Infinity Breeds Contempt The Social Article Critique

  • Length: 15 pages
  • Sources: 20
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Article Critique
  • Paper: #15243526

Excerpt from Article Critique :

Malone dies just as he finally does away with the alternate identities of his storytelling, such that he can be seen as 'becoming Malone' at the same moment of Malone's death, so that his death forces the reader to recall the beginning of the story and the Malone already in existence there, restarting the narrative loop.

In effect, Malone's storytelling creates an infinitely looping continuity that diminishes the finality of his death, because 'although the physical body will eventually die, we cannot be sure that consciousness discontinues,' and in fact, the novel seems to suggest that Malone's consciousness never ultimately discontinues, but rather briefly goes dark before being reactivated once again at the beginning of the novel (White, 2009, 45). The tragedy, of course, is that Malone is entirely unequipped to deal with this kind of torturous immortality, so his mind is frayed and confused, with different characters and moments forcing their way into his consciousness seemingly against his will. Thus, he constantly reviews questions in his mind, attempting to think, but he knows that whatever he allows into the forefront of his consciousness will only make him more confused: "If I start trying to think again I shall make a mess of my decease" (Beckett, 176). There is too much fluidity and complexity to the ideas in his mind, composed as they are from the recollections and experiences of an infinite number of readings, so he continuously hops from one subject to another with little organization, from the stars in the sky, to the clouds and birds, to the few possessions he retains. Thus, Malone's story 'starts with flawed narration, goes on to more fragmented forms, and ends with the semi-coherent and utterly opaque' before returning to the beginning (Richardson, 1953, 2).

In a way, Malone's malady is revealed to be the complications arising from the over-examined life, forced into a constant reappraisal by the panopticonic environment in which he eternally finds himself. Malone oscillates between participating in this surveillance though his recounting of seemingly unimportant details and attempting to escape it through his deployment of stories that seems almost like a tragicomic blending of One Thousand and One Nights and The Canterbury Tales. Malone attempts to escape his oppressive condition through death, and 'the way he sets out to achieve this is by deploying a careful sequence of strategic distractions: telling himself four stories, performing an inventory of his possessions, and finally dying' (McDonald, 2006, 98). In short, Malone 'seeks to free himself from his identity through writing' and in doing so escape the panoptic confinement which defines that identity in the first place (Higgins, 2007, 38).

These four stories mirror the telling of four stories by each character in The Canterbury Tales (two stories on the way to Canterbury and two while returning to London) but in Malone Dies the situation is slightly different; the narrator knows that death is the journey of no return, and so has planned to tell all four stories on the path towards death, literally to ease his pain and boredom as he is stuck in a room, but in the context of the entire novel, the stories serve to direct the attention of the reader elsewhere, to focus the solidifying gaze on other characters so that Malone may drift into nothingness. This plan ultimately fails, as 'the seemingly disparate narrative voices turn out in the end to be mere projections of a single isolated consciousness' (Richardson, 1953, 95). Malone "loses himself completely in his stories as he weaves in and out of the Sapo, Macmann, and Moll tales, before ending finally with his death (or rather his disappearance) in the final episode" (Catanzaro, 2004, 120). Malone periodically takes on the identity of Macmann, and even the locations in Malone's stories serve to blend together different narratives, because the House of Saint John of God asylum in which Macmann stays is remarkably similar to locations in Beckett's other works, in particular Murphy's fictional Magdalen Mental Mercy seat and the unnamed sanatorium of Watt (Smith, 2002, 25). This is why 'the names change, the figures blur, they may be different persons or the same person, or figments of Malone's own personality,' but all serve the same dual purpose (Barrett, 1956). This dual purpose is noted by Joseph Brooker in his consideration of boredom in Malone Dies when he states:

To speak, or to write, as it may be, with his dwindling stub of pencil lead, is to produce variation, to take flight from what Adorno, after Beckett, calls the 'eversame': to introduce a saving margin of differences into a continuum otherwise blankly homogeneous. This view of the role of Beckettian discourse would echo what I think is a rather traditional assumption that language, for this writer's characters, staves something off -- although perhaps the major candidate for that something has been death or the void of an absurd universe, rather than the more bathetic threat of boredom (Brooker, 2001, 31).

This 'saving margin of differences' mentioned by Brooker bears some similarities to the notion of difference as discussed by Jacques Derrida, especially in the latter's consideration of the 'theater of cruelty,' which is the performers' act of violently disrupting the false reality of ideology through the ephemeral production of a play, resisting all attempts at solidification and thus panoptic ensnarement through the play's unique existence as an objectless performance. This theory is crucial to an understanding of Malone Dies, because the difference potentially created by the theater of the cruel is precisely the kind of ideological weapon that serves to uncover the 'ultimate reality' that 'is rarely perceived' due to the fact that "the world [is] a mysterious place where appearances are deceptive' and 'the human sensory apparatus and intelligence provide poor equipment' for uncovering these deceptions (Rabinovitz, 1977, 40).

Derrida proposes that "the theatre of cruelty would be the art of difference and of expenditure without economy, without reserve, without return, without history,' something towards which Malone strives but ultimately fails (Derrida, 1978, 248). In his storytelling, Malone is attempting 'a representation which is not repetition […] a re-presentation which is full presence, which does not carry its double within itself as its death [….] a present which does not repeat itself, that is, […] a present outside time, a nonpresent' which 'offers itself as such, appears, presents itself, opens the stage of time or the time of the stage only by harboring its own intestine difference' (Derrida, 1978, 248). Malone wants to tell his stories, to present them as such, as separate from his own person so that they may redirect the attention of the reader and subsequently free him from the repetition of the novel, but 'he cannot keep himself separate from the story he is telling' and so the 'saving margin of difference' he attempts to introduce into the novel never materializes; Malone ultimately never distinguishes himself from Macmann, and neither Malone's nor Macmann's deaths provide the violent, 'cruel' rupture Malone seeks (Pattie, 2000, 69). "Malone of course disowns his memories altogether, giving them to various characters such as Sapo and Macmann with whom he identifies only reluctantly" because he wants them to exist separate from him, to live and die and leave him to his own mortality (Barry, 2006, 100). Thus, at one point Malone abruptly breaks off his narration, wondering if he is not 'talking yet again about himself' before continuing on:

Soon I shall not know where Sapo comes from, nor what he hopes. Perhaps I had better abandon this story and go on to the second, or even the third, the one about the stone. No, it would be the same thing. I must simply be on my guard, reflecting on what I have said before I go on and stopping, each time disaster threatens, to look at myself as I am. That is just what I wanted to avoid. But there seems to be no other solution (Beckett, 183).

Malone ultimately loses control over his own stories, although he determines that "I shall try and go on all the same, a little longer, my thoughts elsewhere, I can't stay here. I shall hear myself talking, afar off, from my far mind, talking of the Lamberts, talking of myself, my mind wandering, far from here, among its ruins" (210). However, the one positive element of Malone's condition, then, is that he seems to realize the impossibility of escape early on, which ultimately produces the apathy mentioned earlier on in this essay and allows Malone to produce some of the most trenchant critiques of society…

Cite This Article Critique:

"Infinity Breeds Contempt The Social" (2011, June 16) Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

"Infinity Breeds Contempt The Social" 16 June 2011. Web.20 January. 2017. <>

"Infinity Breeds Contempt The Social", 16 June 2011, Accessed.20 January. 2017,