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Thomas Wendt Pim (f)or a Sack: Violence, Voice, and Signification in Beckett’s How It Is “There is no use indicting words, they

are no shoddier than what they peddle.” (Beckett, Malone Dies) “how it was I quote before Pim with Pim after Pim how it is three parts I say it as I hear it voice once without quaqua on all sides then in me when the panting stops tell me again finish telling me invocation”1 (Beckett, 7) From the very beginning (quoted above), How It Is displays the characteristic Beckettian ambiguity between narrator and narrative voice. It is clear that a voice is present somewhere, and that this voice is spoken through someone, but the transmitter of the voice, the narrator, is not necessarily its initial source. In other words, the reader cannot easily trace the voice back to its original speaker; there is an additional stopping point between the ‘I’ and the subject, another point of slippage in the interplay between the origin and agent of signification. The disjunction between narrator and narrative voice results in an ambivalent, anxious relationship between the one who is speaking and the subject of his speech—a relationship that is based on the violence of the signifier in the demand to speak, an ambiguous rift between words and things, and confusion in the interaction between self and other, between objects of love and objects of use. All of these aspects of the text converge on the character of Pim, who plays the role of the individual who is also the whole. At once, Pim is the narrator’s identifiable other who defines the narrator as a separate being, but also functions as the Other who threatens the
 I  decided  to  quote  from  the  text  exactly  as  it  appears  on  the  page.    Confusion  arises  when  quoting  from   a  text  that  appears  to  be  written  as  a  poem,  reads  more  like  prose,  and  defies  many  of  the  conventions  of  both.     An  alternate  method  would  be  to  take  every  ‘stanza’  or  ‘paragraph’  as  one  ‘sentence’  and  quote  accordingly,  but   the  spaces  in  between  the  fragments  of  text  are  very  important  and  must  be  reflected.      


narrator’s identity—insofar as he has one. At this point, a brief explanatory not on the text is necessary to situate the contents of the present essay. How It Is is a text written in a manner that stands between prose and poetry; it is comprised of textual fragments separated by spaces, devoid of punctuation, and filled with repetition. It reads like an exasperated verbal exhalation, a voice that expels all that it can before losing breath and having to stop. This is the role of the spaces between fragments: the ‘ancient voice’ quaqua enters the narrator’s consciousness and compels the narrator to speak all of the ‘bits and scraps’ that he can until his breath runs out. Spaces between textual fragments are the location of ‘panting,’ and speech only occurs when the ‘panting stops.’ The narrator speaks of three distinct parts—before Pim, with Pim, and after Pim—which already situates the narrator as defined by the presence or absence of Pim. The only action that takes place is the narrator crawling through mud, meeting Pim, using violence to train Pim to speak, and mourning Pim’s departure. Repetitions of both phrases and concepts are so ubiquitous that greater significance lies in what is not repeated, in what breaks the continuity of a very formulaic text. The repetition centers around the themes of object relations, interaction with the other, and the existence of the voice, both as the omnipresent quaqua—the voice of the Other—and as Pim’s voice evoked through the narrator’s violence. There seems to be a sort of a priori confusion in Beckett’s fiction, especially in this text, concerning the role of the fictional. One is certainly in the realm of fiction—this is not the essential question—but the extent of the text’s claim to fictionality is in question insofar as it pushes the boundaries of the novel and its capacity to produce a piece of fiction that is not necessarily a coherent whole but at least a potential for verisimilitude. In other words, this text provides little or no room for interpretive clarity concerning the origin of fiction. This ambiguity, however, does not pose a serious problem for textual analysis:


The fictitious is never in things or in people, but in the impossible verisimilitude of what lies between them: encounters, the proximity of what is most distant, the absolute dissimulation in our very midst. Therefore, fiction consists not in showing the invisible, but in showing the extent to which the invisibility of the visible is invisible. (Foucault, 23-24) According to this view, then, fiction does not provide a sense of clarity that is absent in reality, a means of explaining the unexplainable; rather, fiction is merely a measurement of the gap between signification and the real. Upon interpretation, fiction produces an analytic method of accounting for the extent of unaccountability. As such, the analytic method attempts to organize the fictional chaos in such a way that creates meaningful connections, even if these connections are based on gaps in the desire for verisimilar wholeness. Perhaps all the critic can do is point. First, it is necessary to establish the narrator’s relationship to external objects and subjects, and especially how these relationships vacillate—objects take on characteristics of subjects and vice versa. As the narrator moves through the mud in part 1 (before Pim), he drags along with him a sack filled with tins of food. The sack is tied around his neck so as not to lose it, reminiscent of an umbilical cord and placenta, suggesting a state of existence that is not infantile but intra-uterine. This sack filled with food and attached to his body is his only possession (p. 8); and the sack, along with its role of providing nourishment, is his only companion and source of comfort. One can see this relationship in the ways that the narrator interacts with the sack: knees drawn up back bent in a hoop I clasp the sack to my belly I see me now on my side I clutch it the sack we’re talking of the sack with one hand behind my back I slip it under my head without letting it go I never let it go (Beckett, 10) asleep I see me asleep on my side or on my face it’s on or the other on my side it’s preferable which side the right it’s preferable the sack under my head or clasped to my belly clasped to my belly the knees drawn up the back bent in a hoop the tiny head near the knees curled round the sack

Belacqua fallen over on his side tired of waiting forgotten of the hearts where grace abides sleep (Beckett, 24) This is how the narrator sleeps with his sack: it functions both as an object of utility and of treasure. In its most practical sense, the sack is a pillow, allowing the narrator to sleep with his head raised above the mud. At other times, the narrator rolls on his side in the fetal position and clutches the sack between his belly and knees. He uses the sack as a means of transitory wholeness, a way to return temporarily to intra-uterine existence, as indicated by the no doubt purposeful physical similarity to the umbilical cord and placenta, and the narrator’s positioning as a fetus in the womb. The narrator references Belacqua, a character from Dante’s Purgatorio whose sloth prevents him from directly entering heaven. Belacqua sits at the base of a mountain with his knees drawn up, his arms crossed, and his head resting on his knees. In a sense, Belacqua represents the complacency of purgatory: he does not want to exert the energy to climb the mountain and get into heaven, so he sits and finds contentment in what he has at the moment. Along with this apparent comfort in solitude, using the sack as a means of regression back to wholeness and quasi-autoeroticism, there exists a strong sense of loneliness: say say part one no sound the syllables move my lips and all around all the lower that helps me understand that’s the speech I’ve been given part one before Pim question do I use it freely it’s not said or I don’t hear it’s one or the other all I hear is that a witness I’d need a witness (Becket, 18) An apparent contradiction occurs in that the first lines of the text establish that the narrator is speaking the ‘ancient voice’ that is all around, but in this passage he claims that there is ‘no sound.’ One must interpret this on the level of the murmur: the narrator speaks, but speaks only the ‘bits and scraps’ that he is able to get out, and these fragments are merely murmured in the mud. He has no companion, no one to hear his voice, no one to witness the speech act and


reciprocate. In this way, only the man and his sack exist in part one, nothing more. At the same time, there is a longing for something else, some kind of ‘witness’ that might serve as the receiver and reciprocator of voice. Part one is essentially pure desire: the narrator has nothing but a sack, which serves as his mute companion and provider of nourishment; and at the same time, the constant reference and foreshadowing to Pim, at this point only an enigmatic and important name for something, indicate the narrator’s desire to speak of Pim, to tell the reader about Pim, and to bring Pim into being by speaking of him. In this way, even before Pim’s actual appearance in the text—a seemingly banal encounter in that Pim seems to have always been present—he is already anticipated as a means of establishing speech in the place of the murmur. Pim’s status is mutable throughout the text: part one explains him as an object in becoming; in part two he is tormentor, tormented, and speaker; and in part three he is the one who is no longer present as himself but is everywhere in the form of others. Of particular interest to the current essay is part two, but there is no doubt that ‘bits and scraps’ present themselves throughout, making it difficult if not impossible to locate Pim’s origin. Instead, one must trace his effects as something present in order to establish his significance. The text begins to describe Pim as a present being in the form of utility: my part who but for me he would never Pim we’re talking of Pim never be but for me anything but a dumb limp lump flat for ever in the mud but I’ll quicken him you wait and see and how I can efface myself behind my creature when the fit takes me now my nails quick a supposition if this so-called mud were nothing more than all our shit yes all if there are not billions of us at the moment and why not the moment there are two there were yes billions of us crawling and shitting in their shit hugging like a treasure in their arms the wherewithal to crawl and shit a little more now my nails (Beckett, 52)


Pim begins, then, in his presence as something like a tool, a ‘dumb limp lump’ that the narrator will bring into being by making him speak. This passage differs from part one in the sense that the narrator directly addresses the reader—‘I’ll quicken him you wait and see’—thus making the reader complicit in Pim’s forthcoming torment. There is also a repetition of ‘now my nails,’ referring to the method of training, which will be discussed later. Through this repetition of the tools of torment and the call to the reader, the text implies a connection between narrative voice, narrator, Pim, and reader. The text establishes a voice that says, You (the reader) will use my (the narrator’s) nails to make Pim (the deferred tool of speech) talk, in much the same way as the narrative voice (language) acts through me (the narrator) as a medium; and through this chain of signification, we are all tormentor, tormented, and speaker. Given the nature of a reciprocity that invokes the reader so directly into the circularity of textual language, and one that implicates any and all potential beings, it is advantageous to examine Pim on the aspect of his character that gives him value: voice. Pim is not attractive to the narrator, at first, because of his existence as a potential companion; rather, his ability to speak elicits attraction. Hence, his presence in the text begins as one that is bound up in utility. He represents a function in the text similar to that which Foucault identifies with the texts of the Marquis de Sade: “laying desire bare in the infinite murmur of discourse.” (Foucault, 17) As Sade’s characters present uninhibited desire in its most literal and blatant form, Pim represents the object of desire stripped to its most bare and essential meaning. The narrator does not desire Pim qua Pim, but rather Pim as potential for use. He does not want to be ‘crawling and shitting in [his] shit hugging like a treasure in [his] arms the wherewithal to crawl and shit a little more.’ He wants a companion to assist in creating meaning. A sack is better than nothing, but Pim is better than a sack.


In this way, Pim does not manifest within the text until the perception of his utterance. This event is a fleeting one, and it occurs by way of anticipation for the future fulfillment of desire. The beginning of part two includes a passage that references the “happy time,” and the narrator states, “his way I’ll know it later his way of happiness I’ll have it later I have not yet had all.” (Beckett, 51) Already, there is confusion concerning the question of knowing happiness and having happiness, a theme of knowledge versus ownership that runs throughout the text. The next passage includes a fleeting mention of a “faint shrill cry,” which does not appear again until later when the narrator inspects Pim’s body: the cries tell me which end the head but I may be mistaken with the result all hangs together that the hand slides right and there to be sure there’s a fork it’s as I thought then back left just the same just to clinch it and there to be sure there’s the arse again then oh without tarrying down in a hollow then guided by stump of thumb on spine on up to the floating ribs that clinches it the anatomy I had no point in insisting further his cries continue that clinches it this won’t work in the past either I’ll never have a past never had good a fellow-creature more or less but man woman girl or boy cries have neither certain cries sex nor age I try to turn him over on his back no the right side still less the left less still my strength is ebbing good good I’ll never know Pim but on his belly all that I say it as I hear it every word always and that having rummaged in the mud between his legs I bring up finally what seems to me like a testicle or two the anatomy I had (Beckett, 54) The objectification of Pim reaches a new level with the conflation of knowledge and possession. The narrator begins to know Pim only by examining and manipulating his body; the repetition of ‘clinches’ points to a desire for positivity through the sensation of touch, feeling the body to know the figure, the object’s anatomical makeup. He makes the distinction between body and


voice through the assertion that voice does not have the distinguishing characteristics of the body, at least not for the narrator: ‘man woman girl or boy cries have neither certain cries sex nor age.’ His only positivity is that of the cry. The body, however, is identified as a male body through the discovery of testicles. As the text presents it, the narrator’s discovery of Pim’s testicles is an event that simultaneously displays the narrator’s knowledge and ownership of Pim: he gains knowledge of, clinches, Pim’s sex, but one must also question the ambiguity in the act, specifically on the question of castration. The text states that the narrator ‘brings up’ a testicle form between Pim’s legs, but the distance involved in this movement is unclear; the reader does not know if he merely feels a ‘testicle or two,’ or if the testicles were literally torn off and brought within the narrator’s proximity. There is the question of ‘bringing up’ in the sense of bringing something to one’s awareness, talking about something, or literally pulling something closer to get a better look. The difference lies in the distinction between thinking about an object and physically moving the object itself, severing the object from its present position. In the original French version of the text,2 the word for ‘bring up’ is dégager, which signifies a sort of emission or emanation. In this sense, Pim emits the anatomical evidence of his sex, the essence of his sexuality as inherently linked to biology—certainly a peculiar way of encountering someone’s genitals. This peculiarity is also quite significant insofar as it suggests an emanation from Pim to narrator, thus the presentation of the testicles becomes akin to a gift. In the knowledge-possession of Pim’s genitalia, the narrator becomes master over Pim, who is stripped of his agency as an identifiable subject and, in a sense, rendered passive under the influence of the other’s knowing and

 Beckett  wrote  this  text  in  French  and  later  translated  it  into  English,  thus  to  some  degree  decreasing  the   fundamental  problems  with  translation.    I  unfortunately  must  admit  that  my  current  level  of  comprehension   prevents  me  from  working  exclusively  with  the  French  text.  


possessing. To the extent that emission is not an active process in most cases, Pim is forced into a passive position. One might say, the narrator has him by the balls. In his possession of Pim, both in the act of possession and Pim’s existence as a possession, the narrator experiences flashes of recognition and transitory moments of stasis in which he remembers back to part one and his sole possession: almost clinging that’s too strong as always he can’t repel me it’s like my sack when I had it still this providential flesh I’ll never let it go call that constancy if you wish when I had it still but I have it still it’s in my mouth no it’s not there any more I don’t have it any more I am right I was right (Beckett, 55) ‘Clinging’ takes on particular significance within the context of the sack, to which the narrator compares Pim. He views Pim as essentially another sack, a replacement for the primary sack while it is in his mouth, both a location of comfort and of concealment, or it is gone. In another sense, the narrator is the one doing the clinging, and therefore he is comparing himself to the sack that clings to him, or is tied to him, in part one. Such is the nature of the narrator’s vacillation: he has moments of slippage in the ‘infinite murmur of discourse’ in which his relationship to Pim becomes flexible. In other words, it becomes a dialectical relationship in which there is a vacillation between Pim as a replacement for the sack and narrator as Pim’s master, and the narrator as dependent on Pim, clinging to him to quell the anxiety of abandonment. The pivotal moment of the encounter with Pim occurs when the narrator discovers that Pim is capable of articulate speech in addition to his cries. This realization is a result of inspecting Pim’s body, whose anatomy indicates the capacity to speak: the hand approaches under the mud comes up at a venture the index encounters the mouth it’s vague it’s well judged

the thumb the cheek somewhere something wrong there dimple malar the anatomy all astir lips hairs buccinators it’s as I thought he’s singing that clinches it I can’t make out the words the mud muffles or perhaps a foreign tongue perhaps he’s singing a lied in the original perhaps a foreigner an oriental my dream he has renounced I too will renounce I will have no more desires he can speak that’s the main thing (Beckett, 56) The anatomical discovery is a result of feeling Pim’s malar region, the cheek, and coming into contact with buccinator muscles—the muscles that guide the jaw’s movement during speech. Presence of the necessary muscles confirms the narrator’s suspicion that Pim can speak, a suspicion based on the ‘barely audible’ sound in the mud. He concludes that Pim is singing, again repeating ‘clinches,’ the absolute certainty that Pim has a voice. The narrator cannot understand Pim’s language: either the mud is muffling the sound or he is singing in a foreign tongue. This is not a problem, however, insofar as the ability to speak is enough to fulfill the narrator’s desire, although the exact nature of the desire is unclear. Why is it so important that Pim speak? Why is there such joy in the discovery of Pim’s potentiality for speech? Perhaps it is not a question of desire in the sense of filling a gap of some kind, the constant attempt to re-find the lost object and return to a state of wholeness.3 One may interpret the ambiguity at hand in another way to include a much broader conceptualization of desire, which is not dependent on finding a lost object in the other, but rather on using the other to reaffirm one’s own characteristics: [Attraction] does not depend on any charm. Nor does it break one’s solitude, or found any positive communication. To be attracted is not to be beckoned by the allure of the outside; rather, it is to experience in emptiness and destitution the
 I  am  thinking  loosely  of  Lacan’s  concept  of  desire  along  with  Freud’s  idea  that  the  finding  of  an  object  is   always  a  re-­‐finding  from  Three  Essays  on  the  Theory  of  Sexuality.    


presence of the outside and, tied to that presence, the fact that one is irremediably outside the outside. Far from calling on one interiority to draw close to another, attraction makes it imperiously manifest that the outside is there, open, without intimacy, without protection or retention (how could it have any when it has no interiority, and, instead, infinitely unfolds outside any enclosure?), but that one cannot gain access to that opening because the outside never yields its essence. The outside cannot offer itself as a positive presence—as something inwardly illuminated by the certainty of its own existence—but only as an absence that pulls as far away from itself as possible, receding into the sign it makes to draw one toward it (as though it were possible to reach). (Foucault, 27-28)4 It would follow from Foucault’s definition of attraction that one is not attracted to an other simply for the purpose of finding a companion with whom one more easily navigates the outside. The outside has an allure, something that evokes the subject to seek an experience with it and enter the interiority of the exteriority; but at the same time, this alluring quality of the outside is precisely what causes its retreat, its constant slipping away from any kind of positive qualification. In a sense, one cannot clinch the outside. In the midst of this grasping, this desperate attempt to feel the form of formlessness, the individual encounters others who are on the same quest. Now, according to Foucault, attraction to other is not necessarily contingent on similarity but is based more on a withdrawal into oneself in order to experience the perspicacity of radical interiority. In a sense, one defines the self in contradistinction to the object of attraction. That is not to say that there is a simple dialectical relationship between self and other in which one individual gains self-knowledge based purely on difference. Although this is a large part of the relationship, it does not encompass the entirety of its complexity. Something else occurs in this attraction and encounter with the other that indicates a dynamic beyond negative definition.

 It  must  be  noted  that  Foucault’s  focus  in  this  essay  is  on  the  fiction  of  Maurice  Blanchot.    Rather  than   drawing  a  direct  link  between  Beckett  and  Blanchot—a  naïve  connection  that  would  assert  the  two  as   interchangeable—I  am  inclined  to  think  of  Foucault’s  essay  as  one  concerned  with  much  wider  literary-­‐ philosophical  considerations  beyond  an  explication  of  Blanchot’s  fiction.      


In the attraction-encounter dynamic, one can see the beginning of a violent trend that defines the relationship between Pim and the narrator. Even before Pim appears in the narration as a present being as opposed to a concept of a future being, one gets the sense that Pim’s presence will be one of utility—i.e., much like the narrator’s sack in part one, Pim will serve a specific function. Fragments of text indicate a longing and a sense of wonder concerning the narrator’s existential state and what is missing: “question if other inhabitants here with me yes or no obviously all-important most important” (13); “something is lacking” (14); “I call it it doesn’t come I can’t live without it I call it with all my strength it’s not strong enough I grow mortal again” (14-15). It is unclear how to make the distinction between the narrator’s thoughts and the ‘bits and scraps’ from the ‘ancient voice,’ which he echoes in the mud; therefore, the reader is unable to accurately discern the origin of intent behind the speech act. Intent exists, but the subject of intent is elusive. The intention to use Pim as an object of use, perhaps as a substitute for the ‘ancient voice,’ is evident from the first encounter (52). His objectification and simplification gains significance in the act of naming: no more than I by his own account or my imagination he had no name any more than I so I gave him one the name Pim for more commodity more convenience it’s off again in the past (Beckett, 59) Naming Pim simultaneously gives him a subjective status and places him under the narrator’s ownership. Giving Pim a name establishes him as more than ‘commodity’ or ‘convenience,’ more than merely something to use in the pursuit of the desired object, whatever that might be. In another sense, Pim is named by the other, and therefore Pim is by definition in a passive position to both the other and the word used to distinguish him. The name functions to signify Pim insofar as he is not Bem, Bom, Skom, Skum, Pam, or any other name that appears in the narration. Now that Pim is distinguished as a singular being under the narrator’s agency, it is

possible to read the act of naming as an act of both designation and convergence. It both brings Pim into existence as an object of use distinguishable from the narrator, thus something with the potential to satisfy a desire, and a being in a reciprocal relationship to the narrator. Reciprocation is not meant in the sense that Pim and the narrator exchange favors or have a sort of exchange relationship; rather, their roles change throughout the narration, especially in the third part when Pim abandons the narrator but still appears in the form of memory and grief. Part three focuses on establishing this reciprocity: what we were then each for himself and for the other glued together like a single body in the dark the mud (Beckett, 122) The narrator then names himself, establishing the beginnings of a discourse between two identifiable individuals: the one I’m waiting for oh not that I believe in him I say it as I hear it he can give me another it will be my first Bom he can call me Bom for more commodity that would appeal to me at the end and one syllable the rest indifferent BOM scored by finger-nail athwart the arse the vowel in the hole I would say in a scene from my life he would oblige me to have had a life the Boms sir you don’t know the Boms sir you can shit on a Bom sir you can’t humiliate him a Bom sir the Boms sir (Beckett, 60) The act of naming and self-naming, one might say, is the ‘glue’ that bonds the two individuals together. It creates a linguistic commonality that transcends the ‘ancient voice’ in such a way that, insofar as the names ‘Pim’ and ‘Bom’ are meaningless in themselves—that is to say, they are merely words that designate individuals—the names create a reciprocal identification system between the two individuals. Pim and Bom are only meaningful, as individuals and as utterances, to the extent that they are different from other individuals with names. Naming creates a sort of violent intimacy, both in the sense that Bom etches his name into Pim’s body—

‘BOM scored by finger-nail athwart the arse’—and that the name ostensibly accounts for the whole individual within language. In other words, the name reduces the subject to signification, strips him/her of the qualities that cannot be incorporated into the linguistic system, and creates the potential for a wholly idiosyncratic concept of an individual based on a name. Naming, then, becomes a primary act by which one can interpret the gap between a word and a thing—that is, if the name is meant to signify the whole of its referent within the linguistic system, one must examine the ways in which this attempt fails. Assuming an important difference between a thing and a word, in all the ostensible meaning and verisimilitude that a name attempts to provide, there must also be a point of non-meaning that disrupts the whole system. Perhaps one of the most important commentators of the role of naming in this context is Jacques Lacan, who frames the question as one of the unnamable that the name leaves as its remainder: “[B]ehind what is named, there is the unnamable. It is in fact because it is unnamable, with all the resonances you can give to this name, that it is akin to the quintessential unnamable, that is to say to death.” (Lacan, 211) In this way, the name only points to that which is directly apparent to consciousness, thus ignoring, but by not necessarily purposefully ignoring, all that is beyond the signifying power of the word. To put it another way, naming only accounts for discernable aspects of the individual, leaving death as its remainder. Death is meant in this context as both the potential for physical death and all the individual characteristics that evade consciousness, and are thus unnamable. To call another individual ‘Pim’ is to establish the immediate and apparent existence of that individual, even if that individual is not present at the time of the utterance; at the same time, however, there always exists the potential for the individual known as ‘Pim’ to not exist as such, which is precisely what the name attempts to


mask. In this sense, the name strips the individual of what is beyond the scope of a subject looking at or thinking about the other. The existence of death within the individual indicates a certain attention to temporality in the act of perceiving and naming others. Time and its relation to naming determines the subject’s interaction with the world in a way that places a certain amount of importance on the word that names. In the world of subjects, objects, and the names assigned to them, the gap between words and things is crucial in considering the implications of perception: The power of naming objects structures the perception itself. The percipi of man can only be sustained within a zone of nomination. It is through nomination that man makes objects subsist with a certain consistence. If objects had only a narcissistic relationship with the subject, they would only ever be perceived in an [sic] momentary fashion. The word, the word which names, is the identical. The word doesn’t answer to the spatial distinctiveness of the object, which is always ready to be dissolved in an identification with the subject, but to its temporal dimension. The object, at one instant constituted as a semblance of the human subject, a double of himself, nonetheless has a certain permanence of appearance over time, which however does not endure indefinitely, since all objects are perishable. This appearance which lasts a certain length of time is strictly only recognizable through the intermediary of the name. The name is the time of the object. (Lacan, 169) Lacan is specifically referring to the relationship between subjects and objects in this passage, but one can certainly extend his analysis to the exchange between subjects. Given that Pim first appears to the narrator as an object of use and only becomes ‘more than commodity’ when he is named, the initial encounter with him is that of an object. It is only upon the discovery of his voice and the subsequent naming that Pim gains the status of a subject to the narrator; and with this status is vulnerability, specifically in the sense that the narrator is now able to exploit his voice, a vulnerability that places Pim in that ambiguous space between word and thing, individual and name. This space, however, at least in Lacan’s analysis, is a sort of temporal space in that naming establishes the individual under the aegis of permanence—i.e., naming Pim


is an attempt to prolong a semblance of his use value even after he abandons the narrator. In contrast to the other major object in the text, the narrator’s sack, Pim becomes an object of ambivalence; whereas the sack is never named and thus must be literally tied to the narrator’s body to prevent its loss, the narrator tries to ‘glue’ himself to Pim but cannot hold him in permanence. Seeking permanence in this way is certainly an act of love, but it also indicates hate in the sense that naming forces permanence from the outside of the individual—an imposed permanence. The existence of the ‘ancient voice’ drastically complicates the idea of naming Pim as an attempt to establish a feeling of permanence. Nothing is permanent in this text; objects, people, and concepts are constantly changing and reformulating themselves under the influence of the outside voice. The narrator and narrative voice are distinct in this text, but there is a sense in which they interact in a reciprocal relationship as opposed to one of pure dictation: The subject doesn’t have a dual relation with an object with which he is confronted, it is in relation to another subject that his relations with this object acquire their meaning, and by the same token their value. Inversely, if he has relations with this object, it is because a subject other than himself has relations with this object, and they both can name it, in an order different from that of the real. As soon as it can be named, its presence can be invoked as an original dimension, distinct from reality. Nomination is invocation of presence, and sustaining of presence in absence. (Lacan, 255) Once again, nomination becomes an attempt to sustain presence of the other even in solitude; but more so, naming established an agreement between two subjects regarding the existence of an object other than themselves. Naming Pim announces a statement of fact between narrator and narrative voice—or whomever is the recipient of the narrator’s voice—which states that Pim exists, and his existence is one that manifests itself via symbolic representation. Given that the narrative is told retroactively, Pim’s departure is already known. From the first line of the text— “how it was I quote before Pim with Pim after Pim how it is” (Beckett, 7)—the reader knows

that Pim will eventually become present and then leave, but the narrator’s naming of his yet unnamed companion and his attempt to maintain presence is not immediately apparent. It is only after the name is in place that the reader gains knowledge of Pim’s importance as an object of desire and permanence. An essential concern at this point is the nature of this language that emanates from the ‘ancient voice,’ the voice that complicates the entirety of discourse compromising the text. In a very literal sense, the voice comes from outside; its origin, although unknown, is somewhere ‘above,’ outside the mud and outside the narrator’s mind. As such, the voice acts as the point at which language functions independently of the speaking subject: The movement of attraction and the withdrawal of the companion lay bare what precedes all speech, what underlies all silence: the continuous streaming of language. A language spoken by no one: any subject it may have is no more than a grammatical fold. A language not resolved by any silence: any interruption is only a white stain on its seamless sheet. (Foucault, 54) Despite the sense that Foucault’s concern in this essay is the ‘thought from outside,’ the thought that is external to the solitary thinking subject, the language it produces is still dependent on the other—the companion, with all its attractive and repellant qualities. Along with the dichotomy of inside and outside, there is also a conflict between representations of the subject—namely, the subject of the sentence and the speaking subject5—insofar as this ‘continuous streaming of language’ is subjectless and therefore has no identifiable speaker. It is language whose existence is not contingent on speech, as it operates beyond considerations of intent, agency, and perhaps even signification. Foucault is to be describing a discourse that functions in both speech and silence, somewhere in the infinite stream of linguistic reciprocity, whose only gap is nothing more than a ‘white stain’; and if one can assume that the ‘seamless sheet’ is also white, the stain
 This  of  course  harks  back  to  Lacan’s  various  analyses  of  the  Cartesian  cogito  and  the  difference  between   statement  and  enunciation,  perhaps  most  notably  in  “The  Subversion  of  the  Subject  and  the  Dialectic  of  Desire  in   Freudian  Psychoanalysis.”  


is visually imperceptible and therefore not actually a stain. The linguistic ‘sheet’ is ‘seamless,’ whole. The outside does not fragment its wholeness; rather, it leaves an imperceptible mark, which is invisible but nonetheless present. In a certain sense, one cannot define the outside without relying on descriptions of the feeling of the outside. Its definition and elucidation are always dependent on its experience, which is to say that it is distorted by the very same consciousness it invades. In the act of defining, then, one creates reciprocity between outside and inside: A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence; and that at the same time stands at the threshold of all positivity, not in order to grasp its foundation of justification but in order to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed—a thought that, in relation to the interiority of our philosophical reflection and the positivity of our knowledge, constitutes what in a word we might call ‘the thought from the outside.’” (Foucault, 15-16) ‘Thought from the outside’ only becomes apparent at the moment of slippage when thought presents itself to the conscious subject in its elusive, exterior form; it is that which consciousness attempts to repel. In the sense that the narrator experiences both his sack and Pim as narcissistic objects, objects that incorporate themselves into his own self-awareness with the subsequent potential for traumatic loss, his experience of the ‘ancient voice’ is one of radical exteriority that inserts itself on the inside. Resulting from this exteriority, his experience with the voice is one of absolute submission—absolute because the voice is tyrannical—in which the narrator completely exhausts himself in the act of speaking the voice’s words. The real moments of encounter with the voice are not when the narrator speaks of the voice but while panting; in these physical spaces in the text when the narrator stops to catch his breath, one must assume that reflection


takes place. One might say, these are the places of thought from the inside, in which the narrator is able to stop speaking and think while pushing away the outside even if only for a moment. Pim enters the narrator’s consciousness in a similar manner as the ‘ancient voice’ but with a crucial difference: Pim can be made to speak, made to stop and start under the narrator’s control, and can be manipulated to speak only what the narrator dictates. In a way, the narrator’s relationship to Pim is the reversal of his relationship to the ‘ancient voice’ given that the narrator speaks what the voice dictates and Pim speaks what the narrator dictates. In addition, Pim has the ability to flee whereas the narrator cannot escape the influence of the voice; however, he can transfer his submission to the voice into dominance over Pim. In this way, Pim is the vulnerable companion to whom the narrator is attracted as a ‘commodity’ that he can exploit but later becomes a fellow subject in the act of naming. Pim is essentially the outside that situates itself on the inside in a non-traumatic manner, which suggests that he represents a certain sense of safety in the other. One of the ways in which Pim becomes part of the narrator is through speech. It is important that Pim’s speech must be coerced out of him through violence; brute force is necessary to extract the indeterminate into the outside so it can then be brought inside. The mechanics of this deceptively simple and somewhat paradoxical extraction procedure plays out in Pim’s training regimen. The narrator’s decision to train Pim to speak is evident before nomination, while Pim is still a ‘commodity’: problem of training and concurrently little by little solution and application of same and concurrently moral plane bud and bloom of relations proper but first some remarks two or three we’ll see (Beckett, 57) The anxiety in the narrator’s decision is evident by the repetition of ‘concurrently,’ indicating a coexistence of situational aspects that he must consider: the ‘problem of training’ and its

‘solution,’ ‘application’ of the solution and its ‘moral’ considerations. Coexistence of these influences, however, does not seem to pose any major problems to training, as the narrator does not hesitate to begin the training program soon after stating his concerns. It is as though speaking the words of concern eradicates the concern itself, thus allowing for the alleviation of anxiety simply based on stating intent: When language arrives at its own edge, what it finds is not a positivity that contradicts it, but the void that will efface it. Into that void it must go, consenting to come undone in the rumbling, in the immediate negation of what it says, in a silence that is not the intimacy of a secret but a pure outside where words endlessly unravel. (Foucault, 22) In the narrator’s statement of concern, the limit point of language displays itself insofar as the words exist only for the sake of their utterance. Stating concern for the well-being of the other becomes a statement for the self instead of the other, a statement without intent. If one can assume that the recipient of spoken language—that is, the spoken word is directed at a listener— then this particular statement is not speech toward the other but rather one speaking to oneself. It is language directed outward in the form of speech; but in the instant of externalization, it reverts back to its origin, taking the speaker as its recipient. Most of the speech in this text is this sort of reverberating limit point—a narrator who murmurs into the mud only to have his voice echo back, with the echo originating from the same place of the initial speech. In this case, however, the narrator is not simply murmuring in the mud; rather, he is speaking about the other who is present but not a present recipient. The narrator’s moral concern is justified given his plans for training Pim to speak. The training regimen is one of extreme physical and emotional violence that is fully recognized as such. Thus, the relationship between the narrator and Pim on the basis of language is one of marked ambivalence:


from the next mortal to the next leading nowhere and saving correction no other goal than the next mortal cleave to him give him a name train him up bloody him all over with Roman capitals gorge on his fables unite for life in stoic love to the last shrimp and a little longer (Beckett, 62) As a prelude to Pim’s training, this passage encompasses the aspects of the training procedure that are characterized by both love and hate. There is still mention of cleaving to Pim, treating Pim as a love object to which the narrator clings in attempt to establish physical permanence; while at the same time, the narrator will actively reject Pim’s agency by carving letters into his back and making him speak. He will consume Pim and his language, ‘gorging’ himself with the ‘fables’ that Pim will eventually tell. There is a mixture of fantasy and brutal reality in the dream of consuming the other’s words; the physical violence involved takes something from the other to satisfy the narrator’s hunger. It is a hunger not only for words but for a fable, for a linguistic narration of meaning and morality. His method of teaching is that of a violent variation on classical conditioning, equipped with a list of stimuli: table of basic stimuli on sing nails in armpit two speak blade in arse three stop thump on skull four louder pestle on kidney five softer index in anus six bravo clap athwart arse seven lousy same as three eight encore same as one or two as may be (Beckett, 69) His specific purpose for training Pim is unclear beyond the desire for a speaking companion; but his precision in the act of teaching, on the other hand, is quite clear. Each stimuli has its presumed reaction, a provocation that elicits a particular response, implying an analogous relationship to common, everyday discourse—the difference is that Pim and the narrator’s discourse is one based on overt, violent provocation, whereas common discourse seems to be


more subtle. That is to say, the interplay between Pim and the narrator is an extreme example of the relationship between any two individuals. Such an analogy implies that discourse is composed of a series of provocations and reactions in which each participant alternates between the provoker and the provoked. This constant oscillation between activity and passivity, between dominance and submission, is essentially an extreme example of how the individual deals with others. These stimuli are utilized in the first training session, even before the ‘table’ is laid out. The first session is an attempt to make Pim sing again: first lesson theme song I dig my nails into his armpit right hand right pit he cries I withdraw them thump with fist on skull his face sinks in the mud his cries cease end of first lesson (Beckett, 62) The first lesson is to desensitize Pim to the pain of nails in his armpit. The narrator introduces a painful stimulus, and Pim’s natural reaction is to cry out, thus establishing that he is capable of responding; but the objective of this first session is to make Pim respond in a certain manner, to react with an articulate voice instead of a cry. In this way, the first lesson is one of positive punishment6: if Pim cries, he receives a fist to his head, making him less likely to respond that way again. Pim will desensitize himself to the pain associated with nails in his armpit in order to avoid the future pain of being hit in the head. His position in this relationship, then, is always one of submission in that any interaction results in Pim feeling pain; his only claim to a modicum of agency is that he can actively decide whether the narrator hits him once or twice, based on the

 Positive  punishment,  in  Pavlovian  classical  conditioning,  is  the  introduction  of  a  painful  stimulus  in  order   to  make  a  desired  reaction  more  likely  in  the  future.    If  Pim  cries,  he  is  hit;  if  he  does  not  cry,  he  is  not  hit.    The   introduction  of  the  violent  stimulus  (conditioned  stimulus)  makes  it  more  probable  that  Pim  will  not  cry   (unconditioned  response)  in  reaction  to  future  introductions  of  the  primary,  unconditioned  stimulus  (nails  in   armpit).      


logic of training. According to this logic, as long as Pim does not cry, he can avoid further pain beyond the nails in his armpit; however, the pain of the nails remains constant. This logic seems to function insofar as both parties abide to it. At this point, the narrator begins to contemplate the power he has over Pim and the consequences of this power regarding his companion’s behavior. He returns to the moral considerations with which he was concerned previously: that’s not all he stops nails in armpit he resumes cheers done it armpit song and this music as sure as if I pressed a button I can indulge in it any time henceforward that’s not all he continues thump on skull he stops and stop it likewise the thump on skull signifying stop at all times and that come to think of it almost mechanically at least where words involved why mechanically why simply because it has the effect the thump on skull we’re talking of the thump on skull the effect of plunging the face in the mud the mouth the nose and even the eyes and what but words could be involved in the case of Pim a few words what he can now and then I am not a monster (Beckett, 64) At this point, training is progressing exactly as planned: Pim responds to the narrator’s stimuli in the desired manner, even ‘mechanically,’ as if the narrator has ‘pressed a button.’ In a certain sense, Pim takes on the characteristics of a singing machine; he creates music in response to violence in the same manner as if the narrator were simply to say, “Speak.” The narrator chooses not to speak to Pim, however, deciding instead to rely on a means of communication that is, in some ways, more effective. With violence as opposed to words, there is less emphasis on interpretation of the statement; all Pim knows is that he feels pain, and there is a desired response to that pain. Of course, such a method of communicating is pragmatic but certainly not ethical, which the narrator seems to imply in the statement, ‘I am not a monster.’ This statement is


another means of addressing the reader insofar as it assumes a judgment and responds to it—i.e., the reader’s response is to think that the narrator is a monster, and his response is a denial of that judgment. He interprets his use of communication as within the bounds of his power over Pim, but his dominance soon becomes less teleological—aimed at making Pim sing—and more concerned with violence for the sake of violence. The narrator begins to want more out of Pim than merely a speaking companion; he wants to strip Pim of all his potential sources of happiness, including taking his only possession, a sack like the narrator’s, and utilizing his own possessions to inflict seemingly purposeless violence: first lesson then second series but first take away his sack he resists I claw his left hand to the bone it’s not far he cries but won’t let go the blood he must have lost by this time vast stretch of time I am not a brute as I may have said before access to the sack that I have my left hand enters gropes for the opener here a parenthesis (Beckett, 65) then with my right leg thrown crosswise imprison his two one can see that movement take the opener in my right hand move it down along the spine and drive it into the arse not the hole not such a fool the cheek a cheek he cries I withdraw it thump on skull the cries cease it’s mechanical end of first lesson second series rest and here parenthesis (Beckett, 67) The anxiety that the narrator feels is apparent in the repetition of ‘here a parenthesis,’ which functions as his way of bracketing off his feelings of dissonance, similar to the ambiguity concerning possible castration. He reiterates that he is ‘not a brute’ while telling of his violent practices that have no purpose, and his anxiety over the obvious contradiction, by suggesting that these scenes are nothing more than a side note. They are certainly significant, however, given that Pim regresses back to his initial response of the first lesson: crying. He loses his ability to accept the previous training, in that he responds again by crying, suggesting that, at least for Pim,


these scenes are of great importance. In this movement from teleological violence to the violence of pure sadism, the narrator blends aspects of demoralization and pain. He first attempts to take Pim’s sack, stripping him of his only possession, as a preliminary measure that returns him to the state of a commodity. This scene represents the beginning of a shift in the text, one that consists of an ambivalent fusion of contradictory feelings toward Pim; he still serves the purpose of a potentially speaking companion, but he is now also an object of sadistic desire. In this passage, when the narrator tells of stabbing Pim in the ‘arse’ with the can opener, he is careful to specify that it enters the cheek rather than the hole. Rather than penetrating Pim in an existing bodily orifice, he chooses to create a new hole in Pim’s body. This decision to introduce a new punishing factor into the relationship is somewhat akin to the positive punishment of ‘thump on skull.’ The difference is that Pim is not within the bounds of behavioral modification at this point; the narrator breaks from the training regimen specifically to test his dominance over Pim, to determine the extent to which he can perform violence for the sake of violence, for the sake of sadistic pleasure. This scene is a break from the reciprocity established earlier in their relationship, especially at the point of naming, which at its most basic level sets two individuals apart from one another. It is the case, however, that Pim and the narrator’s relationship is comprised not only of the reciprocity of self and other but of a fundamental ambivalence that implies similarity and narcissistic attachment. In this way, the narrator’s senseless violence toward Pim is masochistic as much as it is sadistic. Insofar as there is a reciprocal relationship involved, and attraction serves to aid the subject’s experience of the outside with respect to the inside (Foucault), it follows that the narrator’s treatment of Pim is, in a certain sense, a means of projecting his


masochistic desires onto the other before retracting them back on the self. It is a sort of filtering process in which he uses Pim to absorb the pain that he directs internally. Attraction and companionship are pleasurable but only in a deferred manner: [T]he companion acts both as a demand to which one is never equal and a weight of which one would like to rid oneself. One is irretrievably bound to the companion with a familiarity that is hard to bear; yet one must draw still closer to him and create a bond with him different form the absence of ties that attaches one to him through the faceless form of absence. (Foucault, 48-49) The space in which only two individuals exist is a space of necessity. Despite radical differences in dominance/submission, activity/passivity, love/hate, violence/care, etc., the two individuals are bound to one another in the necessity of the bond itself. The exact conditions of this necessity are unclear, but one might posit that the only means of measuring the companion’s value is contingent on the potential shifting and/or reversal of the aforementioned dichotomies. That is to say, Pim’s value lies in the fact that he is here instead of not here. His mere existence is sufficient to establish his role as an object of ambivalence, thus eliciting the narrator’s anxiety concerning abandonment: “love fear of being abandoned a little of each no knowing not said.” (Beckett, 66) Feelings of love and fear of abandonment are indistinguishable, suggesting that the narrator’s love for Pim is merely a result of his presence. He loves Pim because his presence guards against the ‘faceless form of absence’ and allows for love in the form of avoiding the absence of love as opposed to love for the individual as such. This experiment concerning the boundaries of love occurs outside the training program and apart from the narrator’s plan to make Pim speak. Pim’s only utterance is a cry. It is a success in the sense that he establishes a limit in the ambivalent relationship—as he has aimlessly tortured Pim, but Pim has not abandoned him yet—while it is also a failure given that Pim is still unable to speak. The text indicates a movement back to the training program, but


there is a crucial disjunction between the narrator’s interpretation of violent training and Pim’s concept of proper response: so on with now and then lest he get rusty return to the armpit the song ascends that’s working thump doused on the spot all this is killing me I’m about to give up when banged on the kidney one day at last he’s no fool merely slow instead of crying he articulates hey you me what don’t hey you me what don’t that’s enough I’ve got it thump on skull done it at last it’s not yet second nature but it will be something there that escapes me (Beckett, 68-69) The narrator decides to end his experiment and return to training so that Pim does not ‘get rusty’ and forget what he has learned so far. After he asserts his dominance, he comes back to the task at hand. Training continues, but it is only successful, paradoxically, when Pim retaliates by striking the narrator on the kidney. This seeming act of defiance against the injunction to speak is in fact less of a defiant act and more of an inadvertent submission; Pim strikes back, seeking revenge on the narrator for causing him pain, but this retaliation is coupled with Pim’s first meaningful articulation. Thus, the act of disobedience results not in Pim gaining a sense of control but precisely the response the narrator desires—namely, Pim speaks. His first words consist of begging the narrator to stop: ‘hey you me what don’t hey you me don’t that’s enough.’ It is evident that the narrator is pleased with the outcome of his training schedule; even if Pim acts out against his trainer, he nonetheless spoke in a genuine voice. At the same time, however, training must continue, as ‘it’s not yet second nature but it will be something there that escapes me.’ Training will not be complete until Pim’s reaction to violence is involuntary and immediate, until nails in his armpit elicit speech without retaliation and without being conscious of itself. The narrator's desire is not for Pim to speak of himself as a feeling subject, one who feels pain and reacts accordingly. His plan it to use Pim as a sort of unaffected intermediary between

himself and the other's speech--that is, to use Pim's voice to transmit the discourse of the outside into something that the inside understands. One can even think of the outside as the literally outside the mud, and the 'fables' that Pim will eventually tell are the stories of the outside. Pim, then, represents the leakage of the outside down into the mud, and the discourse of the outside manifesting itself in the narrator: The companion is not a privileged interlocutor, some other speaking subject; he is that nameless limit language reaches. That limit, however, is in no way positive; it is instead the deep into which language is forever disappearing only to return identical to itself, the echo of a different discourse that says the same thing, or the same discourse that says something else. (Foucault, 51) For Foucault, the companion is the linguistic limit point at which discourse fades into nothing but always returns; and this return, the 'echo,' is where one locates difference. In both variations of the echo--'different discourse that says the same thing' and 'same discourse that says something else'--difference and similarity exist in equal amounts, as the only real variation lies in a difference of either discourse or voice. Pim and the narrator become reflections of the same linguistic phenomenon; they are merely two sides of a linguistic space in which the outside and inside converge on the basis of violence. Violence in this text takes the form of writing or the means by which one evokes language. It is the point of mediation between writing and speech, the thought that occurs before, during, and after the moment of signification. When the narrator writes on Pim's back, dictating the words he desires Pim to speak, he does so in a manner that is strikingly similar to the text itself: with the nail then of the right index I carve and when it breaks or falls until it grows again with another on Pim's back intact at the outset from left to right and top to bottom as in our civilisation I carve my Roman capitals unbroken no paragraphs no commas not a second for reflec28    

tion with the nail of the index until it falls and the worn back bleeding passim it was near the end like yesterday vast stretch of time (Beckett, 70) The narrator describes carving his own thoughts into Pim's back, writing on the body that which he wishes to be vocalized. His words are 'unbroken no paragraphs no commas'--i.e., these words are his thoughts in their uninterrupted form. He is essentially writing it as he thinks it; similar to how he attempts to parrot the 'ancient voice' but can never say more than a few 'bits and scraps,' he perfects this attempt through writing. Pim's back becomes his paper and fingernails his pen. Nails grow back after they fall off, and the back is an infitite surface that absorbs writing; the narrator does not have to erase, he simply overwrites. Pim's blood is passim, the traces of violence in discourse that are not his own and cannot be attributed to a single origin. He bleeds the outside.


Works Cited Beckett, Samuel. Comment c’est. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1961. Beckett, Samuel. How It Is. Trans. Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove, 1964. Foucault, Michel. “Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside,” Foucault/Blanchot. Trans. Brian Massumi. New York: Zone, 1987. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Norton, 1991.