- Infinity Breeds Contempt:The Social Critiques of the Tragically Immortal Narrator in Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies
Like the other books in his trilogy, Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies features an indeterminate narrator ostensibly discussing a variety of other characters, but is in reality mentally and narratively drifting between these characters and identities in an attempt to escape his total confinement (figurative and literal), like a ghost hiding from the oppressive solitude of the afterlife by inhabiting so many bodies. Furthermore, Malone finds himself trapped in the same kind of narrative loop as the other novels’ protagonists, in which his attempts to escape from surveillance and oppression only serve to carry him back to the beginning of his narrative. Where Malone distinguishes himself is in his apparent apathy in regard to his situation, an apathy that reveals the particular philosophical work being done by the novel. In short, Malone’s torturous existence and failed attempts at introducing a kind of Derridian difference into his otherwise bland existence bestow upon him a certain kind of manic clarity that allows for trenchant critiques of the domineering social structures which created his unwanted existence in the first place. [End Page 242]
In the novel, Malone is characterized as an old man who lies dying, in a dark and anonymous room, from an anonymous cause; he never explicitly reveals to the reader exactly what malady afflicts him, or whether he is in a hospital, asylum, prison, or possibly even his own home. The room in which he is confined “is in the undifferentiated location, that is, in an unknown building on an unknown street in an unknown town,”1 suggesting to the reader that for all intents and purposes, Malone and his room exist in no time or place, but rather float in a kind of imaginary void, asymptotically on the verge of existing in any time and place, in any room. Thus, the novel forces the reader to simultaneously imagine Malone as definitively nowhere, yet possibly anywhere. Neil Murphy sees this paradoxical nature as characteristic of postmodern fiction, noting that as metaphors for the construction of a fictional space, “the Chinese box, or mise-en-abyme, offers endless destabilizing possibilities,” because “both the maze and the Chinese box subvert any ontology that might resemble what we call the ‘real,’ to erect a world that operates by a series of rules not regulated by conventional notions of temporality or encyclopedic geographical space,” but instead uses its unique orientation of time and space as a means to comment on the nature of human perception and experience.2
In a sense, the undifferentiated nature of the room requires that it be read as a kind of Platonic ideal of a room, the total confinement of walls to which all rooms aspire but never reach (a fact that should give the reader some sense of the novel’s position regarding the confining force of society). He is entirely alone, and has no contact with others, not even with the generous woman who used to supply him with food when he takes on the role of Macmann. Even the single possibility of someone other than Malone or a space outside the room actually existing is never realized, because all that ever appears is a free-floating hand that “puts a dish on the little table left there for that purpose, takes away the dish of the previous day, and the door closes again”.3 The hand does not even enter the room per se, but is simply there when it needs to be, just like the little table left there for that purpose.
Nothing exists outside the room, but because “nothing is more real than nothing,” Malone wishes “before I go I should like to find a hole in the wall behind which so much goes on, such extraordinary things, and often coloured” (TN, pp. 186, 230). The reader should note that Malone specifically wishes to see through a hole in the wall and not [End Page 243] the door, because this detail further reveals the singular nature of the room. Were Malone to look through the door at what lies beyond, he would...