Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584
The Unnamable is a 1953 postmodern, existential novel written by Irish novelist, playwright, and poet Samuel Beckett. It was originally written and published in French, and in 1958 Beckett translated it and adapted it into English.
I'll make myself a memory, I have only to listen, the voice will tell me everything, tell it to me again, everything I need, in dribs and drabs, breathless, it's like a confession, a last confession, you think it's finished, then it starts off again, there were so many sins, the memory is so bad, the words don't come, the words fail, the breath fails . . .
The novel is the third and final installation of Beckett’s popular trilogy of novels, coming after Molloy (French edition 1951; English edition 1955) and Malone Dies (French edition 1951; English edition 1956). The whole collection was published in English in 1959 as Three Novels.
I'm all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their settling, no sky for their dispersing, coming together to say, fleeing one another to say, that I am they, all of them, those that merge, those that part, those that never meet, and nothing else, yes, something else, that I'm something quite different, a quite different thing . . . I'll seek, what is wanting, to make everything clear, I'm always seeking something, it's tiring in the end, and it's only the beginning.
One of the most interesting elements of The Unnamable is the fact that it doesn’t have a plot in the conventional sense of the word. It is, essentially, a series of lengthy and dramatic monologues told by a disembodied and presumably unnamable narrator who speaks of his struggles, but ultimately decides to continue living.
The search for the means to put an end to things, an end to speech, is what enables the discourse to continue.
How all becomes clear and simple when one opens an eye on the within, having of course previously exposed it to the without, in order to benefit by the contrast.
And all these questions I ask myself. It is not in a spirit of curiosity. I cannot be silent. About myself I need know nothing. Here all is clear. No, all is not clear. But the discourse must go on. So one invents obscurities. Rhetoric.
We know that the man lives in a jar on the window pane of a French restaurant in Paris. He’s referred to as “Manhood,” “Warm,” and “Basil.” He recalls his life, and philosophically describes his thoughts and experiences. Thus, the novel explores existential themes such as: human suffering, consciousness, isolation, loneliness, the reason we exist, the meaning of existence itself, resilience, and determination.
Yes, in my life, since we must call it so, there were three things, the inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude, that’s what I’ve had to make the best of.
I’ll go on. You must say words, as long as there are any—until they find me, until they say me. (Strange pain, strange sin!) You must go on. Perhaps it’s done already. Perhaps they have said me already. Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens.) It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don’t know, I’ll never know: in the silence you don’t know. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.