“I shall make a mess of my decease” : A Hermeneutics of Trauma and Mourning in Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies
Trauma and mourning have become keystones (and skeleton keys) in the study of twentieth-century literature, functioning both as tropes and hermeneutical tools in decoding modern and postmodern texts. Contemporary literary and psychoanalytic critics have developed Freud’s “economics of pain” into streams which tend to emphasize the mourning subject’s unconscious “experience” of trauma (Cathy Caruth), incorporation of the “living dead” (Jacques Derrida), and “second killing” of the lost object (Slavoj Žižek). Notwithstanding the postmodernist tendency to destabilize “hard” subjectivities, the aforementioned critics tend to overlook the relationship between trauma and the non-unitary (“postlife, postdeath, postgrave”) literary subjects that emerge in key contemporary texts. If mourning is characterized by the re-stabilization of the literary narrator/character, how does the psychoanalytic interrogation outlined above work against the structural disintegration of subjectivity in Beckett’s Malone Dies and, more broadly, against that of postmodernism? Mourning is predicated on/by the subject’s ability to contain traumatic loss within a pragmatic narrative (Jonathan Boulter). Yet, how does Beckett’s “goal” of eliminating and “drill[ing] hole[s]” in language (The Letters of Samuel Beckett)—so that it becomes radically non-pragmatic and disreputable—undermine the narration of mourning? Furthermore, how does Beckett’s own development of Freudian psychoanalysis (“Psychology Notes,” Beckett’s Books)—emphasizing the suicidal stage of mourning—inform/problematize such a posthumanist reading of Malone Dies? In addressing these unanswered questions, I develop a hermeneutics of trauma and mourning in relation to Samuel Beckett’s narrators/characters in Malone Dies. Beckett’s novel provides the appropriate structure for such a psychoanalytic interpretation precisely because its central theme is the “attitude of disintegration,” or the progressive destabilization of physiologies and narrative voices (“An Interview with Beckett”). I establish a foundational reading of trauma and mourning in the context of the subjects in Malone Dies, and then interrogate how this hermeneutical method is problematized by the ontological heterogeneity of the text’s narrator(s).