The Unspeakable



Commentary on Samuel Beckett's Book

From the end of the First World War, the themes of mutism and the impossibility of narrating appear in works and in aesthetic reflection. In that direction, with the nameless, from 1949, Beckett also ends his post-war trilogy by radicalizing the narrative impasses assumed in molloy, 1947 e Malone dies, of 1948, bringing the modern novel to a dead end. In a 1956 interview, Beckett says, “the nameless ends in a complete disintegration: No 'me', no 'having', no 'being'. No nominative, no accusative, no verb. There is no way forward.”

The first mistake, however, would be to state that the subject of the work is “nothing”, thus aligning it with the aesthetics of silence or the absurd. This position would be understandable, as the reader is faced with an undefined voice to which no pronominal determination, plot, characters or memory corresponds. But here, differently, there is an elusive and distressed voice that wants to escape, slow down, stop talking, but, in an unstoppable circular movement, it either repeats the same questions and suspicions, or I fall back into grunts. This mode of enunciation seems to indicate the cautious gesture of the wary narrator, who, as in previous novels, duplicated the characters in search of traces of identity.

Em the nameless – with Mohood and Worms – this expectation is definitely frustrated, as the voice in disorganization does not stabilize any referent. There is no possible agreement, therefore, between work and reader: reduced to the elementary act of speech, the voice is sometimes just an eye that cries, sometimes a body in dematerialization, voice-mouth-hole-eye-egg-pot, which in virulence , cries out: “a bunch of pigs, they make me say the same thing over and over again”.

Beckett thus makes one of the most startling inflections in the novel. If modern artists supported the autonomy of the work, breaking with any notion of imitation, since the word did not indicate a supposed reality, but was the reality itself; in Beckett the word is always under suspicion, since the nomination is immobilization: “catechesis”. Language is not a polysemic opening onto a field of possibilities, but a trap for capturing objects, taking possession of them. He assumes rationalist precepts such as those of Hamann that “without the word, there is no reason, nor world”, or of Herder that “language is the criterion of reason”, turning them inside out: the word is, in him , always arbitrary, as it is the “dead language of the living”.

The word does not change the world, it is not an expression of subjectivity, nor intersubjective communication; no room for negotiation in open and plural “language games”. By rebelling against both the cognitive-semantic dimension of language and the communicative-pragmatic dimension, Beckett intensifies the dissonance between linguistic means and their uses. As a code or convention, the sedimented language fatally adheres to the rules: “everything I speak, with which I speak, is from them that comes (...), having stuck in me a language that they imagine I will never be able to use without confessing to its tribe, the beautiful cunning”.

Despite asserting in a tone of boutade: “I never read philosophers, I never understand anything they write”, in the nameless Beckett, in an ironic and negative key, provokes much of modern Western philosophy. In a summary tone, he demobilizes, one by one, the ideas of representation, rationality, conscience and truth. The voice refuses to represent and be represented, mocking all attempts at objectification; thus immobilizing both the subject and the object, as well as the relations between them, that is, the foundations of modern rationalism and the philosophies of language. with ferocity, the nameless neutralizes the idea of ​​human nature: “What is the truth of consciousness, asks Beckett, that we no longer know what it is that we called human, that what we do not know what it is, does not move and speak?”

The immobility of a subject who cannot act fundamentally dismantles the catechesis of free play between the faculties, which, since the aesthetics of Kant and Schiller, announced a neutral field of judgment – ​​a zero degree of representation –; suspension through which the human would be recognized as a child of nature and devotee of freedom. Beckett radicalizes the temper of the character of Underground memories, of Dostoyevsky, who had already put an end to the edifying pretensions of the notions of beauty and the sublime.

Astute, however, Beckett does not fall into the trap of putting his arguments to the test. In the nameless no psychological, transcendental, or semiotic counterproof is articulated, since “there is nothing that can serve as a starting point”. The reckoning takes place in the fictional field, ironically, through the deconstruction of language, that is, exhaustively demonstrating through words how they are always inadequate, inaccurate or false.

If the romantic irony made the game of inversions a coming and going between opposites to preserve the conscience of the opposites, the irony in Beckett performs a previous movement of avoidance, destruction and self-annihilation. Do not affirm anything, nor deny, nor let anything be affirmed, so as not to be captured. This is not about the “apotheosis of the word as in Joyce”, says Beckett, in a letter from 1937, in which associative juggling plays with the opacity of words, “inventing obscurities.” Beckett distances himself from these procedures, in the name of a “poetics of indigence” that assumes failure and prevents any positivization.

As João Adolfo Hansen shows in the preface to the Brazilian edition, Beckett reaches history in these eliminations of the voice. As handled matter, to the voice that is in the middle, between the inside and the outside, between the skull and the world, all that remains is to speak, “to continue the terrified chatter of those condemned to silence”. Rejecting, however, all determinations, concepts and pretense meanings, preventing the voice from becoming universal; empty it, to the point of making it sterile, the rubble of the historical failure of the sensus communis, It's from linguistic turn: for Beckett, verse and reverse of a historically damaged life.

“Digging one hole after another in language, until what is lurking behind it begins to break through”, says Beckett, in 1937. Not accepting, therefore, the silence of the dead subject, designating him as voiceless, but, conversely, pulling their groans out of the flow of useless speech, through the murmur of the language, causing rumblings, for silence is a “weak murmur”, “before entering a long coma”, in the “unthinkable unspeakable”, which does not separates form and life. “Talk while the silence thickens.”

* Arlenice Almeida da Silva is a professor of philosophy at Unifesp.


Samuel Beckett. The Unspeakable. Translation: Ana Helena Souza. São Paulo, Editora Globo, 208 pages (

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