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The Beckett Digital Manuscript Project aims to present a digital archive of Beckett’s manuscripts in twenty-six modules; each module will include digital facsimiles and transcriptions. Each module will have an accompanying volume that gives background information and an analysis of the manuscript material. L’Innommable/The Unnamable is the second module in the BDMP and presents a different type of manuscript disposition than the first, Stirrings Still/Soubresauts and Comment dire/what is the word. In the first module, while texts were short, the genetic dossier was messy, with complex, non-straightforward interrelationships between the various drafts. In distinction, with L’Innommable/The Unnamable, the text is relatively long but the drafts are reasonably orderly, with sufficiently distinct draft stages.
Beyond any pragmatic considerations as to why this text may have been selected as the second BDMP module, L’Innomable/The Unnamable offers a fascinating challenge to genetic studies. L’Innommable/The Unnamable is one of the most striking literary works of the twentieth century. Beckett manages to sustain an involute meditation of self-conscious contradiction (from the first page, “affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered”) for over one hundred pages in a manner that continually remains aesthetically interesting. More impressive is that Beckett managed this feat twice, first in French and then in English. Unsurprisingly, the composition, or double composition, of this work was not an easy process. In many places, the various aporias suffered, endured, and pondered by the eponymous Unnamable result and reflect from the compositional aporias Beckett confronted, although in many cases only indirectly. Van Hulle and Weller—the editors of the second module and authors of the accompanying volume—convincingly demonstrate that many of the Unnamable’s hesitations, both small and large, follow from Beckett’s own compositional uncertainties. For example, the sentence “Je ne ferai plus de pauses” (I will make no further pauses) comes immediately after a pause, as is indicated by the change from pencil to pen. However, Van Hulle and Weller also discuss numerous instances where the manuscripts show that the Unnamable’s lapses are Beckett’s simulations of aporia.
L’Innommable/The Unnamable sets itself up as a kind of perpetual-motion machine of self-conscious contestation. The logic/counter-logic of the text suggests that it could go on forever, forever interrogating the very premises of its possibilization. In this, it is not unlike Kafka’s The Trial or Sade’s Justine, texts that could go on forever but obviously don’t, if only because their writers had finite lifetimes. This is why the endings in both Kafka and Sade’s texts seem so artificial: the act of closing off the text runs against the logic of that text. In the case of L’Innommable/The Unnamable, Van Hulle and Weller demonstrate a much more elegant—if circumstantial—motive for its end. The text ended because it had to: Beckett finished L’Innommable just a few lines above the last page of the second notebook in which it was drafted. As Malone has it in Malone Dies, “my lead is not inexhaustible, nor my exercise-book.”1 [End Page 411]
Of course, L’Innommable did continue past its original French, ending into the English version, which took considerable effort and was not without considerable pain for Beckett. The ending itself was reworked in the English version as if the English was not just a translation or transposition but also an additional revision. As originally published in French, the last line, just centimeters above the end of the page, read “il faut continuer, je vais continuer” (you must go on, I’ll go on). When working on the English translation, Beckett added a new, contradictory element to this imperative to continue: “you must go on, I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” For the 1971 printing of the French version, Beckett emended the French to accord with the English, thereby continuing The Unnamable yet again: “il faut continuer, je ne peux...