Desire, in Samuel Beckett's Murphy, is the ecstasy of the gap. Murphy's existential quest for "place," for the always already deferred "connexion," is marked, significantly, by its implication within a discourse of absence. The notion of absence in Murphy, however, involves the paradoxical movement, or oscillation, between nodal moments of presence. Absence, here, is the aporia that exists, or rather subsists, between and within self and "other," and, perhaps most particularly, between language and desire. The displacement of "presence" within the text of Murphy functions, primarily, as an exploration of the limits of meaning and of the spaces in which meaning is located. For Murphy, this sense of absence as the informing moment beyond the ostensive surface of the real [Note 1] is to be found in the fantasy of the "other."
It is important that the reader's first encounter with Murphy is within the context of bondage: "He sat naked in his rocking-chair of undressed teak, guaranteed not to crack, warp, shrink, corrode, or creak at night. It was his own, it never left him. The corner in which he sat was curtained off from the sun [ . . . ]. Seven scarves held him in position" (1-2). Murphy is identified in terms of the spaces of the objects to which he is bound. He, or rather, his body, is literally objectified as an integral part of the chair through which he draws definition. Murphy, here, is the "not-I" -- objectum -- 'that which is not me.' There is a stability of meaning located in the object-other that is, significantly, absent in Murphy. The rocking-chair, to which Murphy confines himself, functions as the guarantor of his essential identity. Language, here, serves a dual function. Primarily, language works descriptively, however, it is also, in this passage, the language of promotion -- the language of socialized desire.
It is this wall of the social that Murphy alternately confronts and recedes from throughout the text. The social functions as a parallel discourse to Murphy's fantasy of the "other," functioning intrusively, the "sights and sounds" of which "detained him in the world to which they belonged, but not he, as he fondly hoped" (2). Murphy constructs, for himself, a boundary existence in which the frustration of social embodiment is mediated through the pleasure (jouissance) gained in its imagined transcendence:
He sat in his chair in this way because it gave him pleasure! First it gave his body pleasure, it appeased his body. Then it set him free in his mind. For it was not until his body was appeased that he could come alive in his mind, as described in section six. And life in his mind gave him pleasure, such pleasure that pleasure was not the word (2).
Murphy locates his sense of self in the space of the fantasy. The body, for Murphy, is a place of imprisonment, an extension of the social bod in which freedom is achieved, ironically, through its antithesis. This freedom in confinement is the paradox of the existential self in which "[ . . . ] man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does" (Sartre 41). The fundamental futility of social existence is Murphy's aporia. Murphy's search for that "meeting of extremes" contains, at the center of its being, an intrinsic lack or void. For Murphy, this lacuna of the self is contained, conceptually, in Neary's notion of the "Apmonia."
The oscillation between absence and presence within the text works, indicationally, to mark Murphy's state of essential disjunction. Murphy is fundamentally out of step with the world. He is split, dis-connected. For Murphy, the "big world" from which he is irrevocably alienated is defined by the mantra of "Quid pro quo." The modern world suggests, to Murphy, the contingency of human connections, and hence, the commodification, or public trading of the self. This sense of contingency is focalized in Murphy's relationship with Celia in which the abject functioning of desire is played out: "The part of him that he hated craved for Celia, the part that he loved shrivelled up at the thought of her" (8). Celia, like the body, is both necessary and repellent to Murphy. Murphy is paradoxically defined by, and effaced through, his connection to Celia and her attempts to "make a man" out of him.
The notion of the "making" of Murphy is self-referentially textualized. Meaning, as it is produced within the social, undoes itself by becoming an exercise in redundancy -- that absence in presence that Murphy associates with the "big world." The opening of section two, the cataloguing of Celia, indicates the reduction of self to its most minimal descriptors. Identity is a matter of quantifiable inventories, or essential components which are, importantly, dissociated from any sense of intimacy. Existence, within the socius, is subject to its ability to be "abstracted," in its textual sense of the "abstract," or "expurgated, accelerated, improved and reduced" (12). The contraction of self is seen in terms of the language of the product or commodity, the descriptive assessment of which is ultimately rendered meaningless. The discourse of the "new and improved," here, functions to de-legitimize the social subject by exposing its fundamental absurdity.
Language and desire operate to reveal, in their excesses, the incommensurability of self and "other" as mediated by and through the social. Within the space of the "big world" Murphy is deprived of any kind of agency. He is acted on and spoken through his capture within objectification -- Celia's ultimatum, Suk's prophecy, the "goal" of Miss Counihan, et al. The language and needs of the "big world" are not his own, but forces to which Murphy is passively subjected. Suk's oracle is Murphy's "life-warrant," a return to the laws of the social that articulates Murphy's aporetic negotiation of external, public space. Here, life is diagrammed, deterministic and rigid, in sharp contrast to Murphy's exposition of his "little" or private world which is flux and indeterminacy. Murphy's retreat into his "little world" is a rejection of the responsibility that is bound to freedom and existence, a responsibility that is, however, located in Celia: "'I am what I do,' said Celia" (37), an expression that echoes Sartre's assertion that "[a] man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing" (48). What is at issue for Sartre, and for Celia, is the integrity of the real, or the social. Desire, here, is a site of absence, of "[ . . . ] man as a disappointed dream, as miscarried hopes, as vain expectations" (Sartre 48). Desire can only ever be achieved through the unification of self and "other," a process that is always already deferred and implicated in the formulation of lack which is the desiring-subject.
Murphy's alienation is instantiated through his inability to construct meaning from within the social, or indeed to, conversely, garner meaning from the "big world." For Celia, there is a fundamental breaking down of sense and identity in her communications with Murphy:
She felt, as she felt so often with Murphy, spattered with words that went dead as soon as they sounded; each word obliterated, before it had time to make sense, by the word that came next; so that in the end she did not know what had been said. It was like difficult music heard for the first time (40).
The futility of language to communicate meaning points to that gap between the import of intention and the ultimate emptiness or insignificance of the utterance itself. Celia's need to subject Murphy and his words to a kind of normative order of meaning is subverted by the temporary nature of the oral. For Lacan, the notion of the "word" itself is a "presence made of absence," the transposition of the thing into language fundamentally renders the real absent. " process of replacement occurs that confounds and obscures the real (Lacan, Language of the Self 39). Similarly, meaning, as a function of the social, is deconstructed by Murphy's use of language which makes "monstrous proposition[s]" (Beckett 40) that exist contrary to the rules of meaning (in its instantiation as a shared body of agreed upon knowledge).
For Murphy, social meaning, as with socialized desire, has been domesticated to a state of patterned regularity, to a kind of dogmatic fixity that is crystallized, textually, in Suk's oracle and spatially in Neary's futile cycle of bar stools around which "[ . . . ] he sat all day, moving slowly from one stool to another until he had completed the circuit of the counters, when he would start all over again in the reverse direction" (56). Neary's "circuit," as the physical exposition of Murphy's inability to provide a verbal context for meaning, articulates that fundamental paradox of mobile immobility that is life within the boundaries of the "big world."
The problem of the divided subject, as is the case with Murphy, is, essentially, a matter of language, for, "[ . . . ] it is in language that an expectation and it fulfilment make contact" (Wittgenstein I.445, 131). This act of unification informs Murphy's desire to make a "connexion," to make the two "extremes meet." The point of contact, however, between language and desire exposes the fundamental aporia at its center. The fulfilment of desire exists as a purely linguistic exchange between the "expectation" and its realization. Desire, or connection, here, is subject to a "virtual" fulfilment whose actualization is always already foreclosed to the subject: "'Humanity is a well with two buckets,' said Wylie, 'one going down to be filled, the other coming up to be emptied'" (58). The modern self is dispossessed of both being and desire because both being and desire remain in the desired object and, consequently, as absence in the subject. This notion of the essential, frustrated nature of the social self is a production of the perpetual deferral of desire:
Not frustration of a desire of the subject, but frustration by an object in which his desire is alienated and which the more it is elaborated, the more profound the alienation from its jouissance becomes for the subject. Frustration at a second remove, therefore, and such that even if the subject were to reintroduce its form into his discourse to the point of reconstituting the preparatory image through which the subject makes himself an object by striking a pose before the mirror, he could not possibly be satisfied with it, since even if he achieved his most perfect likeness in that image, it would be the jouissance of the other that he would cause to be recognized in it (Lacan, Language of the Self 11-12).
The movement towards the "other" that the subject instantiates is ritualized within the text of Murphy. The desire, in Murphy, to become- other, to become-object, to escape the reality of his "unredeemed" self is a process of dislocation that is always beyond realization.
The futility of acting out desire, which Wylie suggests through the exemplar of the always empty bucket, which negates the possibility of fulfilment, is articulated, textually, in Murphy through the spaces in which bodies are located. In particular, the dispersal of the self can be traced out through Murphy's various "homes." From his ambivalently doored "cage" in West Brompton to his idealized garret within the grounds of the sanitarium, there is an increasing sense of enclosure and an increasing problematization of the body. Murphy's initial "cage" is inherently public, there is always the danger of intrusion -- it, like Murphy's self-status within the social, is condemned. The "cage," is the former home of a prostitute, whose body is a public space in that complex way that the room itself is both public and private. The door hangs off of its hinges, there is the pretense of privacy that is always already threatened as is the body of the prostitute.
The elusiveness of "home" is emphasized, further, by Murphy and Celia's "room" in "Brewery Road between Pentonville Prison and the Metropolitan Cattle Market" (63). There is, in this "room," an essential state of in-betweeness and abjection that marks Murphy's association of the body with the social. Murphy's abandonment of his body to the competing disciplinary functions of the prison and the cattle market informs his submission to the mundane to a domesticated life. This context of institutionalization offers different ways in which to both control and utilize the body, processes that are localized in Celia's assumption of authority over Murphy: "Here they entered upon what Celia called the new life. Murphy was inclined to think that the new life, if it came at all, came later, and then to one of them only" (64).
Ironically, it is here, in this space that is defined through Celia's desire to socialize Murphy that Celia achieves a kind of identity with Murphy and his rejection of the "big world." Celia becomes a voyeur of life which, seen through the "small single window" of the room, becomes "condensed," a fragmentary apperception that is further reduced and singularized through the effect of her extension of the view through the window to seeing through "half-closed eyes." The contraction of perspective becomes, for Celia, a kind of refinement of sight which is achieved, moreover, through its rigidity of point of view:
There was not much light, the room devoured it, but she kept her face turned to what there was. The small single window condensed its changes, as half-closed eyes see the finer values of tones, so that it was never quiet in the room, but brightening and darkening in a slow ample flicker that went on all day, brightening against the darkening that was its end. A peristalsis of light, worming its way into the dark (66).
Celia's senses, here, perceive indistinctly. Indeed, there is a fundamental process of méconnaissance at work in which sight is apprehended aurally. The complexification of sensory experience is tied to Celia's emergent desire "for an exquisite depravity, to be naked and bound" (67). Celia's sense of the boundaries between her self and the external world have dissolved. Her self is mediated through the gradations of light and through her appropriation of Murphy's rocking-chair, her constituent object-universe. Notions of interior and exterior spaces, here, as with Murphy, are disrupted through the alienation of the self from its social context.
Existence, for Murphy and, increasingly, for Celia is bound up with the idea of marginality and, in particular, with spaces of marginality. Murphy's search for an ideal "green space" in which to place his body becomes a quest for escape from the "malignant proliferations" of the urban. Murphy yearns for "[a]ny old clod of the well-known English turf [ . . . ] on which he might lie down, cease to take notice and enter the landscapes where there were no chandlers and no exclusive residential cancers, but only himself improved out of all knowledge" (79). There is a kind of ironic romantic reference to the poetic trope of "Arcadia," or that "bower of bliss" that is always already imaginary. For Murphy, the space of the park represents a disjunctive space of purity -- disjunctive because it is, essentially, a landscape of "cultivation," both natural and unnatural at the same time.
This landscape of the park, on of those desired spaces of presence, is, however, impossible. There is, for Murphy, only Lincoln's Inn Fields: "The atmosphere there was foul, a miasma of laws" (79). In the absence of the ideal, Murphy "settles" for that place which "was better than none" (79). The "law," here, is a regulator of desire, distinguished, importantly, from the lure of the "Law" to which Murphy is drawn as a locus of freedom in bondage.
Murphy's implication in the notion of the "Law" is a consequence of his immersion in fantasy, in the closed system of his "little world": "Contrary to the common-sense notion of fantasizing as an indulgence in the hallucinatory realization of desires prohibited by the Law, the phantasmic narrative does not stage the suspension-transgression of the Law, but the very act of its installation". The idea, conversely, of the "law" is the "law of man," the "law of language" from which Murphy flees. The ideal Law, found in the rocking-chair, the garret, and the M.M.M. is defiled, becomes "law" in its socialization. Murphy's act of "making do" with the resources of the social that he has access to "[ . . . ] does not involve the assumption by the subject of the insignia of the other" (Lacan, Écrits 264), as occurs in his fantasy identification with the patients of the M.M.M., Abut rather the condition that the subject has to find the constituting structure of his desire in the same gap opened up by the effect of the signifiers in those who come to represent the Other for him, in so far as his demand is subjected to them" (Lacan, Écrits 264). At this point in the text, Murphy is working subversively from within the structures of the social to which he is tied through Celia's ultimatum.
Murphy's strategies for coping with regulatory social structures are often constructed in association with the body. The body, for Murphy, is an accomplice of the social. Pleasure is thus derived from the ability to manipulate the body, to turn it against the social in some way. Murphy's ruse with the tea, his "defrauding" of a second cup, or "1.83 cups approximately" (84) articulates "its merit as a little triumph of tactics in the face of the most fearful odds" (82). Murphy's retreat to the space of the park after making his nominal, or rather, symbolic, gesture towards finding a job is a similar evasive tactic -- a subversion of the "laws" that govern one's mundane responsibilities.
Murphy is "heroic" in the sense that Michel de Certeau outlines in The Practice of Everyday Life, a product of the culture of the "anthill" in which there is a fundamental "erosion and denigration of the singular or the extraordinary" (de Certeau 1). This new "anti-hero," significantly, is, as Murphy suggests to us, the written not the writer in his socialization. He responds to within the space of the "big world":
The "anyone" or "everyone" is a common place, a philosophical topos. The role of this general character (everyman and nobody) is to formulate a universal connection between illusory and frivolous scriptural productions and death, the law of the other. He plays out on stage the very definition of literature as a world and of the world as literature (de Certeau 2).
Murphy is both "everyman" and singular. He is perhaps "exceptional" in his recognition of the social strategies that have co-opted his identity. De Certeau's analysis of the textualization of the "common man" speaks, appropriately, to Murphy's relationship to a social language, and hence a world, in which he is, importantly, mis-placed.
It is significant that Murphy's elaboration of and move into his "little world" is made through the figure of Austin Ticklepenny, "Pot Poet/ From the County of Dublin" (84). Ticklepenny, however "[t]he merest pawn in the game between Murphy and his stars" (85) instantiates the links between the metaphor of the game, particularly the game of chess, and Murphy's interaction between his "little" and "big" world, as well as representing, literally, the mediocrity, or insufficiency of language, in its function as a social tool, to speak for Murphy. Social language is, to Murphy, that which violates his "little world," in the same way that Ticklepenny "pot poet of Dublin," invades Murphy's garret and is confounded by what he experiences there.
Murphy's assumption of Ticklepenny's "role" at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat serves to outline the rupture between Murphy and the social. Ticklepenny's dread is Murphy's desire. His prison is Murphy's sanctuary, Murphy's "home." The M.M.M. is, for Murphy, a parallel, in the real, of the space of his mind, of his "little world":
Murphy's mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual falling into virtual, in the universe inside it (107).
Murphy's universe of the mind is both alienating/alienated and self-creating. His mind is "bodytight," "a closed system, subject to no principle of change but its own, self-sufficient and impermeable to the vicissitudes of the body" (109). Similarly, "[t]he Magdalen Mental Mercyseat lay a little way out of town, ideally situated in its own grounds on the boundary of two counties" (156). The sanitarium is, like Murphy's mind, simultaneously marginalized and institutionalized. Both spaces are "rule-bound," both epitomize a kind of "orderly disorder," and, perhaps most important, serve as the loci for the management of the fragmented self, in its abject asociality.
Murphy's move into the ideal of the M.M.M. marks his problematic rejection of Celia and her "triumph" over him. Initially, the prospect of the M.M.M. functions as a compromise between Murphy's desire and his commitment to Celia. Ironically, in turn, it is Celia's inability to speak that initiates Murphy's forfeiture of their pact:
"I drag round this warren," said Murphy, with the last dregs of resentment, "day after day, hail, rain, sleet, snow, sog, I mean fog, soot, and I suppose fine, my breeches falling off with a fourpenny vomitory, looking for your job. At last I find it, it finds me, I am half dead with abuse and exposure, I am in a marasmus, I do not delay a moment but come crawling back to receive your congratulations. You say 'Oh'" (138).
Celia's regress into a pre-linguistic space, brought on by the death of the "old boy," and its concomitant disruption of her daily routine, functions to sever her "connexion" to Murphy. As Beckett points out, "mourning" is an action that is about the "self" (136). Thus, Celia's withdrawal from Murphy signals the very lack that lies at the core of Murphy's desire for his "little world" -- the aporia of connection, the inability to make the two extremes meet. The failure of the intersubjective link is, here, the failure of language to adequately bridge the gap between desire and the self, to real-ize the subject as "whole" in the construction of that connection.
Murphy's departure from Celia enacts a process of deferral in the parodic simulation of presence played at by the youths on the street. Celia watches, from the space of the window, Murphy "[ . . . ] multiplied in their burlesque long after her own eyes could see him no more" (143). The duplication, here, of Murphy's simultaneous real absence and virtual presence, as simulacra, foreshadows the oscillation between the real and the imaginary, as the tension of being, in Murphy's chess games with Mr. Endon. Murphy, like Celia fixated before her window, enacts, within the boundary space of the M.M.M., that "window of fantasy" in which the "object" of the gaze "loses its rigidity" as the "subject' (the observer) [becomes more rigid] trapped by the sight that he sees, petrified with fascination, chained to his voyeuristic point of view, mesmerized by the fantasy scene that he has himself constructed" (Zupan
48). This desire for totality, through the imagined assumption of this desire as it is located within the fantasy object becomes, for Murphy, the key to both identity and "home."
The space of the M.M.M. affords Murphy not just the imaginary security of a self-contained system but a space within which Murphy is able to locate himself "historically." The garret room at the M.M.M. functions to provide Murphy with a sense of spatio-temporal continuity -- it is a past memory linked to the "now," again, that present absence: "Fewer years ago then he cared to remember, while still in the first cyanosis of youth Murphy had occupied a garret in Hanover" (161-162). The garret into which Murphy moves, on the grounds of the M.M.M., was, as well "[ . . . ] a genuine garret, not half, but twice as good as the one in Hanover, because half as large" (162). There is an underlying sense, of course, of the "garret" as a romantic trope -- a space of creativity within which the artist-poet labours in isolation from the everyday world. Murphy is thus incorporated in the "literariness," or "fictionality" of space as an Ideal.
The garret, now enfolded into those objects within which Murphy focalizes his desire -- including the rocking-chair and the chess board -- becomes one of Lacan's points de capiton, or "anchoring points," which indicates the elision of the signified "under" the power of the signifier. For Lacan, as is true of Ferdinand de Saussure, there is, here, a "polyphony" at work indicating "that all discourse is aligned along the several staves of a score" (Lacan, Écrits 154), that is, a functional non-linearity that is inherently musical: "M.M.M. stood suddenly for music, MUSIC, MUSIC, in brilliant, brevier and canon, or some such typographical scream, if the gentle compositor would be so friendly" (236). As Lacan continues, "[t]here is in effect no signifying chain that does not have, as if attached to the punctuation of each of its units, a whole articulation of relevant contexts suspended 'vertically', as it were, from that point" (Écrits 154). Language, and the M.M.M. as it is implicated in the processes of signification, is multivalent, suggestive of possibilities, of connotations. Both Beckett and Murphy are suggesting meaning as a "register," or registers, beyond the denotative, linear connection between word and thing, signifier and signified. Murphy's objects of desire, in other words, are inherently imaginative in their representation of that elusive "harmony" which can "not blend" in "Murphy's heart" (Beckett 4).
There is an absolutism in the object-space in and of itself that is at once indicative of the limiting function of the "big world" and, at the same time, an expression of its potentiality: "Skinner's as the cockpit of the M.M.M. and here the battle raged most fiercely, whenever it could be engaged, between the psychotic and psychiatric points of view" (165). The sense of aporia that exists within meaning is the space, here, that Murphy seeks to occupy. The inner space of the M.M.M. corresponds to those variant "points of view" that define the dialectical scheme of self and other, public and private.
Like the "Descartes linoleum" that "grounded" Murphy and Celia's living "place," or the "light" and "dark" regions of Murphy's mind, the "cells" of the M.M.M. function oppositionally to the long, straight, or "linear" hallways through which the "big world," in the form of doctors, nurses, and wardens, walk. Murphy's identification with the patients, and their spaces, is a result of this splitting of the self, of the distance that is established, discursively, between the "psychotic" and the "psychiatric," between the "spoken" and the "speaker":
[. . .] the patients were described as "cut off" from reality, from the rudimentary blessings of the layman's reality, f not altogether, as in the severer cases, then in certain fundamental respects. The function of treatment was to bridge the gulf, translate the sufferer from his own pernicious little private dungheap to the glorious world of discrete particles, where it would be his inestimable prerogative once again to wonder, love, hate, desire, rejoice and howl in a reasonable balanced manner and to comfort himself with the society of others in the same predicament (177).
The movement through treatment is one of the ordering of the chaotic. The flow, seemingly naturalized, from a state of undifferentiation to that of the particular. Murphy assumes that complex positionality of both translator and translation upon his entry into the M.M.M., as a "conscious" act.
The rather reductionist equation between the "conscious," and the state of subjectivity and "wakefulness," or as it is symbolically conceptualized in the notion of "light," can, however, be appropriately extended to a consideration of Murphy's distinct, and binaristic, experience of the M.M.M during the "day" shift, as opposed to the night. Murphy chooses the fantasy of identification with the patients while, significantly, at the same time, discarding the reality that it is an appropriative choice:
The issue therefore, as lovingly simplified and perverted by Murphy, lay between nothing less fundamental than the big world and the little world, decided by the patients in favour of the latter, revived by the psychiatrists on behalf of the former, in his own case unresolved. In fact, it was unresolved, only in fact. His vote was cast. "I am not of the big world, I am of the little world" was an old refrain with Murphy, and a conviction, two convictions, the negative first. How should he tolerate, let alone cultivate, the occasions of fiasco, having once beheld the beatific idols of his cave? (178)
Murphy's conscious choice to "join" the "Microcosmos" is philosophical. In reality, Murphy is part of the "big world" -- thus, the two extremes remain unresolved, disconnected. Ironically, it is Murphy's desire for connection that initiates his false identification with the patients of the M.M.M., and their spaces. He sees within them a legitimation of his self which, in an essential sense, completes him. The derivation of coherence from the other is, however, aporetic -- a fantasy.
The M.M.M. maps out the spatial co-ordinates of Murphy's desire. The patients' padded cells represent the logical telos of Murphy's freedom in bondage. In the cells, one is a prisoner of nothingness:
The pads surpassed by far all he had even been able to imagine in the way of indoor bowers of bliss. The three dimensions, slightly concave, were so exquisitely proportioned that the absence of the fourth was scarcely felt. The tender luminous oyster-grey of the pneumatic upholstery, cushioning every square inch of ceiling, walls, floor and door, lent colour to the truth, that one was a prisoner of air. The temperature was such that only total nudity could do it justice. No system of ventilation appeared to dispel the illusion of respirable vacuum. The compartment was windowless, like a monad, except for the shuttered judas in the door, at which a sane eye appeared, or was employed to appear, at frequent and regular intervals throughout the twenty-four hours. Within the narrow limits of domestic architecture he had never been able to imagine a more creditable representation of what he kept on calling, indefatigably, the little world (181).
The pads represent Murphy's turn inward, his re-invention of self as "Microcosmos." This "monad" is, however, incomplete. The "shuttered judas," or observation window, is figured, quite literally, as a betrayal of private space. The invasion of the surveying, institutional eye, the "sane eye," within which social meaning is contained, is here profane. The context of the M.M.M. as a repository for the "dispossessed" self is foregrounded by the subordination of the objectified body of the patient to the gaze of authority -- a gaze which is, importantly, disembodied.
Murphy "misses" the compromised nature of his "bower of bliss" because he is fundamentally alienated from its reality. The "bower of bliss," as we know from Spenser's The Faerie Queene, is the space of the body, of the sensual pleasures of the body, allied spatially to the garden of Adonis. The disjunction that Beckett draws is a function of the process of inversion that Murphy instantiates through his retreat into the imaginary. Murphy follows the "shadows" of the real, the "beatific idols" that inhabit his platonically inspired "cave." The patients, as idols, occupy the frozen space of the fantasy as "statues":
[The] paradox of moving statues, of dead objects coming alive and/or of petrified living objects, is possible only within the space of the death drive which [ . . . ] is the space between two deaths, symbolic and real. For a human being to be 'dead while alive' is to be colonized by the 'dead' symbolic order; to be 'alive while dead' is to give body to the remainder of Life-Substance which has escaped the symbolic colon- ization ('lamella'). What we are dealing with here is thus the split between A and J, between the 'dead' symbolic order which mortifies the body and the non-symbolic Life-Substance of jouissance (Zizik 89).
The breakdown of subjectivity here indicates the breakdown of language and meaning within the social. Murphy employs the literary "place" of the "bower of bliss" deconstructively. The "bower of bliss" is both mis-placed, here, as well as functionally indicative. In Spenser, the bower is, in the end, destroyed.
The conceit of the bower as it is employed by Murphy is thus both a narrative presence and absence, "[a]n huge eternall Chaos, which supplyes/ The substances of natures fruitfull progenyes" (Spenser III.VI.36, 471). The bower, the object of Guyon's quest, as "home" is the object of Murphy's, is the locus of jouissance, but it is also the space where the "mind," Guyon's self-restraint, ostensibly triumphs over the desires of the body:
But all those pleasant bowres and Pallace braue,
Guyon broke downe, with rigour pittilesse;
Ne ought their goodly workmanship might saue
Them from the tempest of his wrathfulnesse,
But that their blisse he turn'd to balefulness:
Their groues he feld, their gardins did deface,
Their banket houses burne, their buildings race,
And of the fairest late, now made the fowlest place (II.XII.83, 381).
What is striking, here, is the physicalized passion embedded in the act of destroying the bower. Guyon, the representative of social order and ethical community makes the sacred "foul," and profane through his aggressive response to the "idea" of the bower. Murphy's utilization of the metaphor of Spenser's corrupted paradise is curious, his "place" within its allusion ambiguous.
There is a sense that the "bower of bliss," for Murphy, is located, more specifically, in the image of the chess board. The effect of contracting, or folded, space within the text of Murphy makes this notion of "re-placement" interpretively attractive, however, it is, itself, subject to the process of doubling that occurs in the oscillation between the virtual and the real that defines Murphy's fragmented self. Initially, the games of chess that are played out between Murphy and Mr. Endon work towards a kind of idealizing of Murphy, reinforcing his identification with the patients and his construction of "home" and "connexion" within the M.M.M.:
Murphy would set up the game, as soon as he came on in the morning, in a quiet corner of the wreck, make his move (for he always played white), go away, come back to Mr. Endon's reply, make his second move, go away, and so on throughout the day. They came together at the board but seldom. One or two minutes was as long as Mr. Endon cared to pause in his drifting, longer than Murphy dared snatch from his duties and the vigilance of Bom. Each made his move in the absence of the other, inspected the position with what time remained, and went away. So the game wore on, till evening found it almost as level as when begun (187).
Murphy, here, is the initiator of the game. The board exists as the point of connection, the node of presence in which the extremes meet, if only momentarily. The static nature of the game, in which "neither player would have lost a piece or even checked the other" (187-188) constructs, for Murphy, a sense of permanence of "place," and kinship with the patients that is individuating. Within the chess game, Murphy believes he has found a sense of "always," a stable identity-formation through which he is able to come to being.
Murphy's movement to the object-universe of the chess board is prefaced, significantly, by his rejection of Suk's oracle. This rejection articulates Murphy's adoption of his own private system. For Sartre, this is an act of responsibility: "The existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen by which to orient himself. Because he thinks that man will interpret the omen to suit himself" (41). What is at issue, for Sartre, is the idea that man must take responsibility for his own self-creation. Similarly, Murphy concludes:
Between him and his stars no doubt there was correspondence, but not in Suk's sense. They were his stars, he was the prior system. He had been projected, larval and dark, on the sky of that regrettable hour as on a screen, magnified and clarified into his own meaning. But it was his meaning. The moon in the Serpent was no more than an image, a fragment of a vitagraph (183).
Suk's oracle becomes, within the text of Murphy, a kind of metonymic appearance of the normalized self. The oracle functions as a contract for a false socialization, a decoy "signpost" which points towards the "conditions" which will, ostensibly, produce a sense of "home." This entry of Murphy into the social, through Suk's oracle, results in his increasing sense of fragmentation, a fragmentation that is interpreted by Murphy as the imposition or an external order of meaning upon his body. Murphy's discarding of Suk results in his construction of an alternate, private self and language -- a discourse of the "other" -- in which he seeks to find "identity" in the sense of "connexion."
Murphy's process of self-objectification is an attempt to incorporate himself back into the "other." His construction of self as a "projection," "dark" and "larval" that becomes "clarified," articulates the direction of the split self towards unification with the "other." This assumption of unity is an essential impossibility, a "misrecognition." Murphy's construction of an identification with his "wards" is mediated by his very real position of authority over them as "caretaker." His position both inside and outside the social apparatus indicates Murphy's ultimate and incommensurable alienation from the objects of his desire.
Murphy's move to the night shift at the M.M.M. functions to instantiate a distance-effect, severing his illusion of "connexion" and placing him within the position of the abhorred "judas eye." In the day, Murphy's fantasy of a constructed oppositionality between himself and the doctors, wardens and visitors allowed him to imagine a relationality with the patients:
He could mix with them, touch them, speak to them, watch them, imagine himself one of them. But in the night of Skinner's there were none of these adminicles, no loathing to love from, no illusion of caress from the world that might be. It was as though the microcosmopolitans had locked him out (240).
For Murphy, within the comprehension of his misrecognition, "[. . .] there was nothing but he, the unintelligible gulf and they. That was all. All. ALL" (240). In this moment of abject self-awareness, Murphy sees himself seeing himself. The aporia, in which Murphy's essential self is located, is made manifest. There is a severing of community that occurs with Murphy's apprehension of reality that functions, as well, as a disruption of desire: "Once we move beyond desire -- that is to say, beyond the fantasy which sustains desire -- we enter the strange domain of drive: the domain of the closed circular palpitation which finds satisfaction in endlessly repeating the same failed gesture" (Zizik 30).
Murphy perceives the gap which alienates himself from the "other." He can no longer possess the non-specularity of the "other," his fantasy of being a "dark," "larval" projection -- a shadow that seeks to mimic the perceived essence of the "other" -- is illusory. Murphy, isolated from the private spaces of alterity that indicate "otherness," begins to fail. The final game of chess between Mr. Endon and Murphy initiates both the closure of the text as well as the closure of Murphy himself. Space, in this sequence, achieves a kind of geometricization that emphasizes Murphy's new, subjectivised positionality. First, there is the "line" of the gaze in which Murphy operates as spectator -- his eye trained through the "judas shutter" upon Mr. Endon. The narrative and visual space is here focalized on a folding in of surfaces. The chess board is set up on the surface of Mr. Endon's bed, the space, effectually, of his body, and it will be, upon the surface of the board itself, that Murphy will be played out:
Murphy switched on the thousand candles, shot back the judas shutter and looked in. A strange sight met his eye. Mr. Endon, an impeccable and brilliant figurine in his scarlet gown, his crest a gush of vivid white against the black shag, squatted tailor-fashion on the head of his bed, holding his left foot in his right hand and in his left hand his right foot. The purple poulaines were on his feet and the rings were on his fingers. The light spurted off Mr. Endon north, south, east, west and in fifty-six other directions. The sheet stretched away before him, as smooth and taut as a groaning wife's belly, and on it a game of chess was set up (241).
Mr. Endon is the locus of agency in this game, a subversion of the gaze that is directed upon him. Here, Mr. Endon controls what Murphy sees. The space of the game, and its initiation is directed by Mr. Endon, Murphy is, significantly, excluded from the process. The constituting dialectic is, here, inverted. Murphy is exposed to the implications of his closed system, that turn in which the subject is identified by his "other."
It is only through the mediation of the unconscious that the subject escapes that drive, or endless, repetitive oscillation between presence and absence, activity and passivity. Murphy's quest for a transcendent identity and space in and by the other is recognized, through the final game of chess, as an impossibility: "Following Mr. Endon's forty-third move Murphy gazed for a long time at the board before laying his Shah on his side, and again for a long time after that act of submission" (245). The notion of the recognition of loss is key here. Murphy's quest for "home," for "self" was prefaced by an originary sense of loss, that jarring splitting of the "I" to which Murphy refers throughout the text. The chess game acts out Murphy's fundamental ontological anxiety, ending in a reconfirmation of the essential deferment of the coherent self: "Neary's big blooming buzzing confusion or ground, mercifully free of figure" (245).
Murphy's virtual death on the surface of the chess board is, like his disappearance from Celia's view through the window, multiplied as a series of effects. The arcane, "shorthand" exposition of the exchange of moves between Murphy and Mr. Endon represents a kind of specialized language that is selectively glossed. The practice of reading, here, institutes the dilemma of "choice" that Murphy faces. If one chooses to read the section "hypertextually," that is, non-linearly, the gloss works to double, as a simultaneous action, Murphy's "fall." Reading linearly does not efface the doubling effect but it works, instead, to create a spatio-temporal regress as opposed to, in the non-linear reading, replicating Lacan's notion of the "vertical," or musical, register of meaning, Saussure's ".." Whichever reading function is adopted, the effect serves as the neutralization of Murphy's desire. The commentary, which operates as a "supplement" to the list of moves points to the essential incompletion of the primary narrative, the aporia which confronts Murphy.
Freedom, through identification with the other, is made unavailable to Murphy. There is, within this loss, a subsequent collapse into nothingness, an "irredeemable" deterritorialization of the subject in flight from his self:
[. . .] he dropped his head on his arms in the midst of the chessmen, which scattered with a terrible noise. Mr. Endon's finery persisted for a little while in an after-image scarcely inferior to the original. Then this also faded and Murphy began to see nothing, that colourlessness which is such a rare postnatal treat, being the absence (to abuse a nice distinction) not of percipere but of percipi. His other senses also found themselves at peace, an unexpected pleasure. Not the numb peace of their own suspension but the positive peace that comes when the somethings give way, or perhaps simply add up, to the Nothing [. . .] (246).
There is a severing, in Murphy's realization of his loss, of the intersubjective link that bound him in identity to the patients of the M.M.M. Murphy's absence is, of percipi, the ability of the senses to "feel," to "take in," as distinguished from percipere which is its literal "sense" of gathering or harvesting. There is, here, a deadening of effect, a radical separating of the self from context. It is significant that Murphy's absence of connotation, of percipi, relates to the notion of principles or rules (perceptorum) in which both his self and the game are subject. The chess game, in its replication of Wittgenstein's notion of the "language-game," is a mode of representation that renders Murphy powerless. The rules of the game, suspended in Murphy's fantasy are, in their reinstitution, a signal of Murphy's inability to escape his socialization. Murphy, like the game, is subordinated to the rule-bound nature of the system, of the "big world." The awareness of the "limits" of the language-game is the awareness of the limits of the social subject to adequately define itself in the presence of the other. [Note 2]
Murphy, exposed as an imposter in the private world of the patients, is confronted with his own essential finitude through Mr. Endon. Mr. Endon is revealed as the site of Murphy's desire, the site of "Law" through which Murphy's fantasy is "checked." Murphy's recognition of "the Nothing" is
[. . .]the clear alienation that leaves to the subject the favour of stumbling upon the question of its essence, in that he cannot fail to recognize that what he desires presents itself to him as what he does not want, the form assumed by the negation in which the méconnaissance of which he himself is unaware is inserted in a very strange way B a méconnaissance by which he transfers the permanence of his desire to an ego that is nevertheless intermittent [. . .] (Lacan, Écrits 312-313).
This "intermittence," that oscillation between presence and absence, is implicated in the simultaneous "fading" of both the subject and of enunciation. Murphy's dissolution is this radical fragmentation of the subject from the language through which it is constituted. Murphy can no longer see himself seeing himself in the object of his desire: "'the last at last seen of him/ himself unseen by him/ and of himself'" (Beckett 250). Murphy, having exhausted the linguistic possibilities of his "nothingness" is, appropriately, "erased" from both the text and the scopic regime that maintains the production and self-sufficiency of desire. Murphy's subsequent death in the garret assumes a kind of "resolution." His body, bound to the rocking-chair, marks the conditions of his absence -- the notion of perpetual return and of that meeting of the extremes which is realized in his death. Murphy's achievement is the confrontation of the void of the self and that elusive "freedom" which is "the freedom of that light and dark that did not clash" (252), the harmony of the collapse into essential self -- Murphy's aporia.
Note 1: I use the term "real" here, and throughout this paper, not in the Lacanian sense of the register of the "Real" as it intersects with the "Imaginary" and "Symbolic" orders, but in the sense of "reality" unless otherwise indicated.
Note 2: For a more complete explication of the relation of the language to the game, and in particular to the game of chess, see Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, sections 47, and 58 of "Part I" especially.