Sociological and Deconstructive Study of Man's Problems in Samuel Beckett's Malone Dies Article Critique

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Infinity Breeds Contempt: The Social Critiques of the Tragically Immortal Narrator in Malone Dies

Malone Dies features a narrator trapped in a never-ending narrative loop, unable to escape his panoptic existence either through the introduction of surrogate characters or bodily death. His narration is disjointed as a result of blending his story with that of other characters and the narrative repetition this causes, but these problems also give him a certain clarity that allows him to effectively critique the social forces keeping him entrapped within the novel. Though his mind fails him and forestalls the complete death of consciousness he desires, Malone does at least succeed in pointing out the illusions of human society.

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Like the other books in his trilogy, Samuel Beckett's Malone Dies features an indeterminate narrator ostensibly discussing a variety of other characters but is in reality mentally and narratively drifting between these characters and identities in attempt to escape his total confinement (figurative and literal), like a ghost hiding from the oppressing solitude of the afterlife by inhabiting so many bodies. Furthermore, Malone finds himself trapped in the same kind of narrative loop as the other novels' protagonists, in which his attempts to escape from surveillance and oppression only serve to carry him back to the beginning of his narrative. Where Malone distinguishes himself is in his apparent apathy in regards to his situation, and it is this apathy which reveals the particular philosophical work being done by the novel. In short, Malone's torturous existence and failed attempts at introducing a kind of Derridian difference into his otherwise bland existence bestow upon him a certain kind of manic clarity that allows for trenchant critiques of the domineering social structures which created his unwanted existence in the first place.

All Rooms in One, or None

Article Critique on Sociological and Deconstructive Study of Man's Problems in Samuel Beckett's Malone Dies Assignment

In the novel, Malone is characterized as an old man who lies dying in a dark and anonymous room, from an anonymous cause; he never explicitly reveals to the reader exactly what malady afflicts him, or whether he is in a hospital, asylum, prison, or possibly even his own home. The room in which he is confined 'is in the undifferentiated location, that is, in an unknown building on an unknown street in an unknown town,' suggesting to the reader that for all intents and purposes, Malone and his room exist in no time or place, but rather float in a kind of imaginary void, asymptotically on the verge of existing in any time and place, in any room (Friedman, 1970, 133). Thus, the novel forces the reader to simultaneously imagine Malone as definitively nowhere, yet possibly anywhere. Neil Murphy sees this paradoxical nature as characteristic of postmodern fiction, noting that as metaphors for the construction of a fictional space, "the Chinese box, or mise-en-abyme, offers endless destabilizing possibilities,' because 'both the maze and the Chinese box subvert any ontology that might resemble what we call the "real," to erect a world that operates by a series of rules not regulated by conventional notions of temporality or encyclopedic geographical space,' but instead uses its unique orientation of time and space as a means to comment on the nature of human perception and experience (Murphy, 2004).

In a sense, the undifferentiated nature of the room requires that it be read as a kind of Platonic ideal of a room, the total confinement of walls to which all rooms aspire but never reach (a fact that should give the reader some sense of the novel's position regarding the confining force of society). He is entirely alone, and 'has no contact with others, not even with the charitable woman who used to feed him' when he takes on the role of Macmann (Reid, 2003, 118). Even the single possibility of someone other than Malone or a space outside the room actually existing is never realized, because all that ever appears is a free-floating hand that 'puts a dish on the little table left there for that purpose, takes away the dish of the previous day, and the door closes again' (Beckett, 1991, 184). The hand does not even enter the room per se, but is simply there when it needs to be, just like the little table 'left there for that purpose.'

Nothing exists outside the room, but because 'nothing is more real than nothing,' Malone wishes "before I go I should like to find a hole in the wall behind which so much goes on, such extraordinary things, and often coloured" (186, 230). The reader should note that Malone specifically wishes to see through a hole in the wall and not the door, because this detail further reveals the singular nature of the room. Were Malone to look through the door at what lies beyond, he would simply see the reality outside the room, because the act of looking through the door cements the reality beyond it, such that the undifferentiated room becomes solid, attached to a building, and part of a larger reality. In a sense, the room would transition from the Platonic, total room to a specific room, one of the infinite possibilities embodied by the room existing in the void.

Looking through a hole in the wall, on the other hand, does not cement the meaning of the room to a specific space, because a hole in the wall does not perform the same kind of connective function as a door. To better understand this detail, one may consider the notion of liminality, which is 'a borderland state of ambiguity and indeterminacy, a transformational state characterised by a certain openness and relaxation of rules, leading those who participate in the process to new perspectives and possibilities,' that in literature is commonly associated with 'borders and crossroads, as well as physical features, such as rivers or the shoreline and liminal thresholds like windows and doors' (Gilsenan Nordin & Holmsten, 2009, 7). The door is only a liminal threshold in the act of opening or closing, because when closed it becomes a wall, and when open the division between inside and outside is erased, leaving only one continuous space. Looking through a hole in the wall, then, would allow Malone to peer into this liminality without affecting it, or put another way, to see all of the possibilities beyond a door without having to open it and thus reduce those possibilities to a singularity. Thus, Malone's desire to find a hole in the wall is the desire to confront the infinite nothingness and potential around him, to visually experience the meaningless void that is usually filled in the moment it comes under someone's gaze. He desires to face the most real thing, which is to say, nothing, or more specifically in the case of biological organisms, death.

Escape Attempts

Thus, 'from this enclosed, shrunken world Malone speaks to us, his readers, with a voice cut off from the world, a voice which speaks in order to hear itself speak, completely present to itself alone' yet somehow aware of an impossible externality, which is the ever present gaze of the reader that forces Malone to remain eternally in the room, unable to truly die, even if he does claim that 'I could die today, if I wished' (Toyama, 1984, 88-89, & Beckett, 173). Just as looking through the door might solidify and specify the room, so too does the act of reading define Malone and his environment, so that even though the time and space in which the room exists is indeterminate, it remains paradoxically easy to trace the intricacies of Malone's physical and mental activities, to the point that it almost seems like high-tech hidden cameras are placed within the room, allowing for the recording of even the smallest details of Malone's diminutive physical movements and mental shifts. Just like Michel Foucault's 'panoptic society of which imprisonment is the omnipresent armature' and where 'the delinquent is not outside the law,' but rather is 'from the very outset, in the law, at the very heart of the law, or at least in the midst of those mechanisms that transfer the individual from discipline to the law," Malone finds himself always already wholly described and circumscribed, with every detail of his person available to the wholly encompassing societal structure that in this case takes the form of the reader, but which Malone eventually reinforces and implicitly supports via his own storytelling (Foucault, 1977, 301). Understanding this fact ultimately unlocks the entirety of the novel for the reader, because it serves to explain all of Malone's narrative diversions, inconsistencies, and confusions.

A claim this bold will of course require a robust analysis and evidentiary support, but for now, the explanation provided by an understanding of the details provided about Malone and his behavior in the room can be summarized as follows: over the course of the novel, Malone is recalling past events of his life as he fades away towards death, with his recollections and narration becoming increasingly disjointed as his memory fails him, but he… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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