Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Beckett's Texts and the Lure of the Image

In Jacques Lacan's little myth, the mirror image seen by the infant is always a 'contraction', a shrinkage. The uncoordinated infant - waves of joy or terror passing over and through it, motor function not yet centralised - finds anchor in the bounded image, able now to say "That's me! there I am!". But note it is no longer here but there , hanging in the mirror, outside, something you can point to.

In this sense the jubilant recognition of a self, is also the alienation of the self – it is something external, out in the world, a thing. It is not longer the inner and uncoordinated place of actual experience.

The solace offered by the mirror image sets a fatal precedent. We forever seek out images as ways of giving to chaos a local habitation and name. 

In Beckett’s Texts for Nothing, there are many such images. Mother Calvet, “with her dog and skeletal baby-buggy”, or the younger narrator in the waiting room of the railway terminus. These images  are like little oases promising a kind of destination, a place where the self might be located. The restless text almost succumbs but then pulls away and - extravagant, flickering - ventures elsewhere.  These images, brief wrecks of desolation or beauty, are evidence not that the self is still tied to its past,  but of the drifting isolation of the latter, revolving forever in another dark, sundered and unreachable. 

The temptation to seek out the image, to house the self therein, is itself deftly figured in Text viii: 

But what is this I see, and how, a white stick and an ear-trumpet, where, Place de la Republique, at pernod time, let me look closer at this, it’s perhaps me at last. the trumpet, sailing at ear level, suddenly resembles a steam-whistle, of the kind thanks to which my steamers forge fearfully through the fog. That should fix the period, to the nearest half-century or so. the stick gains ground, tapping with its ferrule the noble bassamento of the United Stores, it must be winter, at least not summer. I can also just discern, with a final effort of will, a bowler hat which seems to my sorrow a sardonic synthesis of all those that never fitted me and at the other extremity, similarly suspicious, a complete pair of brown boots lacerated and gaping. These insignia, it I may so describe them, advance in concert, as though connected by the traditional human excipient, halt, move on again, confirmed by the vast show windows. The level of the hat, and consequently the trumpet, hold out some hope for me as a dying dwarf or at least a hunchback. The vacancy is tempting, shall I enthrone my infirmities, give them the chance again, my dream infirmities, that they may take flesh and move, deteriorating, round and round this grandiose square which I hope i don’t confuse with the Bastille, until they are deemed worthy of the adjacent Pere Lachaise or, better still, ….

An image - brief, histrionic, absurd - that the narrator might complete. He might 'discover' himself in it -  "It's perhaps me at last". The image is always like this, a kind of vacancy. An empty suit of clothes we might try on. But of course, he pulls away..  The succour of the image would be a cheat, an escape from that "other dark", in which, featureless, he dwells:

I would know I was here, begging in another dark, another silence..

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