly seen [bien vu] (including in the moral
course, only this third hypothesis, which posits that the incident is entirely ::,'nsc of the term), because the well-seen [bien-vu] is always framed by the

devoid of meaning and that it is therefore really separate from the closed " .Icy black of being, and thus cannot possess the capacity for isolation and


universe of sense (Mr. Knott's house), awakens thought in a lasting manner ::urprise that belongs to the event-incident. And what does 'ill said' mean? ,�,

(,after a delay of varying length'), and demands its labour ('with greater or · I I I C well-said is precisely the order of established meanings. But if we do
less pains ') . However, if this is all there is, if the interpreter is the giver of I l i anage to produce the name of what happens inasmuch as it happens - the
sense, then we remain prisoners of meaning as law and imperative. The l I a m c ofthe ill seen - then this name cannot remain prisoner of the meanings
interpreter creates nothing but an agreement between the incident and that that are attached to the monotony of the place. It thus belongs to the register
from which he separated himself at the beginning - the established universe " I ' the ill said. 'Ill seen ill said' designates the possible agreement between 'I"

of meanings, Mr. Knott's house. In Watt there certainly is a chance that t hai which is subtracted from the visible (the 'ill seen'), and that which is
something may happen, but what-comes-to-pass - once it is captured and ';l I hlracted from meaning (the 'ill said'). We are therefore dealing with the
reduced by the hermeneut - does not preserve its character as a supplement agrcement between an event, on the one hand, and the poetics of its name, on
or a breach. t hI; other,
Beginning with the play Endgame, Beckett dissociates what-comes­ Here is a decisive passage concerning this point:
to-pass from any allegiance - even an invented one - to meanings. He
postulates that the existence of an event does not entail that we are subj ected During the inspection a sudden sound. Startling without consequence for
to the imperative of discovering its meaning : the gaze the mind awake. How explain it? And without going so far how
say it? Far behind the eye the quest begins. What time the event recedes.
HAMM: What's happening? When suddenly to the rescue it comes again. Forthwith the uncommon
CLOY: Something is taking its course. common noun collapsion. Reinforced a little later if not enfeebled by the
[Pause.] infrequent slumberous. A slumberous collapsion. Two. Then far from the
I IA MM: Clov! still agonizing eye a gleam of hope. By the grace ofthese modest beginnings

20 21
Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett ,----- l A la i n Ba d i o u On Beckett
aft er 1 96 0. Th e m os t sig ni fic an t set -u ps [m on tag es ] in
(ISIS, p. 55; NO, p. 83).36 I \ ' , L ( ' I I in his texts
th e ve ry ' str uc tu ra lis t' on e of Th e Lo st On es , pu bl ished in
The text, in the end, speaks about itself. ' The inspection' accords with I I I I ' , Il' Spcct are

visibility; it is the well-seen, which is moreover presented here as a torture. I " /0, :llI d the one of How It Is.
ou t an ab str ac t pl ac e th at do es no t im ply an y
During the torment of the submission to the law of place, in the classical I II both cases, fictio n lay s
of th e fo re sts , or
, :,Ia hli shed figure of th e se ns ib le. Th e pl ac e is no lon ge r th at
abruptness of the supplementation by an event, there is a noise. This noise is
or of th e clo su re of a ro om in an as ylu m . Th e
out-of-place [hors-lieu], isolated in its formal clarity, in-visible, ill seen?7 " I I I Il' Ilowers of wandering,
d re gu lat ed , su bj ec ted to str ict pa ra m ete rs th at on e
The entire problem is to invent a name for it. In passing, Beckett rejects the ',p :I(' l� is homogeneous an
je ct of an ex ac t sc ien ce . Su ch co de d pl ac es ev ok e
hypothesis - which might appear as more ambitious but actually exhibits a ',(, I I�;CS could serve as th e ob
o rec all Da nt e 's Inf ern o. Th eir ba ren es s allows
lesser freedom - of an explanation that would 'well say' about the ill seen. ,I I II Ickct cosmolo gy , bu t th ey als
on th e fig ur al di sp os iti on s of th e su bje ct .
The name of the noise-event is a poetic invention. This is what Beckett , t i l a l lention to fo cu s up
, pl ac e in qu es tio n is a gia nt ru bb er cy lin de r in
signals by the paradoxical alliance of 'collapsion' and 'slumberous ' , one In The Lost Ones th e
, so un d, an d tem pe ra tur e are re gu lat ed by rig or ous
'uncommon' and the other 'infrequent' . This naming emerges from the void wl lic h the variations of lig ht -

>;) 1
of language, like an ill saying adequate to the ill seen of the noise. law s. These law s ar e em pi ric all y ob se rv ab le an d ye t co nc ep tu all y un known. , ! ,

rifi ed an d re du ce d to a co m pl ex of clo su re an d
Tl iis is a simple cosmos, pu •
Even more important is the fact that once ' slumberous collapsion' is j
th ob ey in g a sin gle 1
I " ! ',a l i ty. Within it, a ' lit tle pe op le ' bu sie s its elf wi Ij
uttered - as what names the suddenness of the noise as a poetic wager on the
r th eir los t on es .38 Th is ob sti na te im pe ra tiv e is no lon ger
ill seen - then and only then is there 'a gleam of hope' . 1 l l lpcrative: to look fo
Th e Un na ma bl e. It is no lon ge r a qu es tio n of
1 1 t : 1 1 of identification, as in

What kind of hope are we dealing with here? The hope of a truth. A ,

of rej oin in g on es elf at th e pu re po in t of sil en ce . Th e I

truth that will be interpolated into the grey black, a truth dependent on the ::p ca king one's self or i

r th e ot he r, or , to be m or e pr ec ise , it is up to ea ch one ,

I I I I pe rative is to lo ok fo "

naming of an event which will itself be eclipsed. The moment of grace, the
er. He re is th e ve ry be gin ni ng of th e ta le: 'A bo de wh ere lost
'grace of these modest beginnings' . There exists no other beginning for a In look for its oth
ea ch se ar ch in g fo r its lo st on e' (e Sp , p. 1 59 ; GS P, p. 20 2) .39
truth than the one that accords a poetic name - a name without meaning - to i >nd ics roam
th e on e wh o, by be in g yo ur lo st on e, sin gu lar ise s yo u,
a separable supplement which, however obscure, however ill seen it is said The lost one is
an on ym ou s sta tu s of th os e wh o ha ve be in g on ly to
to be, is nevertheless, once subtracted from the grey black of being, 'of great ka rs you away fro m th e
he rs . To fin d on e's lo st
I lie extent that they are lost am on g th e pe op le of se arc
formal brilliance'.
ul d be to co m e to on es elf [ad ve nir a so il in th e
What is thus opened up is the domain of truth. In its separable origin, nll C [etre 'depeupl t!'] wo
this is the domain of alterity. The naming guards a trace of an Other-than­ \�Il counter with one's other.
fo r th e ot he r is bo th co ns tan t an d va rie d. Pe op le ru n around
being, which is also an Other-than-self. The quest
r - fo r ex am pl e cli m bi ng th e lad de rs to se e if th e
This is the source of the subject's dis-closure, whereby it incurs the l�vcrywhere in the cylinde
ni ch es in sta lle d at va rio us he ig ht s. Al l of th is am ou nt s
risk of the Other, of its figures and occurrences. It does so under the sign of lost one is in one of the
ted ex er cis e th at Be ck ett de sc rib es in all of its pa in sta king
the hope opened up by ontological alterity - the breach in being which is 1 0 a very complica
ve rth ele ss di sti ng ui sh fo ur fig ur es of th e qu es t,
crystallised both by the suddenness of the event and by the brilliance of the m inutiae. In the end we can ne
of th e su bj ec t, fo ur po ssi bl e po sit io ns fo r ' ea ch
ill seen. an d therefore four figures
on e' who searches for its lost one.
ea ki ng , th er e ar e tw o cr ite ria fo r se tti ng up th is ty po logy of
Roughly sp
6 . F i g u re s of t h e S u bj ect a n d Fo rm u l a s of ligures.
th os e wh o se ar ch an d th os e wh o ha ve giv en up
Sexuation The first one cont ra sts
e w ho sti ll liv e in ac co rd an ce wi th th e sin gl e im pe rative
on the search; thos
The fabulation of the figures of the subject will persistently occupy

22 23

Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett r-------------.....
l A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett
and those who have given up on this imperative - which is the same as giving 1 0 . 1 1 hOl l rs all of Beckett's paradoxical optimism: the return (which is rare,
up on one's desire, since there exists no other desire than that of finding one's , 1 1 1 1 I t ,sl n e ver takes place, but there are cases . . . ) of a vanquished one to the

lost one. Beckett calls these defeated searchers the vanquished. To be , I I " 1 1 : 1 o r the search. Here the set-up involves a certain torsion: giving up on

vanquished, let us note, is never to be vanquished by the other, but rather I i i,' l i l lperative is irreversible, but the result of (or the punishment for) this
entails that one has renounced the other. . I , k :l l , which is apathetic immobility, is not irreversible . Or again:
The second criterion has its origin in the Platonic categories ofmovem
ent " I l l l 'vlTsibility is a law of choice, a law of the moment; it does not govern a
and rest, whose importance for Beckett's thought I have already ' : I : i I (' of affairs. Grasped in all its consequences and figures, and not in its
There are searchers who circulate without stopping, there are oth I 'l l n' moment, irreversibility is not irreversible.
ers who
sometimes stop, and then there are those who stop often - and eve The subject's maxims are therefore as follows: to give up is irreversible,
n some
who no longer move at all. 1 ," 1 1111 possibilities exist even where nothing attests to them, in the midst of
We thus end up with four types of subject: I I ll' ligures of sedentarity. Beckett says as much in an extraordinarily succinct

"I ' , ,
1 ) The searchers who circulate nonstop, whom we might call the 1 ':lssage, which presents a very abstract and profound insight into the link ,

II" " �.

1" ', ' I

'I,,: :
'nomads ' , and who are the 'initial' living beings - the infants, for example. I H'l ween an imperative and the domain of possibilities in which it is exercised: t'

" ,

Ii iI I I The infants never stop circulating, on their mothers' backs to be sure, but
i'" , I

'" I ,
"" ,
r" , "

without ever coming to a halt. The mothers also belong to this category; they [ . . . J in the cylinder what little is possible is not so it is merely no longer so
,", I ,
I"" '

,". , ,
, ,
. 1 , •
.,, ' , I

cannot be immobile, not even for an instant. !I'

,,, ' , I

" ,
and in the least less the all of nothing if this notion is maintained
,I I ' " ' 2) The searchers who sometimes stop, who 'rest' . I
, , 1 ' , ,
" , , ,

(eSp, p. 1 67; GSP, pp. 2 1 1 -2 1 2).40


:, : :
" '

,: iI 3) The searchers who are definitively motionless, or immobile for

, ,
,,, - ,, '


a ;

very long time, but who - and this is very important - continue to
, ,. ,
"'" I ",

,,,, ,

:::11 '
search with The slightest failure is total (because less nothing) but no possibility
",I I ,
: :" I their eyes for their lost one. Nothing in them moves, excep I �; annihilated (because not-possible provisionally no longer possible).

," ,I t the eyes, =

1:, I '" , , ceaselessly turning in all directions.


The ethics of the cylinder knows no eternal damnation, but neither
4) The non-searchers, the vanquished. docs it know any compromise regarding the imperative of the Other. What
, I

Those who are immobile, either constantly or for a long time, are cal

led distributes this ethics into its two sides is a figure of the subject.
the sedentary. By combining the criteria of the imperative (to sea In How It Is, the description ofthe subject's figures takes place in another
rch) and of
, II ,
movement, we can fundamentally distinguish two ' extremal' po rictional montage, bringing us closer to the crucial problem of the Two. "', '
sitions: the
absolute nomadic living beings, on the one hand, and the vanquis Of course, Beckett maintains that there are four main figures. There
hed, on the
other. Between these two figures lie partial and total sedentarity. arc always four figures, we cannot escape this number, the problem is knowing
The principl e underlying this distribution of figures is the fol which of them are nameable.
lowing :
since the law of desire is the search for the other, this search can
never be A passing remark: you are probably acquainted with Lacan's thesis
interrupted, except in that approximation ofdeath constituted by irr about what can be said of truth. For Lacan, a truth can never be entirely said,
The moment when one gives up on the imperative is a point ofno i t can only be half-said.40 When it comes to the truth of subjective figures,
return. The
one who stops circulating becomes sedentary, thereby entering int I he proportion that Beckett proposes is somewhat different. Of the four figures,
o the figure
of the vanquished. only three can be named, so that in this case speech can reach three quarters
This is if we view things from the side of life, from the side of the truth:
of the
imperative ofthe lost one. But, from the other point of view, that of
there exist a variety of possibilities - one can circulate between [ . . . J the voice being so ordered I quote that of our total life it states only
partial and
total immobility. There is even the possibility of the following mi three quarters (HI!, p. 142; HI! US, p. 130)42
racle, which

24 25 .1
. ����---��--

A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----- L Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett

These are the four figural postures of the subject in How It Is: , "" ' p l icated.
1) To wander in the dark with a sack. I ,ct us note that, as figures of solitude, the journey and immobility
2) To encounter someone in the active position, pouncing on them in I h, res ults of a separation. The joumey is that of a victim who abando
ns her
the dark. This is the so-called 'tormentor 's' position. ' I", " Iel ltor, whilst immobility in the dark applies to the abandoned torm
3) To be abandoned, immobile in the dark, by the one encountered. I I I:; dea r that the se figures are sexuated, but in a latent manner. Be ckett doe s
4) To be encountered by someone in a passive position (someone 1 , , ,1 pro nounce the words 'man' and 'woman', precisely because they refer
pounces on you while you are immobile in the dark). This is the position of 1 1 1 1 1 00 comfortably to a structural and permanent Two. De
pending as it does
the so-called 'victim'. It is this fourth position that the voice is not able to t i l l I hc cha nce of the enc oun ter, the Tw o of victim and tor me nto r, of the ir
say, thus leading to the axiom of the three quarters concerning the relationship 'I 1II II Ieys and immobilities, is not the realisation of any pre-existing
between truth and speech. I n fact, the figures of solitude are sexuated in accordance with two
These are the generic figures which cover everything that can happen I " ('al exi stential theorems , whose evidence is plo
tted out by How It Is:
to a member of humanity. It is very important to note that these figures are - first theorem: only a woman travels; ••

second theorem: whoever is immobile in the dark is a man.
, , , "

, , I
egalitarian ones. In this set-up there is no particular hierarchy, nothing to ,

: :' I" i i

" , I

" "

indicate that this or that one among the four figures is to be desired, preferred, I will let you reflect upon these theorems. What we should
note r


:; I I I
,, ,
" "
" , "I
" , I
or distributed differently than the others. The words 'tormentor ' and 'victim' I I l 1 l l 1ed iate ly is tha t this doc trin e of the sex es, wh ich stat es tha t wa nde ring •
, "
" ,
" ,

, "
should not mislead us in this regard. Besides, Beckett is careful to warn us '{" /i lies a wo ma n and tha t ifth ere is a mo rta l im mo bile in the dar k he mu st be .1

li l lian - this schema of sexuation, in brief- is in no sense either empirical or

, ,

" I
. .

that there is something exaggerated, something falsely pathetic in these

, .
' "
, ,

, " I

1" '" ' , I

,, " I

hio logical. The sexes are distributed as a result, on the basis of an encounter

"' " I ,l, lI conventional denominations. Moreover, we will see that the positions of the

I , I
pas siv e one
r's ' - and the
victim and the tormentor designate everything that can exist by way of I I I wh ich the act ive pos itio n - cal led 'th e tor me nto
" , ,


"I ,
happiness in life. In sum, these figures are only the generic avatars ofexistence; cal led 'the vic tim 's' - are bou nd tog eth er thr oug h 'sto ic lov e' . Th e sex
ii rtal crawling

they are equivalent to one another, and this profound equality offate authorises h, '/ 'pen when a mortal crawling in the dark encounters another mo
I I I the dar k, lik e eve ryo ne els e, wit h his or her sac k ful l of tins of foo d. Of
the following remarkable statement: 'in any case we have our being injustice
, the re are alw ays few er and few er tin s abo ut, but one day ano the r sac k
I have never heard anything to the contrary' (HII, p. 135; HII US, p. 1 24).43 ('ourse
Of course, the justice evoked here, as a judgment about collective being, w i l l be found - as long as we don't stop crawling, God wilIling.
Active and pa ssive positions, however, are not the last word on
" ,
does not refer to any kind of finality. It concerns only the intrinsic ontological
In ord er to she d mo re ligh t upo n the ma tter , we mu st exa mi ne
equality of the figures of the subject. scx uation.
Within this typology, we can nevertheless group the figures of solitude, cke tt's 'ter mi na l' tho ugh t on its ow n ter ms . Th is is the tho ugh t that
on the one hand, and the figures of the Two, on the other. eSl ablishes the power of the Two as truth.
The figures of the Two are the tormentor and the victim. These postures
are the consequence of a chance encounter in the dark, and are tied to one
another by the extorsion of speech, by the violent demand of a story. This is 7 . Love a n d its N u m e r ica l i ty : O n e , Tw o , I n fi n i ty
' life in stoic love' (HII, p. 69; HII US, p. 62).45
The two figures of solitude are: to wander in the dark with one 's sack Whilst Beckett's fables are subject to a number ofvariations, one feature
and to be immobile because one has been abandoned. remains unchanged: love begins in a pure encounter, which is neither destined
The sack is very important. Indeed, it provides the best proof that I am nor predestined, except by the chance crossing of two trajectories . Prior to

aware of for the existence of God: every traveller finds his or her sack more I his meeting, only solitude obtains. No Two, and in particular no sexual duality,

or less filled with tins of food, and to explain this fact God is the simplest exists before the encounter. Sexual difference is unthinkable except from the
hypothesis; all the other hypotheses, which Beckett tries to list, are extremely point ofview ofthe encounter, as it unfolds within the process oflove. There

26 27

� �� . � � �-------
Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----
l Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett
is no originary or prior difference that conditions or orientates this encounter. .d " .-:;IY Ihat the Two of love elicits the advent of the sensible. The truth of
The encounter is the originary power ofthe Two, and therefore of love itself. I I , , · ' I WI) gives rise to a sensible inflection ofthe world, where before only the
This power, which within its own domain is not preceded by anything, is i
, ' I . V hlack of being had taken place. Now, the sensible and the infinite are
practically without measure. In particular, it is incommensurable with the I I h l l l i c a l , because the infinity of the world is, together with the One of the
power of feeling and with the sexual and desiring power of the body. It is in ' , . , , : II, Ihe other coherent thesis. Between these two presentational positions,

the thirties, in Murphy, that Beckett asserts this excess without measure of ·. . .. 1 1 11 Two of love functions both as break and as a constitution.
the encounter: ( )ne of the axioms of How It Is is that the One and the Infinite are the
1 \\ 1 ' coherent ontological theses. The hero, crawling in the dark, asserts the
And to meet [ ...] in my sense exceeds the power of feeling, however tender, 1 "l l ow i ng:
and of bodily motions, however expert (M, p. 1 24; M US, p. 222).44
in other words in simple words I quote on either I am alone and no further
Beckett never reduces love to the amalgam of sentimentality and problem or else we are innumerable and no further problem either
II " , , I ' 1 1
,I" " "
I"I"II I' II "I' ",I
sexuality endorsed by common opinion. Love as a matter oftruth (and not of , ( l 1 lI, p. 1 3 5 ; HII US, p. 1 24f7 >;!

', , ,
II:: ' I '

11::,','":i ,': Ii
I "

opinion) depends upon a pure event: an encounter whose strength radically r·


exceeds both sentimentality and sexuality.

, ;
" ," "
'I" ' "
•• ,1 ' "
I I ,, ,I "" ""
" The Two of love deploys the sensible version of this abstract axiom, ,

II ' ' ''' ,I .1 The encounter is the founding instance ofthe Two as such. In the figure I
w h i c h jointly validates the thesis of the One and the thesis of the Infinite.

I'' ''' ' " ,
'I " •• • ,

I,,. , , , ' I
I " "" ' I
1,1 " '
" "

oflove - such as it originates in the encounter - the Two arises. This includes I l I ve offers beauty, nuance, colour. It presents what one might call the other
I" I I
the Two of the sexes or of the sexualized figures. In no way does love tum a

:I' '� � , :
," ,, ' I I
I II .-;e c ond nocturne - not the grey black of being, but the rustling night, the

,I"", I
. I'

pre-existing Two into a One; this is the romantic version of love that Beckett 1 1 1 1 ',1 1 1 ofleaves and plants, of stars and water. Under the very strict conditions
" "
"" "

"" " ,- ..

", ,,'. , ",, I
,"" I ' "
," ,
,"" ' never ceases to deride. Love is never either fusion or effusion. Rather, it is the I " )�;ed by the encounter and the ensuing toil, the Two of love operates the
" 'ii'

" 'I
' I,
:: : '
'Ii'" ''
often painstaking condition required for the Two to exist as Two. An example :.I i ssion of the dark into the grey black of being, on the one hand, and the
:'1 '
is provided in Malone Dies by the fictitious encounter that Malone engineers

, .
I I I Ii 11 itely varied darkness of the sensible world, on the other.
I ' ,", ,, , f' I

between Macmann and his guardian, Moll. The love that is admirably This explains why in Beckett's prose one often chances upon these
recounted here, like the love ofthe aging or the dying, takes on an extraordinary : ; w l den poems where, under the sign of the inaugural figure of the Two,
lyrical intensity. Malone comments on the truth-effects ofthis love as follows: '
I ," I " I '
';Ililicthing unfolds within the night of presentation. This something is the
,, ,

I l l I d tiple as such. Love is, above all, an authorisation granted to the multiple,
But on the long road to this what flutterings, alarms and bashful fumblings, I I lade under the ever-present threat of the grey black in which the original
of which only this, that they gave Macmann some insight into the meaning ( )lIe undergoes the torture of its own identification.
of the expression, Two is company (T, p. 2 6 1 ; TN, p. 260).46 I would now like to quote three such poems that are latent within the
plOse, so that another Beckett may be heard - a Beckett who gives voice to
The Two, which is inaugurated by the encounter and whose truth results I I Ie gift and the happiness of being.
from love, does not remain closed in upon itself. Rather, it is a passage, a The first poem is taken from Krapp s Last Tape, at the moment in which
pivotal point, the first numericality. This Two constitutes a passage, or I he hero of the play, a man nearing his end and launched into interminable
authorises the pass, from the One of solipsism (which is the first datum) to a l l empts at anamnesis (he listens to recordings of his own voice at different
the infinity of beings and of experience. The Two of love is a hazardous and .'; ( agcs of his life), retrieves the crucial moment when the Two of love had re­
chance-laden mediation for alterity in general. It elicits a rupture or a severance I )pcned the multiple:

of the cogito's One; by virtue of this very fact, however, it can hardly stand
on its own, opening instead onto the limitless multiple of Being. We might -upper lake, with the punt, bathed off the bank, then pushed out into the

28 29
, -

Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett r----- l Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett

stream and drifted. She lay stretched out on the floorboards with her hands ( )n a gradient Of one in one his head swept the ground. To what this taste
under her head and her eyes closed. Sun blazing down, bit of a breeze, was due I cannot say. To love of the earth and the flowers' thousand scents
water nice and lively. I noticed a scratch on her thigh and asked how she :lI1d hues. Or to cruder imperatives of an anatomical order. He never raised
came by it. Picking gooseberries, she said. I said again I thought it was I he question. The crest once reached alas the going down again.
hopeless and no good going on and she agreed, without opening her eyes. I n order from time to time to enjoy the sky he resorted to a little round
[Pause.] I asked her to look at me and after a few moments - [Pause.] -
Illirror. Having misted it with his breath and polished it on his calf he
after a few moments she did, but the eyes just slits, because of the glare. I looked in it for the constellations. I have it! he exclaimed referring to the
bent over her to get them in the shadow and they opened. [Pause. Low.] Lyre or the Swan. And often he added that the sky seemed much the same
Let me in. [Pause.] We drifted in among the flags and stuck. The way they (CSP, p. 142; GSP, p. 190).50
went down, sighing, before the stem! [Pause.] I lay down across her with
my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. I , IVC is when we can say that we have the sky, and that the sky has nothing.51
" But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side I I i s then that the multiple of Constellations is held in the opening of the
to side. [Pause.] Two . 52 ,
, .'

Past midnight. Never knew ­ The last poem is taken from Company, and it is doubtless the one most •

" It IScly bound to the metaphor of a division of the dark and of the advent of

(CDW, p. 221 ; SP, p. 6 1 )48 I


l l il� second nocturne:

As you can see, this is the poem ofthe opening ofthe waters, the multiple
of the absolute moment, when love, even if it is in the statement of its own You are on your back at the foot of an aspen. In its trembling shade. She at
end, brings forth the infinity of the sensible world. right angles propped on her elbows head between her hands. Your eyes

The second quote comes from Enough, a short text entirely devoted to opened and closed have looked in hers looking in yours. In your dark you
love. This text establishes precise connections between love and infinite look in them again. Still. You feel on your face the fringe of her long black
lmowledge. The two walking lovers, broken in two, in a world of hills in hair stirring in the still air. Within the tent of hair your faces are hidden
bloom, are never closer to one another than when they discuss mathematics from view. She murmurs, Listen to the leaves. Eyes in each other's eyes
or astronomy: you listen to the leaves. In their trembling shade
(C, pp. 66-67; NO, p. 35).53 ," ,

His talk was seldom of geodesy. But we must have covered several times
the equivalent of the terrestrial equator. At an average speed of roughly All of these quotes show the Two of love as the passage lPasse] from
three miles per day and night. We took flight in arithmetic. What mental I he One of solipsism to the infinite multiplicity of the world, and as the
calculations bent double hand in hand! Whole ternary numbers we raised nocturnal fissure of the grey black of being.
in this way to the third power sometimes in downpours of rain. Graving But there is also a conspiring of the Two - an insistence that takes the
themselves in his memory as best they could the ensuing cubes ligure of fidelity. This fidelity organises four functions in Beckett, which are
accumulated. In view ofthe converse operation at a later stage. When time a lso four figures of the subject within love. It is my conviction (for which I
would have done its work (CSP, p. 1 4 1 ; GSP, p. 1 88) .49 a m unable here to adduce proof) that these functions have a general value, in

I he sense that they are the organising functions of any generic process. They
Here is another very beautiful passage, once again fromEnough, when relate to the duration of love, of course, but also to scientific accumulation,
the figure of the beloved man becomes this instance of lmowledge through artistic innovation, and political tenacity.
which the sky is presented in its proper order: The first of these functions is wandering [l 'errance] or the journey,
with or without the benefit of a sack: a journey in the dark, which presents

30 31
Ala i n B a d i o u On Beckett r----- l Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett
the infinite chance of the faithful journey of love; the endless crossing of a 1" , I, . I H lthing that bears witness to this love, but only to retain, motionless in
world henceforth exposed to the effects of the encounter. This function of I I " d : 1 I1 , love's powerful abstract conviction.
wandering, whose abstract variant we encountered in How It Is, is also Thc feminine polarity combines wandering and narrative. It does not
exhibited in the incessant walking of the lovers of Enough among the hills i l l t . rd with the fixity of the name, but with the infinity of its unfolding in the

and flowers. It establishes the duration of the Two and grounds time under \\ l Il ld, the narrative of its unending glory. It does not stick to the sole
the injunction of chance. 1 ' 1 ',<;niption without proof, but organises the constant inquiry, the verification

The second function is exactly the opposite, that is, immobility, which I I I : 1 capacity. To be a 'woman', in the context of love, is to move about in
watches over, guards or maintains the fixed point of the first naming, the i l l t 'ordance with a custody of meaning, rather than of names. This custody

naming of the event-encounter. We saw that this naming pins the ' incident' I I l 1 pl ies the errant chance of inquiries, as well as the perpetual depositing of
to its lack of meaning, and permanently fixes that which is supernumerary 1 1 1 1,'; chance into a story.
into a name. This is the senseless 'I love you', 'We're in love', or whatever Love exists as the determination of this polarity, supporting the four
,, might come in its stead, and which in each of its occurrences is always I l I l Ictions and providing them with a singular distribution. This is why love
II �
pronounced for the first time. This immobility is that ofthe second nocturne, il lolle calls for the observation that there is indeed 'man' (immobility of the <


! 'I
of the small craft caught in the flags, of gazes absorbed by the eyes of the I I l 1perative, the custody of the name) and 'woman' (wandering of a truth,
other. t ( ) l Isequences of the name within speech). Without love, nothing would bear
The third function is that of the imperative: always to go on, even in w i l iless to the Two of the sexes. Instead there would be One, and One again,
separation; to decree that separation itself is a mode of continuity. The hili not Two. There would not be man and woman.
imperative of the Two relays that of the soliloquy (You must go on . . . I 'll go These reflections open onto an important doctrine that concerns all
on), but it subtracts the element ofpointless torture from it, thereby imposing 1 ',l'lleric procedures, which is that of their numericality.
the strict law of happiness, whether one is a victim or a tormentor. In love, there is first the One of solipsism, which is the confrontation
The fourth function is that of the story, which, from the standpoint of or duel between the cogito and the grey black of being in the infinite
the Two, offers up the latent infinity of the world and recounts its unlikely I l'capitulation of speech. Next comes the Two, which arises in the event of an
unfolding, inscribing, step by step - like an archive that accompanies " I ICllUnter and in the incalculable poem of its designation by a name. Lastly,
wandering - everything that one may discover in what Beckett calls 'the I here is the Infinity of the sensible world that the Two traverses and unfolds,
•• 1

blessed days of blue' (eSp, p. 153; GSP, p. 1 97).54 where, little by little, it deciphers a truth about the Two itself. This numericality
Love (but also any other generic procedure, albeit in the regime that is ( one, two, infinity) is specific to the procedure oflove. We could demonstrate
its own) weaves within its singular duration these four functions: wandering, I hat the other truth procedures - science, art, and politics - have different
immobility, the imperative, and the story. I l limericalities, and that each numericality singularises the type of procedure
Beckett constructs the Idea of the sexes, of the two sexes, by combining i I I question, all the while illuminating how truths belong to totally
these four functions, under the assumption that the event of love has taken I lderogeneous registers.
place. He thus establishes the masculine and feminine polarities of the Two The numericality of love - one, two, infinity - is the setting for what
independently of any empirical or biological determination of the sexes. I kckett quite rightly calls happiness. Happiness also singularises love as a
The functions combined within the masculine polarity are those of l ruth procedure, for happiness can only exist in love. Such is the reward
immobility and the imperative. To be a 'man' is to remain motionless in love proper to this type of truth. In art there is pleasure, in science joy, in politics
by retaining the founding name and by prescribing the law of continuation. enthusiasm, but in love there is happiness.
Yet, because the narrative function is missing, this prescriptive immobility Joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and happiness all concern the advent, within
remains mute. In the case of love, a 'man' is the name's silent custodian. And I he world, of the void of being, as it is gathered within a subject. In the case
because the function of wandering is missing, to be a man within love is also of happiness this void is an interval; it is captured in the between [l 'entre-

32 33

· ..-


Ala i n B a d i o u On Beckett l A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett ,


Deux], in that which constitutes the effective character of the Two. This is its , ' l l' Y nocturne (ci limbo between life and death), at the end there arises a kind
separation, that is, the difference of the sexes as such. Happiness is not in the " I l ra nsparent void, which is laid out in the second nocturne. What more is
least associated with the One, with the myth of fusion. Rather, it is the I l ine to do than to listen to what is happening?
subjective indicator of a truth of difference, of sexual difference, a truth that What follows is the opening passage - in my view one of the most
love alone makes effective. I wa lltiful texts in the French language - which captures the brilliance of
At this point, at the very heart of happiness, once more we come up I I I is fortune: ,

against sexuation, which is both the site and the stakes of happiness. In !

happiness, 'man' is the blind custodian of separation, of the between. The From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when
heroine of Enough will say: 'We were severed if that is what he desired' the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails !'

(eSp, p. 1 4 1 ; GSP, p. 1 88).55 In fact, the masculine polarity supports a desire at the source of all life. On. At evening when the skies are clear she savours ,I

for scission. This is not at all a longing to return to solipsism, but rather the its star's revenge. At the other window. Rigid upright on her old chair she jl'
Ii! '

' ',, ' , desire for the manifestation of the Two in the divided between. There is a watches for the radiant one. Her old deal spindlebacked kitchen chair. It \�.
.� I
' ,

'"'' II
Two only ifthere is this between where the void is located as the ontological I;
,,' " ,'

emerges from out the last rays and sinking ever brighter is engulfed in its
I 'II,
",, ' ,
" "

principle [principe d 'etre] of the Two. The desire of 'man' is assigned to or

,11,1:1 1
turn. On. She sits on erect and rigid in the deepening gloom. Such
:::: I I'
," ,
" I
,' .' ,
:::: � I I I
"" , ' 1 '
by this void. We might say that man desires the nothing of the Two, whereas helplessness to move she cannot help. Heading on foot for a particular i,
'" ,
,''''" ' ' ''


, "" . the feminine polarity desires nothing but the Two, that is, the infinite tenacity point often she freezes on the way. Unable till long after to move on not
,. ." , . .

'..,' ''
,. " ,
" If
whereby the Two endures as such. This instance of the 'woman' is knowing whither or for what purpose. Down on her knees especially she
!;.I, '
'III !

', I "" '

, magnificently proclaimed at the very end ofEnough. It is there that a woman finds it hard not to remain so forever. Hand resting on hand on some ,


!I '
" ""
argues for persistence, against the nothing of the Two, against the void that convenient support. Such as the foot of her bed. And on them her head. ,
IP'" I '

I affects the Two from within and which is symbolised by the man's leaving in , There then she sits as though turned to stone face to the night. Save for the
order to die. This woman is the one who insists on the 'nothing but the Two', white of her hair and faintly bluish white of face and hands all is black. J

even if it is only in its simple mnemonic outline, within the constantly For an eye having no need oflight to see. All this in the present as had she

reworked narrative of wandering: the misfortune to be still of this world (ISIS, pp. 7-8; NO, pp. 49-50).57

And now the end, where the instant of happiness is conquered in the
" , ,' "'t·1

This notion of calm comes from him. Without him I would not have had it.

Now I'll wipe out everything but the flowers. No more rain. No more vcry brief and trying duration of a visitation of the void:58
mounds. Nothing but the two of us dragging through the flowers. Enough
my oid breasts feel his old hand (eSp, p. 144; GSP, p. 192).56 Decision no sooner reached or rather long after than what is the wrong
word? For the last time at last for to end yet again what the wrong word?
Happiness is indistinguishably 'man' and 'woman'; it is, at one and the Than revoked. No but slowly dispelled a little very little like the wisps of
same time, a separating void and the conjunction that reveals this void. As day when the curtain closes. Of itself by slow millimetres or drawn by a
happiness, as the outline of happiness, it is the nothing of the Two and the phantom hand. Farewell to farewell. Then in that perfect dark foreknell
nothing but the Two. Such is its inseparable sexuation: immobility and darling sound pip for end begun. First last moment. Grant only enough
wandering, imperative and story. remain to devour all. Moment by glutton moment. Sky earth the whole kit
This happiness is basically all that takes place between the beginning and boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left. Lick chops and basta. No.
and the end of III Seen III Said. The entire beginning revolves around the One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness
word 'misfortune', while the end leans towards the word 'happiness'. If at (ISIS, p. 59; NO, p. 86).59
the outset we have the reign of the visible and the rigidity of seeing in the

34 35

Ala i n B a d i o u On Beckett l�A_I_

a_i n_B_a_d_io_u_O_n_B_e_c_
This is also what I would like to call the writing of the generic: to
present in art the passage from the misfortune of life and of the visible to the
happiness of a truthful arousal of the void. This requires the measureless
power of the encounter, the wager of a name, as well as the combination of

wandering and fixity, of imperative and story. All of this must in turn be
traced out within the division of the night - only then, under these rare
conditions, will we be able to repeat with Beckett: 'Stony ground but not
entirely' [Terre ingrate mais pas totalement] .

Translated by Bruno Bosteels

Revised by Nina Power and Alberto Toscano
", .

, I


," I
," ,
T i re les s Des i re60

." I

,I' ,



1 . A ' Yo u n g C reti n '

I discovered the work of Beckett in the mid-fifties. It was a real

encounter, a subjective blow of sorts that left an indelible mark. So that forty
years later, I can say, with Rimbaud: ' I'm there, I'm always there' rry suis,
j'y suis to ujours ]. This is the principal task of youth: to encounter the
incalculable, and thereby to convince oneself, against the disillusioned, that

--- --- -- -- - - - _._---- -- -------

�---�----� �\

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----- L_A_I_a_in_B_a_d_i_

_ _e_
n_B _e_t_t__
ck � :\

the thesis 'nothing is, nothing is valuable' is both false and oppressive. No matter, any old remains of flesh and spirit do, there is no sense in
But youth is also that fragment of existence when one easily imagines stalking people. So long as it is what is called a living being you can't go
oneself to be quite singular, when really what one is thinking or doing is wrong, you have the guilty one (T, p. 260; TN, p. 259).62
what will later be retained as the typical trait of a generation. Being young is
a source of power, a time of decisive encounters, but these are strained by I d i dn't pay enough attention to the denial that this affirmative, almost violent,
their all too easy capture by repetition and imitation. Thought only subtracts :;Iyle brings to the commonplace (and sub-Kafkaesque) thesis of universal
itself from the spirit of the age by means of a constant and delicate labour. It l " I II pability.

is easy to want to change the world - in youth this seems the least that one In my eyes all of this remained the literary allegory of a conclusive
could do. It is more difficult to notice the fact that this very wish could end :;Iatement pronounced by Sartre, the famous 'man is a useless passion'. It
up as the material for the forms of perpetuation of this very world. This is didn't have the same flavour as the maxims on language, which I used in
why all youth, as stirring as its promise may be, is always also the youth of a (lrder to support my conviction that the decisive philosophical task, which I
'young cretin'. Bearing this in mind, in later years, keeps us from nostalgia. considered my own, was to complete the Sartrean theory of freedom by means

, I

( 1 I" a careful investigation into the opacities of the signifier. This is why The

When I discovered Beckett, some years after the beginning ofhis French
oeuvre (that is, around 1 956), I was a complete and total Sartrean, though I { fnnamable was my favourite book. For several months (in youth, this is, to •

was possessed by a question whose importance I thought I had personally speak like Beckett, a 'vast time'), I lived in the company ofthe striking mixture
discovered to have been underestimated by Sartre. I had yet to realise that it o f hatred and saving familiarity that the ' speaker' of this novel lavishes upon
was already, and was going to be for a long while, the abiding obsession of h i s linguistic instrument.

my generation and of the ones to follow: the question of language. From

such a makeshift observatory, I could only see in Beckett what everybody It's a poor trick that consists in ramming a set of words down your gullet
else did. A writer of the absurd, of despair, of empty skies, of on the principle that you can't bring them up without being branded as
incommunicability and of eternal solitude - in sum, an existentialist. But belonging to their breed. But I'll fix their gibberish for them. I never
also a 'modem' writer, in that the destiny of writing, the relationship between understood a word of it in any case, not a word of the stories it spews, like
the endless recapitulation of speech and the original silence - the gobbets in a vomit (T, p. 327; TN, pp. 324-325).63
simultaneously sublime and derisory function ofwords - was entirely captured
by the prose at a distant remove from any realist or representational intention. I should have liked to go silent first, there were moments I thought that .1

In such 'modem' writing, fiction is both the appearance of a story and the would be my reward for having spoken so long and so valiantly, to enter
reality of a reflection on the work of the writer, on its misery and its grandeur. living into silence, so as to be able to enjoy it, no, I don't know why, so as
I used to delight myselfwith the most sinister aphorisms - youth having to feel myself silent [ . . . J (T, p. 400; TN, p. 396).64
a fatal tendency to believe that ' our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest
thought' . Into sundry notebooks I copied things like: Without doubt I should have pondered this 'valiance' inherent to all
speech, as well as what exactly is designated by these ' stories ' spewed forth
And when it comes to neglecting fundamentals, I think I have nothing to by the breed. Above all, it would have demonstrated more lucidity on my
learn, and indeed I confuse them with accidentals (T, p. 80; TN, p. 80).61 part to have understood that for Beckett The Unnamable was really an impasse,
one that would take him ten years to get out of. But the (ultimately inconsistent)
I should have concentrated my attention on the irony that charges this alliance between nihilism and the imperative of language, between vital
nihilistic verdict with a bizarre energy. All the same, when I delighted in existentialism and the metaphysics ofthe word, between Sartre and Blanchot,
reading (from Malone Dies): rather suited the young cretin that I was at the time.
Basically, my stupidity lay in unquestioningly upholding the caricature

38 39
.. ---- - -
. --" -- ----- ---- - -- --- ----- --

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett l Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett •

which was then - and still is - widespread: a pitiless awareness of the /, \ /1 Iii/' Nothing ( composed between 1 950 and 1 953), the writer is overcome
nothingness of sense, extended by the resources of art to cover the nothingness loy ; I I \'d ing of impasse and impotence. He comes out of this impasse with
of writing, a nothingness that would be materialised, as it were, by means of I !. ' I I ' /1 Is ( 1 959- 1 960), a text that introduces a clean rupture in the themes as
increasingly tight and increasingly dense prose pieces that abandoned all l\t -II in the conduct of the prose.

narrative principle. The caricature of a Beckett meditating upon death and The effect of this oscillation and this caesura is that no single literary
finitude, the dereliction of sick bodies, the waiting in vain for the divine and " . 1 1 1(' can command the comprehension of Beckett's enterprise. The novel
the derision of any enterprise directed towards others. A Beckett convinced 1 1 11 1 1 1 is still perceptible in Molloy, but in The Unnamable it is exhausted,
that beyond the obstinacy of words there is nothing but darkness and void. ' 1 l l IlIgh it is not possible to say that the poem prevails - even if the cadence,
It took me many years to rid myself of this stereotype and at last to take l i l t ' disposition of the paragraphs and the intrinsic value of the visions indicate
Beckett at his word. No, what Beckett offers to thought through his art, theatre, I I l a l t he text is governed by what could be defined as a 'latent poem'.
prose, poetry, cinema, radio, television, and criticism, is not this gloomy In truth, the scraps of fiction or spectacle that Beckett employs attempt
c orporeal immers ion into an abandoned existence, into hopeless . ' I I ,'x pose some critical questions (in Kant's sense) to the test of beauty. These
relinquishment. Neither is it the contrary, as some have tried to argue: farce, qllestions are very few in number. To Kant's famous 'What can I know?
derision, a concrete flavour, a ' thin Rabelais' . Neither existentialism nor a W hat should I do? What may I hope? ', comes the threefold response from
modem baroque. The lesson of Beckett is a lesson in measure, exactitude and " " Is /or Nothing: 'Where would I go, if I could go? Who would I be if I
courage. That is what I would like to establish in these few pages. t Olild be? What would I say, if! had a voice? ' After 1 960, one can add: 'Who
And since it was on reading The Unnamable that my forty-year passion , / 11/ I. if the other exists?' The work of Beckett is nothing but the treatment of

for this author was born, rather than in the statements on language that I hesc four questions within the flesh of language. We could say that we are
enchanted my youth, I would like to hold onto this aphorism which still dealing with an enterprise of meditative thought - half-conquered by the
astounds me today, when the 'unnameable' speaker, through his tears and in p()cm - which attempts to seize in beauty the non-prescriptible fragments of
the certainty that he will never give up, declares: t·xistence.
We should also refrain from the belief that Beckett sinks into an
I alone am man and all the rest divine CT, p. 302; TN, p. 300).65 I I ltcrrogation that is sufficient unto itself, solving none of the problems that it
has posed. On the contrary, the work of the prose is intended to isolate and
a l low to emerge the few points with respect to which thinking can become I

2 . B e a uty a nirmative. In a manner that is almost aggressive, all of Beckett's genius

Il:nds towards affirmation. He is no stranger to the maxim, which always
The work of Beckett, which is often presented as a block or as a linear carries with it a principle of relentlessness and advancement.
movement - becoming increasingly nihilistic in content and increasingly Let us take just one maxim amongst many others, a conclusion: ' Stony
concise in fOlm - is really a complex trajectory employing a great variety of ground but not entirely. '66 Ah! One really should speak of the stoniness, of
literary means. t he ingratitude ofthe Earth! But only as a last resort, so that the 'not entirely'
One can certainly discern in Beckett a central oscillation between may come to shine within the prose, this prose that we know is destined to
philosophical abstraction (an abstraction that is entirely purified in Worstward ' ring clear' and to keep courage alive within us.
Ho) and the strophic poem. The latter describes a kind of picture through the Like many other writers since Flaubert, Beckett often remarked that
incessant repetition ofthe same groups ofwords, and through minute variations only music mattered to him, that he was an inventor of rhythms and
which, little by little, displace the meaning ofthe text (a technique pushed to punctuations. When asked - in one of those periodic inquiries about the
its extreme in Lessness). ' mystery of the author' in which every artist is invited to take up a pose and
We can also identify two major periods within Beckett's work. After fced the century an ersatz of spirit - why he wrote, he telegraphed back:

40 41
-, - '--'-, - - , .-- ,---- _ .- - - . - - - - - - - - , . - - - - --

Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r------ l Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett

' That's all I'm good for ' [Bon qu 'd 9a] . Not completely, Beckett, not right angles propped on her elbows head between her hands. Your eyes
completely! That's all, but not completely! There was the complicated opened and closed have looked in hers looking in yours. In your dark you
relationship with Joyce, who, all things considered, was Beckett's immediate look in them again. Still. You feel on your face the fringe of her long
master. Against the Nazis, on French territory, there was the immediate and black hair stirring in the still air. Within the tent of hair your faces are
very dangerous commitment to the resistance. There was the long marriage hidden from view. She murmurs, Listen to the leaves. Eyes in each other's
with Suzanne, which, without engaging in vulgar 'biographism', we can eyes you listen to the leaves. In their trembling shade
clearly see as a central reference for all the couples who traverse Beckett's (e, pp. 66-67; NO, p. 35).68
work. There was the wish to work in the theatre, not only as an author, but
also as a punctilious and demanding director. There was the constant And also by means of a declarative tone that establishes the splendour
preoccupation with the use of new techniques : radio (Beckett is a master of ( ) f the universe and the apparent misery of its immobile witness as a spectacle

the radio play), cinema, television. There were the relations with painters, Ihat is unveiled through prose, as in III Seen III Said:
and the activity of literary criticism (on Proust and Joyce). And many other
From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when
", I

, ,
people, many other things.
"» ' ,

I have never deemed it necessary to take entirely seriously the the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails
, i
" I ,

at the source of all life. On. At evening when the skies are clear she savours i
, " .
declarations of artists regarding their absolute vocation, the imperial ordeal i
of phrases and the mysticism of the page. All the same, it is true that to find its star's revenge. At the other window. Rigid upright on her old chair she
watches for the radiant one (ISIS, p. 7; NO, p. 49).69
" I I

a writer of this calibre so little exposed to the world, so little compromised,

" I

' "

one would need to look far and wide. Beckett truly was a constant and attentive
servant of beauty, which is why, at a distance from himself (at a distance And also by way of falls and halts in the action that indicate, in the
from nature, from a 'natural' language, and at a distance from the mother, prose of Enough, a tenderness which until that point had been restrained,
from the mother-tongue), he called upon the services of a secondary and whilst showing in the rhythm that the business of life will not have the last
learnt idiom, a 'foreign' language: French. Little by little, this language word:
conferred upon him an unheard of timbre. In particular, this took place by a
sort of intimate rupture which isolates words in order to rectify their precision Now I'll wipe out everything but the flowers. No more rain. No more i
, i
within the phrase, adding epithets or repentances. Thus we read, in III Seen mounds. Nothing but the two of us dragging through the flowers. Enough

" ,

III Said: my oid breasts feel his old hand (eSp, p. 144; GSP, p. 1 92).10

Was it ever over and done with questions? Dead the whole brood no sooner And also by the jokes (here from Rough for Theatre II), which annul
hatched. Long before. In the egg. Long before. Over and done with any loftiness in the tone of the prose:
answering. With not being able. With not being able not to want to know.
With not being able. No. Never. A dream. Question answered Work, family, third fatherland, cunt, finances, art and nature, heart and
(ISIS, p. 37; NO, p. 70).67 conscience, health, housing conditions, God and man, so many disasters
(eDW, p. 238; SP, p. 78).71
But it also occurred by means of sudden lyrical expansions, in which
the calculus of sound appeases the tension of the spirit, filling the air with the And finally - against the grain of the brevities and caesurae that
nocturne of reminiscence. From Company: elsewhere dominate - by means of length, that extreme flexibility which
permits the withdrawal ofpunctuations, when Beckett wants all the data of a
You are on your back at the foot of an aspen. In its trembling shade. She at

42 43
, - '''.�-'-- - ---_.----- . ------ - - - . _ -- - - --- - -- - --- -- ,-


�.--------� _____________________________ 'il"

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r-..--- 'il

-.--------� l,--A_I_a_in B_a_d_io_

u O
__ __ ______

situation or of a problem to be enveloped in a unified prosodic movement - In the first part of his French oeuvre, Beckett's methodical ascesis
something that he attempts in How It Is: 1 ' . I . l a l es three functions: movement and rest (to go and to stall, or to collapse,
1.111, l i e down); being (what there is, the places, the appearances, as well as
in other words in simple words I quote on either I am alone and no further 1 1 1[' vacillation of any identity whatsoever); language (the imperative of saying,
problem or else we are innumerable and no further problem either 1 1 1[' impossibility of silence). A ' character' is never anything but the assemblage
(HIl, p. 1 3 5 ; HII US, p. 1 24).72 I I I a journey, an identity, and a cruel chatter. Fiction, which is always presented , I,

lI:: mbitrary, as an aleatory montage, tends to set out the loss of everything
Rectification, or the work on the isolation of terms. Expansion, or the w h ich is not reducible to these three functions and to demonstrate that these
poetic incision of memory. Declaration, or the function of emergence ofprose. I I l l1ctions are what cannot be abolished. I
Declension, or the tender cadence of disaster. Interruption, or the maxims of Such is the case with movement: not only must wandering be detached,
comedy. Elongation, or the phrased embodiment of variants. These are, in !tlileby little, from all apparent sense, but since it is a matter of presenting
my opinion, the principal operations through which Beckett's writing attempts, I he essence of movement - the movement in movement - Beckett's advance
"I , '
" ' at one and the same time, to speak unrepentantly of the stony ingratitude of w i l l bring with it the destruction of all the means, outside supports, and

,, " I
the Earth, and to isolate, according to its proper density, that which exceeds perceptible surfaces of mobility. The ' character' (Molloy, or Moran) will
it. I l l i siay his bicycle, injure himself, no longer know where he is, and even lose
, ,

' '

This is why we must begin with the beauty in the prose. It is this beauty
,'I I I
", I I
a good part of his body. Innumerable in Beckett's prose are the blind, the I
" , ' that tells us what it is that Beckett wishes to save. This is because the destiny l a me, the paralytic, the old who have lost their walking sticks, the helpless
of beauty, and in particular of the beauty that Beckett aims at, is to separate. a nd the impotent, and, in the end, those bodies that are reduced, little by


To separate appearance, which it both restores and obliterates, from the I i I tie, to a head, a mouth, a skull with two holes to ill see and an oozing of
universal core of experience. It is indispensable to take Beckett at his word: words for ill saying. In this dispossession, the 'character' reaches a pure ,

the word of beauty. In this separating function, the word declares what we J
moment in which movement becomes externally indiscernible from
must disregard in order to face up to what may be of worth. i mmobility. This is because movement is no longer anything but its own i(
ideal mobility, testified only by a minute tension, a sort of differential of
w hich we could say - so exhausted is the prose - that it is brought back to a I
.' I I 3 . Asce s i s a s M e t h o d point of movement. .JI
, Immobility would thereby find its complete metaphor in the corpse:
In his own way, B eckett rediscovers an inspiration belonging to ' dying' is the conversion of all possible movement into permanent rest. But
Descartes and Husserl: if you wish to conduct a serious enquiry into 'thinking here again, the irreducibility of the functions means that 'dying' is never
humanity' [l 'humanite pensante] , it is first of all necessary to suspend death. In Malone Dies, one sees how movement and language ultimately
everything that is either inessential or doubtful; it is necessary to reduce infect both being and immobility, so that the point of immobility is constantly
humanity to its indestructible functions. The destitution ofBeckett's characters deferred; it does not allow itself to be constructed otherwise than as the
- their poverty, their illnesses, their strange fixity, or indeed their wandering unattainable limit of an increasingly diminishing network of movements,
without any perceptible finality, in other words, everything that has so often memories and words. Beckett's poetics is thus constituted by a progressive
been taken as an allegory of the infinite miseries of the human condition - is alleviation of constraints, a demolition of that which delays the moment of
nothing other than the protocol of an experience which deserves comparison immobility. If movement is undone, so as to be no more than a difference of
with the doubt by means of which Descartes reduced the subject to the vacuity rest, rest itself is presented as the integral of movement and language, as a
of its pure enunciation, or Husserl's epoch!!, which reduces the evidence of strange mix of the deceleration of prose and the acceleration of its dispersal .
the world to that of the intentional fluxes of consciousness. When Beckett wishes to concentrate his attention on one of thc

44 45
.. ------- ----.,-- . .

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r------ L-...A....:.

.:. I... a..:..: u O
..::: i n�B---.:.a---.:.d_io__ k_
_n_B_e_c_ tt___.,
- --------� .
functions, he makes sure that the others are blocked. It thus that the 'speaker' I I I I L�e primitive functions.
of The Unnamable, trapped in a jar at the entrance to a restaurant, is rendered In How It Is, the Other is assigned to movement and to rest: sometimes,
immobile, and the subject matter of his gigantic monologue is nothing more I I I Ihe black night - where, like everyone else, it crawls with its sack - the
than the imperative to speak. This is not a tragic image. In fact, if we consider ( ) I her encounters an immobile entity; sometimes it is encountered in tum, in :,1

what requires thinking in the beauty of prose, we will say that this ' character' , lis immobility, by the reptations of a subject. This accounts for the derived
whose proper name is effaced or undecided and who is utterly destitute, has f U llctions of activity (the one who falls on the other: the tOlmentor) and of
actually succeeded in losing all the secondary ornaments, all the dubious passivity (the one on whom the other falls: the victim). The existence of the II
possessions that would have diverted him from what it is his destiny to ( ) 1 her is not in doubt, but its construction and identity refer back to an evasive I·' II

experiment, and which concerns generic humanity, whose essential functions circularity; it is possible to occupy successively the position of the tormentor,
are: going, being and saying. 1 I H.;n that of the victim, and nothing besides these positions can serve to specity •

One can never emphasise enough the degree to which the confusion a itcrity. I

,., I .. I "

., , I I
," ' " I
between this methodical ascesis - staged with a tender and voluble humour ­
and some sort of tragic pathos of the destitution and the misery of man has
In Company, the problem is inverted, since this time the Other is
assigned to the third function, language. It presents itself as a voice reaching

,ii '
HI : " , I , distracted our contemporaries from any deep understanding of the writings ()ut to someone in the dark. The singularity of this voice is not in doubt; it
"I"' of Beckett. relates childhood stories of a rare poetic intensity. But since no real movement
� I" "

Beckett says, in How It Is: ()r corporeal encounter bears witness to it, its existence remains suspended: it
, .. . could be the case that there is nothing but ' [t]he fable of one fabling of one

the dejections no they are me but I love them the old half-emptied tins let with you in the dark' (C, 89; NO, 46).
Just as movement, purified by a methodical literary ascesis, is a
I I.

limply fall no something else the mud engulfs all me alone it carries my
four stone five stone it yields a little under that then no more I don't flee I difference of the immobile, and the immobility of being, or death, is never

',I "

am banished (HII, p. 43; HII US, p. 39)13 anything but the inaccessible limit of movement and of language, so the
other, reduced to its primitive functions, is caught in the following tourniquet:
We cannot understand the text ifwe immediately see it as a concentration i f he exists, he is like me, he is indiscernible from me. And if he is clearly

camp [concentrationnaire] allegory of the dirty and diseased human animal. identifiable, his existence is uncertain.
"" . " " 1
On the contrary - admitting that we are indeed animals lodged upon an earth In all these cases we can see that the ascesis - metaphorically enacted j'
which is insignificant and brimming over with excrement - it is a matter of as loss, destitution, poverty, a relentlessness based on almost nothing - leads
establishing that which subsists in the register of the question, of thought, of to a conceptual economy of an ancient or Platonic type. If we disregard (and
the creative capacity (in this case, the will to movement, as opposed to flight). Beckett's prose is the movement of this disregard, of this abandon) what is
Thus reduced to a few functions, humanity is only more admirable, more inessential, what distracts us (in Pascal's sense), we see that generic humanity
energetic, more immortal. can be reduced to the complex of movement, of rest (of dying), of language
From the sixties onwards, a fourth function takes on a more and more (as imperative without respite) and of the paradoxes of the Same and the
determining role: that of the Other, ofthe companion, of the external voice. It Other. We are very close to what Plato, in The Sophist, names as the five
is not by chance that the three parts ofHow It Is relate to the three moments supreme genera: Being, Sameness, Movement, Rest, and Other. If Plato the
that are named by the following syntagms: 'before Pim', 'with Pim' and 'after philosopher uses these to determine the general conditions for all thinking,
Pim'; or that a later text is called Company. The 'with the other' is decisive. then Beckett the writer intends, through the ascetic movement of prose, to
But here too, it is necessary to isolate the essential nature of this 'with the present in fiction the atemporal determinants of humanity.
other' by means of a montage that eradicates all psychology, all evidence, This humanity, which has been called 'larval' or 'clownish', and which

and all empirical exteriority. The Other is itself a knot tying together the in Worstward Ho in fact comprises nothing but skulls oozing words, must be I

46 47 I

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r------ Ala- i o u On
i n Bad--- Beckett
------- I <: '
"-- --
---j I I

thought of as constituting a sort of purified axiomatic, allowing us to go i tl 'l'kett devotes many of his inventions to the following task: to name the
straight to the only questions that matter. And, first of all, to the question that I h i io nal place of being.
makes writing itself possible, the one that is able to ground the fact that there There are two places of being in Beckett's first fictions, according to
is a reason to write [qu 'ily ait lieu d 'ecrire] : what is the link between language . 1 1 1 opposition that we could refer to as Bergsonian, to the extent that it ;

and being? Of course, it is a fact that we are constrained to speak, but of what d l sl i nguishes the closed and the open. "I'
does speech speak? Of what can it speak? The closed place forbids flight - it blocks the always menacing identity I ;:1

I I I heing and nothingness - because the set of its components is denumerable , "
, ,

; 1 1 11 1 the components themselves can be named exactly. The aim of the fictions
4 . Be i n g a n d La n g u a g e I I I closure is that the seen be coextensive with the said. Beckett fixes this
I Ihjective in a short text, Fizzle 5: Closed Space: I',
If it is indeed necessary to speak, this is not simply because we are
prey to language. It is also, and above all because as soon as it is named that Closed place. All needed to be known for say is known .,

which is and of which we are obliged to speak escapes towards its own non­ (CSP, p. 199; GSP, p. 236).75 ,
being. This means that the work of naming must always be taken up again. 'I'

On this point, Beckett is a disciple of Heraclitus: being is nothing other than This same tendency is exemplified by the room where the two
its own becoming-nothingness. This is what is summed up in one of the protagonists of Endgame are enclosed, by the room where Malone dies (or I
mirlitonnades from Poemes: rat her moves indefinitely towards his death), and by the house of Mr. Knott
I I I Watt, as well as by the cylinder where the entities of The Lost Ones bustle
ahout. In all these cases, the set-up of the fiction [Ie dispositij de fiction]

flux cause flux causes I

que toute chose that every thing ('stablishes a strict control upon place, constructing a universe sufficiently
tout en etant

while being till ite so that when the prose wishes to seize being its escape can be temporarily II
toute chose every thing hl ocked. ' II
done celle-ld hence that one The open place instead exposes the aleatory character ofpaths; it extends II'I
meme celle-ld even that one I he dissipation and tries to maintain itself as close as possible to the flight of
tout en etant while being a ppearances. What is in question is a wholly other equality between language I,
n 'est pas is not and being: the flexibility of the first matches the versatility of the second.
parlons-en speak on74 This equality tries to anticipate the metamorphoses. This is the case with the
I rish countryside - plane, hills, gloomy forests - where Molloy looks for his
On this basis, how can the imperative to speak, which governs in mother, and where Moran looks for Molloy. We also find it in the town and
particular the imperative of the writer - and above all of the one who is 'good t he labyrinth of streets of The Expelled, and it is even present in the corridor
for' nothing else - attune itselfwith being? Have we some hope that language o f black mud where the torturers and the victims ofHow It Is crawl, since, as
could stop the flux and confer upon a thing (that one / even that one) at least we will later learn, this corridor is infinite. In these open places the arrangement
a relative stability? And if not, what good is the imperative that we should of the fiction seeks to capture in language the 'conversion times' of being
speak on? into nothingness. Therefore, it is not by controlling its elements that prose
For the artist - who differs from the philosopher in this regard - the adheres to being, but rather because it flees as fast - or even faster - than
operator of thought is the fiction within prose. That being ceases to flee in being.
order to convert itself into nothingness entails that language must determine Little by little, nevertheless, Beckett will fuse together these two
the place of being within a fiction, that it must assign being to its place. prosodic figures of the place of being. Whether it is a question of the closed

48 49 i
" . . _ -----

, ," ------

Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r--- - Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

space or of wandering, the suppression of any descriptive particularity ends 1 11 1 1 11 '" or dim, a 'grey-black'. A black grey enough so that it will not enter
up with a uniform image of the earth and the sky, in which any movement is 1 1 1 1 " (,( lI1tradiction with the light; a black which is not the opposite of anything,
equivalent to a transparent immobility. The text Sans (for which Beckett fil l i l n l i-dialectical black. It is here that the closed and the open become
created the word ' lessness' in English) - a pure description that slowly repeats II I,hsl i nguishable, and that voyage and fixity become the reversible metaphors
or modifies its components - represents in my view the successful realisation " I I l la l aspect of being which is exposed to language.
of Beckett's poetic effort to assign being a place: Of course, the grey-black itself does not let itself be spoken of in a
.I ar and distinct manner. This is why literary writing is required here. It is
. .

Grey sky no cloud no sound no stir earth ash grey sand. Little body same 1 1" ,', �ssary to reverse the Cartesian equivalence between the true and the clear­
grey as the earth sky ruins only upright. Ash grey all sides earth sky as one illid d istinct. Thus in Molloy:
all sides endlessness (CSP, p . 1 53 ; GSP, pp. 1 97-1 98).76
[ think so, yes, I think that all that is false may more readily be reduced, to
In this kind of passage, it is a question for Beckett of fixing the scene notions clear and distinct, distinct from all other notions
"", I !
." "

. ,,,
, I

ofbeing, of determining its lighting, which - precisely because we are 'before' (T, p. 82; TN, p. 82). 8 1
,,'" I I
the taking place of something - must be grasped in the neutrality of that
which is neither the night nor the light. Which is the most appropriate colour I l lhe grey-black, which does not separate the dark and the light, is the place
for the empty place that constitutes the ground [fond] of all existence? Beckett " Iheing, then artistic prose is required, since it alone carries a possible thought
" replies: dark grey, or light black, or black marked by an uncertain colour. " I I he in-separable, of the indistinct. Prose alone can reach the exact point
This metaphor designates being in its localisation, which is empty of any where being, far from letting itself be thought in a dialectical opposition to
event. Often Beckett typifies this with the names gloom, half-light, or dim.77 l Ioll-being, stands towards it in a relation of unclear equivalence. This is the
Thus in The Lost Ones: point where, as Malone says (not without warning us that one could thus
' pollute the whole of speech'): 'Nothing is more real than nothing (T, p.
What first impresses in this gloom is the sensation of yellow it imparts not I In; TN, p. 1 92).
to say of sulphur in view of the associations (CSP, p. 1 69; GSP, p. 2 1 3).78 It is far from being the case that employing the resources of the latent
pocm allows Beckett to surmount all the obstacles before him. This is because
" , " ' In Worstward Ho, the question ofthe prosodic construction of the place I IlCre is not just the place; or, as Mallarme said, it is not true that 'nothing will
of being, of what there is prior to all knowledge, or rather of the minimum of lake place but the place' [rien n 'aura lieu que Ie lieu]. In effect, all fiction, as

knowledge to which language can cling, is explicit, and it takes the name of I levoted as it may be to establishing the place of being - in closure, openness

'dim' : or the grey-black - presupposes or connects to a subject. This subject in tum

excludes itself from the place simply by the act of naming it, whilst at the

Dim light source unknown. Know minimum. Know nothing no. Too much same time holding itself at a distance from this name. The one for whom
to hope. At most mere minimum (WH, p. 9; NO, p . 91 ).79 Ihere is the grey-black does not cease to reflect and recommence the poetic
work oflocalisation. In so doing, the subject advenes as an incomprehensible
Beckett notes with great precision that this 'mere minimum' is the being supplement of being; it is borne by a prose whose entire energy, inasmuch as
of an empty place awaiting bodies, language, and events: it seeks to make the real and the nothing equivalent, is expended in trying to
Icave no room for any supplement whatsoever.
Void cannot go. Save dim go. Then all go (WH, p. 1 8 ; NO, p . 97).80 Whence the torture of the cogito.

At the end of this fictive simplification, one could call the place of

50 51
" . ----�-


.. _---,--- ,

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r-------� A�

n Bad i o u On Beckett
lai�-------------- i ",
5 . T h e S o l ita ry S u bject , k::lroys not language but the subject and, on the other, a lack which in vain I!'

l i
" p( )ses the subject to the throes of 'dying' , places the subject ofthe Beckettian :, i

Let us then suppose that the subj ect, in its link to language, is the thought , ,, :i/() in a state of genuine terror. In the words of the hero of The Unnamable:

of thought, or the thought of that which thinks itself in speech. In what then
consists the effort of fiction to seize, to reduce, to stop this haunting exception I only think, if that is the name for this vertiginous panic as of hornets
to the pure grey-black of being? Writing, this place of experimentation, will " , smoked out oftheir nest, once a certain degree ofterror has been exceeded
annul the other primitive functions of humanity: movement and the relation (T, p. 353; TN, p. 350).83
to an other. Everything will be reduced to the voice. Stuck in a jar, or pinned
,, ,I,
to a hospital bed, the body - captive, mutilated, dying - is nothing more than But the objective is also inaccessible, since reflection, such as it is I I

the vanishing support of a word. How can such a repetitious and interminable t i t pos ited in the voice, does not possess the simple structure that one may at

speech identify or reflect itself? As Blanchot, analysing Beckett, has rightly I l lsl imagine (one who speaks and - the same - one who thinks speech so
said, it can only do so by returning to the silence that can be supposed at the 1 1 1 : 1 1 it may tum into silence).
" I I I

" I' origin of all speech. The role of the voice is to track down - by way of a great In the Texts for Nothing, which coincided with a serious crisis in
" I '
deal offables, narrative fictions, and concepts - the pure point of enunciation, I kckett's work - so that the title must be taken, as always, to the letter (these ,
the fact that what is said belongs to a singular faculty of saying. This faculty i t " ,� I s are written for nothing, nothing results from the artist's thought) - Beckett

is not itself said; it exhausts itself in what is said but nevertheless always ::liows that the subject is not double (the thought and the thought ofthought), Ii

remains on this side of things, as a silence which is indefinitely productive of I li i t t riple, and that it is is absolutely impossible to try and reduce this triplicity I, ' '

I ,
the din of words. I t l t he unicity of silence is impossible. In Texts for Nothing, we find the
To seize and annul itself the voice must enter into its own silence, it I " I lowing decomposition of the cogito into three:
must produce its own silence. This is the fundamental hope of the 'hero' of
The Unnamable: [ . . . ] one who speaks saying, without ceasing to speak, Who's speaking?,
and one who hears, mute, uncomprehending, far from all [ . . . J . And this
[ . . . ] perhaps it's a dream, all a dream, that would surprise me, I'll wake, in other now [ . . . ] with his babble of homeless mes and untenanted hims [ . . . ]
the silence, and never sleep again, it will be I, or dream, dream again, There's a pretty three in one, and what a one, what a no one
" I I I dream of a silence, a dream silence [ . . . ] (T, p. 4 1 8 ; TN, p. 414).82 (eSp, p. 1 1 2; GSP, p. 1 5 0).84

But the desired self-annulment reveals itself to be inaccessible. Let us note carefully the components of this 'pretty three in one'. :
First of all, because the necessary conditions for obtaining this First of all, there is the subject who speaks, the subject of saying, who !,I
1 ,1
awakening of language to its first silence submit the subject of the voice to IS equally supposed to be capable of asking 'who speaks?' at the same time
an intolerable torture. :IS he speaks. Let us call this the subject of enunciation.

Sometimes this voice is exacerbated: it proliferates, invents a thousand Then there is the passive subj ect, who hears without understanding, ,

fables, whimpers and takes flight. But this mobility is insufficient for the who is 'distant' because he constitutes the obscure matter of the one who

intended aim: to destroy language by excess and saturation, to obtain silence ,� peaks, the support or the idiot body of all thinking subjectivity. Let us call ,

through the violence inflicted on words. I h i s the subject of passivity.

Sometimes, on the contrary, the voice exhausts itself: it stammers, Finally, there is the subject who asks himself what the other two are,
repeats itself, inventing nothing. But this sterility is still not enough if, from I he subj ect who wants to identify the ' ego ' of speech, the subject who wants
a tired and worn out language, an original silence is to suddenly emerge. 1 0 know what is at stake in the being of the subject, and who, in order to
This oscillation between, on the one hand, an excess so violent that it :lttain this knowledge, subjects himself to torture. Let us call this the subject

52 53

------ "

A la in Ba d io u On Beckett

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett r-------..; --



1 1 11 1 1 < 1 go on, and the response was negative. How could one continue to I'
of the question. ,

1 1.':( , 1 1 late - helplessly and without result - between the grey-black of being
'Question' can be taken here in its judicial sense, as when we speak of
a suspect being questioned. For what is in fact this torture of thought? As IllId t he infinite torture ofthe solipsistic cogito? Which new fictions could be
1 ' 1 1 1 I,cndered within such an oscillation? Once being was named and experience
we've already said, the dim - the grey-black that localises being - is ultimately
w a s had ofthe impasse of that subject which constitutes an exception within
nothing but an empty scene. To fill it, it is necessary to turn towards this
irreducible region of existence constituted by speech - the third universal I w i ng, where - if not in the pure impossibility of rejoining its constitutive
function of humanity, along with movement and immobility. But what is the ':i lcilce - does the writer's word find its nourishment?
being of speech, if it is not the speaking subject? It is therefore necessary that It was necessary to have done with the alternation of neutral being and
the subject literally twist itself towards its own enunciation. This time, it is vain reflection so that Beckett could escape the crisis, so that he could break
w i t h Cartesian terrorism. To do this, it was necessary to find some third terms,
the expression 'writhing in pain' that must be interpreted literally. Once one
perceives that the identity of the subject is triple, and not just double, the I wither reducible to the place of being nor identical to the repetitions of the
subject appears as tom. voice. It was important that the subject open itself up to an alterity and cease
"I ' "
I teingfolded upon itself in an interminable and torturous speech. Whence,
The 'true' subject, the one who should be led back to silence, and who ,I
heginning with How It Is (composed between 1 959 and 1 960), the growing ,

would reveal for us what there is in the grey-black of being, is the unity of

" , I
the three. But Beckett tells us that this unity is worth nothing. Why then? I mportance of the event (which adds itself to the grey black of being) and of
t hc voice of the other (which interrupts solipsism).
After all, the fact that it is 'nothing' does not constitute a failing, because, as "
I, ,

I '
we have seen with regard to the grey-black of being, 'nothing is more real ,

than nothing. ' True, but the whole problem is that unlike the dim, which is in
fact indiscernible from nothing (because being and nothingness are one and
6 . T h e Event a n d its N a m e
the same thing), the subject results from a question. Now, every question
Little by little - and not without hesitations and regrets - the work of
imposes values, and demands that one is able to ask oneself: what is an answer
Beckett will open itself up to chance, to accidents, to sudden modifications
worth? If, in the end, after an exhausting labour of speech, the only answer
of the given, and thereby to the idea of happiness. The last words ofIll Seen
one finds is the one that precedes every question (the nothing, the grey-black),
III Said are indeed: 'Know happiness '.
the torture of the subject's identification will have amounted to nothing but a
This is why I am entirely opposed to the widely held view according to
bitter charade. If, when you count as one the subject of enunciation, the subject
which Beckett moved towards a nihilistic destitution, towards a radical opacity
of passivity and the subject of a question, the question itself is dissolved in
of significations. We have already remarked above how the destitution of the
the return to the indifference of being, then you have counted badly.85
scenes and the voices, as well as of the prose, is a method directed against
That means you must begin again. You must recommence even though ,

mere distraction [divertissement], and whose ever more prevalent support is

you have just realised that all this work is impossible. The only result of the
the poeticisation of language. The opacity results from the fact that Beckett ,
torture is the desolate and desert-like injunction that one must subject oneself
substitutes the question 'how are we to name what happens?' for the question
to torture again. Such is, after all, the conclusion of The Unnamable:
'what is the meaning of what is?' But the resources of happiness are
considerably greater when we tum towards the event than when we search in
[ . . . J you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on (T, p . 4 1 8; TN, p. 414).86
vain for the sense of being.
Contrary to the popular opinion, I think that Beckett's trajectory is one
The cogito of the pure voice is unbearable (stricto sensu: in writing, it I
that begins with a blind belief in predestination and is then directed towards i
can be borne by no one), but it is also inevitable. Having come to this point,
the examination of the possible conditions, be they aleatory or minimal, of a
it looks like we have reached an impasse. At the time of the Textsfor Nothing,
kind of freedom.
this was indeed Beckett's own feeling. It was a question of knowing if one
_.' - --

-------j ",
Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett)r--- l--..:.A�I:.a� .: i�
.: d::..:
.= i n�B:...a:... :.: On
o...:u_ _B
_=___ _e__
e_ tt __I__I.J, __


Of course, as we shall see, the interrogation regarding the event is centra I I I I I I I I ) , I J I wil l therefore seek to bring its knowledge of the 'indeterminable I
lliance ' . This formal ':
1 ' 1 1 ' 1 " I I I of incidents to the height of their 'formal bri
to Watt, the writing of which dates from 1 942- 1 943. But the immense success '

of Waitingfor Godot, after the impasse to which the trilogy (Molloy, Malone I I I o I l idl lcc designates the unique and circumscribed character, the evental
I d i l l y, lhe pure and delectable 'emergenc e', of the incidents in question.

Dies and The Unnamable) had led, has served to hide this initial impetus. Of I

1, ',
: ,

Si nce it is a question of the event, Beckett must take a further step.

all these works, all that people retain is the idea that in them nothing ever I I,
happens. Molloy will not find his mother. Moran will not find Molloy. Malone 1 1 1 1 : ; i s the step that takes us from a will to find a meaning for the event (a I :

stretches ad irifinitum the fables that populate his agony, but death never d l ';,o tJ ruging path, precisely because the event is what is subtracted from any
comes. The Unnamable has no other maxim than to go on forever. And Godot, I I I '. I I I IC of meaning) , to the entirely different desire of giving
the event a
of course, can only be awaited, being nothing but the constantly reiterated
1 I i 1 1 1 1t'.

promise of his coming. It is in this element devoid of emergence and novelty I n Watt, we still possess only the first figure of the event, so that the I

that prose oscillates between grasping indifferent being and the torture of a Ill lvl'I is not entirely detached from a religious symbolism (I call 'religion'
reflection without effect. l i l l' dcsire to give meaning to everything that happens). Watt is an interpreter, "
.. 'r
In Watt, the place of being is absolutely closed; it validates a strict ,I Ill'rmeneut. Even the hypothesis of meaninglessness is the prisoner of a
principle of identity. This place is complete, self-sufficient, and eternal: ',l l I ilhorn will to give meaning, and even more of a will to link this meaning
I I I : 1 1 1 original meaning, a meaning lost and then found again (this is the I

[ . . . J nothing could be added to Mr. Knott's establishment, and from it 1I Il'Iuctable tendency ofwhat I call 'religion' : meaning is always already there, I

nothing taken away, but that as it was now, so it had been in the beginning, 1 11 1 1 man has lost it):
, !

and so it would remain to the end, in all essential respects [ . . . J

(W, p. 1 29; W US, p. 1 3 1 ).87 [ . . . J the meaning attributed to this particular type of incident, by Watt, in
, I'

his relations, was now the initial meaning that had been lost and then ,
' . I
It could therefore be believed that we are here in the midst of a typically recovered, and now a meaning quite distinct from the initial meaning, and "

predestined universe. Knowledge lacks any kind of freedom; it consists of now a meaning evolved, after a delay of varying length, and with greater
questions relative to the laws of the place. It is a question of attempting, or less pains, from the initial absence of meaning.
forever in vain, to understand the impenetrable designs of Mr. Knott. Where (W p. 76; W US, p. 79).89 , I,

is he right now? In the garden? On the first floor? What is he preparing? Who !!
does he love? Struggling with obscure laws - here lies the Kafkian dimension I I I Watt, thought is therefore granted the following opportunity: that the event I,
of this book - thought is irritated and fatigued. ex ists. But, once awoken by incidents, the movement of thought turns back I'I

What saves thought is that which functions ' outside the law', what 1 0 the origin and the repetition of meaning. The predestining pull of Mr.
adds itself to the situation - which is nevertheless declared closed and Knott's house is the strongest element of them all. The question remains that
incapable of addition - as symbolised by Mr. Knott's house. Watt calls these of linking incidents back to the supposed core of all signification.
paradoxical supplements 'incidents' . For example, the fact that, according to Almost at the other extreme of Beckett's trajectory - inIll Seen III Said
the perceptible laws of the House, the origin of the dog for which Mr. Knott or in Worstward Ho - we encounter once again the central function of the
leaves out his dish is entirely incomprehensible. As Watt declares, with regard cvent, but here thought's awakening operates in a thoroughly different manner.
to these incidents, they are 'of great formal brilliance and indeterminable I t is no longer a question of the play of sense and nonsense, of meaning and
purport' (W, p. 7 1 ; W US, p. 74).88 meaninglessness.
At this juncture, thought awakens to something completely different Already in Endgame ( 1 952), Cloy mocks Hamm's idea, according to
than the vain grasp of its own predestination - not to mention the torture which if ' Something is taking its course' (CDW, p. 1 07; E, p. 32)90 one must
elicited by the imperative of the word. By means ofhypotheses and variations, conclude that there is meaning:

56 57
- -
,- '-�----
- ----- ---- -
--- -
- - - - -- - - ' " , -

I' '

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r---- ,,

l� i n Bad i o u On Beckett
�':":":'�-=-:�----=--- -- -,'
--- ----

, '

IX hausts itself(as Beckett says, the eye is ' still agonizing') in the consideration
Mean something! You and I, mean something! [Brie/laugh.] Ah that's a " I what there is, of the neutral abode of being.
good one! (CDW, p. 108; E, p. 33)91 2) Reduced to a simple trait by the method of ascesis, the event is a
Ii(lise, constituting an exception ('sudden') to the monotonous and repetitious
What does 'ill seen ill said' mean? 1 I 1 spection. I
The event cannot but be 'ill seen' , since it precisely constitutes an 3) 'The mind awakens' . This confirms that thought is only diurnal and

exception to the ordinary laws of visibility. The 'well seen' takes us back to v lj',ilant under the effect of an event.

the indifference ofthe place, to the grey-black of being. The formal brilliance 4) At first, the question that constitutes the awakening of thought is
of the incident, of 'what happens' , thwarts both seeing and 'well seeing' by PIl:occupied with explaining ('How explain itT). This is the dominant figure
way of the surprise that it imposes. I I I Watt. But the subject renounces explanation at once, in favour of a

But the event is also 'ill said', since well saying is nothing other than ('( llllpletely different question, the question of the name: 'How say itT
the reiteration of established significations. Even under the pretext of meaning, 5) This name is doubly invented, doubly subtracted from the ordinary
it is not a question of reducing the formal novelty of the event to the laws oflanguage. It is constructed from the noun 'collapsion' of which it is �

significations carried by ordinary language. To the 'ill seen' of the event lIoled that it is 'uncommon' and of the adjective ' slumberous' which is
� �

there must correspond a verbal invention, an unknown act of naming. In , i I I frequent' and moreover does not agree with the noun. In sum, this name is
terms of the usual laws oflanguage, this will necessarily manifest itself as an a poetic composition (an ill said), a surprise within language attuned to the
' ill said' . :all'prise - to the ' sudden' of the event (an ill seen).

'Ill seen ill said' designates the possible agreement between that which, 6) This attunement produces a 'gleam of hope' . It is opposed to the
as pure emergence [surgissement], is in exception of the laws of the visible l orture of inspection. And though it is certainly nothing more than a
(or of presentation) and that which, by poetically inventing a new name for rommencement, a modest beginning, it is a commencement that comes to ,
this emergence, is in exception of the laws of saying (or of representation).92 I he thought that it awakens like an act of grace.
" II

Everything depends on the harmony between an event and the poetic Ii

What is this beginning? What is this hope? What power is harboured

I emergence of its name. hy the precarious agreement between the emergence ofthe new and the poetic
!' I
,, Let us read the following passage from III Seen III Said: illvention of a name? Let us not hesitate to say that we are dealing with the
Ii :
" l

hope of a truth.
During the inspection a sudden sound. Startling without consequence for Meaning, the torture of meaning, is the vain and interminable agreement
the gaze the mind awake. How explain it? And without going so far how hdween what there is, on the one hand, and ordinary language, on the other
say it? Far behind the eye the quest begins. What time the event recedes. between 'well seeing' and 'well saying' . The agreement is such that it is
When suddenly to the rescue it comes again. Forthwith the uncommon 1I0t even possible to decide if it is commanded by language or prescribed by
common noun collapsion. Reinforced a little later if not enfeebled by the heing. Frankly, this is the tiresome torture of all empiricist philosophies.
infrequent slumberous. A slumberous collapsion. Two. Then far from the A truth begins with the organisation of an agreement between, on the
still agonizing eye a gleam ofhope. By the grace of these modest beginnings one hand, a separable event 'shining with formal clarity' and, on the other,
(ISIS, p. 55; NO, p. 83).93 I he invention in language of a name that from now on retains this event, even
i f - inevitably � the event 'recedes' and finally disappears. The name will
We must carefully note the stages whereby Beckett fixes within prose guarantee within language that the event is sheltered.
the movement of the 'ill seen ill said'. But if some truths exist, then happiness is not out of the question. It is
1 ) The situation that serves as the starting point is the ' inspection' , si mply necessary to expose these truths to the test of the Other. One must
understood as the normal role of seeing, and of well seeing; the ' inspection' experiment if at least one truth can be shared. Like in Enough, when the two

58 59

, ," -
- -�---- �----- - - --- ----- - - - - -. - - ---- - -


A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r-
------- .

.--- ,·,,,. I a_i_

l�A__ n B_a_d_i_ On_B
o_u__ _ ck
e_ t_
_e_ t
__ _,!
old lovers, despite everything, share some mathematical ce '
rtainties with each Ihil i l l /\ s though it were necessary, in order to guarantee prose's definitive
other: i" 1 1 11 " 0 I' p i ural humanity, that prose establish an eternity of sorts, a separate
1 11 1 " ' 1 . I I my where the animals in question are atemporally observed. It is
We took flight in arithmetic. What mental calculations bent double hand 1 1 1 1 1 It i l lable that these laboratories clearly resemble Dante's settings. As we ,
in hand! (eSp, p. 1 4 1 ; GSP, p. 1 88)94 k , I I '1\ . I kckett undertook painstaking studies of The Inferno, and of the fifth I


, , 1 1 1 1 " I I I particular.
The poem of improbable names makes it possible to imag
ine an amorOUH I
mathematics. I I I The Lost Ones ( 1 967-70) the place is a huge rubber cylinder whose
I 'll \ : ; Il' a I parameters are subj ect to laws (light, temperature, sound, etc.) which
Ill ' ,I:; strict and contingent as the laws of physical science.96 The ' little people'

7 . Oth e rs l i l i l l Ili habit the place have no other aim than to look for their lost one. This is
I'"'' I I h, ' vny start of the fable:
I! Even though Molloy, Malone and the Unnamable seek ou
t and encounter "j
other suppos ed subjects, they move towards their own so
litude. The tone of i\bode where lost bodies roam each searching for its lost one.
The Unnamable could even be described as starkly solipsis
tic. Without doubt ( 'SP, p. 1 5 9 ; GSP, p. 202).97
it is in Beckett's theatre, with the couples of Vladimir and
Estragon (Waiting . :
for Godot) or Hamm and Clov (Endgame), that something
which will not What is the ' lost one '? It is each one's own other, the one who
cease to be at the heart of Beckett's fictions comes to the for
e: the couple, the " I III',ularises a given inhabitant, who wrenches the inhabitant away from
Two, the voice of the other, and lastly, love. Both to de
fer and to beckon ill I I l y mity. To find one's lost one is to come to oneself; to no longer be a

death through distance, Malone recounts all the elem

ents that this love r , l l l Iplc element of the small group of searchers. It is thus that Beckett
contains: ,
';l l l lIIounts the painful antinomies of the cogito: one's identity does not depend ,



,I I IpOIl the verbal confrontation with oneself, but upon the discovery of one's

• •

[ . . . J what flutterings, alarms and bashful fumblings, of which only this,
that they gave Macmann some insight into the meaning of the expression,
, 00 1 ICr.
On this simple basis, and through the meticulous description of the


"Ii! Two is company (T, p. 26 1 ; TN, p. 260).95 \ Il'issitudes ofthe search (one must run around in the cylinder, climb ladders,

" ,plore the niches situated at different heights, etc.), Beckett succeeds in
Nevertheless, being-two is inscribed into the many, int
o the bizarre " , I racting a few criteria for the classification of plural humanity.
mUltiplicity of human animals. Always careful to bring
the proliferation of The most important among these criteria distinguishes searching humans
details back to a few crucial traits, Beckett devotes
some of his texts to 110m those who have renounced the search. The latter have given up on their
arranging, on a background [fond] of anonymous being,
the bustle of plural dcsire, since in the cylinder no other desire exists than that of finding one's
humanity, so as to classify its postures and inventory
its functions. These lost one (i.e. no desire other than - in the words of Nietzsche, whom the
texts are human comedies in which the diversity of so
cial and SUbj ective VI )Lmg Beckett knew well - 'to become what one is ' ) . These broken searchers
figures is replaced by an enumeration of all the essen
tial po ssibilities that ; 1 rc called the vanquished. Note that to be vanquished is never to be vanquished
existence could ever contain, an enumeration which
is declared to be by the other. On the contrary, here to be vanquished is to renounce the other.
exhaustive. But they are also divine comedies, because
the will to produce The second criterion brings us back to the primitive categories of
the complete inventory of actions and situations (alwa
ys, of course, under l IIovement and rest. Some of the searchers ambulate ceaselessly, some stop
the rule of the methodical ascesis) presupposes the exist
ence of a fixed place and others no longer move.
far from any empirical reality, a sort of 'no-man's land'
between life and Beckett recapitulates as follows the human groups that can be described

60 61
� --'�------- - - - - - - - - - - � - - --- , ----- - --- - - - --


------ -------

Al a i n Ba d io u On Beckett r--- a_in_B_a_d_i_

l_A_I_ o_u_O
nB _k
_C _e_t_t___ e!

and enumerated with the help of these two criteria: 1" , ; , t here is 'the all of nothing'). On the other hand, however, what is not
I " , ,'ahle (such as recommencing one's search if one has renounced it) is not
Seen from a certain angle these bodies are of four kinds. Firstly those "" 1 1 1 1 1 ively and properly speaking impossible, but only temporarily 'no longer' i


perpetually in motion. Secondly those who sometimes pause. Thirdly those l 't I',:: ihle. That means that the choice of renunciation destroys everything, I,
who short of being driven off never stir from the coign they have won and I I lIt t l I e possibility that inheres in choice remains mysteriously indestructible,


when driven off pounce on the first free one that offers and freeze again. ;\ figure of plural humanity is always suspended between the
[ . . . J Fourthly those who do not search or non-searchers sitting for the i l l t'versibility of choice and the maintenance - which is to say the reversibility I'
most part against the wall [ . . . J (CSP, p. 1 6 1 ; GSP, pp. 204-205).98 Ii possibles,
t I

The absolute nomadic living beings (first category) and the vanquished In How It Is - without doubt the greatest of Beckett's prose works,
(fourth category) are extreme figures of human desire. Between the two we n i t I l i g with Enough and III Seen III Said- the distribution ofthe figures obeys
," , , find those that Beckett names the ' sedentary' (the second and third figures). 1\ t I i f'icrent principle.

Notwithstanding these distinctions, all of Beckett' s paradoxical The human animals crawl along through a sort of black mud, each one
optimism is concentrated in one point: it can happen - very rarely, almost t i l :Igging a sack of food. This imperative to travel harbours four possiqilities:
never, but not quite never - that a vanquished searcher returns to the arena of 1) To continue crawling alone in the dark. i
the search. This is what we could call the Beckettian conception of freedom. 2) To encounter someone in an active position, pouncing upon them in iI
Of course we can be vanquished, that is, defeated in the desire that constitutes I I Il' dark. This is the figure that Beckett calls the 'tormentor ' , Note that the
us. But even then, all possibilities still exist, including the possibility that ,, I
prillcipal activity ofthe tormentor is to extort from his victim - if needs be by I

this defeat, irreversible in its essence (for how could the one whose desire is plallting in his arse the sharpened top of a tin can - stories, fables from another
dead even desire for his desire to return?), may become miraculously 1 1 1l:, memories. This proves that the tormentor also wants to find his lost one,
reversible. It I hc wrested away from solitude and subtracted from the darkness of infinite
I Every sedentary figure is a possible nomad. Even the one who gives up nawling by the one he encounters.
II, i, on his desire can suddenly desire to desire (we are then dealing, in a strong 3) To be abandoned by the one encountered. At this point, all that

sense, with an event) . There is no eternal damnation, and hell - for one who 1 l' l lIains is to make oneself immobile in the dark.
I' dwells within it - can be revealed as nothing but a purgatory. 4) Being encountered by someone, this time in a passive position: he
This indestructibility of possibles, which takes place precisely at the pounces on you while you are immobile in the dark, and it is you who will
point at which one has renounced them, is affirmed by B eckett in an Ilave to give him his due of fables. This is the position that Beckett calls the
extraordinarily dense passage. This passage is a perfect example of what ' victim' .
above I called the 'elongation' of the phrase, the non-punctuated style that The enumeration of the generic figures of humanity operates once again
unifies all the ramifications of the idea: hy combining the movement/rest couple and the self/other couple. One can
I ravel alone and one can be immobile alone; one can be either a tormentor or
[ . . . J in the cylinder what little is possible is not so it is merely no longer so a victim.
and in the least less the all of nothing if this notion is maintained These figures are sustained by a rigorous principle of equality: none is
(CSP, p. 1 67; GSP, pp. 2 1 1 -2 1 2).99 sliperior to the others. The use of the words 'tormentor' and 'victim' must not
Icad us astray. It does not imply any sort of pathos or ethics - besides the
This statement is elucidated as follows. On the one hand, every lapse ethics of prose, that is. And even the latter, as Beckett warns, could easily be
in the desire to search for one's other is absolute. For though this desire exaggerated, since words always 'ring' too much for them to maintain the
diminishes ('the least less '), it is also as if it had annulled itself (in the least :ll1onymity and the equality of the figures that the human animal can take. I t

62 63
�- � � . � - - -�-�� -�- - - -------- - - - - -


, . , ------------------------------ ... ------- f
Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett r------ ·,... L_A_I_
a_i n_B_a_d_io_u_O_n_B_e_c_

is this equality of the figures that justifies this very profound statement: III which the dilapidation of the elderly is regarded with tenderness and
l i pn�scnted with j oy. Rather, we are trying to see if love and the encounter
[ . . .] in any case we have our being injustice I have never heard anything to I " I I V idc us with sexuated figures.
the contrary (RII, p. 1 35 ; RII US, p. 1 24)100 It has often been claimed that Beckett's 'couples' are in fact asexual or
I I I 1 L�cllline and that there is something interchangeable - or homo-sexual - in

The justice mentioned here is entirely unrelated to any kind of norm or 1 I 1l' positions of the partners. I think this is entirely mistaken. Of course,
finality. It concerns the ontological equality of the figures taken by the generic I kckctt generally does not start out from the empirical evidence that divides
human subject. 1 I I I I I1an animals into men and women. The methodical ascesis forbids him
Speaking of the moments in which one is either tormentor or victim - 1 1 1 1111 doing so; often, he makes careful use ofthe pronouns and articles so as
and thereby concerned with the extortion of a word or a story - Beckett 1 11 .1 10 permit a decision regarding the sex of the speaker or ' character ' . But
declares that they relate to ' life in stoic love' . This establishes a double link f llC effect of the encounter truly does fix two absolutely dissimilar positions.
" " .
that makes ' love' into the true name of a subject's encounter of its other or ( IIIC can therefore say that for Beckett the sexes do not pre-exist the amorous
lost one and connects this encounter to the tender fables of the past. " I I counter, being instead its result,

Having traversed - thanks to the fictional set-up of the encounter with What does this dissimilarity consist in? We have seen that in How It Is, I

an other - the terrorising limits ofthe solipsistic cogito, we discover both the ; I licr a human animal has pounced upon another, there is the figure of the ,1

potentiality of love and the resources of nostalgia. I , 'Imentor and that ofthe victim. Let us agree to call the first 'masculine' and

I I I L� second 'feminine' (though it is true that Beckett refrains from uttering

I hc se words). We must insist that this distinction is entirely unrelated to any
8 . Love ,' ;lIpposed 'identity' of the subjects. For all that, under the condition of an I

ellcounter in which ' she ' would pounce on an other, a victim could become a I
, The event in which love originates is the encounter. From the thirties l ur mentor. But from within a given amorous situation (let us call ' love' what I



onwards - in Murphy - Beckett emphasises that the power of the encounter proceeds from an encounter) there necessarily are these two figures.

I, is such that nothing, either in feeling or in the desiring body, can measure up However, these figures are far from being reducible to the opposition
II', I,
I to it: hetween the active and the passive. Here we must keep the complexity of
l lcckett's construction firmly in mind.
And to meet [ . . . ] in my sense exceeds the power of feeling, however tender, For example, after an indeterminate time, it is the victim who goes
and of bodily motions, however expert (M, p. 1 24; M US, p. 222).101 away, leaving the tormentor 'immobile in the dark'. Therefore, we must
I I ll derstand that whoever is travelling with his or her sack is on the side ofthe
If the question of the existence and difference ofthe other is so charged, it is ' Ieminine' , or at least coming from the feminine. Conversely, someone who
because the very possibility of the encounter is played out within it. It is with i s abandoned immobile in the dark is on the side of the 'masculine' , or at
regard to this point that Beckett constructs set-ups of literary experience in least can be said to stagnate in this position. We can therefore oppose the
order to evaluate the negative hypothesis (as in Company, whose last word is l I10bility that defines the feminine to a tendency within the male to morose
'alone ') or to hold the positive hypothesis (as inEnough and Happy Days, in i mmobility.
which the figure of the couple is indisputable and gives rise to a strange and Likewise, it is certain that the figure of the tormentor is that of the
powerful form of happiness). commandment, of the imperative. But what is the content of this figure? It is
The encounter brings forth the Two; it fractures solipsistic seclusion. 1 0 be found in the extraction from the victim of stories and reminiscences,
Is this primordial Two sexuated? We are not speaking here of the numerous scraps of everything that may touch on what Beckett magnificently names
and mostly carnivalesque sexual scenes that can be found in Beckett's stories, 'the blessed days of blue ' (CSP, p. 1 53 ; GSP, p. 1 97).102 We are therefore

64 65
- '
- - - - _.. ------ ----- -
_._--- -- -- -- -- -
- -" - - --

------ ----)--


Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----
_ n_B
ck _t_t___, ,
justified in saying that if on the masculine side we rediscover the (half-joyous l l i ls ligure of free knowledge [savoir], of the encyclopaedia - in which the
and half-torturous) imperative to ' go on', it is on the female side that the emerges upon the mirror of thought - is 'masculine', and as such it is
, I .. V
power of the story, the archives of wandering, and the memory of beauty are Il l ved by the woman. Thus we read in Enough:
set out.
Ultimately, every encounter prescribes four main functions: the force In order from time to time to enjoy the sky he resorted to a little round

of wandering, the pain of immobility, the enjoyment [jouissance] of the mirror. Having misted it with his breath and polished it on his calf he
imperative, and the invention of the story. looked in it for the constellations. I have it! he exclaimed referring to the
It is on the basis of these four functions that the encounter determines Lyre or the Swan. And often he added that the sky seemed much the same
the emergence of sexuated positions. The combination of the imperative and (CSP, p. 1 42; GSP, p. 1 90).105
immobility will be called ' masculine' ; the combination of wandering and the
story will be called ' feminine' . Love is this interval in which a sort of inquiry about the world is pursued
, 11 " "
I ' l i nfinity. Because in love knowledge [savoir] is experienced and transmitted
In Enough, we find an even deeper determination of the duality of the I let ween two irreducible poles of experience, it is subtracted from the tedium
sexes, as elicited by love. Here, the masculine position is specified by a o r objectivity and charged with desire. Knowledge is the most intimate and
constant desire for separation. The heroine (I don't exactly call the one who 1 1 1()st vital thing that we possess. In love, we are not seized by what the world
holds the inseparable position a 'woman') says: I�; . it is not the world that holds us captive. On the contrary, love is the
paradoxical circulation - between 'man' and 'woman' - of a wondrous
We were severed if that is what he desired (CSP, p. 1 4 1 ; GSP, p. 1 88).103 k nowledge that makes the universe ours.
Love then is when we can say that we have the sky, and that the sky has I

In Happy Days, it is evidently Willie who keeps himself aloof, invisible lIothing. 106 I
and absent, whilst it is Winnie who proclaims the eternity - day after day - of I
II I : the couple, and declares its legitimacy.
9 . N o sta l g i a
"! I, In effect, the masculine position fosters the desire for a break. It is not
a question of returning to solipsism, but rather of the Two being experienced
and re-experienced [eprouve re-prouve] in the between [entre-Deux] , in what Because Beckett wrote a brilliant essay on Proust in 1 93 1 , it has often
distinguishes the two terms of the couple. Masculine desire is affected here - heen deemed possible to conclude that there is some analogy between the
infected by the void that separates the sexuated positions in the very unity of two writers in what concerns the treatment of memory. This conviction is
the amorous process. The 'man' desires the nothing of the Two, whilst the reinforced when one notes that in Beckett the emergence ofthe past presents
'woman' - the wandering guardian and narrator of original unity, of the pure itself in blocks, episodes ofprosodic isolation, and that childhood is privileged
point of the encounter - desires nothing but the Two, that is, the infinite with regard both to places (Ireland) and to characters (Mother and Father).
tenacity of a lasting Two. I believe that this analogy is misleading. This is because the function
She is 'the lasting desire to last' ,1 04 whilst the masculine is the perpetual of involuntary memory, which in Proust is bound up with a metaphysics of
temptation to inquire about the exact location of the void that passes between time, in Beckett - besides the fact that one should instead speak of a
One and One. 'voluntarism of remembrance' - constitutes an experimentation of alterity.
But the most admirable part ofthe text is the examination of the relation It follows that the fragments of childhood - or the amorous memories
between love and knowledge [connaissance], between the happiness of love , are always signalled by an abrupt change in the tone of the prose (a calm
and the joy ofknowledge. We have already cited the passage where the couple beauty made up of rhythmic fluidity, assonance, and an elemental certainty:
sustain each other in their walk by means of vast arithmetical reflections. the night, the stars, the water, the meadows . . . ), and never reflect what the

66 67
- - I

- �,--- - - - - - - -
-- -


------- ,
Al a i n B a d i o u On Beckett r-----
l...:.� ., u=-O:...
: d:..:.i o=-
...:: a:...: -= n.:... ...=.. e�c_
.:. B� k_ tt
___ �II�
; p. 6 0) . 1 0 9
presented situation (the place of being) could harbour in terms of truth 01' ' I 'hen 'Krapp curses louder, switches off' (CDW, p. 220 SP,
eternity. We are dealing with another world, with the hypothesis whereby the I I 1 1 I we quickly realise that he is looking for a fragment of wh
at this voice is 1

grey-black of being is juxtaposed, in an improbable and distance place, to a I tl l i l lg him. This is a voice that only appears to be his, being that of
colourful and sentimental universe. The narration of this universe puts , " III T ' that he was, and thereby proving to him the irreducible mu
ltiplicity of "


solipsism to the test and forces literature to refect upon the theme of pure I I I q"o [Ie Mo il This is a sublime fragment, composed of both percep
I '
difference (or of the 'other life'). 111111 verbal elements that are completely foreign to Krapp' s real situation.
It is essential to note that we are dealing here not with an experience of l ' I('ll lents such that no passage can be conceived between them and Krapp.
Ii ,

consciousness but with a story that is materially distributed at a distance Several pieces of this fragment, indeed several variations, will be !
from the subject. What this story proposes can touch upon three distinct pl l.:;ented in the play, but throughout the fragment remains intact, saved by I
dimensions of the universe of nostalgia: the existence of a 'voice' that would I I Il' tape (i.e . by the pro se, functio nin g her e like a kind of billiard cus hio � ,
come to the subject from outside; what a real encounter allows one to hear, II ()v idin g an indirec t or dia gon al safety); it authorises Krapp to evaluate III -

by way of fables and tender beauties, from the mouth of an other; a iI " ,ap that is attributed to a scission in being rather than to temporality - wh
stratification ofthe subject itself, whose origin is by no means to be found in I : : t h i s 'other life ' borne by each and every one. Krapp wil
l end up letting
childhood or youth, which instead constitutes the subject's interior aIterity. 1 I I 1 I lseif go, listening to the fragment in complete absorption
and nostalgia:
This interior aIterity refers to fact that an existence has no unity, that it is I

composed of heterogeneous sediments; it thus lends greater consistency to -upper lake, with the punt, bathed off the bank, then pushed out into the
the thesis concerning the impossibility of a cogito that would be capable of stream and drifted. She lay stretched out on the floorboards with her hands
counting the subject as One. under her head and her eyes closed. Sun blazing down, bit of a breeze, ,


These three uses of nostalgia are systematically set out, one at a time,
water nice and lively. I noticed a scratch on her thigh and asked her how ,

in three of Beckett's works. she came by it. Picking gooseberries, she said. I said again how I thought
it was hopeless and no good going on and she agreed, without opening her

, Krapp s Last Tape ( 1 959) presents a ' character' - Krapp - who listens eyes. [Pause.] I asked her to look at me and after a few moments - [Pause.]
to various stories and reflections recorded onto magnetic tapes. The voice _ after a few moments she did, but the eyes just slits, because of the glare.
that reaches us is thus in general a 'Strong voice, rather pompous, clearly I bent over her to get them in the shadow and they opened. [Pause. Low.]
Krapp s at a much earlier time' (CDW, p. 2 1 7; SP, p. 57).1 07 Krapp listens to Let me in. [Pause.] We drifted in among the flags and stuck. The way they
fragments from these old tapes, comments upon them and records these went down, sighing, before the stem! [Pause.] I lay down across her with
commentaries. Thus the distance between these fictionalised fragments of my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving.
the past and his real situation is staged: Krapp is an old man who eats nothing But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side
but bananas and - in line with the favourite occupation of the inhabitants of to side (CDW, p. 221 ; SP, p. 61),uo
the grey-black of being - it is beyond doubt that he must die interminably.
Whether they are gestural or practical, Krapp's commentaries are for At first, Krapp struggles to annul nostalgia by recourse to pure distance:
the most part not very affable. This is especially the case when the tape's
prose appears to rise to the level of philosophical formulation, like in the Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago,
following: hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that's all done with
anyway (CDW, p. 222; SP, p. 62). 1 1 1
- unshatterable association until my dissolution of storm and night with
the light ofthe understanding and the fire - (CDW, p. 220; SP, p. 60).1 08 But the remainder of the play shows that the insistence of the fragment
is not damaged by this abstract protest. The other life radiates beneath thc

68 69
- - - - - - _.--- - ---- ---.---- -- -
- --" ---_. _------- -'- --- - - - -

. .-

-.._----- --------- -------- , \


A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r---- a_in_B_a_d_i_
l_A_I_ o_u_OnB
e__e_t_t __



\ ) I I " These are limpid storie s, whos e biographical dimension is underlined ,

insult. Certainly, Krapp is brought back to the classical couple of silence and
the void (this is the end of the play: 'Krapp motionless staring before him. ill l i rst in a parodic way, as in the paragraph that starts: 'You first saw the
7 11
The tape runs on in silence', CDW, p. 223; SP, p. 63).112 No true link is I I I , h t in the room you most likely were conceived in' (C, p. 1 5 ; NO, p. 7).

established between nostalgia and the course of things. Memory is not a saving l i l l i e by little, however, the nostalgic tonality takes hold of the prose . ,

I ', TSliaded by the latent poem, this tonality will attempt to overcome the danger
, ",

function. But, once it is captured in a story, memory is simply what attests to : 'II
, .

the immanent power of the Other. I h a t fabulation may tum out to be nothing but a fictional rearrangement of
,;( )Iit ude. And it is still this tonality that here demands we imagine an eternal '!

In How It Is, this power of the story derives from a real Other - Pim, 1 1 1�ht:

the 'victim' - who gives the 'hero' his own life, whether real or invented it I
does not matter: A strand. Evening. Light dying. Soon none left to die. No. No such thing
then as no light. Died on to dawn and never died. You stand with your
" ," " " ,, that life then said to have been his invented remembered a little of each no back to the wash. No sound but its. Ever fainter as it slowly ebbs. Till it
knowing that thing above he gave it to me I made it mine what I fancied slowly flows again. You lean on a long staff. Your hands rest on the knob
skies especially and the paths he crept along how they changed with the and on them your head. Were your eyes to open they would first see far
sky and where you were going on the Atlantic in the evening on the ocean below in the last rays the skirt of your greatcoat and the uppers of your
going to the isles or coming back the mood of the moment less important boots emerging from the sand. Then and it alone till it vanishes the shadow
the creatures encountered hardly any always the same I picked my fancy ofthe staff on the sand. Vanishes from your sight. Moonless starless night.
good moments nothing left (HII, p. 80; HII US, p. 72)1 13 Were your eyes to open dark would lighten (C, pp. 75-76; NO, pp. 39- 40). 118

This time the story is a transmission of existence, the possibility of Nostalgia gives rise in the prose to fragments of beauty, and, even if r'
fabulating one's own life using the most intense fragments of the other's life I he certainty always returns that the other life is separated, lost, a light from
as material. Nostalgia abides, because for those who crawl in the dark these elsewhere, the force of nostalgia lies in giving us the power to suppose that
, ,,
fragments remain inaccessible, they are ' above' , like stigmata of light. But one day (before, afterward, time is of no importance here) the eye will open
and, under its astonished gaze, in the nuances of the grey-black of being,

the possibility of demanding the story, of extorting it from the one with whom
'it was good moments good for me we're talking of me for him too we're something will lighten.
talking of him too happy too' (RII, p. 57; RII US p. 5 1 )1 I4 guarantees for
prose its function as a measure. This measure concerns the gap between the
other life and the real, between the dark and the light, and thus inscribes 1 0 . T h e a t re
within being itself the possibility of difference:
Theatre, and especially Waiting for Godot, is the source of Beckett's
I nothing only say this say that your life above YOUR LIFE pause my life fame. Today Godot is a classic, along with Endgame and Happy Days.
ABOVE long pause above IN THE in the LIGHT pause light his life above Nevertheless, we cannot say that the exact nature of Beckett's theatre has
in the light almost an octosyllable come to think of it a coincidence been rendered entirely clear. Nor can this be said of the relation (or non­
(HU, p. 79 ; HU US p. 72)1 l4 relation) between the theatre and the movement of that prose which it
constantly accompanied - given that a play like Catastrophe, for examplc,
In Company, the construction of the text is carried out on the basis of can be considered a late work ( 1 982).
seventeen 'memorial' sequences, all of which are connected to the initial Of course, the major themes of Beckett's work can, without exception,
supposition, which is that 'A voice comes to one in the dark' (C, p. 7; NO, p. be found in the theatre.

70 71

- - - - - - ------- --

A la i n B a d i o u On Beckett r------ -------"

----- _ l'-:...
Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett
.:.:. ��::...:.:�-=--=----=---------"

The assignation of the place of being, as in

this characteristic passage is that not enough for you? [Calmer.] They give birth astride of a grave,
from Footfalls:
the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more
(CDW, p. 83; WG, p. 1 03). 1 23
Faint, though by no means invisible, in a certa
in light. [Pause.] Given the
right light. [Pause .] Grey rather than white,
a pale shade of grey ( )11 the other, that of Vladimir, who will never give up on the hypothesis of
(CDW, p. 402 ; SP, p. 242 )y9
( ,odot's arrival (the caesura of time and the constitution of a meaning), so
t h a l the duty of humanity is to hold onto an uncertain, but imperative, I I,
The estimations of the importance of language, as in Happy Days: Illjunction: 'I

Words fail, there are times when even they fail. [Turning a little towards What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this,
WILLIE.] Is that not so, Willie? [Pause. Turning a little further.] Is not that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one ,II" i

!"I '
,I I '
that so, Willie, that even words fail, at times? [Pause. Backfront,] What is thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come [ . . . ] Or for night to
one to do then, until they come again? (CDW, p. 1 47; HD, p. 24)120 fall. [Pause.] We have kept our appointment, and that's an end to that. We � I''
are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can
The torture of the cogito, prey to the uncontrolled imperative of saying, boast as much? (CDW, p. 74; WG, p. 9 1 )124
a perfect example of which is Lucky's long monologue in Waitingfor Godot
(this is especially the case if we recall that Lucky only begins to speak when Obviously, the question of others is incessantly brandished on stage,
Pozzo, pulling him by his leash, commands him: 'Think, pig ! ' ,1 21 CDW, p.
whether under the effect of an encounter (meeting Pozzo and Lucky, Vladimir !i

I 4 1 ; WG, p. 28): and Estragon speak to them in order to evade being 'alone once more, in the
, midst of nothingness,'12s CDW, p. 75; WG, p. 52); or because the apparent

[ O o .] the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on ligure of the monologue, like in Happy Days, presupposes an interlocutor,
on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite ofthe tennis someone whom the voice reaches and who might respond (,Oh he's coming
the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a to speak to me today, oh this is going to be another happy day! ' ) ; or because,
word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in as in Play in which the characters (two women and a man) are stuck up to

Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard [Melee, their necks in urns - it is only a question of their links, which become the
final vociferations] tennis . . . the stones . . . so calm . . . Cunard . . . unfinished . . . eternal material of these stereotypical stories that they ceaselessly lavish upon
(CDW, p. 43; WG, p. 47)1 22 us; stories that are borrowed, even in their style, from the repertoire of gutter
The event is also central. It sets the framew
. . ork for Waitingfor Godot,
ill which two distinct vision
s are opposed to one another. M: She was not convinced. I might have known. I smell her off you, she
On the one hand, that of Po zzo, for whom
�. time does not exist, meaning kept saying. There was no answer to this. So I took her in my arms and
�hat ife can be dissolved in an incessantly repeated and ince swore I could not live without her. I meant it, what is more. Yes, I am sure
ssantly self­
identical pure point:
I did. She did not repulse me.

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! W I : Judge then of my astonishment when one fine morning, as I was
When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day like any other sitting stricken in the morning room, he slunk in, fell on his knees before
day, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, me, buried his face in my lap and . . . confessed
one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, (CDW, p. 309; SP, p. 149).126

72 73
- -�-- - -- - - - - - - -----
. -. - -

Al ai n Ba d i o u On Beckett r-
-------�" ,, '

---_ l Alain Bad i o u On Beckett '"

the characters in persevering in their being, in maintaining -

1 1 I : l l l i tested by
We have shown how nostalgia, which gives rise to calm blocks of 1 1 1I1 1t: hell or high water - a principle of desire, a vital power that circumstances
beauty within the prose, haunts Krapp s Last Tape. But even a text as harsh .ITIIl to render illegitimate or impossible at each and every instant.
and impenetrable as Endgame can sometimes open up to the metaphor of The handicap is not a pathetic metaphor for the human condition. Comic
the inventions of childhood: I Ill'alre swarms with libidinous blind figures, with impotent old men
I l·tt:ntlessly following their passions, with battered but triumphant maid-slaves,
Then babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns himself into IV i I h imbecilic youths, with crippled megalomaniacs . . . It is in this " "

children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper together, in the dark '-;lI"Ilivalesque heritage that we must situate Winnie, buried up to her neck
(CDW, p. 126; E, p. 70). 127 alld singing the praises of the happy day; Hamm - blind, paralytic and mean
hi tterly playing out his uncertain part to the very end without faltering; or
As for love, conceived as what a 'tormentor' and a 'victim' are capable I lit: duo of Vladimir and Estragon, amused and revived by a mere nothing, 1, '1,
of, it is the subject of most ofthe plays, and it must be noted that the couple, '
l"!nnally capable as they are of keeping the 'appointment'. "

or the pair, forms its basic unit. Willie and Winnie in Happy Days, Hamm Beckett must be played with the most intense humour, taking advantage
and Clov (flanked by Nagg and Nell) in Endgame, Vladimir and Estragon ()f" the enduring variety of inherited theatrical types. It is only then that the
(flanked by Pozzo and Lucky) in Waitingfor Godot. .. Even Krapp forms a I rllc destination of the comical emerges: neither a symbol nor a metaphysics
duo with his magnetic tape, pairing up with his own past.

I I I disguise, and even less a derision, but rather a powerful love for human I,'
What's more, this is where the singularity of Beckett's theatre can ( )bstinacy, for tireless desire, for humanity reduced to its stubbornne ss and I"I I'!'

perhaps be seen to reside. There is theatre only so long as there is dialogue,

malice. Beckett's characters are these anonymous figures of human toil which I,
discord and discussion between two characters, and Beckett's ascetic method I hc comedy renders at once interchangeable and irreplaceable. This is indeed
I, :I restricts theatre to the possible effects of the Two. The display ofthe unlimited I hc meaning of Vladimir's exalted tirade:

resources of the couple - even when it is aged, monotonous and almost

'I despicable - and the verbal capture of all the consequences of duality are It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are
Beckett's fundamental theatrical operations. If these duettists have often been needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all
compared to clowns, it is precisely because in the circus one already ignores mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears!
situations or intrigues, exposition or denouement; what matters is the But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we
production of a powerfully physical inventory ofthe extreme figures of duality like it or not (CDW, p. 74; WG, p. 90).128
(symbolised by the juxtaposition of Auguste and the white clown). This
physical immediacy is very evident in Beckett's theatre, in which the stage On the stage, embodied by couples acting out all the postures of visible
directions that describe the postures and gestures of the characters occupy humanity, two by two, for the laughter of all, we have this 'here and now'
as much, if not more, space than the text itself. Besides, let us not forget that which gathers us together and authorises thought to grasp that anyone is the I
Beckett was always tempted by mime, as testified by Acts Without Words cqual of anyone else [n 'importe qui est / 'egal de n 'importe qUI] .
( 1 957). Doubtless, we will never know 'who' Godot is, but it is enough that he I
From this point of view, Beckett is indisputably the only serious writer is the emblem of everyone's obstinate desire for something to happen.
of the last century to belong to a major tradition within comic theatre: However, when Pozzo asks: 'Who are you?' , one easily understands - in the
contrasted duos, anachronistic costumes (falsely 'posh' outfits, bowler hats, lineage of Aristophanes and Plautus, of Moliere and Goldoni, but also of
etc.), sequences of skits rather than the development of an intrigue, trivialities, Chaplin - why Vladimir will respond in the following way (which, as Beckctt
insults and scatology, parodies oflofty language (in particular philosophical notes in the directions, provokes a silence):
language) indifferent to any verisimilitude, and above all the relentlessness

74 75

-" "----"'''--'''-
A l a i n Ba d i o u On Be ckett r-----"
A l a i n B a d i ou On Beckett
"''''' -----

, :ack the little fables of above littIe scenes a little blue infernal homes.
We are men (CDW, p. 76 ; W G , p . 54) .129
( 1 1 1 1 , p. 140; HII US, p. 128)132

. without
I �ut when it is seized by beauty thiS acceptabl e m aten. aI 0[ a I
. ?. ls lt such a godsend, meanIng?)
1 1 1 , - ; l I l ing (and why would hfe have a meamng
1 1 . B e a u ty, A g a i n f
. h weakne ss,
" I I . I i l lS a super-existence comparable to a th t 0 gaIaXles, .
1ll wh'IC the
. . ' .
l I ' pt'l i tion and obstmacy of hfe, disappears, becommg nothOmg more man
Despair, you say? I am rem ind ed of this Illagnific C:;<:::::�-:: llt .
pa ss ag e from th ical ascesls, the
I II I I l i t of light in the di of bei
m ng. At e en d of the meth od
Malone Dies, in which pro se attains cadences that recal I the writings of the
I , . 1 1 ( )wing happens, which is entirely comp arable to the emergence of
( ; It 'at Bear at the end of Mallanne s Coup de des: '

The horror-worn eye s linger abject on all they have bes eec h. :od so long, in Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All
a last prayer, the true prayer at last, the o ne that asks for noth ing . And it is least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bouuosof
then a little breath of fulfillment revives the dead longings a=-:3d a munnur
boundless void (WH, pp. 46-47; NO, p. 1 1 6). 133
is born in the silent world, reproaching you affectionately vvith hav ing
despaired too late (T, p. 278 ; TN, p. 277) .130 c e
For Beckett, like for Mall arme , it is false that no thing wlll tak
' e pl a
h i l i the place ' . Existence is not dlsso ' the anonymlty o[the dlnI. N
. Ived III '

But if it is best to de spair at the right m om en t, i s it n �t the

be caus e what n " t ensIaved to
grants our wishes relieves us for an instant from the tiring co I l l ore does it coincide with sohpslsm.
. ' A d '
nelther IS I
�c em of prayer? su ose d
rclationship with others and to imprescriptible laws be they the pp
Never to ask for anything , this is B eckett 's forem os t demarr..

sa I
his prose com es from this motivation, that we not as k an
] Th e beauty of _

I ; I ws of desire or of love . Love, which as Malone says, is t o be 'rega rd a I ,

/thing frOID the k i nd of lethal glue' (T, p. 264; TN, p. 262).134 I

prose itself other than to remain as clo se as po ssi ble to that v Thich, in the last
It happens that something happen . s That som eth
m g h ap p ens to u s. Art' s I.,II ,
analysis, makes up each and every exi ste nc e: on th e one � .
and, the ellp l ty 1 1 1 ission is to shelter these po mts of exceptIO. n fi
rom w h'IC h tru th proc eeds , to II
stage of being, the half-light where everything is pla ye d out" but which i ts e lf n reco nstitu ted f abnc
of our I.
m ake them shine and retain e th m stellar i the
doe s not pla y a role; and, on the other, the events that sudde1: - - '

e ly p opulate th e
stage ofb eing, like stars in anonymous place s, hol e s in the d __ patience. I

as a sort
stant canvas o f The
This is a painstaking task. e lem ent o f beau ty is nec essary, I
the theatre of the world.
The enduring patience of life and pro se only exis t s Ie== r of diffuse light within words, a subter ranean ligh ting th at I have nam �
ed t e
the inunortal esS Ity m
arousal o f what fixes in be aut y the po ssi bil ity o f an en
l aten t poem of prose. A rhythm, a lew rar coIours, a con tr0 lied nec I
<1 , b o th a s the o o e to I
the images, the slow construction of a world fash ione d s o as to all w n
interruption of the half-light and as the conjoi ne d finalitie s th
<> �C e x is te n c e and ho le trU
see - in a far-away point - the pm
. hoIe th at saves us. through tfis II


and courage come to us. I' ,


These patiences are no t in themselves de serving of our ..;; .re to


;;:: �ontempt . L ik e es
Beckett fulfilled his task. He set the poe
out m of the tire less d l I

in How It Is, there is always 'the blu e there was then the whit: ·
� dust ' (HII, p.

think. I
78; HII US, p. 70),13 1 but there is also: .
Without doubt this is because e was lIke Moran mMo/lo),
h , w
bo al so '
. I

needed the element of beauty. Beauty, whose Kantian definition Moran IS

[ . . . ] the j ourney the couple the abandon when the whole tale :is told the
w e l l aware of, as the following remark amusingly testi fies:

tonnentor you are said to have had then lost the journey you said to '
have made the victim yo u are sai d to have had the n lost the 1
=--na ges the
For it was only by transferring it to this atmosphere, how shall I say, of
,I ,
I' ..

I .


77 ,



! •
-�-� ----- - - ----.--
. >=�- -- - -- -�-� -� ---
I 'I'

I ".I I,

�" ! I I

A la i n Ba d i o u On

Beckett r-
-- Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett

�,ack the little fables of above little scenes a little blue infernal homes.
We are men (CDW, p. 76; WG, p. 54). 129
( l l ll, p. 140; HII US, p. 128Y32

But when it is seized by beauty this acceptable material of a life without

I I walling (and why would life have a meaning? Is it such a godsend, meaning?)
1 1 . B e a u ty, A g a i n 111 1 : 1 i liS a super-existence comparable to that of galaxies, in which the weakness,
H ' pdition and obstinacy of life, disappears, becoming nothing more than a
Despair, you say? I am reminded of this magnificent passage from
p i l i I I ! of light in the dim of being. At the end of the methodical ascesis, the
Malone Dies, in which prose attains cadences that recall the writings of
I l l i l owing happens, which is entirely comparable to the emergence of the
( I reat Bear at the end of Mallarrn6's Coup de des:

The horror-worn eyes linger abject on all they have beseeched so long, in
Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All
a last prayer, the true prayer at last, the one that asks for nothing. And it is
least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bounds of
then a little breath of fulfillment revives the dead longings and a murmur
boundless void (WH, pp. 46-47; NO, p. 1 1 6).1 33
is born in the silent world, reproaching you affectionately with having
despaired too late (T, p. 278; TN, p. 277).1 30
For Beckett, like for Mallarrne, it is false that 'nothing will take place
hut the place' . Existence is not dissolved in the anonymity of the dim. No , .
But if it is best to despair at the right moment, is it
not because what II
I IlOre does it coincide with solipsism. And neither is it enslaved to the
grants our wishes relieves us for an instant from the
tiring concern ofprayer? rciationship with others and to imprescriptible laws - be they the supposed ,

Never to ask for anything, this is Beckett's foremos


t demand. The beauty of laws of desire or of love. Love, which as Malone says, is to be 'regarded as a

his prose comes from this motivation, that we no

t ask anything from the k i nd oflethal glue' (T, p. 264; TN, p. 262).134
prose itself other than to remain as close as possible to
that which, in the last ,I" ,

It happens that something happens. That something happens to us. Art's

analysis , makes up each and every existence : on
the one hand, the empty
stage of being, the half-light where everything is play
ed out, but which itself
Illission is to shelter these points of exception from which truth proceeds, to I' !
I llake them shine and retain them - stellar - in the reconstituted fabric of our
does not play a role; and, on the other, the events th
at suddenly populate the patience.

stage of being, like stars in anonymous places, holes

in the distant canvas of This is a painstaking task. The element of beauty is necessary, as a sort ,
the theatre of the world. ,

o f diffuse light within words, a subterranean lighting that I have named the
The enduring patience of life and prose only exist
s for the immortal latent poem of prose. A rhythm, a few rare colours, a controlled necessity in ,

arousal of what fixes in beauty the po ss ib ility ,

of an end, both as the the images, the slow construction of a world fashioned so as to allow one to
interruption of the half-light and as the conj oined ,

finalities of existence and see - in a far-away point - the pinhole that saves us: through this hole truth
.I �


and courage come to us.

These patiences are not in themselves deserving of
our contempt. Like Beckett fulfilled his task. He set out the poem of the tireless desire to
in How It Is, there is always 'the blue there was then
the white dust' (HII, p. think.
78 ; HI I U S, p. 70 ), 1 3 1 but there is also: .
Without doubt this is because he was like Moran in Molloy, who also
needed the element of beauty. Beauty, whose Kantian definition Moran is
[ . . . ] the journey the couple the abandon when the whole tale is told the
well aware of, as the following remark amusingly testifies:
tormentor you are said to have had then lost the journey you are said to
have made the victim you are said to have had then lost the images the
For it was only by transferring it to this atmosphere, how shall I say, of

76 77
----�------- ------ -- - -- "

---- '"
------- ,
------- ;'1


Al a i n Ba d i o u On Be ckett r--------------.... ---------ll..:.A:::I� k_ ___ ,il l

finality without end, why not, that I could venture to consider the work I
had on hand [Ie travail a executer] (T, p. 1 12; TN, p. 1 1 1 ). 1 35

Beckett, for us who hardly dare to, took this work into consideration.
The slow and sudden execution of the Beautiful. , ,II
' Ii ,

! '
Translated by Nina Power
Revised by Alberto Toscano
B e ing, Existence, Thought:
P rose a n d C o n ce p t1 36

C ri t i ca l B i b l i o g ra p h y to 'Ti re l ess D e s i re '

BATAILLE, Georges, 'Le silence de Molloy', Critique 5 8 ( 1 95 1 ) ['Molloy's

Silence', in Samuel Beckett 's Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable,
ed. by Harold Bloom (London: Chelsea House Publishers, 1 98 8), pp. " I'
, "

" ;

1 3-2 1 ] .
BECKETT, Samuel Cahiers de I 'Herne (Paris: Livre de poche, 1 976). .i

BLANCHOT, Maurice, 'OU maintenant? Qui maintenantT ,NR.F. 1 0 ( 1 953),

reprinted in Le Livre a venir (Gallimard) [The Book to Come, trans. by !I'

Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)]. ,

DELEUZE, Gilles, 'L'Epuise', introduction to Quad (Paris: Minuit, 1 992)

['The Exhausted', inEssays Critical and Clinical, trans. by Daniel Smith
(London: Verso, 1 997), pp. 1 52- 1 74].
MAURIAC, Claude, L 'Alitterature Contemporaine (Paris: Albin Michel, u a g e s a n d t h e S h o rt h a n d o f
a ) T h e B e tw e e n - La n g ,
1 969) [The New Literature, trans. by Samuel I. Stone (New York: Bei n g
George Braziller, 1 959), pp. 75-90] .
MAYOUX, Jean-Jacques, ' Samuel Beckett et l'univers parodique' ,Les Lettres Samuel Beckett wrote Worstward Ho in 1 982 and published it in 1 983.
nouvelles 6 ( 1 960), reprinted in Vivantspiliers (Julliard, 1 960) [' Samuel I t is together with Stirrings Still, a testamental text. Beckett did not translate
Beckett and Universal Parody' , in Samuel Beckett: A Collection of �
it in o French so that Worstward Ho expresses the real ofthe English language
Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1 965), pp. 77- :
as Samuel B ckett's mother-tongue. To my knowledge, all of his texts � tten
9 1 ]. in French were translated by Beckett himself into English.137 There are mst� ad
SIMON, Alfred, Samuel Beckett (Paris: Belfond, 1 983). some texts written in English that he did not translate into French, and WhICh,

for this exceptional artist of the French language, are akin �o t e remnants of
something more originary within English. Nevertheless, It IS Said that Samuel
Beckett considered this text 'untranslatable ' . We can therefore say that II


78 I
- ---- . �------- " -

I, "I
Al a i n Ba d i o u On Becke tt r------------ c".41'
Ala i n B a d i o u On Beckett

This is
Worstward Ho is tied to the English language in such a singular manner that 1111111 lis configuration, whilst, for III Seen III Sa id, the opposite is true.
wa rd Ho co nc eptua lly wi tho ut the reb y be tra yin g
its linguistic migration proves particularly arduous. \\ i i I wc can appro ach Wo rst
tog eth er a tab le of co nte nts for the en tirety of
Since in this essay we will study the French version of the text, WI.) i I : ; l l Ioe it all ow s us to pu t
above all,
cannot consider it in terms of its literal poetics. The French text we are dealing I I " l et L's wo rk , it is en tirely ap po sit e to tre at thi s text as if it we re,
I, ,I'
rth an d of the qu est ion of be ing . W ha t we wi ll ,
with, which is altogether remarkable, is not exactly by Samuel Beckett. II a sho

rI Iw l work of thought or
tio n - wh at 1 ca lle d the 'rhyth m' - is the fig ure of sca ns ion
belongs in part to Edith Fournier, the translator. We cannot immediately I"" ,' i ll this opera
seg me nts are ge ne ral ly ex treme ly br ief : ju st a few wo rd s), that
approach the signification of this text by way of its letter, for it really is a ( I I ,,' l i nguistic
t an d wh ich , in En glish, is
translation. 1 3 8 1 ' 0 . I he steno gra ph ic figur e be lon gin g to the tex
n wi thi n the lan gu ag e wh ich is altog eth er un iqu e.
In Beckett's case, the problem oftranslation is complex, since he himself 1 1 1; l lc hed by a kind of pu lsa tio
was situated at the interval of two languages. The question of knowing which

text translates which is an almost undecidable one. Nevertheless, Beckett

always called the passage from one language to another a 'translation', even b ) S ay i n g , B e i n g , T h o u g h t
if, upon closer inspection, there are significant differences between the French
and English 'variants' , differences bearing not only on the poetics oflanguage, Cap au pire (an admirable French translation for the title of Worstward
but on its philosophical tone. There is a kind of humorous pragmatism in the " ) presents us with an extremely dense plot, organised - like in all the later

English text that is not exactly present in the French, and there is a conceptual I lL:ckett - into paragraphs. A first reading shows us that this plot develops ,,
, 'I
� ,

l our central conceptual themes into their respective questions (I will explain
I sincerity to the French text which is softened and sometimes, in my view, ,
I, ! just a bit watered down in the English. In Worstward Ho, we have an absolutely I I I a moment what must be understood by 'question'). Ii'
English text, with no French variant, on the one hand, and a translation in the The first theme is the imperative of saying. This is a very old Beckettian I
usual sense, on the other. Hence the obligation of finding support for our I hcme, the most recognisable but in certain regards also the most unrecognised ,I
argument in the meaning rather than the letter. o r his themes. The imperative of saying is the prescription of the 'again',

A second difficulty derives from the fact that this text is - in an absolutely II nderstood as the incipit of the written text, and determining it as a
conscious fashion - a recapitulatory text, that is, one takes stock of the whole continuation. In Beckett, to commence is always to 'continue '. Nothing
of Samuel Beckett's intellectual enterprise. To study it thoroughly it would commences which is not already under the prescription of the again or ofre­
be necessary to show how it is woven out of a dense network of allusions to commencing, under the supposition of a commencement that itself never ---


prior texts, as well as of returns to their theoretical hypotheses to be re­ _

commenced. We can thus say that the text is circumscribed by the imperative
examined, possibly contradicted or modified, and refined - and, moreover, o f saying. It begins by:

that it functions as a sort of filter through which the multiplicity of Beckett's

writings is made to pass, thereby reducing Beckett's work to its fundamental On. Say on. Be said on. Somehow on (p. 7; p. 89).139
hypothetical system.
Having said this, if we compound these two difficulties, it is entirely And ends by:
pOSSIble to take Worstward Ho as a short philosophical treatise, as a treatment
in shorthand ofthe question ofbeing. Unlike the earlier texts, it is not governed Said nohow on (p. 47; p. 1 1 6). 1 40 ,

by a sort oflatent poem. It is not a text that penetrates into the singularity and ,,
power of comparison that belong to language - like III Seen III Said, for Therefore, we can also sunnnarise Worstward Ho by the passage from i
'Be said on' to ' Said nohow on'. The text presents the possibility ofthe 'nohow II
example. It maintains a very deliberate and abstract dryness, which is offset, ',
on' as a fundamental alteration ofthe 'on'. The negation ('nohow') attests to
especially in the English original, by an extreme attention to rhythm. We
the fact that there is no more 'on'. But in truth, given the 'be said', the
could thus say that as a text it tends to offer up the rhythm of thought rather I, '

80 81 ,, '
I, '
,1'. "
A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r-
--- .
l....:.A�I a i n B a d i o u O
_ n Be_c_
k_e -
tt il ,.

. :..:...:...-.: =-
.: :..::..::.:.. =---: _ _ _ -

'nohow on ' is a variant of the 'on ' and remains constraine .

d by the imperativll , 1 II I I d y of what appears, as follows: a void infested by shades. This manner
of saying.
1 1 1 ; l l l il � void has of being infested by shades means that it is reduced to being
The second theme - the immediate and mandatory corre
late of the firsl I I II ' figure of an interval amongst the shades. But let us not forget that this
throughout Beckett's work - is that of pure being, of the
'there is' as such. 1 I I I nvai amongst the shades is ultimately nothing but the dim, what returns
The imperative of saying is immediately correlated to tha
t about which there I I : : I ( ) the dim as the archi-original exposition of being.
is something to say, in other words, the 'there is' itself.
Besides the fact that We can also say that the inscribed in being - the shades - is what allows
there is the imperative of saying, there is the ' there is' .
1 1 ,;,. 1 1 " to be counted. The science of number - of the number of shades - is a
The 'there is' , or pure being, has two names and not ju
st one: the void 1 I I I HIamental theme in Beckett. What is not being as such, but is instead
and the dim. This is a problem of considerable importa
nce. Let us note at I II ' Iposed or inscribed in being, is what lets itself be counted, what pertai�s to
once that with respect to these two names - void and dim
- we discern, or at p i mality, what is ofthe order of number. Number is obviously not an attnbute
least appear to discern, a subordination: the void is subord
inated to the dim in , 1 1 · 1 he void or the dim: void and dim do not let themselves be counted. Instead, "
the exercise ofdisappearance, which constitutes the essen
tial testing ground ,I ,

I I is the inscribed in being that lets itself be counted. It lets itself be counted
[plan d 'epreuve] of Worstward Ho . The maxim is the follo
wi ng: pri Illordially: 1 , 2, 3 .
A last variant: the inscribed in being is what can worsen. 'Worsening' - ,
Void cannot go [Disparition du vide ne se peut] . Save dim go. Then all go
(p. 1 8 ; p. 9 7). 1 41
; 1 1 1 essential theme in W orstward Ho, where worsening is one of the text's
I adieal operations - means, amongst other things, but above all, to be iller i
:::Iid than said before [etre plus mal dit que deja ditl
I' !
Once it is obliged to prove itself through the crucial ordeal of
Under this multiplicity of attributes - what is apparent in the dim, what
disappearance, the void has no autonomy. It is dependent on the disappearance ,
n Hlstitutes an interval with respect to the void, what lets itself be counted,
.! !

of the all, which is, as such, the disappearance ofthe dim. If the 'all go' - i.e
wllat is susceptible to worsening or to being iller said than said - there is the i
the ' there is' thought as nothingness - is named by the dim, the void is
l',cneric name: 'the shades ' . We can say that the shades are what is exposed in 1'I"
necessarily a subordinate nomination. Ifwe accept that the 'there is' is what ,!

IItc dim. The shades are the exposed plural of the 'there is' , which manifests
is there in the ordeal of its own nothingness, the fact that disappearance is i
it sclf here under the name of dim. "I
subordinated to the disappearance of the dim makes 'dim' into the eminent
In Worstward Ho, the presentation of shades will be minimal: the count
name of being.
will go up to three. We shall see why it can go no lower. Categorially, once
The third theme is what could be referred to as ' the inscribed in being' .
.you count what lets itself be counted, you must at least count to three.
This is a question of what is proposed from the standpoint of being [du point
The first shade is the standing shade, which counts as one. In truth, it is
de l'etre], or again, a question about what appears in the dim. The inscribed
the one . The standing shade will also be found ' kneeling' - these
is what the dim as dim arranges within the order of appearance.
metamorphoses should elicit no surprise - or 'bowed' . These are different
Insofar as 'dim' is the eminent name of being, the inscribed is what
Ilames. They are not so much states as names. Of this shade that counts as
appears in the dim. But one can also say that it is what is given in an interval
one, it is said - from page 34 ( 1 08) on - that it is an old woman:
of the void. This is because things will be pronounced upon according to the
two possible names of the 'there is' . On the one hand, there is what appears .
Nothmg to show a woman' s and yet a woman'S .1 42
in the dim, what the dim allows to appear as a shade - as a shade in the dim
[I 'ombre dans la penombre] . On the other, there is what makes the void appear
And Beckett immediately adds (this will be clarified later):
as an interval, in the gap of what appears, and consequently as a corruption of
the void - if the void is determined as being nothing but difference or .
Oozed from softenmg soft the word woman s.1 43

separation. This explains how Beckett could name the universe, that is, the I

82 83

� --- - --
- ----- - - - ----- ------ ---


--- - -" ,




I a_in_
l�A__ _

A l a i n B a d i o u On Becke tt r---·-- ,

e) is th e fo ca l po in t or th e re co lle ct io n
" I I I I \\! i ng that thought (the fourth them
These are the fundamental attributes of the one: the one is the kneeling st th em e) an d of th e ar ra ng em en t of vi si bl e
I I I I I IC imperative of saying (the fir ,

shade and it is a woman. (th ird th em e) - w ha t ca n th ou gh t sa y ab out 'I


h l l l ll: lI1 ity - that is, of the shades


Then there is the pair, which counts as two. The pair is the sole shade e qu es tio n of be in g? T hi s pr ov id es th e
1 1 1 1 ' second theme, that is , about th ,I
that counts as two. Beckett will say: 'Two free and two as one' - one shade. th e te xt as a w ho le . Th e ph ilo so ph ic al ! ,
� nd once the pair is named, it is established that the shades which constitute
I I I < ladest possible organisation for
: w ha t ca n be pr on ou nc ed ab ou t

I I I 1st ruction of the question will go lik e th is

It are an old man and a child. th e va nt ag e po in t of th ou gh t, in w hi ch the
t i ll' ' there is ' qua 'there is ' fr om ,

Let us remark that the one is not called woman until much later whilst tio n of th e sh ad es (i .e . th e ci rc ul at io n ,
I I l 1 perative of saying and the modifica
the two is named 'old man and child' right away. What will be sai later d "I vi sible humanity) are given simultane
!, :

instead, is tha� nothing has proven that we were indeed dealing with an ol d In the figural register of W or stw ar d H o, th ou gh t is re pr es en te d by a 'j

man a�d a chlld. In all these instances - with regard to the question of the of 'th e sku ll ' . T he he ad is re pe atedly
� . 1 1(' ad . One will speak of 'th e he ad ' or
etermmatlO�s 'man', 'woman', ' child' - nothing provides proof, and yet it it is re fe rr ed to in th is w ay , it is be ca us e !

( ai led the ' seat and germ of all.' If


IS the case. SImply put, the modality of saying is not the same for the one­ th e sh ad es ex is t fo r th e he ad , an d it is in th e
I H It h the imperative of saying and

wo�a� and for the two-man-child. Of the one it is not said until much later ,I
lil�ad th at the qu es tio n of be in g ta ke s pl ac e.
that It IS an old wom�n, whilst the composition of the pair is immediately ti on of th ou gh t? If re du ce d to it s ab so lutely
What is the composi
declared (old �a�-chtld); the crucial statement returns: nothing proves that, to th e pr oc ed ur e of si m pl ifi ca tio n w hi ch
. pr imordial constituents - according
and yet. ThIS mdlcates that the masculine sexuated position is evident and d - th er e is th e vi si bl e an d th er e is the
� � ('o nstitutes B eckett' s organic m et ho
t at the impo ssibility of proving it is difficult to understand. On the con rary, is ' ill se en ill sa id '. T hi s is th ou gh t: 'il l seen ill
. i I Ilp erative of saying. There
�1�ce the femmme sexuated position is not evident, the impossibility ofproving
th at th e pr es en ta tio n of th e he ad w ill be es sentially
sa id ' . It follows from this
It IS. nd , an d to it s br ai n, oo zi ng w or ds , on th e
reduced to its eyes, on the one ha
In the pair it is obviously a question of the other, of 'the-one-and-the- 1,'1:
' ot her: two holes on a brain, this is thought.
other' . em es : th at of th e ey es an d th at of th e oo zi ng of
Hence two recurrent th
Th� other is here designated by its internal duplicity, by the fact that it r of th e br ai n. T hi s is th e m at er ia l fig ur e
. words, whose source is the soft matte
IS two. It IS a two that is the same. It is, let us say it again: 'Two free [shades]
of spirit . !,
and two as one. ' But, a contrario, it is the one that turns into two: the old man

and the chil . We must suppose that old man and child are the same man qua
Let us be more precise.
It will be said that th e ey es ar e 'c le nc he d st ar in g' . Th e 'm ov em ent' of
shade, that IS to say, human life qua shade in its extreme of infancy and its H o. It de si gn at es se ei ng as su ch . T hi s
staring is es sential to Worstward
extr��e of old age; a life given in what splits it in two, in the unity of the pair ab ru pt ju xt ap os iti on - de si gn at es pr ec is ely
'clenched staring' - obviously an
that It IS qua alterity to itself. ei ng is al w ay s an ill se ei ng , an d co ns eq ue ntly
the emblem of the ill seen. Se
In the end, we can say that the inscribed in being is visible humanity: ed star in g' .
the ey e of se ei ng is ' cl en ch
wo�an as one and as inclination, man as double in the unity of number. The tr ib ut e of th ou gh t af te r se ei ng - on e w ill
As for words - the second at
pertment ages are the extreme ones, as is always the case in Beckett: infant m in d th ey oo ze ' . T he se tw o m ax im s, the
say ' somehow from some soft
and old �an. The adult is almost an ignored category, an insignificant category. g ey es ' an d th e fa ct th at w or ds ' so m eh ow from
existence of 'clenched starin
Fmally, the fou�h theme i� thought - as is to be expected. In and by th e fo ur th th em e, th at is , th ou gh t in th e
some soft mind [ . . . ] ooze' , determine
� .
th�ug t the configuratlOns of vIsIble humanity and the imperative of saying
modality of ex iste nc e repr es en te d by th e sk ul l.
eXIst sImultaneously. su pp le m en tary
, 'II
no te th at th e sk ul l is a
� It is of capital importan ce to , "

T ought is the recollection of the first and third themes: there is the e of fe m in in e in cl in at io n an d th e ,!
. shade. The skull makes thre e, besides th e on
ay s
Imperative of saying, there is the inscribed in being, and this is 'for' and ' in' e ol d m an an d th e ch ild . T ho ug ht al w
other - in the guise of the pair - of th
thought. Let us note right away that Beckett's question is the following one:


-------' 'I' ,

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r---

-.:.�:::..:.. On_
n B a d i�
l AI a i � .:. B
:...::...:::..: _k
ec _t_t___!ili'
_e i

required is the possibility that something appear in its being. This possibility ',ncs, woman and man. I
, ",,

is not constituted by the void, which is instead the name of being qua being. These are the constitutive relations of the shades that populate the dim i,

The name of being qua possibility of appearance is ' dim' .146 , 1 1 11 1 infest the void. ,' I!
; I
The dim is being to the extent that a question can be formulated as to A parenthesis: there is a point, only alluded to in Worstward Ho, which
the being of being, that is, to the extent that being is exposed to the question I : ; I levertheless crucial; it is that, as we have seen, the sexes are without proof.
qua reserve of being for appearance [ressource d 'etre de l 'apparaftre] . Morc specifically, they are the only thing to be without proof. The fact that " "I
This is why there must be two names (void and dim) and not just one. I h is shade turns out to be old woman or old man, this is always without
Ii ,

For a question to be, being must have two names. Heidegger saw this too, in I 'roof, whilst nevertheless being certain. This means that, for Beckett, the
his concepts of Sein and Seiende. d i I Terentiation of the sexes is, at one and the same time, absolutely certain
The second condition for a question is that there be thought. A skull­ ;Illli absolutely beyond proof. This is why I can call it a pure disjunction. ,
thought, let us call it. Skull-thought is an ill seeing and an ill saying or a Why a pure disjunction? It is certain that there is 'woman' and there is
" ,
clenched staring eye and an oozing of names. But, and this point is essential, , !llan' - in this case the old woman and the old man - but this certainty does I !
,, '
the skull-thought is itselfexposed. It is not subtracted from the exposition of l Iot let itselfbe deduced or inferred on the basis of any particular predicative
being. It is not simply definable as that for which there is being - it participates I ra it. It is therefore a pre-linguistic certainty, in the sense that it can be said,
in being as such, it is caught in its exposition. In Beckett's vocabulary one hilt that this saying does not in turn have any other saying as its source. It is
will say that the head (seat and terminus of all) or the skull are in the dim. Or a lirst saying. One can say that there are woman and man, but at no time can
that skull-thought is the third shade. Or, again, that the skull-thought lets (mc infer this from another saying, and in particular not from a descriptive,
itself be counted in the uncountable dim. ( l r empirical, saying.

Does this not leave us exposed to an infinite regress? If thought as such

co-belongs with being, where is the thought of this co-belonging? From where
is it said that the head is in the dim? It seems that we are on the edge of the e ) Be i n g a n d Exi ste n ce ,
necessity - if one can hazard this expression - of a meta-head. One must
count four, and then five, and so on to infinity. Under these relations - of the one and the two, of the extremes of age,
The protocol of closure is given by the cogito; it is necessary to admit and of the sexes - the shades attest not to being but to existence. What is
that the head is counted by the head, or that the head sees itself as head. Or cxistence, and what distinguishes it from being?
again, that it is for the clenched staring eye that there is a clenched staring Existence is the generic attribute ofwhat is capable of worsening. What
eye. Here lies the Cartesian thread running through Beckett's thought. Beckett can worsen exists. 'Worsening ' is the active modality of any exposition to
never denied this thread, which is present from the beginning of his work, the seeing of the clenched staring eye and to the oozing of words. This
but in Worstward Ho it is identified as a kind of halting rule which alone exposition is existence. Or, perhaps at a more fundamental level, what exists
allows thatjor which there is the dim to also be in the dim. is what lets itself be encountered. Being exists when it is in the guise of the
Finally, and still remaining within the register ofthe minimal conditions encounter. I
Neither void nor dim designate something that can be encountered, !
for a question, there must be - besides the 'there is' and the skull-thought ­ ,

inscriptions of shade within the dim. because every encounter is under two conditions: on the one hand, that there
Shades are ruled by three relations. First, that of the one or the two, or be a possible interval of the void to section off what is encountered; on the
ofthe same and the other. In other terms, the relation of the kneeling one and other, that there be the dim, the exposition of everything that exposes itself.
the walking pair, taken, like Platonic categories, as figures of the same and The shades are what lets itselfbe encountered. To let oneself be encountered
the other. Second, that of the extremes of age, infancy and senescence, and to worsen are one and the same thing, and it is this that designates the
extremes which also make it so that the pair is one. Third, the relation of the existence of shades. Void and dim - the names of being - do not exist.

88 89
- ' ---


� - - ' il '

: O_
..:: u:...-: B_
:.. n_ k_
e_ l il,' I'

----------�A i o:...:


...:..::: i::..:.
I a::..:.
------ -


Ala i n Ba d i o u On Be cke tt r-------------_


- -------- �----=-:�
:. _


g Be ck ett ter ms su ch as ' ill say ing ' , 'fa ilu re ' , etc ., it is
Therefore, the minimal set-up will also be referred to as follows: being, When readin in
thought, existence. When one possesses the figures of being, thought and ep all of thi s we ll in mi nd . W ere we de ali ng wi th an em pir icist
I I " , Ts sary to ke
, ,

to wh ich lan gu ag e stick s to thi ng s wi th various

existence, or the words for this set-up, or, as Beckett would say, the words to di ll'! ri ne of langu ag e acco rd ing
uld aro us e no int ere st. M or eo ve r, the tex t its elf
ill say it - that is, when one posse sses the minimal and experimental set-up I h" ',rees of adherence , this wo
to be im po ssi ble . Th e tex t on ly fun ction s fro m the mo me nt
of saying - one can construct questions, one can set the -ward. wO llld tum out
ess ion s 'fa il' or ' ill say ' the sel f-a ffi rm ati on of the
l l ial one he ars in the ex pr
ion of say ing as go ve rn ed by its ow n ru le. Be ck ett cle arl y indicates ,
I llt:seript ,

f ) T h e Ax i o m o f S a y i n g l l i i s from the start: i,
' be mi ssa id (p. 7; p. 89).147
The text will therefore organise itselfby way ofhypotheses concerning d. Mi ssa id. From now say for
I, 'I
Say for be sai ,

the -ward, that is, the direction of thought. These hypotheses will concern I'
what binds, unbinds, or affects the triad of dim-being, shade-existence, and I! '!
:1 skull-thought. Worstward H° will treat the triad being/existence/thought under g ) T h e Te m pt at i o n i
the categories of the void, of the same and the other, of the three, and of the ,


e no rm of say ing is ca lle d

I, seeing/saying complex. The strict consequenc e of all th is is tha t th
ing aro us es
lur e pr ov ide s the no rm of say
I',! Before formulating any hypotheses, one must seek support in a certain , failure' . Of course, the fa ct tha t fai
I nt ifi es pe rfe ctl y: I,
number of axioms that establish the primary bindings or unbindings . Almost ; 1 fallacious hope wi thi n the sub jec t, a ho pe tha t Be ck ett ide

, the only axiom of Worstward Ho, which moreover generates its title, is an a ma xim al fai lur e, of an ab so lut e fai lur e tha t wo uld have the
I hc hope of
bo th lan gu ag e an d sa yin g, on ce an d for all . Th is is
old axiom of Beckett's. It is by no means invented here and perhaps even mcrit of turning you off
on , th e tem pt ati on of su btr ac tin g on es elf fro m th e
constitutes one of his oldest axioms. This axiom goes: to say is to ill say. I he shameful tempt ati
It is necessary to fully understand that 'to say is to ill say' establishes ing . Th e tem pta tio n to ha ve do ne wi th the 'on ' ; no lon ge r to
imperative of say
an essential identity. The essence of saying is ill saying. III saying is not a suffer the intolerable prescription of ill saying.
is im po ssi ble , the on ly ho pe lie s in be tra ya l: to att ain
failure of saying, but precisely the contrary: all saying is, in its very existence Since well saying
e it wo uld eli cit a tot al ab an do nm en t of the pr esc rip tio n
as saying, an ill saying. it failure so complet

The ' ill saying' is implicitly opposed to the 'well saying'. What is the hm en t of say ing an d of lan gu ag e. Th is wo uld me an the return
itself, a relinquis
: well sayin g'? 'Well saying' constitutes a hypothesis ofadequation: the saying to the void - to be vo id or em pt ied , em pt ied of all pr esc rip tio n. In the end, the
ex ist in or de r to be . In th is for m of fai lur e on e ret urn s
IS adequate to the said. But Beckett's fundamental thesis is that the saying temptation is to cease to i
pt ati on, ,,
e m ys tic al tem
that is adequate to the said suppresses saying. Saying is only a free saying, to the void, to pure be in g. Th is is wh at we co ul d ca ll th I;
and in particular an artistic saying, to the extent that it does not coalesce with wh ich it ap pe ar s in W itt ge ns tei n, in th e las t pr op os iti on of the
in the sense in
int at wh ich , sin ce it is im po ssi bl e to sp ea k, on e
the said, to the extent that it is not subject to the authority of the said. Saying Tractatus . To reach the po
t. To rea ch the po in t at wh ich the aw are ne ss tha t it is
is under the imperative of saying, it is under the imperative of the ' on', and is can only remain silen
not constrained by the said. y ' it' , tha t is, the aw ar en es s th at ' it' ha s fai led ab so lut ely,
impossible to sa
If there is no adequation, if the saying is not prescribed by 'what is yo u un de r the sw ay of an im pe ra tiv e tha t is no lon ger the
firmly places
said' but only governed by saying, then ill saying is the free essence of saying, imperative of saying but the imperative of silence. il,
or the affirmation of the prescriptive autonomy of saying. One says in order ca bu lar y th is is ca lle d ' go ing '. Go ing wh ere ? W ell , go ing
In Beckett's vo
to ill say. The apex of saying - which is poetic or artistic saying - is then nit y. In tru th, lik e Ri m ba ud Be ck ett th ink s tha t on e nevcr
away from huma
tel y th e tem pt ati on of lea vi ng hu m an ity , the
precisely the controlled regulation of ill saying, what brings the prescriptive leaves. He recognises absolu
lan gu ag e an d say ing to the po int of dis gu st. To
autonomy of saying to its culmination. temptation of failing bo th

90 91
-.--- I

Ala i n Bad i o u On Beckett ,---'--- " A la i n B a d i o u On Beckett

at is ne it he r vo id no r di m , bu t th e pu re
leave existence once and for all, to return to being. But Beckett corrects and L l k l' pl ac e. This would be a nothing th
on of th e prescr ip tion of sa yi ng .
ultimately rejects this possibility. , I lid s imple ab oliti
n the follo w in g: la ng ua ge pa rt ak es ex clusively
Here is a text in which he evokes the hypothesis of an access to going We must therefore maintai
rt ak e of th e ca pa city of th e no th in g.
and to the void by means of an excess of failure, an excess of failure that . . l l h c capacity of the least. It does
not pa
w or ds ' [d es m ot s qu i re du is en t] . O ne
would be indistinguishable from the absolute success of saying: I I ha s, as Beckett will say, 'leastening
or ds th at le as te n ar e th os e th an ks to which
ha s words that leasten, and these w
e di re ct io n of a ce nt ri ng of fa ilu re .
Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still , I I l C can hold the worstward
ho, that is , th
re ct , al lu si ve w or ds ' an d B ec ke tt 's
worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where Between Mallarm e' s 'never di
id en t. T o ap pr oa ch th e th in g th at is to be
neither for good. Good and all (p. 8; p. 90).1 48 , kastening words ' , the filiation is ev or
be sa id un de r th e gu ar an te e of sa yi ng
::a id in the awarenes s that it cannot

m is at io n of th e pr es cr ip tion of sa yi ng .

o r the thing leads to a radical autono I

This is the temptation: to go where all shade is gone, where nothing is �

la ry , it
rect, or , ac co rd in g to B ec ke tt 's vo ca bu " '

exposed to the imperative of saying any longer. ' I 'h is free saying can never be di

But in numerous passages, further on in the text, this temptation will I S a saying that leastens
, that worsens .

th e m in um um of th e be st w or se
be challenged, revoked, prohibited. For example on page 37 ( 1 1 0), where the In other words, language can expect
ia l te xt , th e on e in w hi ch th e ex pr es si on
'I idea of the 'but worse more . . . ' is declared to be inconceivable: hi lt not its abolition. Here is the essent
,I ' I castening words' also appears:
Back unsay better worse by no stretch more. If more dim less light then
Worse less. By no stretch more, Worse for want of better less. Less best.
better worse more dim. Unsaid then better worse by no stretch more. Better
No. Naught best. Best worse. No. Not best worse. Naught not best worse.
worse may no less than less be more. Better worse what? The say? The
Less best worse. No. Least. Least best worse. Least never to be naught.
said? Same thing. Same nothing. Same all but nothing.1 49
Never to naught be brought. Never by naught be nulled. Unnullable least.
Say that best worse. With leastening words say least best worse. For want
The fundamental point is that the 'throw up for good, good and all'
of worser worst. Unlessenable least best worse (pp. 3 1 -32; p. 1 06).1 50
does not exist, because every ' same nothing' is really a ' same all but nothing'.

The hypothesis ofa radical departure that would subtract us from the humanity
'Least never to be naught' is the law ofworsening. ' Say that best worse'
of the imperative the essential temptation at work in the prescription of

is the 'unnullable least' . The 'unlessenable least best worse' can never be
silence cannot succeed for ontological reasons. The ' same nothing' is really

confused with abolition pure and simple, or with the nothing. This means that
always a ' same all but nothing', or a ' same almost nothing' , but never a
the 'one must remain silent', in Wittgenstein's sense, is impracticable. We
'same nothing' as such. Thus, there are never sufficient grounds for subtracting
must hold the worstward ho. Worstward Ho: the title is an imperative, and not
oneself from the imperative of saying, in the name either of the advent of a
simply a description.
pure 'nothing' or of absolute failure. . .
The imperative of saying thus takes the guise of a constant repnse; It
belongs to the regime of the attempt, of effort, of work. The book itself wil l
h ) T h e La ws of Worse n i n g try to worsen everything that offers itself up to the oozing of wo�ds. A
considerable amount of the text is devoted to what could be called expenmcnts
From this point onwards, the fundamental law that governs the text is in 'worsening' . Worstward Ho is a protocol ofworsening, presented as a figurc
that the worst that language is capable of the worsening never lets itself
� �
of the self-affirmation of the prescription of saying. Worsening is a sovereign
be captured by the nothing. One is always in the ' same all but nothing', but procedure ofnaming in the excess offailure; it is the same as arousing thought
never at the point ofthe ' go for good', where a capture by the nothing would by 'never direct, allusive words', and carries with it the same impassablc

92 93

----- -------- -- ---


Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett o,, ' ,.. l�A__

I a_in B_a_d_i_
_ o_ _
_e ck
u_On_B _e
tt___ I 'i"
proximity to nothingness as Mallanne's poetry. void. Better worse so. Pending worse stilU5 1
Worsening, which is the exercise of language in its artistic tension,
takes place through two contradictory operations. What in fact is worsening? The deployment of names that marks out this first shade with a great
It is the exercise of the sovereignty of saying with respect to the shades. I H I mber of subtractive attributes is, at the same time, its leastening or reduction.

Therefore, it is both saying more about them and restricting what is said. l i s reduction to what? Well, to what should be named a mark of the one [un "
This is why the operations are contradictory. Worsening is saying more about imit d 'un], a mark that would give the shade with nothing else besides. The
less. More words to better leasten. words demanded for this mark are 'bowed back' . A simple curve. Nothing
Whence the paradoxical aspect of worsening, which is really the I )ut a curve, such would be the ideality of the 'worse still' ; knowing that
substance of the text. In order to leasten 'what is said' so that - with regard to l Ilore words are needed in order to make such a curve arise, because words "I
this purging [epuration] - failure may become more manifest, it will be alone operate the leastening. We can thus say that an operation of nominal
necessary to introduce new words. These words are not additions - one does ()ver-abundance - over-abundance always being relative in Beckett - aims
not add, one does not make sums - but one must say more in order to leasten, hcre at an essential leastening.
and thus one must say more in order to subtract. Here lies the constitutive This is the law of worsening: one cuts the legs, the head, the coat, one
operation of language. To worsen is to advance the ' saying more' in order to (;uts all that one can, but each cut is in truth centred on the advent - by way of
leasten. supplementary subtractive details - of a pure mark. One must supplement so
as to purge the last mark of failure.
And now the worsening exercise of the two: ,

i ) E x e rc i s e s i n Wo rse n i n g ,

Next two. From bad to worsen. Try worsen. From merely bad. Add -. I ,

The text lavishly multiplies worsening exercises over the entire Add? Never. The boots. Better worse bootless. Bare heels. Now the two
phenomenal field of shades, over the configuration of generic humanity. These right. Now the two left. Left right left right on. Barefoot unreceding on.
can be briefly categorised as follows: Better worse so. A little better worse than nothing so (p. 23; p. 100).152
- worsening the one, or, worsening the kneeling woman;
- worsening the two, or, worsening the pair of the old man and the The boots - there aren't many names like 'boots' in this piece, whose
child; texture is extremely abstract. When there are such names, it is a sure sign that
- worsening the head, or, worsening the eyes, the oozing brain, and the we are dealing with a risky operation. In a moment we will see this with a
skull. (;oncrete and essential word, the irruption of 'graveyard'. Nevertheless, the
These are the three shades that constitute the phenomenal detenninations boot, which appears all of a sudden, is only there in order to be crossed out,
of shade. crased: 'The boots. Better worse bootless.'
Worsening the one: this is the exercise that occupies page 2 1 (99): A part of things is only given so as to fail, to be crossed out; it only
(;omes to the surface of the text so as to be subtracted; here lies the
First one. First try fail better one. Something there badly not wrong. Not wntradictory nature of the operation. The logic of worsening, which is the
that as it is it is not bad. The no face bad. The no hands bad. The no-. logic of the sovereignty of language, equates addition and subtraction.
Enough. A pox on bad. Mere bad. Way for worse. Pending worse still. Mallanne did not proceed otherwise. Mallanne, for whom the very act of the
First worse. Mere worse. Pending worse still. Add a-. Add? Never. Bow it poem consists in bringing about the emergence of an object (swan, star, rose . . . )
down. Be it bowed down. Deep down. Head in hat gone. More back gone. whose arrival imposes its own tennination. Beckett's 'boot' is the support­
Greatcoat cut off higher. Nothing from pelvis down. Nothing but bowed tenn of such an act.
back. Topless baseless hindtrunk. Dim black. On unseen knees. In the dim Finally, worsening the head. This passage concerns the eyes (rc(;al l

94 95
-- -

- - -- --- - - -

Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----- - l�A

__ o_u_On
I a_in_ __B
e__e_t_t___ "i"
that the skull is composed of eyes on a brain): For Beckett, the courage oftruth could not come from the idea that we
w i l l be repaid by silence or by a successful coincidence with being itself. We
The eyes. Time to try worsen. Somehow try worsen. Unclench. Say staring have seen this already: there will be no termination of saying, no advent of
open. All white and pupil. Dim white. White? No. All pupil. Dim black t he void as such. The on cannot be effaced.
holes. Unwavering gaping. Be they so said. With worsening words. From So, where does courage come from? For Beckett, courage comes from
now so. Better than nothing so bettered for the worse (p. 27; p. 1 03).1 53 tile fact that words have the tendency to ring true. An extreme tension, which
perhaps constitutes Beckett's vocation as a writer, results from the fact that
The logic of the writing in this passage is altogether typical. On the courage pertains to a quality of words that is contrary to their use in worsening.
basis of the syntagm ' clenched staring' - whose meaning I 've already ' I 'here is something like an aura of correspondence in words from which
discussed - we have the attempt at an opening. We will pass from 'clenched ( paradoxically) we draw the courage to break with correspondence itself,
staring' to ' staring open', which is a semantically homogenous datum. 'Open' that is, to hold worstward.
will in tum give us white, and white will be terminated, giving us black. This The courage of effort is always drawn out against its own destination.
is the immediate chain. We pass from clenched to open, from open to white, I ,et us call this the torsion of saying : the courage of the continuation of effort :,


and then white is crossed out in favour of black. The outcome of the operation is drawn from words themselves, but from words taken against their genuine I

- the operation of worsening - is that in place of 'clenched staring' we will destination, which is to worsen.
have 'black holes', and that, from now on, when it will be a question of eyes, Effort - in this case, artistic or poetic effort - is a barren work on
it will no longer even be in terms of the word ' eyes' - Beckett will simply language, undertaken in order to submit language to the exercises of
mention two black holes. worsening. But this barren effort draws its energy from a fortunate disposition
Note that the open and the black only emerge within the sequence of of language: a sort of phantasm of correspondence that haunts language and
the operation in order to pass from eyes to black holes, and that this operation to which one returns as if it were the possible place in which to draw from
of worsening aims at ridding us of the word 'eyes' - too descriptive, too language itself, but wholly against the grain of its destination, the courage of ,I
empirical, and too singular - so as to lead us, by way of diagonal worsening its treatment. In Worstward Ho this tension gives rise to some very beautiful


and deletion, to the simple acceptance ofblack holes as blind seats ofvisibility. passages. Here is the first:
The eye as such is abolished. From this point onwards, there is only a pure
seeing linked to a hole, and this pure seeing linked to a hole is constructed by The words too whosesoever. What room for worse ! How almost true they
means of the abolition of the eye with the (supplementary and exemplary) sometimes almost ring! How wanting in inanity! Say the night is young
mediation of the open and the white. alas and take heart, Or better worse say still a watch of night alas to come.
A rest of /ast watch to come. And take heart [Etprendre courage] (pp. 20-
2 1 ; p. 99). 154
j ) H o l d i n g Worstwa rd
It is to the extent that one can say something that rings almost true -
Worsening is a labour, an inventive and arduous effectuation of the that one ean say what in the poem is 'like' the true, and take heart - that one
imperative of saying. Being an effort, holding to the worstward ho demands holds worstward. ' Say the night is young alas and take heart. ' How
courage. magnificent! Here is a variation on the theme:
Where does the courage of effort come from? I think this is a very
important question, because it is in general the question of knowing where What words for what then? How almost they still ring. As somehow from
the courage of holding to any procedure oftruth comes from. The question is some soft of mind they ooze. From it in it ooze. How all but uninanc. To
ultimately the following: where does the courage of truth come from? last unlessenable least how loath to leasten. For then in utmost dim to

96 97

�--- -
---- -----
1! '··

Ala i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r----

..---l-J i'"

l A_I_a_i_
n o_u_o
B_a_d_i_ _n_B
__ ck

unutter leastmost all (p. 33; p. 1 07).155 dimmer still [plus obscur encore]. To dimmost dim. Leastmost in dimmost
dim. Utmost dim. Leastmost in utmost dim. Unworsenable worst (p. 33; ,
Everything here shows to what extent one is 'loath to leasten' , to what p. 1 07). 156 ,

extent this effort is barren. One loaths to leasten because words are 'all but !I,
uninane', because the word sounds true, because it rings clear and it is from Thought can move in the leastmost, in the utmost dim, but it has no ,'I
' 1:.

the word that we take heart, that we draw our courage. But taking heart for access to the obscure as such. There is always a lesser least - so let us state Ii,
what? Well, precisely in order to ill say; to challenge the illusion that it rings the fundamental axiom once again: 'least never to be naught'. The argument
true, the illusion that summons us to courage. The torsion of saying is thus is simple: because the dim, which is the exposition of being, is a condition of
both what clarifies the barrenness of effort (one must overcome, towards the the worstward ho - what exposes it to saying - it can never be entirely given
worst, the clarity of words) and the courage with which we treat this over to it. We may go worstward, but we can never go voidward [Nous ne
barrenness. pouvons mettre cap sur Ie neant, seulement sur Ie pire]. There can be no '.'

Nevertheless, there is another reason why holding worstward proves voidward precisely because the dim is a condition of the -ward. Thus one
i, i
difficult: being as such resists, being rebels against the logic of the worst. As can argue for the quasi-obscure, the almost obscure, but the dim in its being ,

worsening comes to be exercised upon the shades, one reaches the edge of remains dim. Ultimately, the dim resists worsening.
the dim, the edge of the void, and there to continue to worsen becomes more i
and more difficult. As if the experience of being were witness, not to an
impasse of worsening, but to a difficulty, to a growing effort - ever more k) T h e U n wo rs e n a b l e Vo i d 'II,'
exhausting - in this worsening.

When one is led to the edge of being by a barren and attentive exercise The void is given in experience. It is given in the interval of shades

in the worsening of appearances, a sort of invariance comes to confound within the dim. It is what separates. In fact, the void is the ground [fond] of
saying, exposing it to an experience of suffering - as if the imperative of being, but in its exposition it is a pure gap [ecart]. With respect to the shades
saying encountered here what is furthest away from it, or most indifferent. or the pair, Beckett will say: 'vast of void atween'. Such is the figure in

This will be said in two ways: according to the dim or according to the void. which the void is given.
This relation between the dim, the void and the imperative of saying brings The worsening aims to get closer to the void as such, no longer to have
us to the core of our ontological questions. the void in its mere dimension of interval, but the void as void - being as
Let us recall that dim is the name of what exposes being. It follows retracted from its exposition. But if the void is subtracted from its own
from this that the dim can never be a total darkness, a darkness that the exposition it can no longer be the correlate of the process of worsening,
imperative of saying desires as its own impossibility. The imperative of saying, because the process of worsening only works on shades and on their void
which desires the leastmost, is polarised by the idea that the dim could become intervals. So that the void 'in itself' cannot be worked upon according to the
the obscure, the absolutely dark. The text makes several hypotheses concerning laws of worsening. You can vary the intervals, but the void as void remains
how this desire can be satisfied. But these hypotheses are ultimately rejected, radically unworsenable. Now, if it is radically unworsenable, it means that it
for there is always a minimal exposition of being. The being of void being is cannot even be ill said. This point is a very subtle one. The void 'in itself' i s
to expose itself as dim; in other words, the being of being is to expose itself, what cannot be ill said. This is its definition. The void cannot but be said. In
and exposition rules out the absoluteness ofthe dark or obscure. Even if one it, the saying and the said coincide, which prohibits ill saying. Such a
can lessen the exposition, one can never attain the obscure as such. Of the coincidence finds its reason in the fact that the void itself is nothing bu t its
dim, it will be said that it is an 'unworsenable worse' : own name. Of the void 'in itself' you have nothing but the name. Within
Beckett's text this is expressly formulated in the following form :
So leastward on. So long as dim still. Dim undimmed. Or dimmed to

98 99

,\ -
. . _ -- - ------ ----- . '
------ -- __

AI a i n B a d i o u On Becke tt r-'---_" ""_".,

-- -- -----
- ----
--­=�,. __ I' "

l�A�I_= --= a--=-d�io-=-u�

a�in--B--=- k_
-- O_n_B_e_c_ e_
The void. How try say? How try fail? No try no fail. Say only- (p. 1 7; p. 96Y57 o r language. It is this experiment that the continuation of the text describes:

That the void is subtracted from ill saying means that there is no art of Say child gone. As good as gone. From the void. From the stare. Void then
the void. The void is subtracted from that which suggests an art within not that much more? Say old man gone. Old woman gone. As good as gone.
language: the logic of worsening. When you say 'the void' you have said all Void then not that much more again? No. Void most when almost. Worst
that can be said, and you possess no process that could elicit the metamorphosis when almost. Less then? All shades as good as gone. If then not that much
of this saying. In other words, there is no metaphor for the void. more than that much less then? Less worse then? Enough. A pox on void.
In the subjective register, the void, being but a name, only arouses the Unmoreable unlessable unworseable evermost almost void (pp. 42-43; p.
desire for its disappearance. In the skull the void arouses not the process of 113).159 ,
worsening - which is impossible in its regard - but the absolute impatience ,1:-


of this pure name, the desire that the void be exposed as such, annihilated, The experiment, as one can see, fails. The void qua pure nomination
something which is nevertheless impossible. i
' '

remains radically unworsenable and thus unsayable.

As soon as one touches upon a void that is not an interval, upon the Ii'
void 'in itself', one enters what in Beckett constitutes the figure of an ,

ontological desire that is subtracted from the imperative of saying: the fusion I ) A p p e a ri n g a n d D i sa p pe a ri n g . M ov e m e nt
in nothingness of the void with the dim. It will also be remarked that, in a ,
manner resembling the functioning of drives, the name of the void sets off a Together with the supposed movements of appearance and
desire for disappearance, but that this desire for disappearance is without disappearance, the argument tied to the void summons all of the Platonic ,

object, for there is here nothing but a name. The void will always counter any supreme ideas. We have being, which is the void and the dim; the same,
process of disappearance with the fact that it is effectively subtracted from which is the one-woman; the other, which is the old man/child-two. The
worsening; this subtraction results from a property of the void, which is that question is that of knowing what becomes of movement and rest, the last two
in it the 'maximum' and the ' almost' are the same thing. Let us note that this categories in the five primordial genera of The Sophist.
is not the case with the dim, so that the two names of being do not function in The question of movement and rest presents itself in the form of two
the same way. The dim can be dimmost, leastmost dimmost; the void cannot. interrogations: What can disappear? And: What can change?
The void cannot but be said, seized as pure name and subtracted from every There is an absolutely essential thesis, which says that absolute
principle ofvariability, and therefore of metaphor or metamorphosis, because, ,
disappearance is the disappearance of the dim. If one asks: What can disappear
within it, the 'maximum' and the ' almost' coincide absolutely. Here then is I "

f absolutely? The response is: The dim. For example:

the great passage on the void: I

On back to unsay void can go [disparition du vide]. [As I've already said,
All save void_ No. Void too. Unworsenable void. Never less. Never more.
the disappearance of the void is subordinated to the disappearance of the
Never since first said never unsaid never worse said never not gnawing to ,
dim.-AB] Void cannot go. Save dim go. Then all go. All not already gone.
. ,i i

be gone. Till dim back. Then all back. All not still gone. The one can go. The twain
Say child gone [ . . . ] (p. 42; p. 1 1 3).158 can go. Dim can go. Void cannot go. Save dim go. Then all go (p. 1 8; p.
97). 160
'Say child gone': Beckett attempts to approach the question at an angle.
The unworsenable void cannot disappear, but if, for example, one makes a There always remains the possible hypothesis of an abso l u te
shade disappear, since one is dealing with a shade-infested void, perhaps a disappearance that would present itself as the disappearance of expos it ion
greater void will ensue. This growth would deliver the void over to the process itself, and therefore as the disappearance of the dim. But one must not forget

100 101
------ "

.. u=-O:.
.: i o=- .:. B-= k_
...= e-=c� e..:.

"- ��=---:---:- ---:

Alain Badiou On

Becke tt r-------------,,·,-'''"
--- ----",,- ",,, L..:.A..
. I:.= .: d:.:.
.:.: a�in�B:.a:. -= n.:. ___,"

� A nd co nc ern in g the
- -,,----------

th ou gh t an d be in g.
that this hypothesis is beyond saying, that the imperative of saying has nothing I I Il" es sential ontological pairing of
ch is th e ve ry te st or or de al of be ing -

to do with the possibility of the disappearance of the dim. Hence the q l le st ion of disappearance - whi si gn .
l and th e v oi d ar e un de r th e sa m e
disappearance of the dim, like its reappearance, is an abstract hypothesis that I I ', II"stward H0 declares that the skul
ly th e ot h er , or th e tw o, su pp or ts
can be fOImulated but which does not give rise to any experience whatsoever. T h is means that ultimately on
There is a horizon of absolute disappearance, thinkable in the statement ' dim I l lo vement: this is the third thes is . t but of
a G re ek th es is . T he re is no m ov em en
can go'. Nevertheless, this statement remains indifferent to the entire protocol This is a classical thesis, .
It is th ey w ho w alk, w ho pl od on
Ih e pair, i .e . of the old man and th
e child.
of the text. ns ub st an ti al ly li n k ed to
a al tera ti on is co
The problem will therefore centre upon the appearance and T hi s is the idea that movement qu
t he re is th at th is m ov em en t is in a certain
disappearance of shades. This is a problem of an altogether different order I he ' other' . But what is significan a
ch il d - th is is
� the ol d m an an d th e
which is associated to the question ofthought. On the contrary, the hypothesi ,�ense immobile. When speaking of
e leitm otiv the text w ill co ns tant ly say:
of the disappearance of the dim is beyond saying and beyond thought. More ve ritabl -

generally, this new problem is to do with the movement of shades. 62

ce de (p. 1 3 ; p. 9 3) . 1
The investigation ofthis point is very complex, and I will limit myself Plod on and never re
here to presenting my conclusions alone. ob ility to th is m ov em en t.
in te rn al im m
First, the one is not capable ofmovement. The figure ofthe old woman There is movement, but there is an
u rs e, th is means
� ha t do es th is m ea n? O f co
which is the mark of the One, will certainly be termed ' stooped' and the They plod on and never recede. W ation of
on ), bu t th at th ere is on ly on e situ
'kneeling', all of which seems to express change. But the crucial proviso is that there is movement (they plod : th ere is
l si tuat io n. O n e w il l al so sa y
that we are dealing here only with prescriptions of saying, rules of the worst, heing, that there is only one ontologica :
ed ve ry ea rly on by th e m ax im
and never with a movement proper. It is not true that the one stoops or kneels. but one place. This is what is declar
The text always states that one [on] will say kneeling, sunk, etc. All this is 63
; p. 9 2) . 1
�re�cribed by the logic of lessening within worsening, but does not thereby No place but the one (p. 1 1

mdIcate a capacity of the one [I 'un] to any sort of movement. e is on ly on e fi gu re of

e un iv er se ; th er
The first thesis is therefore Parmenidean: what is counted as one insofar There is but one place, or on
' iv el y to re ce de , for it to re ce de in going,
. . being, not two. For the pair effe ct
as It IS only counted as one, remains indifferent to movement. ld ha ve to be ab le to p as s
, th e pa ir w ou
Sec?nd statement: thought (the head, the skull) is incapable of there would have to be an other place on e ' . In
he r pl ac e: 'N o pl ac e bu t th e
dISappearIng. There are a number of texts concerning this point. Here is one: into another place. But there is no ot on . This
in g. B ei ng is O ne in it s lo ca li sa ti
other words, there is no duality in be m us t be
cogn is ed , bu t, at th e sa m e tim e,
The head. Ask not if it can go. Say no. Unasking no. It cannot go. Save is why movement must always be re y of th e
not al lo w u s to le av e th e un it
dim go. Then all go. Oh dim go. Go for good. All for good. Good and all grasped as relative because it does
(p. 1 9 ; p. 9 8). 1 6 1 ce . T h is is what is confirmed by th e pair.

This ' Oh dim go' remains without effect. As we've seen, you can always
, m ) Lo v e
say 'Oh dim go' , the dim does not care in the least.
What is important for us then is that the head is incapable of of th e two, is de ep ly m ar kcd hy
This immobile migration, w hich is th at
disappearing, save of course the dim go, but then all go. e ol d m an an d th e ch il d, bu t it
it is th
Consequently, we must note that the head has the same status as the Beckett's conception of love. Here, od i g i ol l s
m ax im of th e tw o, an d, in th at pr
void when it comes to the question of disappearance. This is exactly matters little. For what we have is the as a so rt
t pr es en ts u s w ith th e tw o of love
Parmenides' maxim: ' It is the same to think and to be' . Parmenides designates text on love that is Enough, Becket

1 02
-- ----- --
- - - -,,--_._- - -


A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r------------ __" ..

l-.A I a�i:.
...: :.: On_Be
.:....: a=--:d::..:i--=.o--=.u_�
n B=--: __ _e
ria tio n it can be su bm itted to by th e pr es cr iptio n ,I
of migration, which is at the same time a migration unto oneself. Such is the i!sel ffrom the hypothetical va
essence of love. The migration does not make one pass from one place to o f saying.
re ga rd to sh ad es of ty pe on e (th e w om an ) an d type two
another. Instead, it is a delocalisation internal to the place, and this immanent In the end, with
ly th e im m ob ile m ig ra tion of th e pa ir be ar s
delocalisation finds its paradigm in the two of love. This explains why the ( the old man and the child), on
passages on the old man and the child are marked by a muted emotion, which witness to a movement.
ally le d to th e qu es tio n of th e ch an ge s of th e ty pe three
is very particular to Worstward Ho: the immobile migration designates what Thus we are fin
skul l fro m w hi ch w or ds oo ze , th e sk ul l fro m w hich the
could be called the spatiality of love. shade, the skull, the
A t this ju nc tu re , th er e cle ar ly in ter ve ne s th e
Here is one ofthese texts, in which a powerful and abstract tenderness prescription of saying oozes.
e sp ok e ab ov e: the str uc tu re of th e co gi to . Ev ery iI':'.
- echoing Enough - can be heard: halting point of which w
ul l is bl ocked '

ra nc e, re ap pe ar an ce or alt er at io n of th e sk "

modification, disappea
re pr esen ted as th at w hi ch se iz es its elf in the
Hand in hand with equal plod they go. In the free hands -no. Free empty by the fact that the skull must be 'i
hands. Backs turned both bowed with equal plod they go. The child hand dim.
Therefore we cannot presume that everything has disappeared in the
raised to reach the holding hand. Hold the old holding hand. Hold and be
skull. The hypothesis of radical doubt, which would affect the shades with a
held. Plod on and never recede. Slowly with never a pause plod on and
total disappearance - subject to the prescription to be made by the skull --
never recede. Backs turned. Both bowed. Joined by held holding hands. ;
cannot be maintained, for the same reasons that force Cartesian radical doubt 1
Plod on as one. One shade. Another shade (p. 1 3 ; p.93).I 64 I

to impose limits upon itself. Here is the passage in question:

In the skull all gone [disparu]. All? No. All cannot go. Till dim go. Say
n ) A p p e a ri n g a n d D i s a p pe a r i n g . C h a n g e . T h e , i
S ku l l then but the two gone. In the skull one and two gone. From the void. From
, - i

, the stare. In the skull all save the skull gone. The stare. Alone in the dim
"- i void. Alone to be seen. Dimly seen. In the skull the skull alone to be seen.

A hypothesis accessible to the skull would be that the shades - between



a disappearance and a reappearance - have been modified. This hypothesis is " .

-;- . i
The staring eyes. Dimly seen. By the staring eyes (pp. 25-26; p. 102).1 66 ,

,- j

evoked and worked through, but it is expressly presented as a hypothesis of ,; i


. I The hypothesis of the disappearance of the shades, based on the fact

that they would have gone from the skull - and thus that they would no
1 longer be of the order of seeing or of ill seeing - does not entail the
They fade [disparaissent]. Now the one. Now the twain. Now both. Fade I

back [reapparaissent] . Now the one. Now the twain. Now both. Fade? I disappearance of the all, the ' all go '; in particular, it does not entail the
No. Sudden go. Sudden back. Now the one. Now the twain. Now both. ! disappearance of all the shades, because the skull, which itself is a shade,

Unchanged? Sudden back unchanged? Yes. Say yes. Each time unchanged. cannot itself disappear or 'go'.
Somehow unchanged. Till no. Till say no. Sudden back changed. Somehow
, The Cartesian matrix is necessarily stated as follows: 'In the skull all
changed. Each time somehow changed (p. 14; p. 94). 165 save the skull gone'. I think, therefore I am a shade in the dim. The skull i s
the shade-subject, and cannot disappear; it cannot 'go ' .
That there can be real changes, that is, changes caught between appearance
and disappearance, is not a hypothesis liable to affect the being of a shade;
rather, it is a hypothesis that the prescription of saying might formulate. It is 0 ) O f t h e S u bj e ct a s S ku l l . W i l l , P a i n , J oy
somewhat like above with ' Oh dim go' , or when one says 'kneeling' , ,
, , The subject as skull is fundamentally reducible to saying and seeing;
'stooped', etc. It is necessary to distinguish what is an attribute of the shade

.. 105
1 04
I ;
" 1':-
- - -
_ . '-- - -------- - - ------- ----- - - - -- ---- - -

, ,

______ '1,,'"
e II!
Alai n Bad i o u On Beckett r------ l�Al ai n
" =-:...
d i o
On Be
---: ��--
ck tt --I,,,
I '

the skull brings together staring eyes and a brain. But there are, as in Descartes, are so few words to say what there is to say. Joy is always the joy of the
other affections. In particular, there are the will, pain and joy, all of whose poverty of words. The mark of the state of joy or of rejoicing - of what
places are assigned in the text. Each of these affections will be studied in rejoices - is that there are exceedingly few words to say it. Upon reflection,
accordance with the method of worsening, that is, in their essential this is entirely true. Extreme joy is precisely what possesses few or no words ,
'unlessenable least' . to speak itself. Whence the fact that in the figure of the declaration of love I 'I
What is the essential unlessenable least of the will? It is the will given there is nothing to say but ' I love you' - an extremely meagre statement, I

in its ultimate form, which is to will the non-will, or to will that there shall be because it finds itself in the element ofjoy.
no more willing, that is, to will itself as non-will. In Beckett's own words this I am thinking, in Richard Strauss 's Elektra, o f the scene of the
is the 'longing that vain longing go' : recognition of Orestes by Elektra, in which Elektra sings a very violent
'Orestes! ' and the music is suddenly paralysed. Here we encounter a musical
Longing the so-said mind long lost to longing. The so-missaid. So far so­ passage injortissimo, but one that is absolutely formless and rather lengthy.
missaid. Dint of long longing lost to longing. Long vain longing. And I have always liked that quite a lot. It is as if an unspeakable and extreme joy
longing still. Faintly longing still. Faintly vainly longing still. For fainter ,
were musically presented in the self-paralysis of the music, as if its internal

still. For faintest. Faintly vainly longing for the least of longing. melodic configuration (which later on will present itself, over and over again,
in saccharine waltzes) were stricken by powerlessness: here is a moment of Iili,
Unlessenable least of longing. Unstillable vain least of longing still. '
Longing that all go [que tout disparaisse] . Dim go. Void go. Longing go. 'rejoicing', understood as an impoverished disposition of naming.
Vain longing that vain longing go (p. 36; p. 1 09).1 67
, ,
I, Beckett says this very clearly. It is evidently linked to the fact that
there are poor remains of mind, and poor words for these poor remains:
Many comments could be made regarding the correlations between
this passage and the canonical doctrines of will. We could say that willing is Remains ofmind then still. Enough still. Somewhose somewhere someho
w I,"
enough still. No mind and words? Even such words. So enough still. Jus
shaped by the imperative of saying and that the 'all go' - the will that the
'vain longing that vain longing go' itself go or disappear - is the irreducible enough still to joy. Joy! Just enough still to joy that only they. Only!
(p. 29; p. 104)1 69

trace of will, or that the will, as the imperative of saying, cannot but go on.
Pain is ofthe body (whilst joy comes from words). In the body, pain is
what provokes movement, and this is what makes it the first witness of the
I So much for the subjective faculties other than seeing and saying, and
remains of mind. Pain is the bodily proof that there are remains of mind, above all the three main ones (will, pain, joy). All things considered, what
inasmuch as it is what arouses the shades to movement: we have here is a classical doctrine of the passions.

It stands. What? Yes. Say it stands. Had to up in the end and stand. Say
bones. No bones but say bones. Say ground. No ground but say ground. p ) H o w c a n a S u bj ect b e T h o u g h t?
So as to say pain. No mind and pain? Say yes that the bones may pain till
no choice but stand. Somehow up and stand. Or better worse remains. Say Given what we have just said, if we wish to proceed in the study of the
remains of mind where none to permit of pain. Pain of bones till no choice subject, we must do so subtractively. Fundamentally, Beckett's method is
but up and stand. Somehow up. Somehow stand. Remains of mind where like Husserl's epoche turned upside down. Husserl's epoche consists in
none for the sake ofpain. Here ofbones. Other examples ifneeds must. Of subtracting the thesis of the world, in subtracting the 'there is' in order to
pain. Relief from. Change of (p. 9; p. 90).1 68 then turn towards the movement or the pure flux of that interiority which i s
directed at this 'there is' . Husserl's lineage originates in Cartesian doubt.
Joy, in the end, is on the side of words. To rejoice is to rejoice that there The thetic character of the universe o f the intentional opera t i o n s o r

106 107
--- ,------- - -- -- ,
j' .
1,1 I
I ,I
------- '

A I a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r---- """'" __________ ---, A l a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett

,I ,'I
, 'I

ard Ho, there is an entire doctrine of tim e, of

consciousness is retracted in order to try to apprehend the conscious structure ho st of other things . In Worstw
:;pace, of variations . . . we could go on forever.
, 'I
1 ,1
that governs these operations, independently of any thesis concerning the 1'1

ge 45 ( 1 1 5) . Be caus e fro m this point on wa rd s, som ething " I,.

world. At least until pa
se com plex ity is su ch th at lon g an aly se s w ou ld still be
Beckett's method is precisely the opposite: it is a question of sUbtracting ds e happens, who
e bo tto m of it. Le t m e sim ply indi ca te th e esse ntial
or suspending the subject so as to see what then happens to being. The required in order to get to th
hypothesis of a seeing without words will be forwarded. A hypothesis of points.
,,:ords without seeing will also be made, together with a hypothesis of a
dIsappearance of words. And it will be noted that there is then a better seen
[du mieux vu] . Here is one of the protocols ofthis experiment: q ) T h e Eve nt
m ete rs of th e m in im al se t-up
Until page 45 , w e re m ain wi th in th e pa ra I'
Blanks for when words gone. When nohow on. Then all seen as only then.
po in t th at w e wi tn es s th e ,:i
Undimmed. All undimmed that words dim. All so seen unsaid. No ooze that links being, existence and th ou gh t. It is at th is ,
I, "I" ,

then. No trace on soft when from it ooze again. In it ooze again. Ooze production of an event in th e str ict se ns e - a di sc on tin ui ty , an ev en t pr ep ar ed i
st sta te . Th e la st sta te is gr os so mo do wh at w e ha ve
alone for seen as seen with ooze. Dimmed. No ooze for seen undimmed. by what Beckett calls a la
te of th e sta te, th e la st sta te of
For when nohow on. No ooze for when ooze gone (p. 40; p. 1 12).170 just described: it is th e la st sta te as th e la st sta
po ssibility of ,,

state of th in gs . Th is sta te is se iz ed by th e im
the saying of the l
pothesis be yo nd sa yi ng .1 7
Here it would be necessary to explain the text in greater detail. We are annihilation - ' save dim go ' , which remains a hy
or e - w ill arr ange,
dealin� with a protocol of seeing that remains undimmed when the hypothesis
ho se tra jec to ry w e sh all ha ve to sa y m
The event - ofw
rativ e of sa yi ng re du ce d (,l ea ste ne d' ) to th e sta tement of
of a dIsappearance of words is made, the hypothesis of the real end of the or expose, an impe "
iti on s w ill be m od ifi ed in an d by th e ev en t in "

imperative of saying. Like Husserl 's epoche, this is a pure abstract hypothesis, its own cessation. The cond
t of th e 'o n' w ill be str ict ly lim ite d to th e 'n oh ow ,,
as well as an untenable hypothesis, one that is actually impracticable. In this such a way that the conten
hypothesis, some light is shed on being. The inverse experiment can also be on' . What will remain to be sa id w ill sim pl y be th at th er e is no th in g m ore to
he d an absolutely
ca�ied out: subtracting sight and then asking oneself what is the destiny of all ha ve a sa yi ng th at ha s re ac
I be said. And thus w e sh
an III saying that is disconnected from seeing, from ill seeing. maximal degree of purification.
be gi ns w ith th e re ca pi tu lat io n of th e las t state : ,,
.1 shall not develop these experiments any further. Ultimately, if we Ev erything
recapItulate our argument about the question of disappearance we can obtain
three propositions. Same stoop for all. Same vasts apart. Such last state. Latest state. Till
First of all, the void is unworsenable once it is caught in the exposition , somehow less in vain. Worse in vain. All gnawing to be naught. Never to ,

be naught (p . 46 ; p. 1 1 5) . 172
of the dim. This means that there is no experience of being, only a name of , I

bem. �. A name commands a saying, but an experience is an ill saying and not I
se als th e pr oc es s of w or seni ng as in term in ab le.
a saymg proper. The last or latest state

S �con ly, the skull or subject cannot really be subtracted from seeing Its maxim is: 'Worse in va in' . Bu t, on ce th e re ca pi tu lat io n
et e
th cre
nc in g
and �aymg; It can only be subtracted in formal experiments [experiences], in m om en t in tro du ce d by ' su dd en ' -
brusquely occurs - in a
hi ch is lik e its ab so lu te re tre at in to th e in te rio r
partIcular because for itself it is always 'not gone' . of this state to a limit position, w
at ha d be en sa id , by be in g ab le to be sa id i n
Finally, the shades - i.e. the same and the other - are worsenable (from of language. As if everything th
foun d its el f at an in fin itesim al di sta nc e fro l11 th e
the point of view of the skull) and are therefore objects of experience of its last state, suddenly
. . . '

artIstIc exposItion. imperative of language.

movement is ab solutely parallel to th e i rru pt io ll
Here is what is exposed, said and outlined in the text, together with a It must be noted that this


Al a i n Ba d i o u On Beckett r- ,

--- .

, .:...:.:..:
- :. n Bad ..::... i o u On
. �-=-.:... -- -
=----- - - -____""_1 ,I ,
of the Constellation at the end of Mallarme's Coup de des. In my view, the However, the configuration of possible-saying is no longer a state of , :1
analogy is a conscious one - we shall see why. In this moment when there is heing, an exercise in worsening. It is an event, creating an afar. It is an
nothing more to say but 'behold the state ofthings, the things ofbeing' (which i ncalculable distancing. From the point of view of the poetics ofthe text, we , ,
Mallarme says in the form: 'Nothing has taken place but the place') - when would need to demonstrate that this evental configuration - this ' sudden' - is
one thinks that the text will stop there, that this maxim represents the last acsthetically or poetically prepared by a specific figure. In Mallarme, the
word on what the imperative of saying is capable of- it is as though a kind of Constellation is prepared by the figure of the master, drowning himself on
addition took place. This addition is sudden, abrupt, in rupture, and takes the surface of the sea. In Beckett, this figural preparation, which deserves to
place on a scene situated at a remove from the one at hand, a scene in which be admired, consists in the altogether unpredictable metamorphosis of the
a metamorphosis of exposition is presented - a sidereal metamorphosis, or a one-woman into the gravestone, in a passage whose imagery of discontinuity
'siderealisation' [sideration]. It is not a question of the disappearance of the should alert us. Immediately prior to this passage, a page before the event at
dim, but of a retreat ofbeing to its very limit. Just as in Mallarme the question the limits, we find the following: ;"
, ,
of the dice-throw results in the appearance of the Great Bear, likewise what },,
i ',
was counted in the dim will here be fixed in pinholes - a closely related

Nothing and yet a woman. Old and yet old. On unseen knees. Stooped as
metaphor. Here is the passage introduced by the clause of rupture, ' Enough' : loving memory some old gravestones stoop. In that old graveyard. Names
gone and when to when. Stoop mute over the graves ofnone (p. 45; p. 1 1 5).1 75
Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All ,
, ,

least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bounds of This passage is absolutely singular and paradoxical in relation to what
boundless void. Whence no farther. Best worse no farther. Nohow less. we have argued hitherto. First of all, because it makes a metaphor emerge "

Nohow worse. Nohow naught. Nohow on. ,

\'- "
with regard to the shades. The one-woman, the stoop of the one-woman, "

Said nohow on (pp. 46-47; p. 1 1 6). 1 73
literally becomes a gravestone. And on the stoop ofthis gravestone, the subject
is now given only in the erasure of its name, in the crossing out of its name II!

-:' "

I would simply like to insist upon a few points. , -