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in other shadows unborn

excerpts from a Samuel Beckett fantasia

Out toward night, Sam was stabbed, above the heart, the blade yanked away by a form disappearing into the alley.

Sam hit the ground.

“That’s my blood,” he observed. “That’s my blood,” at last.

In the sleep of panic, nothing.

The doctors ordered him—it was a full day and one-half later when he could really hear them—to remain very still. He would need to be moved, but it was too risky now, given the location of the wound, the possibility of tearing. He followed what orders he could, his thoughts a cooling resin, and the heart a wet tissue sack, gnawing blood.

Jim was the first visitor, standing there at the hall-mouth, a contrived bouquet hung from his arm as he spoke with his favorite of the nurses. When {{the nurse}} moved off with purpose, Jim scanned the room, for there were others, in other beds, with their own clogs and leaks and breaks.

“This won’t do at all.” Jim sat down. He only tried for a moment to be jovial, then fell to familial. He grasped Sam’s forearm. “Damn damn damn.”

For Sam, it was not a meaningful time in life to be stabbed, to die if that was in the works. His manuscript, Murphy, would roam without him, yes, but what a shambling fog that would be, burnt toast there, skewered meat here; and Bela, of his earlier stories, lost double to the other world, an embarrassing waste of love, and easily forgotten.

All the same, now Jim was here, so at least he felt like someone, and Jim was speaking, uneven and slow—knowing how the mind wandered—and Sam could listen or not. Jim talked at him of things in the room, and Nora, and of Lucia: first everyone’s mighty care, but more importantly of their own troubles, and then on and on about The Work, that full white sail.

Sam clung as he could to the voice, a thread of living to keep from lingering among the unchartable ruins, the no-place dwindling muckpool of mere consciousness. He’d seen his own blood dump out, moving blood, murky blood, blood different from the carved or the cooked or the expunged or the probed, from all other wounds or extractions, which one bears easily, no, it was blood removed, as an organ yanked out, the blood, gushed a swamp around his shoulder.

Jim was still there, urging Sam’s eyes to drown in idle cares, until the evening ended visitation. Sam had what he needed, and without any frivolous neuroses, without any Jungian agony, he missed his father dearly, and there was Jim, quick to care, to laugh or to anger as needed. Symbols are easy because easily dismissed. The truly fine affections are not warming (those that summon blush) but, as then, with Jim, there alone to attend him, quite cooling, like marble, a thing that endures. Love, he thinks, like a grave marker.

Alone some time in the night, his body a troubled season, he thinks of René Descartes literally packing himself into a stove, whether quite easily slipping his legs and back-end into a bread oven or, the more ridiculous, somehow making his way into a clay or iron urn. One man’s stove is another man’s walk in the country.

René was at a loss, for the woodpile was lacking, and anyway he had no flint, and he had no patience left for rucking about among the barren trees. He peered into whatever-you-like and, as expected, found the bruised carbon surface miserably cold and hard. Feet first, into the oven, a great white loaf wrapped in rags, assuming his own warmth would be contained, even multiplied, flue shut, and he could have a rest before the labor of starting a fire.

Useless of course. But as a means of pushing one’s physical being toward its limit in hope of insight, one could do worse than such a lesson in self-sufficiency: reason may do for philosophy what the body cannot do for itself. It’s not surprising that his uneasy dream that night was of seeking shelter, of being beset on all sides but one.

Sam, wishing he, too, could be so solidly contained, looked, really looked at the papered ceiling, at acid-eaten clouds of paper, a cosmos of rot and sour breath governing the room, while from below, bricks stacked up against his palpitations, seaside towers growl up through his shoulder’s softness: his beached carcass clamped in an invisible tide of possibilities. He imagined René, without ever calling him that name, René, an unexplained ache down his right side, rolling over half-asleep on his mattress or on the stone bench in the poulé, or stuffed into his stove. Together, they could feel the wonders of paralysis.

René dreamed of a wind-sucking lane, familiar buildings and lampposts sprouting on his periphery, the wind chiding and pressing him on. The side-ache echoed in his dream so that his dream-body sagged on the right, his left leg bearing up, his left arm balancing him, his left eye gathering the world in layers of stagecraft. How would he go on? The wind urged him, pressed him. That’s how.

A stranger passed, untroubled, uninterested, though René’s gait must have been monstrous, struggling to hold his sagging half aboard the vessel of body, pulled across the vessel of earth. He couldn’t greet the stranger, couldn’t look his way; the wind was upon and around him, less urge and more tangle of hands. He spied a church, and took it for his destination, a sanctum from the spectral night.


“Your mother is on her way.”

Sam shifted as much as he could manage. He had a private room now, thanks to Jim and Jim’s nurse. “Warn me when she gets here. I could arrange to be unconscious.”

“Frank, too.”

Sam nodded. Alfie paced a moment more and finally sat.

Sam turned to him. “You’ve written Tom?”

“Yes, of course.”

Sam groaned. “I can feel her approach. Like flux. Like History herself.”

Alfie had done his duty, now he wanted a change of subject. With Sam, in their friendship, he always felt they were on the brink of action, even if only a game of tennis—there was something to be done, a will to do that they shared. “What of Murphy?”

“Tom will bring proofs. I’ll need to wring it out.” There was no joy.

Alfie was surprised by the despondency. Though Sam had reason to be down, talk of publication should have been encouraging. He pressed on: “But I’m well enough into the French already. The opening is less stark, but keeps apace: ‘Le soleil brillait, n’ayant pas d’alternative, sur le rien de neuf.’ Bon? Que pense-tu? Tien!”

The wound was one thing, mother’s visit another, but Sam abided both as temporary friends; what else does one do in hospital? And in fact, the old eruptions were not there; instead, that periodic mother of sweet eyes—oh, as if he were a dog, you could say—and her hands without their clawing. The manipulations he took for granted, that she wanted him home, the insinuations, fine, that he was wasting away in Paris, that Paris was wasting him away. But her heart wasn’t in it, or rather, her teeth weren’t in it: this was that part of her that imagined him a barefoot boy. He could endure her beastly optimism so long as he remembered the yard around Cooldrinagh, and the racetrack, and trees and cousins and the crush of pebbles underfoot.

He was proud that, alone for long hours one night, it was his mind that woke and wanted before his groin. Something needed to be worked. His thoughts turned to Murphy, and to Sasha before him, noting, especially now, the nominal adjustment from full figure, bio-in-hand, now more mobile poupée, barely capable of speech, upright on a bench in Hyde Park, listening to a dog chew its hind leg, gasping and snuffling teeth into its wounds.

Sasha bore his ancestors well but in the oblivious way of one who has never labored without the divine scrim of alienation. To be more so, more so! The bench suited him, but today as on other days, he found himself envying the grass and the stone plinth beneath the bronze. These appealed without suiting his particular fleshiness and boniness, the one shy around the other. No, it was benches all the way, when it was parks.

Abroad, in the Graeco-Parisian wilderness, out of the mulch-sands of once-protuberant ruins, Sasha encountered a corpuscular, pied old macular wall, tall and sure. Finger tracing the stone, he took the structure for a prison’s skirt, first, then hermitage, then prison again, and then nothing; and so then took himself for outside the walls, and free, and then inside, and therefore something other than free, and took himself for in and for out by turns, and then neither. All sanguine, as among the bracken of his boyhood, he’d for days walked according to the stars and planets, alone to the night, but now he abandoned them, taking the stone line as his North; and without understanding its way more than those celestial, Sasha came to the inevitable orifice. Beyond the wall was a garden, well-manicured, and, for the moment, thoroughly attended and populated, as much as Sasha could see amid the availing corridors of green, grey-armed trees, grey-eyed youth and others, men perhaps.

Sasha was a mechanism to stick thoughts to, dried gum, while the steady purgatory of the room hummed on. One afternoon, shy of the forty-foot, waiting for the sun to heat him up, an otherwise miserable summer of contiguities, Sasha had become Murphy via Schopenhauer:

“When, however, an external cause of inward disposition suddenly raises us out of the endless stream of willing, and snatches knowledge from the thralldom of the will, the attention is now no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will. Thus it considers things without interest, without subjectivity, purely objectively … Then all at once the peace, always sought but always escaping us on that first path of willing, comes to us of its own accord, and all is well with us … for that moment we are delivered from the miserable pressure of the will. We celebrate the Sabbath of the penal servitude of willing; the wheel of Ixion stands still.”

Still dripping from his dive, still his heart cavorting from the crashing cold depths of the water, Sam re-imagined “we are delivered from the miserable pressure” to apply not to freedom, but to recall Prometheus, and as Schopenhauer would have known him, as thief, so that the original theft from the will of the world was the theft of fire, and here we are un-livered, punished and freed all at once, and at all moments, eager for another bout of freedom as the diving beak roots again and again, whereas, from Ixion, the wheel-bearer—spinning or still—centaurs are born, rattling horses and motorcycles.

So many ways he might have died easily and by his own stupidity; a prick once in the chest to come so much closer: this justly peeved him. He would have traded much with Arthur Schopenhauer, principally the time with his father, carting around Europe as a miniature gentleman, despising it all, sure, but between all the places of interest would be the travel itself, walking or riding anonymous swatches of farm and forest, all cinched to the swelling horizon. Sam shared with Arthur, though, the loss of a father, the disinterest in the family business, the unfolding exile from father, family, city, country. He and Arthur: everyone tired of them; but unlike Arthur, Sam had nothing to be right about, nothing to discover—no Kant to correct; nothing brought him the exotic delight of the Upanishads. The world was made up tight and dry as a widow’s bed.

Mrs. Thrale had written: “Murphy: Of Murphy when I extolled his Talents for Conversation—tis certain says Mr Johnson that that Man by some happy Skill displays more knowledge than he really has; like Gamesters who can play for more Money than they are worth: he has however so due to a Mixture of Invention & of Narrative, of Fact & Sentiment that few are so likely to please.”

Jim came to visit with some regularity, despite his own complaints, and despite the severity of his Work at the time. He would on occasion bring another, someone who cared, but needed license to intrude, or someone who cared less for Sam than for Jim, but whom Jim desired meet Sam and care.

It took days for Sam to regain himself, to once again compose the proper lines between the cisterns of the addled mind, lodged somewhere in the sinuses, and those fabrics of personhood draped about the flesh.

Peggy showed. She practically screeched in, a hawk in a disappointed upswing, crying for lack of rodents, and before she even glanced at him, she was on about the weather and the noxious air of convalescents. “I’ll have to hold my breath through the ward on the way out. Good fucking Christ it’s hot in here—and stinks like a brothel!”

“I haven’t had a thing to do,” Sam said.

Peggy flapped toward him, “Listen to you, look at you. Everyone was so heartbroken. I really though I’d never see you.” She hung above him, calling up tears as evidence. “You could have died.” She landed hip on the bed, a hand slipping consolingly to his loins, just wandering up, and up to trace his jaw. Sam couldn’t quite appreciate the melodrama.

She smushed her mouth to his cheek and said cooingly, “My dear, you look just awful and I thought I’d lost you and I’m so happy they say you’re to fully recover if you just rest. Just rest. I wish I could stay until you’re well. But I’m causing trouble being away from London, everything is happening at once, you know. The G-Jeune is opening, but it’s absolute chaos.”

“Would you collect the post for me? I’m hoping for galleys.”

Peggy sat up. “Sure I could. Sure. I’ll go by before I’m off,” and then, more soberly, “or send someone. And when you’re out, you’ll come to Cork Street and see! Oh what it takes to show some cock in London! But Jean’s work is absolutely something. I want you to love it. Fuck, how does one breathe in here?” She made for the window and yanked it up, breaking old paintwork and testing its swollen joints. The doctor must have been in the hall when he heard the noise, for he came in immediately and shut the window himself. “Absolutely not!” was all he bothered, in hostile French, and he zipped out.

Peggy was spent and furious at once. She crawled back into her emotional nest and sat gazing at Sam from a chair. “I need a smoke,” and she was gone.


Months later, the saints of solitude poured themselves along the streets of Paris, a light ooze of flaneur and agitation, and Sam is feeling unhealed, ever unhealed in the body. All he can read now is Schopenhauer, and he knows why, but won’t exactly admit it, says it’s style alone, the way a sentence turns from hallway to chamber to fructuous stair wells and parapets of reason, dim chambermaid asides and the shocking exemplar, but his mother, and Arthur’s mother, and his father, and Arthur’s father. No, instead, the flowering of a lyric Kant from tables of pure logic through the fourfold to the Brahmin and back again, effortlessly, to and fro in glorious dread of living, as if now were the eternal apex of the wheel and not the grinding one.

Take Schopenhauer in reverse, let him be happy in his last-first years, suddenly famed and feeling right because of it, unlearned and triumphant prophet, Arthur, let his sitting room fall cold in the evening, though he expected guests and unexpected guests, though, to him, they were all uniquely flat anecdotes of humanity, what one finds turn-taking in shop windows. Continue the reversal, and his admirers diminish, something falls away from the times, a liberality or a confused boredom with rationality resolves itself into a typological mania, the need for system, for perfect identities among all the invisible goings on of the thingness of things. Arthur languishes, bearing bitter or less bitter months, seasonal bitterness as rejection and silences mount surrounding him. As we move him this way, still he picks out the thread of his mother, and the thread of his father, tendrils of them that collide into branches, trunks, rooted, spinning earths of them as, first, he once more saw his mother, and how they forgot their outbursts, and soon, soon he would have his father again, with nothing to disapprove of, and everything in their travels together to repeat and anticipate once more, all around the frivolous world they’d range, erasing as they went, but still the glorious oneness of the road.

Yet nothing could be so, and he rocked not disquieted in his chair, feeling the moment, the true, singular moment of being as it wrapped all of time together in its necessities. So he told himself.

The water boiled, the fire clicked and licked on.

Arthur is a still point compared to Jean-Jacques. Jean refused stillness, received there only an abortive, mortal quietude, which, even if it were associated with the soul or the eternal, yielded nothing whatsoever to the mind; rather, he identified the quiet of sitting with the emptiness of those around him, be they sitting or moving, passive creatures on the carousel of the world, for whom even the most frantic movement was only stillness. Jean, in Paris, would have walked past the window, had the window been there, where Sam was busily tacking together fresh shelves for his books in a crummy beautiful garret of his very own.

Sam remembered things well enough, as he wandered the worn out ramparts of Paris. His steps measured, no, counted, clockwise along the path, above the forsaken road, out of troughs for the time being. The cold bit him, exposed him to the condition of some other place, cold that travels like light, comes at you with a different era bundled in its molecules.

Another November, Descartes was in the doldrums between long marches, camped a alone among dead grass and deader elms. Nothing ever happened on that stretch of the Danube. Through the year it did its brown, green, and bluish alternations or made gray with the sky, now thick, now thin, now all rush, a lagging old heart pushing from the mountains.

Where he picked it up, outside the woolly southern tresses of Ulm, the river ran cluttered with bone-like branches, oil and soot, as if, upstream, a battle of men were being flushed, patient, to the sea. His fingers, chapped, sought some warmth within his vest, his cloak as much eaten by wind as not. Progress North had met with increasing decay and emptiness, so spying a meager half-collapsed chateau on the near horizon meant cold walls but walls, broken roof but roof. He broke through a door to gain entry—a fight against weeds and vines more than hinges. The interior was well into its rotting and stinking and had joined handsomely the other world’s clambering green embrace—the pads of His fingers always against man’s temples.

He found rigid-seeming beams seated into a brick and stone corner and made his bed, snug in the idea of architecture.

His dreams were a Euclidean fantasy, black wax of the sky yielding to the mind’s compass, constellations forming the mobile proof of universal law, easy, florid lines.

found a decrepit poêle-house on the property.

The workspace inside the poêle was cramped and dark; he almost despaired. Best might have been to crawl right into the oven like a sack, like a rat, and forget a fire. But reason prevailed, and he found enough dry scrap to get a fire tickling. Delighted, he had the energy to fetch more fuel, and soon the fire blazed, and the room was once more an oven.

Military service, for René, was ninety-nine parts wandering and waiting. One part abject, but what.

René dreamed himself alone at the beaches near Caen. His dream lacked beauty or serenity. The scene was murmuring pages of froth and grit turning to shore. He was double-covered head to toe in clothes discovered in the old woman’s guest room closet—with whom had he stayed?— and, further, fearfully, wrapped all about in a bed sheet.

At last he sat, though he was at pains to do so, and he felt as though he could remain there, pointed into the wind, a man of debris washed up from the world of non-men, a solid atop the sand.

He would also dream of a book, the way all writers do, a book that projects within itself all the ultimacies desired by the dreamer—the un-writable, unknowable volume of the mind, ink drawn from a crystalline well and letters drawn impossibly sharp.

Knowledge, for Rene, was best understood in analogy with glue, paper, stitching—extensions of plant fibers and proteins, the chemical soup in the skull—but thought itself—pure being—was the light and proof of the divine. His powers, when reduced to the invisible matter of the soul, were immense, but how thin a line of silver the soul traced in the universe of stone and shit becoming stone and stone weeping an ocean of starry nothings.

Gregor Sebba wanted to dig into such moments of emptiness, of non-work, whether despairing or seeking mere refuge. The great Descartes, waiting for a sign in the void of answers, for the leap of ambition to outdo Reason even as he crushed himself lovingly in its crucible. One rises from one’s desk and retreats, convinced of failure, fully and fatally at the impasse, the impassable. Language withers on the tongue; analogies dust. Out, for a walk, or toward other demands, the rare child who needs you, the engagement, the awaited holiday.

Along a trail to nothing, an unending routine of washing or managing the house, at the furthest point from the problem at hand, some delicately outlined map of the world—all its sensations, all the ways to this place away from that other place (the one of effort), the city streets, trade routes, gloves and handkerchiefs, carriage rides and coinage put to palm, the wrong turns and the right, the bruising sky and its sudden empty blue, the confluence of subtle planetary agents, the odors of some alien cuisine, all the lovely curlicues of space unraveling in time: here is a resource for the idling, distracted mind to finally complete that next step of the project without the intimidations of the will.


Sasha might be anything.

Let’s make him this potted plant. There is the green, some layers translucent, others dark and fibrous. Leafy eruptions mark and extend his stalk, none could be taken for arms, no senses except that aching attraction to water, and its absence, air, and its other absence.

Grow as plants do. Only what is needed to grind its gelatinous bones away from the void.

As it might, the pot cracks, as pots do, cracks more, as it must. The plant continues to grow. It’s the roots that crack the pot. One thing grows, another crumbles, tediously.

The soil wet or dry, wet or dry.

When the pot collapses, at last, what then? A pile of loose soil among sherds, roots, pitiful, still growing, but with more difficulty.

The pot is repaired. By whom? Who is there to tend it? No one was there, but it’s done, nonetheless. It’s repaired, not to say skillfully, it is held together, emptied, placed in a protective case, all in its own dark boat.

Where is Sasha now?

Now Sasha dreams the dream of the shattered and repaired pot, dies the death of flora denuded of soil, but dreams along as treasured sherds will do. That is how he desires to dream, as abandoned pot in memory of the vining unliving soul.

Oh, youth!

So, yes, he is in the garden.