Sublime Supplements: Beckett and the 'Fizzling Out' of Meaning

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Editor: Joseph Palmisano
Date: 2005
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 74)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,687 words

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[(essay date summer 1992) In the following essay, Pireddu considers the disjointed and confused nature of the short texts in Fizzles, arguing that these texts "exhibit the idea of aborted endeavor as their constitutive element."]

"Perhaps there is no whole, before you're dead" (Beckett, Molloy 35), meditates Molloy while lying in the ditch without remembering how he left town. If his name suddenly comes to his mind as in an epiphany, the purpose of his visit to his mother inevitably escapes him: "My reasons? I had forgotten them" (35). For each detail brought to light, other particulars are reabsorbed into forgetfulness. The activity of memory never provides the character with the total picture of his own self. Its discrete nature frustrates the need to continuity; its inability to fill the gaps opened up by oblivion reveals the arbitrariness of any attempt to master reality, and the inconclusiveness of Molloy's writing registers exactly the failure of such an effort.

If in Molloy the protagonist narrates the story of a fiasco, Beckett's Fizzles represent the fiasco of narration itself. Starting from their titles, both the English and the French version of these short texts exhibit the idea of aborted endeavor as their constitutive element. Voices with no faces recite confused monologues in the hopeless attempt to put order into their past lives; third-person accounts on the verge of syntactical disintegration describe endless wanderings not redeemed by any promise of final revelation; physically impaired bodies struggle against a hostile nature, in the awareness of an impending death. The topology of Fizzles is a paradoxical middle ground between defeat and accomplishment. Far from implying total renunciation, the failure announced at the opening of the collection triggers an attempt at depiction that is doomed to incompleteness: to the danger of silence and of annihilation, Beckett's texts oppose a fictional world of traces that hint at wholeness without ever granting to it. Ruins, decaying bodies, and blurred memories materialize the interplay of presence and absence of meaning that the language of Fizzles reproduces with its imminent and yet never-achieved dissolution.

Through their conceptual and structural fragmentation, the Fizzles dismantle exactly what Adorno defines as art's "unfulfilled (and imprescriptible) longing for perfection," and by articulating the unresolved struggle between destructive forces and self-preservation they meet the "challenge of the irreconcilable" (Adorno 271). Beckett's literary "fiascos" belong, for this reason, to the category of the sublime, the ascendance of which--according to Adorno--coincides with "the need for art to avoid 'playing down' its fundamental contradictions but to bring them out instead" (Adorno 282). In Fizzles, the disruption of form and meaning under the effect of such a clash of forces reveals an essential feature of the contemporary sublime, namely, its being latent. If "the traditional concept of the sublime as an infinite presence was animated by the belief that negation could bring about positivity" (Adorno 282), the irreconcilable conflicts of Beckett's texts break this illusion and offer an example of "radical negativity" (Adorno 284). No longer associated with the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420059970