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Order and Chaos in Samuel Becketts Not I and J.H.

Prynnes NotYou
- Jon Clay

Language produces order. As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari say, in A


Thousand Plateaus, Language is made not to be believed but to be
obeyed, and to compel obedience (Deleuze and Guattari, TP 76) and, to
this end, it is composed of order-words. Although Deleuze and Guattaris
declaration emphasizes an imperative force of language, order-words need
not be imperative as such; this is clear from any everyday enunciation.
Rather, language not only gives orders, it produces order. It does this in
any number of ways, from the repetition of clich to the reliance of
signification on convention for its operation.
However, language can also produce a sense of chaos or an encounter
with the chaotic; a literary or enunciative practice that disrupts convention
or reveals language beyond signification is a practice that both draws on
chaos and, to an extent, releases chaos, even if it also produces a new
order. This is, in particular, characteristic of modern literature and modern
poetry. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari write of classical art
as that which organises chaos and creates order (Deleuze and
Guattari, TP, 338-340), and of romantic art as deepening itself via the
forces of the earth or the people (Deleuze and Guattari, TP 340-342). They
write, however, of modern art as cosmic, saying that it no longer
confronts the forces of chaos but instead opens onto the forces of the
Cosmos. (Deleuze and Guattari, TP, 342). 1 This opening onto the forces
of the cosmos is also an opening onto chaos insofar as such forces are
beyond the tendency of language to produce order and to subsume the
things themselves under the presuppositions that language is itself
always composed of (Agamben, P, 33). Further, in What is
Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari claim that an opening onto chaos is
definitive of poetry per se, let alone modern poetry:
In a violently poetic text, Lawrence describes what produces poetry:
people are constantly putting up an umbrella that shelters them and on
the underside of which they draw a firmament and write their conventions
and opinions. But poets, artists, make a slit in the umbrella, they tear open
the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in
a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent artists struggle
less against chaos (that, in a certain manner, all their wishes call forth)
than against the clichs of opinion. (Deleuze and Guattari, WP, 204)
I intend to look into the relationship between order and chaos in poetic
texts (though one is also a dramatic text) by writers of, to use a term of
importance to Deleuze and Guattari, great sobriety and control in their

uses of language but who nevertheless draw chaos into their works with
enormously powerful effect.
Samuel Becketts Not I presents, on one level, an ambiguous attempt to
produce order:
was on the point . . . after long efforts . . . when suddenly she felt . . .
gradually she felt . . . her lips moving . . . imagine! . . her lips moving!
(Beckett 379)
The movement from suddenly she felt to gradually she felt might be
read as a correction, implying a search for a more accurate expression and
therefore an attempt to produce an order of representative truth. This kind
of order, of representative truth, is prompted at a number of points in the
play by an inaudible interlocutor (who may or may not be identified with
the Auditor) who apparently offers corrections that are taken up, for the
most part, by the speaker, Mouth; although they are also refused at
certain vital points. However, this particular pattern, the movement from
suddenly to gradually is repeated precisely at a number of points
throughout the play and does not appear to involve any external
intervention. It is also worth remarking that the movement is not, in fact,
from a vague to a more accurate expression of a separate content but is
rather between antonyms. This indicates not a correction but an
experiment: experimental attempts to produce order from the chaos of a
virtuality of language in which all enunciative or narrative possibilities
exist simultaneously. Such simultaneous virtual existence on a collective
plane of enunciation (all enunciation being first and foremost collective
practice) would be a plane of chaos from which individual acts of
enunciation emerge to actualise specific possibilities and so produce order.
In this case, however, such order is left in the balance: two virtual acts of
enunciation are actualised, with no satisfactory way of settling on one
rather than the other without assuming a significance for linear order that
would be difficult to justify. Even if such a significance were justified, then
the linear movement to gradually would still fail to erase the existence of
suddenly. Thus order becomes unstable; the actualised enunciation fails
to signify and has a deterritorialising affect that opens onto the chaotic.
J.H. Prynnes poetry sequence Not-You works in rather different ways but
produces somewhat similar affects. Divided into three sections, marked by
changes in consistency of form, the sequence is, in many respects, tightly
ordered. However, looking at the first poem, it is immediately apparent
that there are serious difficulties for a reader intent on interpretation:
The twins blink, hands set to thread out
a dipper cargo with lithium grease enhanced
to break under heat stress. Who knows
what cares arise in double streaks, letting

the door slip to alternative danny boy indecision. Shell cut one hand off to whack
the other same-day retread, leaving its mark
two transfiguration at femur length. Ahead
the twins consult, shade over upon shade.
(Prynne 383)
There is an opening to a chaos of enunciation that refuses any contextual
markers that might give a reader purchase on signification. There is no
sense of who, or what, the twins might be; yet the use of the definite
article implies that a reader ought, somehow, to know. Further, there is no
way to a conceptual understanding of the twins' apparently intended
action the combination of thread out with cargo and lithium grease
enhanced to break under heat stress suggest the engineering or the
industrial, but lithium grease is a lubricant and so is unlikely to break
under anything (leaving aside the question of why something might
be enhanced to break under heat-stress), while it is certainly difficult to
grasp the notion of threading out cargo, dipper or otherwise. One thing
readers are left with is a sense of the industrial, though it is a sense that
cannot be assimilated in the usual way of concepts; in fact, to name it the
industrial in this way is to translate it into a concept that has a relatively
minor purchase on the poem itself. In fact, what the industrial here
names is not a concept at all but a sensation composed of signifiers whose
signification is simultaneously constrained and opened onto chaos by their
juxtaposition. Readers are confronted by this sensation as an encounter
it cannot be assimilated to a conceptual order and thereby interpreted,
which means that it cannot be assimilated to a readers subjectivity.
Readers cannot get it.
The impossibility of interpretation and assimilation by a reader indicates
that the sensation of the industrial produced by the opening lines of this
poem is what Deleuze and Guattari call a percept. They state that
percepts are no longer perceptions; they are independent of a state of
those who perceive them (Deleuze and Guattari, WP 164). The sensation
of the industrial, though perceived by a reader, remains independent of a
reader through the fact that she or he cannot assimilate it, rendering the
sensation not only independent but, ultimately, non-human, even though
it requires the human reader for its actualisation. The percept is not in the
reader, nor quite in the relationship between the reader and the poem.
The percept exists virtually in the poem: as I have said, it only requires the
reader for its actualisation. Not you: the reader is not addressed by this
poem, it is not for you or addressed to you, it stands in itself
and confronts you.
Returning to Not I, the play begins:

. . . . out . . . into this world. . . this world . . . tiny little thing . . . before its
time . . . in a godfor- . . . what?. . girl?. . yes . . . tiny little girl . . . into this .
.
. out into this . . . before her time . . . godforsaken hole called . . .
called . . .
no matter . . . parents unknown . . . unheard of . . .
(Beckett 376)
Concentrating on the text for the moment, what I notice first of all on a
graphological level are the ellipses that do not mark omissions but rather
breaks in the movement of the text. These breaks do not slow the text
down, but instead produce rapid shifts, implying a search for and a
grasping after language. The ellipses are miniscule hesitations, flickers in
the movement of the language as it attempts to produce expression. They
are fractures in the flow of enunciation, lines of disturbance; the text is
segmented. Segmentation can be, as Deleuze and Guattari say, well
determined, well planned (Deleuze and Guattari, TP 195) and as such is
the segmentation of a life of habit and the production of order. The supple
segmentations of Not I, however, are like quanta of deterritorialisation
(196); the lines are not lines that separate and connect well-ordered areas
of a life but are cracks in discourse, shifts of enunciation. The repetitions,
hesitations and interruptions of enunciation are movements along the lines
of the ellipses that mark struggles. Everything in the language of this play
marks a struggle around order and a disruption of order.
Mouth refuses,
interpellation:

for

example,

the

order

of

identity

or

subjectival

what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . . (Beckett 377)


This explicit refusal of identity between the speaking voice and the subject
of the enunciation is not the only expression of such; fractures in the
subject occur throughout the text. For example:
but the brain still . . . still sufficiently . . oh very much so! . . at this stage . .
.
in control . . . under control (378)
Here there is a fracture between the sense of the brain as the seat of
control and as the object of control, a fracture that is embedded in certain
difficulties of the language itself and of everyday forms of expression. The
hesitation between the options of the brain being in control
or under control, and the knotty philosophical and theological problems
that these very normal expressions imply, reveals further the problem
around the relationship between language and the subject, a problem that
is inseparable from the collective plane of enunciation. Both expressions
have a prior virtual existence on that plane and there is no justification for
choosing one over the other; yet each implies a very different

understanding of human being. The question of who or what is in control,


and the question of the identity or otherwise of enunciation and subject
are clearly closely related; and if that identity is being explicitly refused,
then who or what is refusing?
It would be too simple to make a straightforward claim for the autonomy of
language itself; language is, after all the product of collective practice, it
does not spring into the world fully formed. However, language and
enunciation clearly stand apart from the speaker:
and now this stream . . . not catching the half of it . . . not the quarter . . .
no
idea . . . what she was saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she was
saying!
. . till she began trying to . . . delude herself . . . it was not hers at all . . .
not
her voice at all . . . (379)
The stream of enunciation is an event, a line of flight that the speaker is
propelled along beyond her control, that she is incapable of deciphering;
signified meaning is not where the significance of this event lies. It lies
rather in the event itself. It is an infection of chaos that comes neither from
inside nor outside. It certainly does not have its source in her subjectivity,
yet it comes from the mouth (which is, of course, all the audience is able
to perceive), an orifice that marks the permeability of the subject, the
uncertainty of the border between inside and outside or between order
and chaos. While language is an element of the individual, it is
also not that individual or the order of a subject; it has its basis for
existence in the chaotic plane of collective enunciation. Even while it is not
strictly autonomous, yet it is not exactly under the control of the individual
who speaks, and does not have its origin in her; it is inside and outside
and, through the deterritorialising force of this both-and (or neither-nor it
amounts to the same thing), when it is revealed through a non-signifying
and deterritorialising disruption of the subjective, then it produces a
confrontation with the world itself. The opening onto the chaos of language
provides an opening onto the unassimilable world not I that language is
an element of, even as it is an element of the human individual.
There is an address to the audience in Not I; the audience is addressed
through a confrontation with themselves that is neither, strictly speaking,
identification nor alienation. The audience is invited, or even compelled, to
address that which traverses their selves, that which is not only inscribed
within them but which actually inscribes them, without which they would
not exist as human, but which is also not them. Prynnes movement is
similar, although, as has already been stated, the poetry is not addressed
to the reader at all. Looking briefly at another poem from Not-You:

As will go to stay back,


to tell of a cut-out hand
which well and hardly long
in this, laying the band
of colour marks, no thought
can swell a fear to rise
up to early missing parts
inturning as with new eyes.
(Prynne 400)
This poem is from the middle section of the sequence. It might be noticed
that there is a similar difficulty of reference here as with the first poem, a
failure or refusal to signify in a way that a reader might safely assimilate.
On the other hand, there is reference an echo, possibly, across the
sequence between Shell cut one hand off / to whack the other same-day
retread there and to tell of a cut-out hand / which well and hardly long
here. The sensations, though are different. As well as the industrialpercept in the first poem, there was a sense of threat, an affect of violence
produced through break, stress, cut, whack and mark, as well,
possibly as the suggestion of the uncanny or the ghostly (and so a sense
of threat) through shade over upon shade. Here there is a different affect,
still dynamic, but less active though there may be a suggestion of a
response. The hand here is cut out instead of cut off and there is no
sense of violent agency; the fact that this hand is laying the band // of
colour marks might suggest a similar violence to whack, but laying
doesnt have that same kind of force, suggesting rather a job of work.
Also, no thought / can swell a fear to rise suggests a dynamic process
that is specifically not amenable to agency, like the swelling of a sea
perhaps, although fear may be an automatic response to the violence
threatened in the earlier poem. The final line, inturning as with new eyes,
again suggests a process beyond agency, possibly as a result of the
swelling fear.
What is presented by this poem is a tight poetic order in itself the poem
has a regular meter and it rhymes and the suggestion, through echoes
and possible responses to the earlier poem, of an order across the
sequence. This might suggest to a reader something of the world she or he
inhabits, but it simultaneously, again, refuses any assimilable signification,
the poems signification instead being productive of sensations that
cannot simply be conceptualised and assimilated that way. Not-You not
only draws on the chaos of the collective plane of enunciation, but it
produces the apparent chaos of non-signification within and across a tight
poetic order. This is the production of an ordered new world out of the
chaotic undertow of everyday order. In this way, Not-You not only does not
address readers, thereby confronting him or her with its own existence, it
also does address the world across readers, inscribed within it but also

inscribing out of it, if I may put it that way, the production of a new world.
This possibility of a new world is what readers are confronted with.
Not I, then, addresses itself to the audience as a refusal of identification
with the recognisable subject and the unified order of the self and as such
presents the audience with an encounter with the real of language, with
the chaos of language and with the chaos of the other with which they are
inscribed. Not-You, on the other hand, produces a certain chaos from its
own order as that which cannot be assimilated to the dominant order of a
reading subject but rather draws readers into an encounter with its alien
aesthetic force, which is a confrontation with possibility. Both texts
produce openings onto the chaos of the world of the real beyond the
ordering dominance of the signifier; both texts trace different but clearly
related lines of flight through chaos that may transform the relationship of
the individual with that which lies beyond it.

NOTES:
1

This seeming unhistorical account of modern literature refers, I believe,


to a possibility that always exists in the literary text, co-existing with the
classical and the romantic (Deleuze and Guattari, TP, 338-342 and 346).
The cosmic is modern because it is a possibility that is brought to the fore
as modernism by historical conditions and forces.

WORKS CITED:
AGAMBEN, Giorgio, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1999)
BECKETT, Samuel, Not I, in The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber
and Faber, 1990.
DELEUZE, Gilles, and GUATTARI, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism
and Schizophrenia, trans. by MASSUMI, Brian. London; New York:
Continuum, 2002. References to TP hereafter in my text.
DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Felix, What is Philosophy, trans.
TOMLINSON Hugh and BURCHILL, Graham. London and New York: Verso,
2003. References to WP hereafter in my text.
PRYNNE, J.H., Not-You, in Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books,
1999.

Jon Clay