Places: The Unnamable

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: L’Innommable, 1953 (English translation, 1958)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedIdeal room

Ideal Unnamable, Theroom. Perhaps the most frequent reference to place in the novel alludes to a room that the narrator wishes for, in contrast to the room in which he perceives himself to be. His “ideal” room would be doorless, even windowless, with nothing but its six surfaces. It could be dark black. To the narrator, the room would be “home,” a home that he would “find a way to explore.” The narrator has trouble with motion, however, and has no idea how he might get around in his ideal space to do his exploration. He would like to put himself in the room: a “solid lump, in the middle, or in a corner, well propped up on three sides.”

Narrator’s habitat

Narrator’s habitat. The narrator speaks of existing in what can only be described as space with no boundaries. He speaks of feeling “no place, no place around me” and conveys the sense that there is “no end” to him. His sense of a lack of “end” is not to be understood that he has a body that is in some sense huge or infinite. He seems to have no sense of limits. His experience of self is an existence in endless time and space. Nevertheless, he has memories of the sea under his window and a rowboat, as well as a river, a bay, stars, beacons, lights of buoys, and the mountain burning.

The narrator’s meandering among these memories of disparate places cannot be taken at face value because soon he denies their validity. For example, he says that he could just as easily be in a forest, “caught in a thicket, or wandering round in circles.” So the narrative goes, round and round in intricate circles of denial and assertion. Such is the nature of the monologue, never to allow for any certainty, always to be on the brink of discovery and a fall into doubt and uncertainty.

The reason for these uncertainties is that the self is always changing, remaking itself continuously, much like the stream of conscious and unconscious thought. In an essay on Marcel Proust, Beckett wrote that the individual “is the seat of a constant process of decantation, decantation from the vessel containing the fluid of future time, sluggish, pale and monochrome, to the vessel containing the fluid of past time, agitated and multicolored by the phenomena of its hours.” Although written about Proust, it is clear that he might as well be describing his own perspective on the individual.

BibliographyAlvarez, A. Beckett. London: Fontana Collins, 1973. Short, lively, sensible discussion of Beckett’s entire career, including his work on the trilogy.Esslin, Martin. Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. Essays by several scholars on various aspects of Beckett’s career. Discussions cover his work as a novelist.Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Rev. ed. New York: Anchor Books, 1969. Points out that Beckett, who is sometimes considered the finest novelist of the last half of the twentieth century, is also sometimes considered to be the finest playwright of the period. His plays are valuable because they represent a simpler version of his work. Also puts his work in the intellectual and social context of the period.Kenner, Hugh. A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973. Deals with individual texts, including The Unnamable. Excellent source and a pleasure to read.Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. A study by one of the best commentators on Beckett. Witty, idiosyncratic, but blessed with an understanding of the experimentalist mind, and of Beckett in particular.Mercier, Vivian. Beckett/Beckett. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. A study by an Irish scholar with understanding of the Irish mind, absurdist literature, and Beckett. Offers helpful insights into all the novels, particularly into the trilogy ending with The Unnamable.
Categories: Places