- Writing in the Shit:Beckett, Nationalism, and the Colonial Subject
It was in this byre, littered with dry and hollow cowclaps subsiding with a sigh at the poke of my finger, that for the first time in my life, and I would not hesitate to say the last if I had not to husband my cyanide, I had to contend with a feeling which gradually assumed, to my dismay, the dread name of love. What constitutes the charm of our country, apart of course from its scant population, and this without the help of the meanest contraceptive, is that all is derelict, with the sole exception of history's ancient faeces. These are ardently sought after, stuffed and earned in procession. Wherever nauseated time has dropped a nice fat turd you will find our patriots, sniffing it up on all fours, their faces on fire. Elysium of the roofless. Hence my happiness at last. Lie down, all seems to say, lie down and stay down. I see no connection between these remarks. But that one exists, and even more than one, I have little doubt, for my part. But what? Which?-Samuel Beckett, First Love [End Page 71]
The Narrator of Beckett's First Love thus summons us disingenuously to address the questions he will himself displace in the name of love. Disingenuously, perhaps, but then only because the traces of an answer litter this dry and hollow text. The question is, what connects the apotheistic discourse of nationalism to that on love within the framework of an "excremental vision"? To try to answer that question under the rubric that I have suggested in my title, namely, in relation to colonialism, will doubtless seem perverse and strained, particularly when we are concerned with so notoriously "apolitical" a writer as Samuel Beckett. But such perversity is rightly out of place in the context of so transgressive a writing as this, whereas the supposition of an apolitical writing silently invokes an aesthetic that requires that the subject of discourse be consubstantial with the subject of writing. The question we turn back upon the text becomes twofold. Under what conditions does this writing emerge that so thoroughly sifts the grounds whereon Western metaphysics and a related ethics of subjectivity have rested, its forms implying a radical negation of the aesthetic that has been for a period a principal agent in the formation of ethical subjects? What has it to say concerning the question of the subject who is left in the postcolonial situation, that is, to the subjective aspect of a politics that is no less engaged in negating the objective hegemonic force of the Western ethos? The intent of this double question is not to reactivate the jejune slogan "the personal is the political," whose ideological serviceability becomes ever more apparent as it wears ever thinner. Rather it is to claim that the aesthetic domain occupies a privileged place in the legitimation of the bourgeois state during the period of expansive colonialism, and to derive that claim, as do the aestheticians, from the work's ethical capacity to mediate subject and object, to produce reconciliations between individual and totality.1 Given that claim, a connection ("But what? Which?") may be discerned between the erosion of the aesthetic domain and the demise of colonialism itself, a connection that implies, it may be stressed, not the end of hegemony but possibly its migration to another, necessarily less discrete sphere.
"What goes by the name of love is banishment, with now and then a postcard from the homeland," declares the narrator of First Love (18). His remark scrupulously disdains a Western tradition for which, from the Odyssey to Ulysses, love is the figure simultaneously for homecoming and for truth. We are, of course, left in die dark as to whether banishment is the condition of love, or love that of banishment; nor are we offered the surety that through banishment home truths will lapse forever [End Page 72] into love's oblivion: postcards maintain some kind of sporadic connection, if only a dim reminder of origins and dependence. Both aspects of this love are written into its original title: if Premier...