Black markets: Beckett's bad equilibrium

Walker, Dominic (2018) Black markets: Beckett's bad equilibrium. Journal of Beckett Studies, 27 (1). pp. 95-111. ISSN 0309-5207

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Much as Murphy (1938) insists that desire is a ‘closed system’ in which ‘the quantum of wantum does not vary’, the Knott household in Watt (1953) seems to be a closed system ‘to which nothing could be added’ and from which ‘nothing could be taken away’ (Mu, 38–9, Wa, 111). Yet the random variable of Knott's appetite produces an instability that must be corrected to maintain equilibrium. This essay argues that Watt's efforts to dispose of Knott's leftover food work through a problem of equilibrium with consequences for Beckett's ideal of compositional practice. In October 1932, Beckett says to Thomas MacGreevy that writing should be a ‘spontaneous combustion of the spirit to compensate the pus & pain that threatens its economy’ (LSB 1, 134–5). The ‘poem’, he adds in September 1935, must be ‘useful in the depths, where demand and supply coincide, and the prayer is god’ (LSB 1, 274). Using two variant passages from Watt and Molloy, I will suggest that Beckett's growing scepticism about this economic conception of imaginative work was partly due to some unhappy historical parallels concerning the discourse of equilibrium. The first variant passage I consider is the coprophagic economy of Ballyba, administered by a bureaucratic organisation called ‘Organisation Maraîchère’ (‘Market Garden Organisation’). Having identified an overlooked deictic marker concerning a misbegotten WW2 mission and an unfortunate cryptonym, the essay argues that Ballyba's insistence on eliminating waste was too historically suggestive to be included in the published text. The second variant passage is an 8300-word continuation of the problem of Mr Knott's dinner, ending in a notorious ‘spectacle’ of canine love, put on by the Lynch family for the amelioration of the local population (Beckett, 1945, 297). I argue that this final, orgiastic solution to the problem of Mr Knott's dinner spells out the philosophical consequences of trying to eliminate waste and ensure supply and demand ‘coincide’. The essay concludes there were good historical reasons for Beckett to turn away from his credo of ‘personal and aesthetic equilibrium’, as Mark Nixon puts it, and towards a more commodious art of ‘mess’ and ‘pre-established arbitrary’ (Nixon 2011, 37, Wa, 114).

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Dominic Walker
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2019 10:36
Last Modified: 23 Jan 2019 10:36
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