‘Watt’: language as interdiction and consolation


Thomas J. Cousineau


Critics have tended to treat Watt as an allegory in which man’s rationalistic pretensions are ridiculed.1 What has generally been ignored in discussions of this novel is that the portrayal of a rational individual humiliated by an absurd world is only a special case of a more fundamental concern; the true centre of Watt, of which the concern with rationality is merely the visible trace, is the suspicion, apparent in all of Beckett’s fiction, that man is inhabited by a false consciousness. His true subjectivity, the support of his capacity for authentic action, has been suppressed; in its place we find a surrogate self, distorted and made unreal by the alienating culture whose mark it bears. This emphasis on the illusory nature of consciousness and on the loss of an original, unrepressed subjectivity points to a profound convergence between Beckett’s fiction and several themes which are central to contemporary philosophy and psychoanalytical theory. Two concepts in particular seem pertinent to a study of these motifs as they occur in the fiction: first, Jacques Lacan’s notion of the ‘stade du miroir,’ a model which illuminates the phenomenon of the alienated self, and, second, the dialectic of destruction and renewal through which Paul Ricoeur has examined the significance of a post-modern faith. Lacan can help us to understand the impasse in psychic evolution to which the fiction testifies, while Ricoeur can guide us through a questioning of what remains after this impasse has been recognized.


Essentially, the ‘stade du miroir’treats of three moments in the development of infantile consciousness; in the first the ‘I’ assumes a primordial form, existing as a pure subjectivity; next, this primitive ‘I’ is transformed by its identification with its objective image (whether the image which is seen in an actual mirror or that which evolves from the child’s contact with other humans). At this stage the ‘I’ is transformed into a ‘me’; pure subjectivity becomes fixed in the alienating image of the self. Finally the subjectivity which has been lost in this second stage is restored ‘in the universal’ through the acquisition of language.2


Beckett’s fiction issues from the impasse created by the inability of the alienated self to recapture its subjectivity through language; the movement from the second to the third stage has been obstructed, leaving the ‘I’ frozen in the posture of an object, a prisoner of neurosis in the broad sense given to this term by Lacan: ‘the enslavement of the subject by the situation.’3 The implication which runs throughout the fiction is that alienation is merely reinforced by the acquisition of language; language allows a corrupt culture to seduce the individual with a distorted conception of himself. Lacan himself has commented on this alienating phenomenon in his discussion of an individual whose culture is based on an ‘enormous objectification’ and which induces him to ‘forget his subjectivity’:


            He will be able to make an efficacious contribution to the

            common task in his daily work and will be able to furnish his

            leisure time with all the pleasures of a profuse culture which,

            from detective novels to historical memoirs, from educational

            lectures to the orthopedics of group relations, will give him

            the wherewithal to forget his own existence and his death, at

            the same time as that to misconstrue the particular sense of his

            life in a false communication.4


Lacan’s vision of an oppressive, pseudo-scientific culture which ignores subjectivity represents in exaggerated form a possibility inherent in the circumstances under which consciousness must necessarily evolve. In order that he accede to his symbolic functions of thinking and acting, the individual must acquire a language; yet language is already codified and impersonal, operating according to pre-established rules. It enjoys an objective status seemingly at variance with the promise of subjectivity which it offers. Yet subjective experience is indeed impossible without the presence of language. As Denis Vasse, a follower of Lacan, has suggested in his study of the ‘stade du miroir,’ the most primitive perception of a visual image, if it is to be an organized perception, demands the mediation of language. Hence, when the child perceives himself in the mirror, the object of his perception is not merely an image (the visible features of his body) but an image which has already been transformed by the name which has been given to him by others. He sees, not the fragmented body of his earliest perception, but the unified, socialized self who bears a particular name. ‘He sees the name which he hears.’5 This original discovery of himself as a subject (which has, in fact been organized by others) is a stage upon which all later psychic development depends. All later experience of the self and of the world, which will seem direct and immediate because of the anaesthetizing effect of habit, will always rely on the mediating role of language and on the others through whom language is acquired. Acceptance of the names which others have given to the self and to things, and acquiescence in the objectification which this implies (‘I admit that the world exists for others’) is the debt which must inevitably be assumed in order that the child acquire an identity as well as a place for himself within the symbolic system.


In Beckett’s fiction, the acquisition of language is conceived negatively as allowing for entry into a collective myth, in the pejorative sense of a system of illusory beliefs. The purpose of fiction is to re-enact the loss of the primordial self, to denounce the apparition of its object-like surrogates as well as the support given to these false selves by a corrupt language, and to await the restoration of subjectivity through an authentic language. The role which Beckett assigns to fiction is profoundly paradoxical in that it requires that the process of ‘dis-illusionment’ which Beckett attempts with respect to language closely resembles the task of demolishing the ‘myth’ of God undertaken by Nietzsche and Freud. For Nietzsche, the Christian God was primarily a vehicle of interdiction, in whose presence man cowered abjectly, crushed by the disparity between his own weakness and his creator’s omnipotence. Freud, on the other hand, tended to emphasize elements of consolation in the myth; God represented those perfections to which man aspired but which he could not hope to glimpse in this world, and He offered, in the form of an after-life, a promise which made this life bearable. For Ricoeur, the atheism of Freud and Nietzsche provides a method for unmasking ‘naive religious feeling,’ understood as the repository of archaic fears and desires.6 Nietzsche and Freud, in spite of the differences in their methodologies, are united by their common assumption that the cultural dimension of human life, including ethics and religion, rests on a mystification which can be unravelled only by the mistrustful gaze of suspicion. Ricoeur describes their positive contribution as follows:


            Nietzsche and Freud developed, in a parallel way, a type of reductive

            hermeneutics which is both a kind of philology and a kind of

            genealogy. It is a philology, a method of exegesis and an inter-

            pretation to the degree that the text of our consciousness can be

            compared to a palimpsest beneath whose surface another text has

            been written. To decipher this text is the task of this special

            technique of exegesis. But this hermeneutics is at the same time a

            genealogy, because the distortion of the text arises from a conflict

            of forces, of impulses and counter-impulses whose origin must be

            revealed. Obviously, it is not a genealogy in the chronological sense

            of the word; even when it resorts to the notion of historical stages,

            this genesis does not refer to a temporal origin but to a virtual source

            or, better, to an empty space from which the values of ethics and

            religion arise. To discover this space as empty is the task of the



Beckett follows in the tradition established by Nietzsche and Freud in the sense that he recognizes that the unmasking of God demands a revaluation of culture; fiction, which has often been guilty of suggesting that the ‘empty space’ was a plenitude, must now reveal the archaic impulses by which it has always been structured. Hence, in Watt, language is condemned for having served the twin functions of interdiction, through which human weakness is shown, and consolation, through which an illusory refuge from this weakness is offered. Watt’s narrative records his journey through a world constituted by a self and by an Other, whose physical representative is Mr. Knott and who decides ultimately what rules shall prevail in their encounter. Throughout the novel Watt accepts uncritically the real existence of the Other while the novel treats it as an ‘empty space.’ His fidelity to the Other leads him to search continuously for the ‘real meanings’ which it has concealed in the visible world; from the point of view of the novel this search for the Truth is merely an ‘effect of language,’ in the sense that to speak a language is to assume implicitly the existence of an intelligible world, governed by the Other who founds language, and whose rules correspond to the structure of language. Watt’s loyalty to this conception of language leads him to find himself surrounded by objects and events which both invite and resist his power of naming. The resulting parody of thinking is aimed not so much at rationalism as at the illusory Other who, in the scheme of interdiction embraced by Watt, appears to regulate the way in which the visible world shall properly be approached; Watt’s weakness, his credulous belief in the authority of a figure who possesses a secret knowledge denied to him is similarly parodied. The revelation of the inadequacy of language to account for phenomena in the visible world, which serves as the explicit philosophical subject of the novel, provides metaphorical expression for a more profound intention: the destruction of the authority of the Other, who expresses his power of interdiction through language.


The uncovering of illusion applies equally to those elements of consolation which appear in the novel. When we are not anguishing with Watt over the intractability of the material world, we are listening to stories which take us far from the dilemmas which Watt is incapable of resolving. The various stories in Watt oscillate between moments where they appear to be objectively ‘true,’ thus satisfying a desire which had been frustrated in Watt’s direct encounter with reality, and moments where they are unmasked and revealed as a purely hypothetical, if not illusory, construction. While Watt remains fixed within a world determined by the twin illusions of interdiction and consolation, the novel, through the many inconsistencies of its formal structure, reveals its indifference to the Other, whose purposes language serves, and to the fears and desires which it arouses.


The functions of interdiction and consolation which characterize the language of Watt are represented in the opening scene of the novel:


            Mr. Hackett turned the corner and saw, in the failing light, at some

            little distance, his seat. It seemed to be occupied. This seat, the

            property very likely of the municipality, or of the public, was of

            course not his, but he thought of it as his. This was Mr. Hackett’s

            attitude towards things that pleased him. He knew they were not his,

            but he thought of them as his, He knew they were not his, because

            they pleased him.8


The disparity which this passage establishes, between an external world whose nature can be expressed by reference to a presumably objective code (‘property very likely of the municipality’) and an internal world of subjective aspirations, whose expressions (‘his seat’) are negated by the former, reflects the movement of interdiction in the novel. The language of the ‘real world’ operates, in this movement, as a censoring mechanism, a massive, ubiquitous system of repression which thwarts or renders ludicrous the efforts of the subject to achieve an accommodation with it. The narrator’s allusion to this disparity in the case of Mr. Hackett points humorously to a conflict which Watt will endure pathetically when he attempts to replace the language he is accustomed to using with one that is ‘more real.’ At the same time, language is shown in this opening passage to be capable of offering to the uncritical intelligence a haven from the constraints which it has just imposed; Mr. Hackett uses this power of language to create a fragile imaginary world in which what he thinks is not always subordinated to what he knows.


The element of interdiction is felt in Watt principally in those episodes in which Watt attempts to satisfy the desire, created by language, to provide a satisfying description of the visible world. Before entering Mr. Knott’s house he is shown to possess a technique for choosing among the alternative explanations of phenomena which might logically present themselves; when, for example, he must decide between two explanations of how a locked door came to be open, ‘he preferred the latter, as being the more beautiful’ (37). Once he has entered Mr. Knott’s house, however, he finds it increasingly difficult to decide which of his hypotheses to accept. The scene involving the piano tuners provides the first serious threat to his technique. The event itself is unexceptional, but as it enters Watt’s mind it undergoes a progressive deterioration until only a meaningless succession of discrete elements remains. In effect, he can no longer connect the visible features of the scene, which are the direct object of his perception, with language about the scene, which can come to him only through the mediation of others. He no longer sees the episode as language, as something heard. The weakening connection between individual perception and cultural interpretation leads to several scenes in which the union between words and things, which begins in the ‘stade du miroir,’ ultimately disappears. First Watt finds himself incapable of naming a pot; later, in a scene which recalls Denis Vasse’s example of a child looking into a mirror and ‘seeing the name which he has heard,’ Watt realizes that he can no longer persuasively ascribe to himself the name which he had once so casually assumed:


            As for himself, though he could no longer call it a man, as he had used

            to do, with the intuition that he was perhaps not talking nonsense, yet

            he could not imagine what else to call it, if not a man. But Watt’s

            imagination had never been a lively one. So he continued to think of

            himself as a man, as his mother had taught him, when she said, There’s

            a good little man, or There’s a bonny little man, or There’s a clever

            little man. But for all the relief that this afforded him, he might just

            as well have thought of himself as a box, or an urn. (83).


Watt’s dilemma represents both a crisis and an invitation; it upsets his habitual ways of organizing his experience yet, at the same time, invites him to dispose of his habits and to enter into an order of experience where the desire to name things, and to preserve the correspondence between the individual and the cultural, is no longer felt. Beckett has commented favourably on the achievement of a state in which one looks indifferently upon the loss of relation between regions of experience which had previously been bound together; further, he argues that the artist should not attempt to create new harmonies out of the discordant elements of his experience.9 Hence, Watt’s response to the breakdown of his habitual world is contrary to Beckett’s suggested ideal and to the position which will be adopted by the narrators of the later novels. He refuses to accept the loss of a world which can be taken at ‘face value’ and tries instead to create a new system of words which will maintain the correspondence between perception and interpretation, between the self and its culture.10


Watt’s failure to profit from the opportunity presented by the resistance of events and objects in Mr. Knott’s house is emphasized later in the novel when Sam describes Watt’s manner of speaking, which consists of re-ordering letters within words and words within sentences. A characteristic result is the following:


            ‘Dis yb dis, nem owt. yad la, tin, fo trap. Skin, skin, skin. Od su did ned

            taw? On. Taw ot klat tonk? On. Tonk ot klat taw? Taw ta kool tonk?

            Nilb, mun, mud. Tin fo trap, yad la. Nem owt, dis yb dis.’ (168)


Sam assures us that even in its most extreme rearrangements Watt’s conversation could, with patience, be understood, and the careful reader will verify this claim. The distortions in Watt’s speech indicate that he is trying desperately, by creating an alternative language, to remain within the ordinary human world where the mediating function of language is maintained. Unlike Mr. Knott, who has transcended the human world and who never speaks, Watt chatters interminably, continually adopting new verbal strategems to prevent himself from being overwhelmed by a world whose language he has failed to master. Each new effort at organizing the visible world through language merely amplifies the fear of interdiction which it was intended to dissipate. Events which occur in this world appear to him in the same way that the park bench had appeared to Mr. Hackett: as tantalising objects which ultimately frustrate his efforts to possess them through language.


The continual frustration to which Watt’s attempts at naming inevitably lead are contrasted in the novel with moments of apparent consolation achieved through the successful elaboration of stories. Individual characters use stories as a way of trying to ignore an apparently invincible reality, while the novel itself, by treating its own stories ironically, uses them to reveal the imaginary nature of this reality. Arthur’s story, for example, begins with the ostensible purpose of relieving Mr. Graves of the burden of his impotence yet unfolds in such a way as to suggest that this apparent motive is merely peripheral to his main purpose. Arthur himself senses that his story is guided by intentions less obvious than his desire to be of assistance to Mr. Graves. The real interest of the story lies in Watt’s response to it; he is very pleased by Arthur’s performance and seems not bothered in the least by the story’s inappropriateness to its stated purpose. It appeals to him as an ingenious distraction, a complicated narrative filled with comprehensible details which draw his attention away from the dilemmas which he has encountered at Mr. Knott’s. This need for distraction is shared by Watt and Arthur:


            Watt learned later, from Arthur, that the telling of this story, while it

            lasted, before Arthur grew tired, had transported Arthur far from Mr.

            Knott’s premises, of which, of the mysteries of which, of the fixity

            of which, Arthur had sometimes more, than he could bear. (198).


Arthur’s remark points to Beckett’s conception of stories as merely furtive, temporizing instruments for dealing with a situation which is at once unbearable and inescapable; they provide an imaginary form of consolation. The difficulty which Beckett faces, partially in Watt and more extensively in the French novels, is how to use stories in such a way as to avoid the spurious consoling function which they tend to assume. Watt’s story about the Lynch family contains some examples of the way in which the difficulty is confronted in this novel. The story originates with Watt’s contemplation of the arrangement whereby the food which Mr. Knott does not eat at his mealtime is disposed of. He is instructed to leave the leftovers for a dog; but, as there is no dog living in the house, Watt begins an elaborate series of speculations designed to reveal the system which has been created to insure that the leftovers are always eaten. He finally concludes that the task of providing a dog is assured by a family named Lynch who maintains a whole kennel of dogs.


The most significant aspect of the assumptions on which this story is based is that they become less and less subjective. Thus, the existence of the Lynch family, which is merely hypothetical, is presented as an incontrovertible fact, as when the narrator adopts a tone of objectivity when describing them: ‘The name of this fortunate family was Lynch, and at the moment of Watt’s entering Mr. Knott’s service, this family of Lynch was made up as follows’ (100). The authority which this story appears to possess is eventually unmasked, however; at one point the narrator introduces Sam Lynch’s daughter Kate, ‘aged twenty-one years, a fine girl but a bleeder’ (102), and then, as if to answer the obvious objection, tells us in a footnote ‘Haemophilia is, like enlargement of the prostrate, an exclusively male disorder. But not in this work’ (102). This device of encouraging the reader to believe in the validity of his story and then exposing it as an illusion occurs again when the narrator attempts to explain Erskine’s behaviour in terms of a metaphor:


            Or perhaps Erskine, finding the first floor trying, is obliged to run up-

            stairs every now and then for a breath of the second floor, and then

            every now and then downstairs for a breath of the ground floor, or

            even garden, just as in certain waters certain fish, in order to support

            the middle depths, are now forced to rise and fall, now to the surface of

            the ocean waves, and now to the ocean bed. But do such fish exist? Yes,

            such fish exist, now. (120).


Throughout the entire novel, in fact, the illusion of verisimilitude is continually deflated, not only by such intrusions as these but also by the narrator’s own uncertain position within the novel. Watt begins omnisciently; yet, when the narrator describes Watt’s experiences at Mr. Knott’s, he suggests that he is not an omniscient narrator but merely Watt’s biographer.11 That this admission is itself untenable becomes clear when we recall that the novel records several episodes which Watt could not have observed and which could not, therefore, have been known to Sam.


This unresolvable contradiction in the narrative structure of Watt reveals the narrator’s indifference to the consolation which his stories are intended to afford. He presents Watt as wanting desperately to restore a lost harmony, yet he leaves the discordant elements of his own stories untouched. While Watt remains trapped by the cycle of fear and desire, struggling to know what a thing is and to describe it ‘correctly,’ the narrator ignores all rules and, by so doing, dissipates the power of the illusory Other who lies behind them.


The unmasking of the authority of language which Beckett offers in Watt was compared earlier with the denunciation of theism associated with Nietzsche and Freud. He shares with the ‘masters of suspicion’ the view that language serves the discredited supernatural function of accusing man of weakness and of providing refuge from this accusation. What, then, remains after the origin of this function in archaic human fears and desires has been deciphered? For Paul Ricoeur, who has meditated with remarkable insight on the meaning of modern suspicion, the answer lies essentially in the separation of the concept of the Other, ultimately of God, from the anthropocentricity implied by its association with the fear of interdiction and the desire for consolation. He regards atheism, and its denunciation of false idols, as a moment in the transition from religion, which has been condemned as a cultural edifice erected by archaic impulses, to faith, which involves the acceptance of risk and the belief in a God ‘who does not protect but who yields us to the dangers of a life worthy of being called human.’12 The vision of a post-modern faith which Ricoeur describes cannot be reduced to a formula (he often comments himself on the dangers of a ‘new dogmatism’), but the spirit of his vision may be clarified by noting that he takes as his model the ‘tragic faith’ of Job which he juxtaposes with the attachment to ‘the archaic law of retribution professed by his pious friends.’13 For Ricoeur the essential quality of the God who appears in Job is that he exceeds any human standard of measurement. His existence cannot be explained by reference to narcissistic human desires; he exists apart from any human interests which he might be imagined as serving:


            It is this unfolding of being, in the absence of personal concerns and by

            means of the fullness of the word, which was already at work in the

            revelation with which Job culminates: ‘Then from the heart of the

            tempest Yahweh gave Job his answer. He said . . .’ But what does he

            say? Nothing which can be construed as a response to the problem of

            suffering and death; nothing which can be used as a justification of God

            within theodicy; on the contrary, he speaks of an order foreign to man,

            of a measure which has no human proportion: ‘Where were you when I

            laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, since you are so well informed!’

            The way of theodicy is closed; even the vision of Behemoth and Levia-

            than, with which the revelation culminates, has no relation with Job’s

            personal problem; no theology emerges from the tempest, no intel-

            ligible relation between the physical and the ethical orders; what

            remains is the unfolding of all in the fullness of the word, the possibi-

            lity of an acceptance which would be the first stage of a consolation

which was beyond the desire for protection.14


The higher form of consolation which Ricoeur discovers in Job has been freed from all infantile fears of punishment and reward; it invites what he calls an ‘obedience to being,’ by which he means a silent attentiveness to a word which is, which opens the possibility of a dialogue with ‘being’ without reducing itself to the plane of purely human concerns. The relation between God and Job offers a model for this word because in Job God speaks to Job but not about Job.


The disgust which Beckett expresses throughout Watt for a language which is inescapably about man and whose dependence on archaic fears and desires renders it undeserving of faith, introduces a period of waiting for a renewed language. The adventure of the self begins in the ‘stade du miroir’ with the discovery of an objectified and alienating image; it reaches an impasse with the acquisition of a language which confirms the subject’s captivity within this image; the possibility of an eventual triumph over this narcissistic destiny depends upon the capacity for identifying with a word which cannot be confined to its tangible representation:


            Thus to say that man is conceived in the image of God means nothing

            else than this: man cannot conceive of himself according to his own

            conception, according to his own image. If he does, he dies, like

            Narcissus. To conceive of oneself in the image of God is to conceive

            of oneself in the image of nothing which can be seen. It is to conceive

            of oneself paradoxically in the image of a word which says that it is

            and who is, a word which affirms being.15


Beginning with Murphy Beckett has continuously explored in his fiction the predicament of a subject attempting to free itself from its representations and to identify with ‘being.’ In that novel, the hero struggles to transcend his conscious, tangible experience and to achieve a level of being in which ‘he was not free, but a mote in the dark of absolute freedom.’16 In his more recent short pieces, the same desire to free the subject from the constraints of its alienating images results in the splitting between an ‘I’ which corresponds to Lacan’s ‘primordial form’ and a ‘he’ which represents the objectified image into which the subject risks falling:


            J’ai renoncé avant de naître, ce n’est pas possible autrement, il fallait

            cependant que ça naisse, ce fut lui, j’étais dedans, c’est comme ça que

            je vois la chose, c’est lui qui a crié, c’est lui qui a vu le jour, moi je n’ai

            pas crié, je n’ai pas vu le jour, il est impossible que j’aie une voix, il est impossible que j’aie des

            pensées, et je parle et pense, je fais l’impossible,

            ce n’est pas possible autrement, c’est lui qui a vécu, moi je n’ai pas vécu,

            il a mal vécu, à cause de moi, il va se tuer à cause de moi, je vais raconter

            ça, je vais raconter sa mort, la fin de sa vie et sa mort, au fur et à mesure,

            au présent, sa mort seul ne serait pas assez, elle ne me suffirait pas, s’il

            râle c’est lui qui râlera, moi je ne râlerai pas, c’est lui qui mourra, moi

            je ne mourrai pas, . . .17


The ‘I’ who speaks in this passage recalls Vasse’s comment about the fate of Narcissus. He is a subject who exists apart from his reflected image and who, in his affirmation that he will not die, claims for himself a destiny reserved for ‘nothing which can be seen.’ The precise nature of his survival could probably not be articulated without falling into the pattern of discredited religious sentiment; it can only be approached negatively, as the renewal which follows upon the destruction of archaic desires and their representations, as the unimaginable plenitude which arises out of ‘lessness.’18 Beckett’s fiction resembles contemporary philosophy in its determination to unmask illusions, yet neither the fiction nor the philosophy can pretend to say what lies beyond. The achievement and the limits of both have been admirably suggested by Lacan in a remark on the role of psychoanalysis: ‘In the recourse which we maintain to a relation of subject to subject, psychoanalysis can accompany the patient as far as the ecstatic limit of the ‘You are that’ which reveals to him the cipher of his mortal destiny, but it is not in our power as practitioners to lead him to the moment where his true journey begins.’19


1 The first critic to stress the inadequacy of rational thinking as a key to reading Watt is Jacqueline Hoefer in ‘Watt,’ Perspective XI, no. 3, Autumn, 1959,  (166-82). The continuing influence of this emphasis may be seen in this recent judgement by Frederick N. Smith: ‘To read Watt as an anti-logic for today’s students is to read it as a polemic against our cock-sure belief in our own rationality. It just ain’t true, says Beckett.’ ‘Beckett and the Port Royal Logic,’ Journal of Modern Literature, V, 1, Feb. 1976, (108).

2 ‘L’assomption jubilatoire de son image speculaire par l’être encore plongé dans l’impuissance motrice et la dépendance du nourissage qu’est le petit homme à ce stade infans nous paraîtra dès lors manifester en une situation exemplaire la matrice symbolique où le je se précipite en une forme primordiale, avant qu’il ne s’objective dans la dialectique de l’identification à l’autre et que le langage ne lui restitue dans l’universel sa fonction de sujet.’ Jacques Lacan, ‘Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je,’ Écrits, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966, (90). Lacan’s notion of the universal derives from Hegel; it indicates that the object expressed by language is not ‘the thing itself’ but an abstract essence which language has conferred by negating the thing.

3 ‘Ainsi se comprend cette inertie propre aux formations du je où l’on peut voir la défi- nition la plus extensive de la névrose: comme la captation du sujet par la situation donne la formule la plus générale de la folie, de celle qui gît entre les murs de asiles, comme de celle qui assourdit la terre de son bruit et de sa fureur,’ Ibid., (96).

4 ‘Il collaborera efficacement à l’oeuvre commune dans son travail quotidien et meublera ses loisirs de tous les agréments d’une culture profuse qui, du roman policier aux mémoires historiques, des conférences éducatives à l’orthopédie des relations de groupe, lui donnera matière à oublier son existence et sa mort, en même temps qu’à méconnaitre dans une fausse communication le sens particulier de sa vie.’ ‘Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychanalyse,’ Ibid., 162 Translated as ‘The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis,’ in Anthony Wilden, The Language of the Self (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968), 45.

5 ‘Le nom est le lieu symbolique le lieu du sujet où s’opèrent la rupture et le retournment. La structure, ainsi mise en évidence, opere le déplacement constitutif de la reconnaissance: l’enfant ne voit plus l’image de son corps, l’agrégat de ses membres, il voit "Pierre" ou "Anne": il voit le nom qu’il entend.’ Denis Vasse,’La Loi,’ L’Ombilic et la Voix (Paris: Éditions du Seuil,1974), 120.

6 ‘En outre, c’est la même figure du dieu qui menace et qui réconforte. Je prends donc  la religion comme une structure archaïque de la vie qui dolt toujours etre surmontée par la foi et qui repose sur la crainte de la punition et le désir de la protection.’ Paul Ricoeur, ‘Religion, Athéisme, Foi,’ Le Conflit des Interprétations: Essais d’Herméneutique (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969), 432. This essay is probably Ricoeur’s most concise statement of a topic, modern suspicion as a source of destruction and renewal, which is recurrent in his work.

7 ‘Nietzsche et Freud, d’une manière parallèle, ont développé une sorte d’herméneutique réductrice qui est en même temps une sorte de philologie et une sorte de généalogie. C’est une philologie, une exégèse, une interprétation dans la mesure où le texte de notre conscience peut etre comparé à un palimpseste sous la surface duquel un autre texte est écrit. Déchiffrer ce texte est la teche de cette exégèse spéciale. Mais cette herménautique est en même temps une généalogie, parce que la distortion du texte procède d’un conflit de forces, de pulsions et de contre-pulsions, dont l’origine doit etre désoccultée. Evidemment, ce n’est pas une généalogie au sens chronologique de ce mot; même quand elle recourt à des stades historiques, cette genèse ne ramène pas à une origine temporelle, mais plutôt à un foyer virtuel ou mieux à une place vide, d’où les valeurs de l’éthique et de la religion procèdent. Découvrir cette place comme vide, telle est la tâche de la généalogie.’ Ibid., 433; my translation.

8 Samuel Beckett, Watt, New York: Grove Press, 1959 (7). Further page references will appear within parentheses in the text.

9 Samuel Beckett, ‘Three Dialogues,’ Transition Forty-Nine, 5 Dec. 1949, (97-103). Reprinted in Martin Esslin, ed., Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1965.

10 Molloy expresses a more resigned, and a more lucid attitude than Watt when he comments on the inevitability of division: ‘And even my sense of identity was wrapped in a namelessness often hard to penetrate, as we have just seen I think. And so on for all the other things which made merry with my senses. Yes, even then, when already all was fading, waves and particles, there could be no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names.’ Molloy, New York: Grove Press, 1955, (41).

11 ‘For there we have to do with events that resisted Watt’s efforts to saddle them with meaning, and a formula, so that he could neither think of them, nor speak of them, but only suffer them, when they recurred, though it seems probable that they recurred no more, at the period of Watt’s revelation, to me, but were as though they had never been.’ (79).

12 ‘Ce serait une foi qui s’avancerait dans les ténèbres, dans une nouvelle “nuit de l’entendment”—pour prendre le langage des mystiques—devant un Dieu qui n’aurait pas les attributs “de la providence,” d’un Dieu qui ne me protègerait pas mais qui me livrerait aux dangers d’une vie digne d’être appelée humaine.’ Ricoeur, 450.

13 Ibid., 445.

14 ‘C’est ce déploiement de l’être, en l’absence du souci personnel et par le moyen de la plénitude de la parole, qui était déjàen jeu dans la révélation sur laquelle s’achève le Livre de Job:’Yahvé répondit à Job du sein de la tempête et dit . . .’; mais que dit-il? rien qui puisse être considéré comme une répense au problème de la souffrance et de la mort; rien qui puisse être utilisé comme une justification de Dieu dans une théodicée; au contraire, il est parlé d’un ordre étranger à l’homme, de mesures qui n’ont pas de proportion à l’homme: ‘Où étais-tu quand je fondai la terre? Parle, si ton savoir est éclairé!’ La voie de la théodicée; est formée; même la vision du Béhémoth et du Léviathan, dans laquelle culmine la révélation,n’a aucun rapport au problème personnel de Job; nulle théologie n’émerge de la tempête, nulle connexion intelligible entre un ordre physique et un ordre éthique; reste le déploiement du tout dans la plénitude de la parole; reste seulement la possibilité d’une acceptation qui serait le premier degré de la consolation, par-delà le désir de protection.’ Ibid., 451; my translation.

15 ‘Ainsi,dire que l’homme est conçu à l’image de Dieu ne signifie rien d’autre que ceci: l’homme ne peut se concevoir selon sa propre conception, selon sa propre image. S’il le fait, il meurt, tel Narcisse. Se concevoir à l’image de Dieu, c’est bien se concevoir à l’image de rien de ce qui se voit. C’est se concevoir paradoxalement à l’image d’une parole, selon une parole qui dit qu’elle est et qui est, qui dit l’être.’ Vasse, 116; my translation.

16 Murphy, New York: Grove Press, 1957 (112).

17 Pour finir encore et autres foirades, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1976. (38).

18 In an anecdote concerning their attempt to find a French equivalent for ‘lessness,’ a word which Beckett had coined as the title of one of his short prose works, E.M. Cioran suggests the elusive, paradoxical significance of this word: ‘Together we had considered all possible forms suggested by sans and moindre. None of them seemed to us to come near the notion of the inexhaustible lessness, a combination of loss and infinitude, an emptiness linked with apotheosis.’ ‘Encounters with Beckett,’ translated from the French by Raymond Federman and Jean M. Sommermeyer, Partisan Review, XLIII, no. 2, 1976. (282).

19 ‘Dans le recours que nous preservons du sujet au sujet, la psychanalyse peut accompagner le patien’t jusqu’à la limite extatique du “Tu es cela,” où se revéle à lui le chiffre de sa destinée mortelle, mais il n’est pas en notre seul pouvoir de practicien de l’amener à ce moment où commence le véritable voyage.’ ‘Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je,’ 97; my translation.