Aaron Pancho

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of

The Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Master of Arts

Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, Florida

August 2011

© Copyright Aaron Pancho 2011





Aaron Pancho

This thesis was prepared under the direction of the candidate's thesis advisor, Dr. Mark Scroggins, Department of English, and has been approved by the members of his supervisory committee. It was submitted to the faculty of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters and was accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree ofMaster ofArts.


" tY\~:z...... =-..:....-- _ Mar~s:Ph.D. ThesiseJVyAdvisor Eric Berlatsky, Ph.D. U~~ Carol McGuirk, Ph.D.

Andrew Furman, Ph.D. Interim Chair, Department ofEnglish

Heather Coltman, D.M.A. Interim Dean, Dorothy F. Schmidt College ofArts & Letters B!'ctOS~~~ ~une 2.3; Z-PIj Date Dean, Graduate College


The author wishes to express his sincerest gratitude to his family—Mom, Dad,

Amanda, Gatsby, and Harrison—for their support and patience throughout the production of this thesis. Additionally, the author wishes to thank Dr. Scroggins, Dr.

Berlatsky, and Dr. McGuirk for their endless guidance and insight.


Author: Aaron Pancho

Title: The Post-Apocalyptic, the Cyborg, and the Passage of Time: A Reading of the Parallels of Science Fiction and the Works of Samuel Beckett

Institution: Florida Atlantic University

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Mark Scroggins

Degree: Master of Arts

Year: 2011

This study is an examination of the several themes and conventions of science fiction that seem to appear in the texts of Samuel Beckett. Expectedly, many of the texts produced by both science fiction and Beckett just before, during, and immediately after

World War II share similar concerns; though perhaps less expectedly, these two relatively unlike bodies of work can be used to help better understand and illuminate one another. In , nuclear anxieties shed on the ’s apparent post-apocalyptic landscape and the profound emptiness that permeates the stage. In

Molloy, uses Centaur imagery to explain the title character’s Cartesian relationship with his bicycle; however, contemporary sensibilities at the time of the ’s publication suggests a cyborg reading of the /bicycle hybrid can also be productive. And in Krapp’s Last Tape, the tape recorder serves as a figurative time

v machine, which allows readers to consider the ways continues to allow for the capture of time and subsequent reflection.




An Introduction ...... 1

Chapter 1. The Two Days After: Reading Waiting for Godot as Post-Apocalyptic

Theater ...... 4

Chapter 2. The Beckettian Cyborg ...... 26

Chapter 3. Navigating Time/Space in Krapp’s Last Tape ...... 45

A Conclusion ...... 63

Notes ...... 66

Works Cited ...... 69


At a cursory glance, Samuel Beckett and science fiction may initially seem dissimilar. Their regard within the canon—the former enjoying a perch somewhere near the top, while the latter still gazing somewhere from below—could create significant distance between the two. It is, however, at this unlikely intersection that new and exciting discourse can be unearthed. Indeed the comparison has been broached: Vivian

Mercier suggests that is “one of a spate of works of art directly promoted by the existence of first the atomic and then the hydrogen bomb” (174); likewise, S.E.

Gontarski states that both Endgame and are “permeated with the suggestion of nuclear devastation” (15); and Theodor Adorno echoes much of the same as he writes, “In Endgame, a historical moment unfolds…After the Second World War, everything, including a resurrected culture, has been destroyed without realizing it; humankind continues to vegetate, creeping along after events that even the survivors cannot really survive” (244). It would appear there is precedent for such a partnership, and in the following pages I will attempt to further explore the potential of this approach and continue to contextualize Beckett alongside science fiction to better understand, complicate, and enjoy his extraordinary texts. Defining any literary movement can become a daunting challenge worthy of, at the very least, its own chapter. But for the sake of understanding the basic parameters and general objectives of science fiction, the opinion of may be of use: “True science fiction

1 deals with science, with the continuing advance of knowledge, with the continuing ability of human beings to make themselves better understand the universe and even alter some parts of it for their own comfort and security by the ingenuity of their ideas” (10). It is a genre that fuses modern scientific discovery with the imaginative spirit of fiction; it envisions the in an effort to comment on the politics of the present.

Certainly there is a chronological reason to compare the two, as both maintained prolific runs throughout the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, Beckett wrote his most enduring texts, and as Edward James explains, “SF developed in maturity and complexity, and above all in sheer quantity” during the same decades (qtd. in Roberts

75). Yet, more importantly than historical dates, there is precedent for a thematic comparison. Many of the common themes readers have come to instinctively associate with Beckett—desolation and annihilation, man’s precarious relationship with technology, fluid subjectivity of time/space—are concerns essential to science fiction.

Building upon those striking parallels, my project will attempt to study the following: post-apocalyptic “absence” in Waiting for Godot, reading the play with an awareness of anxiety and nuclear age narratives; the implications of a cyborg reading of

Molloy, studying the union between Molloy/Moran and a bicycle; and the consequences of an elastic and inelastic time stream, exploring the subject of in Krapp’s

Last Tape. This collection covers a healthy cross section of Beckett’s career, offering analysis of his work that span different tropes, tones, and media. Then, these Beckett texts will be interpreted with a series of science fiction and short stories. And

2 while each chapter is capable of standing on its own, concepts from each will reappear in surrounding chapters.

My research has yet to come across mention that Beckett was a reader, let alone an admirer, of science fiction; ultimately, though, this confirmation is unnecessary.

What is of more significance here is that Beckett’s work seems to inherently demonstrate these science fiction conventions. Suddenly, comparing him to this genre of relies less on imposing an arbitrary alliance between two bodies of work and instead emphasizes a partnership that may naturally exist. Consciously and/or subconsciously, Beckett embodies the interests and virtues of science fiction. My intent is to use one to assist the other, and vice versa, in the name of enlightenment. As is the case with all new literary scholarship, applying science fiction to Beckett can assist readers in gaining a new understanding of an author who, despite a wealth of criticism, remains especially elusive and difficult to fully grasp.



Like a bomb, Samuel Beckett detonates previous perception of what constitutes

“conventional” narrative, leaving scattered shards of prose that can serve as a new literary landscape. And in that landscape, Waiting for Godot (1953) looms large. Vivian

Mercier describes the play as having “achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, yet which keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice” (6). Audiences watch as Vladimir and Estragon

(nicknamed Didi and Gogo) wait for an elusive figure named Godot. Their wait is briefly interrupted by the wanderings of Lucky and Pozzo, as well as visits from an unnamed boy who is apparently familiar with Godot. Otherwise, their wait is unrelenting and unsatisfying. Where we leave the two is the same as where we first meet them. Many critics have seen the play as ultimately ambiguous and indeterminate.

The text’s uncertainty is as resolute as Vladimir and Estragon’s stagnation. This has resulted in a torrent of Godot criticism, with each attempting to cull some kind of understanding from this bizarre play. For , “the message is not the meaning” (257); he suggests that the play’s point is not an objective conclusion but an invitation to question and contradict. And it is within that paradox that this chapter will reside.

4 Alain Robbe-Grillet mentions how, traditionally, “The essential thing about a character in a play is that he is ‘on the scene’: there” (108). This is unavoidable for the dramatic medium. Even by doing nothing more than showing up, actors embody the on- stage representation of being alive. This describes Godot: two people wait for someone or something that has not yet arrived. The tramps are simply existing. Yet Robbe-Grillet identifies a compelling conflict:

What does Waiting for Godot offer? To say nothing happens is an

understatement. Besides, the absence of plot or intrigue of any kind has

been met with before. But here less than nothing happens. As always in

Beckett, that little we are given to begin with, and which we thought so

meager at the time, soon decays under our very eyes. (111)

Robbe-Grillet sees the play as a continuation of the regression from his novels— narrative, character, and plot are in a constant state of vanishing, all the more pronounced in Godot because it is happening in front of audiences in real time. I wish to build upon Robbe-Grillet’s work and suggest reading Waiting for Godot as post- apocalyptic theater.1

Almost immediately after the discovery of in January 1939, scientists worldwide began research into creating a weapon of this incredible new force—an atomic bomb was the objective. The U.S. eventually won the arms race, ending World War II with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945, respectively. During this volatile political time, anxiety over nuclear annihilation grew significantly. It appeared entirely feasible, if not absolutely certain, that life would one day end in a flash of horrible, searing light. Incidentally, this

5 was a productive time for science fiction; fear of death and destruction has always haunted the human psyche, but society’s specific concern over nuclear warfare led to a rise in popularity of narratives that depict The Day After. Society became more mindful of this impending doom, and its awareness is reflected in the literature of the time.

David Seed writes of science fiction’s penchant for political commentary: “These narratives perform a role of negative prophecy where dreaded outcomes are envisaged and therefore hopefully deferred, in such a way that the reader is induced to ponder on present signs of disaster” (9). Texts such as Robert Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory”

(1941), Fritz Leiber’s “Destiny Times Three” (1945), and Aldous Huxley’s Ape and

Essence (1945) heralded this movement of reflecting on a society decimated by catastrophic nuclear attack. This trend would continue throughout the following decade and beyond, in such novels as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) and Pat Frank’s Alas,

Babylon (1959). These authors envision post-apocalyptic settings that undermine law, order, and conventional thought. Through these experiments readers will presumably reach some understanding of the post-apocalyptic human experience.

While there are only two recorded instances of wartime nuclear detonations (the aforementioned bombings of Japan), I propose reading Godot as a possible literary attack. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left each city in ruin, and this devastation bears a striking resemblance to Godot’s backdrop of dust and rubble. With

Vladimir and Estragon’s relentless waiting, readers are compelled to think of the play as the eager moments just before an event. For the two acts, the tramps seem to dangle just on the precipice of said event. Vladimir repeatedly says, “We’re waiting for Godot,” as if to ensure audiences that something is about to happen (Godot 63). And yet Godot

6 never arrives, and anything that does happen is merely an iteration of a previous occurrence. Perhaps, then, readers can benefit from shifting their concept of the play’s sequence of events. It seems Godot is not the anticipation so much as the consequence of some unspecified event. Readers might think of the play as the devastating calm after the storm. They endlessly wait because there are not many alternatives. Of the tramps’ ridiculous Vaudevillian outfits, Ruby Cohn writes, “the Chaplin garb suggests the hero as social victim, because Chaplin has so consistently and comically played that role.

Become a symbol, Chaplin’s vulnerability seems willed by fate, underwritten in the cosmic order” (Comic Gamut 211). Taking that point further, one possible reading might stage Vladimir and Estragon as both social and political victims, as two tramps caught in the crossfire of a global struggle. These thematic and historical considerations can offer new perspective to this much-studied play. Godot resembles a snapshot of

Armageddon’s aftermath, an empty Two Days After. The play is about not being there.

Vladimir and Estragon may immediately monopolize our attention, but any semblance of a full, functioning society is completely gone. As Vladimir says, “It’s indescribable.

It’s like nothing. There’s nothing” (Godot 79). So many of life’s routines have vanished; all day they do nothing. The tramps are swallowed by the empty negative space that surrounds them, and that hollow echo resonates. The play is about increasing absence in the wake of disaster.

Godot is often read as an existentialist play—Robbe-Grillet and Martin Esslin certainly read the play as an existential experience. Colin Duckworth suggests that characters exist in a modern version of Dante’s Purgatory, and Claudia Clausius believes Beckett is parodying the ritualistic nature of our daily routines. Vladimir and

7 Estragon do seem to represent the monotony of everyday life. In them, we see ourselves; they trudge through life’s moments, moments that span varying degrees of physical and mental anguish. The tramps spent not one but two days performing trivial tasks, exchanging inane banter, and generally killing time. Their idiosyncrasies, while initially strange and perplexing, slowly begin to mirror our own. We are compelled to identify with the tramps, perhaps to justify their purpose on the stage and our purpose on this planet. According to Steven Earnshaw, the existential movement “begins with the ‘individual’ rather than the ‘universal’ and so does not aim to arrive at general truths: its insistence on personal insights as the only means to real understanding entails that it makes no claims to objective knowledge” (1). This suggests each individual is ultimately responsible for his or her choices. , however, is complicated when taking into account Beckett’s fascination with the failure of self. Unlike an existential reading, an atomic reading suggests that someone else dictates the direction and scope of our lives. We are at the mercy of anyone who owns and operates an atomic bomb. Estragon lacks control and is unable to make his own choices:

VLADIMIR: Pull on your trousers.


VLADIMIR: Pull on your trousers.

ESTRAGON: You want me to pull off my trousers?

VLADIMIR: Pull ON your trousers.

ESTRAGON: [realizing his trousers are down] True. [He pulls up his

trousers.] (Godot 87)

8 Vladimir heavily influences Estragon’s decisions throughout the play, and vice versa. In the tramps’ case, this revelation seems relatively harmless. The situation becomes more ominous when someone who does have substantial power begins making decisions for others. We are given little direct information about Godot—he is mysterious, he is habitually late for appointments, he apparently beats the boy’s brother—but the most obvious quality is the power he has over the tramps. They diligently wait for him, never defying or renouncing his authority. They wait for Godot without regarding their own sense of individuality, and their decision to wait seems to accommodate his wishes rather than their own.

Influenced by the turbulent early years of World War II, Robert Heinlein wrote

“Solution Unsatisfactory” (1941). Heinlein’s growing political viewpoints manifest themselves within this short story, which follows narrator John DeFries and Col. Clyde

Manning as they head a top-secret U.S. project to develop a before the

Nazis. The project makes little progress until Manning meets Dr. Estelle Karst, a head researcher working with a potent atomic dust. She passionately opposes war, but against her wishes Manning develops the offensive capabilities of this dust. It is measured into separate units, about ten thousand total, each of which would “take care of a thousand men, at normal dispersion” (“Solution Unsatisfactory” 12). They soon launch an attack on Berlin, which then in turn launches a counter strike against ; both cities are left as decimated and war-torn as Godot’s stage. In an effort to put an end to this cycle of atomic retaliations, Manning ascends to the top of the global committee and takes it upon himself to protect the planet’s supply of atomic dust. This effectively gives

9 him total control over the weapon. And despite Manning’s good intentions—he really advocates world peace—DeFries is skeptical of such a dictatorial approach:

If there is anything to this survival-after-death business, I am to look up

the man who invented the bow and arrow and take him apart with my

bare hands. For myself, I can’t be happy in a world where any man, or

group of men, has the power of death over you and me, our neighbors,

every human, every animal, every living thing. I don’t like anyone to

have that kind of power. (“Solution Unsatisfactory” 35)

Paradoxically, the weaponized atomic dust brings momentary peace, but at the cost of personal liberty. The means Manning uses to achieve world peace, if it were to fall in the wrong hands, can also cause world destruction. Ironically, Manning now holds the same kind of dictatorial power that he once opposed. Giving ultimate control to the minority invariably harms the majority.

Similarly, in the years leading up to Godot’s publication, Beckett witnessed firsthand the dangers of a fascist regime, which is essentially what Manning’s peace committee becomes. James Knowlson writes that Beckett, while living in France in

1941, was exposed to the atrocities of the Nazi occupation and watched as Jewish friends were stigmatized and abused. He read about these horrors too, browsing through

Hitler’s Mein Kampf in disgust. By the spring of that year, he had joined the French

Resistance. Beckett’s role in his resistance cell (the cell was codenamed “Glorida

SMH”) involved typing and translating intelligence reports; the information compiled by Beckett was then sent along the wire to whichever sources it could best serve. And although he did not face the same risks as field agents, Beckett’s involvement was still

10 dangerous. Knowlson explains that at several points—while receiving the sensitive documents, while holding the deliveries in his apartment, and while relaying the information to his contact—Beckett was at risk of exposure and punishment (282). And so it can be said that Beckett and “Solution Unsatisfactory” (a perfect alternate title for

Godot if there ever was one) were conceived during the same volatile world politics.

Each narrative was in part inspired by the same wartime anxieties. Starting in and around the same place, their texts share similar inspiration. And while Heinlein’s story is more overt in its anti-war commentary, similar interpretations of Godot are possible.

Heinlein’s DeFries and Karst resemble Vladimir and Estragon in their helplessness. All four characters are unable to interfere with—let alone actively shape— the course of history. Karst commits suicide (she opts for death-by-radiation poisoning rather than Vladimir and Estragon’s proposed death-by-hanging), while DeFries ends up as powerless and immobile as Beckett’s tramps. Indeed, a prevailing theme in Godot is the tramps’ extended failure to exercise agency:

ESTRAGON: Oh yes, let’s go far away from here.

VLADIMIR: We can’t.

ESTRAON: Why not?

VLADIMIR: We have to come back tomorrow.

ESTRAGON: What for?

VLADIMIR: To wait for Godot. (Godot 85)

This relentless refrain articulates their imprisonment; the mere to Godot is enough to smother any independence of thought or movement. Director candidly asked Beckett what Godot was all about, and Beckett answered, “It’s all

11 symbiosis, Peter; it’s symbiosis” (Knowlson 376). Yet, a symbiosis tends to be a mutual relationship which serves the best interest of both parties—a clown fish and sea anemone, with the former promoting hygiene and the latter offering protection from predators. This may be true of the rapport between Vladimir and Estragon (the fact that they have not yet abandoned each other suggests at least some level of camaraderie) but it does not seem the best way to describe the relationship the tramps share with Godot.

Rather than a reciprocal symbiosis, it more resembles an example of parasitism, a one- sided association in which the parasite benefits at the expense of the host—a tapeworm and a dog, with the former leeching nutrients from intestinal walls and the latter only growing sicker and weaker. The relationship between an atomic bomb (along with those who control it) and the rest of the world is similarly parasitic; the atomic bomb “feeds” on the well-being of any society it lands on. Autonomy is stripped away, while agendas and ideologies are forcefully imposed. In terms, Godot might be the embodiment of the world’s invisible political forces—he never makes an actual appearance, but his immense influence lurks off stage. Heinlein’s DeFries and Karst, like Beckett’s tramps, are swayed by events, but possess no sway of their own.

“We are men,” Vladimir says (Godot 74). This is not only an assertion of their sex, but the glaring absence of the opposite sex. There are no women in the cast.2 In

Cold War post-apocalyptic fiction, the initial conflict does not destroy society immediately; instead, the demise of the human race is a slower, more agonizing ordeal.

Vladimir and Estragon may refer to the Bible, but this is no Genesis and they are no

Adam and Eve. These characters share hopes, concerns, laughs, and grievances, but never reproduction. Observe the following exchange:

12 VLADIMIR: You again! (Estragon halts but does not raise his head.

Vladimir goes toward him.)

ESTRAGON: Don’t touch me! Vladimir holds back, pained. (Godot 63)

They are physically distant, and are unable to offer each other, or the world at large, a newborn child. This is the absence of future generations, and the absence of a viable tomorrow.

Though Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959) is published a number of years after

Godot, it is a notable Cold War comparison because it similarly explores ordinary and not-so-ordinary routines following nuclear ruin. Frank’s narrative focuses on Randy

Bragg, a resident of a Central Florida town called Fort Repose. The United States is making preparations to protect—and if need be, rebuild—itself from a direct atomic attack. Eventually, the Soviets strike with their nuclear missiles. Bragg watches in horror, “from a distance of almost two hundred miles, the incineration of a million people” (79-80). After the loss of land and life, the novel chronicles the adventures of the post-apocalyptic Days After. Like a Cold War-era Robinson Crusoe, Bragg attempts to begin a new life in Fort Repose amidst the destruction. He creates a makeshift society out of the limited resources at their disposal, and they succeed in establishing a shelter, a sense of community, and a means of trade and barter. But most importantly, the citizens of Fort Repose succeed in not merely extending life but creating it as well. Dan

Gunn, Repose’s sole resident doctor, delivers Bragg joyous news:

I have just delivered my first post-Day baby! A boy, about eight pounds,

bright and healthy…You see, this was the first live baby, full term. I had

two other pregnancies that ended prematurely. Nature’s way of

13 protecting the race, I think, although you can’t reach any statistical

conclusion on the basis of three pregnancies. Anyway, now we know

that there’s going to be a human race, don’t we? (242)

And this is where the two narratives begin to diverge—Godot, unfortunately, does not offer similar assurances. Alas, Babylon ends with traces of hope and rebirth, but in

Beckett’s play, it seems the human race only exists for as long as the play’s male characters can manage to outrun their own demise.

Act II features Vladimir, Estragon, and Lucky engaged in an elaborate hat- swapping scene: “Estragon takes Vladimir’s hat. Vladimir adjusts Lucky’s hat on his head. Estragon puts on Vladimir’s hat in place of his own which he hands to Vladimir.

Vladimir takes Estragon’s hat…” (Godot 64). Beckett is consumed by combinations and permutations (think of Molloy’s pockets and sucking stones), and in the case of these three male protagonists, no possible pairing—Vladimir and Estragon, Lucky and

Vladimir, Estragon and Lucky—can ever result in procreation. Adding Pozzo and the boy, the play’s only other visible characters, does not change the outcome. Godot’s survivors always seem to be one extremely important component short of salvation.

Later, the tramps realize a morbid (and hilarious) side effect of hanging themselves:

ESTRAGON: What about hanging ourselves?

VLADIMIR: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.

ESTRAGON: [highly excited] An erection!

VLADIMIR: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow.

That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you know that?

ESTRAGON: Let’s hang ourselves immediately! (Godot 11)

14 For all of Estragon’s enthusiasm, that erection would not do him much use in any attempt to re-populate the Earth. They are rendered impotent, as they now each possess anatomical tools that have essentially outlived their usefulness. Fort Repose has a healthy balance of men and women, and therefore has life; by contrast, Godot’s characters could be the final remnants of our species. The tramps spend the play

“expecting”—but only expecting Godot’s arrival. And ultimately, a world that lacks reproduction also lacks hope.

Beckett’s complex rendering of time (which will be discussed in the third chapter) persists throughout his career—in , for example, the title character begins a journey from a railroad station, and later begins a journey from the same railroad station; Play includes the stage direction “Repeat play.” In an initial reading, Godot exhibits many of the same characteristics. The text informs us the narrative takes place over the span of two days, but phrases and gestures are continuously repeated, creating a droning effect that makes scenes bleed together and prolong our perception of time.

There are few “time markers” in the play—as so many of its exchanges are iterations of earlier versions, it becomes difficult to discern how much narrative has passed and how much still remains. As Clausius writes, “In , the form and repetition are the content. The ritual leads nowhere but back to itself, to the need for more ritual; it no longer links man with his origins in the past and his merits in the future” (128). It is a phenomenon similar to driving alongside a deserted and uniform highway (or perhaps, a deserted and uniform “country road”): driving past the same uninterrupted scenery eventually renders any measurement of distance impossible, for there are no reference points. A time loop seems to consume the stage.

15 On the other hand, extinction may present Godot with an end it may have otherwise lacked. Interpreting the play as the dying days of the human race gives the play some sense of closure. A decimated population also appears in Damon Knight’s

“Not With a Bang” (1949), in which Knight writes of a world that is left with only one man and one woman—Rolf Smith and Louise Oliver. Rolf Smith implores Louise

Oliver to re-populate the planet with him. As it were, Louise happens to be devoutly religious, hesitant to sleep with a man that she is married to nor likes. Since Rolf is motivated by his own lust, he tries to appeal to Louise’s practicality: “‘God didn’t mean for the human race to end like this. He spared us, you and me to…carry on the torch of life’” (5). He proposes to her and she eventually relents. Yet before the two can consummate their marriage, Rolf suffers a sudden unspecified ailment (indications suggest a stroke) while in the men’s bathroom. The illness leaves him unable to move or cry out for help. And because of Louise’s prudish nature, she will not look in the men’s bathroom. As a result, the human race will die off.

Normally, Beckett resists resolution and vehemently defies conventional endings. His texts’ plot, chronology, and character development are traditionally left dangling. Beckett creates a hazy, amorphous universe; with a post-apocalyptic reading, however, there is more of a sense of finality. A typical performance of Godot may seem like an eternity; and it may seem as if Vladimir and Estragon will be waiting forever.

Yet in this interpretation they may not be waiting forever, and neither will the rest of the human race. The wait will end once the remaining generations waste away. Such a conclusive ending for Beckett is an unexpected novelty; it is noteworthy because it is so unusual. But readers stand more to gain by recognizing that an event with enough

16 substantive force—like the jarring blast of an atomic bomb, for instance—can disrupt the balance of the universe and bring an end to everything around us. This conclusion may not necessarily be reassuring, but certainly thought-provoking.

As mentioned, the abrupt blast of an atomic bomb only leads to a longer, more enduring phase of nuclear fallout. And infertility is not the only potential cause of extinction—radiation poisoning poses an equal threat. Seed writes, “From the 1940s onward, however, science fiction narratives had already started addressing anxieties about genetic mutation…The fear all too often in fiction of the period was that the post- nuclear baby might be born with physical defects” (53-54). This is the biological and environmental aftermath of an atomic attack; the residual nuclear waste permeates soil, water, and animal, which then contaminates the food chain and jeopardizes our own health along with the collective health of future generations. The fear of radiation- related sickness and birth defects embedded itself deep within the public psyche. And deservedly so—the Radiation Effects Research Foundation reports 90,000 – 140,000

Japanese died from injury and radiation complications by the end of 1945.

Many postwar texts addressed this growing anxiety of genetic mutation, including Judith Merril’s “That Only ” (1948). The narrative is told through letters sent by Maggie to her husband Hank, who is away on wartime duty that puts him at high-risk for radioactive exposure. Soon their daughter Henrietta is born. An abject fear courses through the rest of the narrative, however, as Merril hints that the baby may possibly be a victim of mutation. When Hank finally returns home to meet his newborn,

“His left hand felt along the soft knitted fabric of the gown, up toward the diaper that folded, flat and smooth, across the bottom end of his child. No wrinkles. No kicking.

17 No…‘Maggie, why…didn’t you…tell me?’” (73). The full extent of Henrietta’s medical condition is left ambiguous, but one way or another it seems she is unique. Maggie writes in one of her letters:

Believe it or not, but your daughter can talk, and I don’t mean baby talk.

Alice discovered it—she’s a dental assistant in the WAC, you know—

and when she heard the baby giving out what I thought was a string of

gibberish, she said the kid knew words and sentences, but couldn’t say

them clearly because she has no teeth yet. (69)

Possible exposure to radiation may help explain how her cognitive and motor skills developed more rapidly than that of a normal infant. Henrietta’s teeth soon grow in, which allows her to articulate clearly and even sing—she is a child prodigy.

By comparison, Godot’s characters may look disheveled and malnourished, but none of them appear outwardly deformed. There is one character, however, who acts distinctly more bizarre—Lucky. He is the play’s closest approximation to a “mutant.”

Henrietta’s mental development is a fascinating twist on the too-obvious cliché of making fallout victims horrible monsters, and it can be potentially used to shed new light on Lucky. What distinguishes Lucky the most from the play’s other characters is his extraordinary patterns. Vladimir and Estragon’s dialogue is concise and formulaic, generally amusing if not a bit repetitive; Pozzo is slightly more verbose, but is regrettably aggressive and mean-spirited; the boy is sheepish, not capable of directing conversation so much as simply responding to it. Lucky is different—Pozzo’s command to “Think!” incites a flourish of ideas interspersed with stammering of “quaquaquaqua” and other assorted nonsense.3 Ruby Cohn reads his soliloquy as “nonsensical but not

18 pointless,” suggesting that it spans themes of “the erosive effect of time, the relativity of facts, the futility of human activity, faith in God, proof through reason” (Comic Gamut

217). Lucky’s speech is dissimilar to the rest of Godot’s dialogue, because it is so beautifully written and articulated. He exudes an irresistible mystique that demands our attention.

Buried within his soliloquy are flashes of keen awareness, and in a specific excerpt it appears he is describing the horrible imagery of an atomic blast: “…and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven…” (45). This excerpt almost resembles a mushroom cloud, as if Lucky has witnessed the explosion and is now sharing his experience with the audience. This is the of his plight: it is as if the radiation exposure has augmented him just enough to grant him elite levels of wisdom and perceptivity, while simultaneously poisoning him just enough to make it difficult to successfully and consistently convey those thoughts. The speech is frustrating because there are hints and shadows of great intellect. One gets the impression that this may not just be pure madness, and that Lucky truly is trying to communicate something worthwhile. And as quickly as he begins emoting, he reverts to the same submissive and pathetic character. Lucky’s characteristics might be compatible with a pre-baby teeth

Henrietta—generally bright and insightful, but able to fully employ those gifts. Lucky and Henrietta may be seen as paradoxes, existing analogously as both beneficiaries and victims of nuclear fallout. They each subvert the standard atomic age narrative,

19 somehow making its aftermath both ghastly and strangely advantageous. It is an absence of peak physical fitness, but with the reward of mental clarity.

A similar phenomenon occurs with John Isidore, the protagonist of Philip K.

Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Dick’s novel is about and androids (and the blurred lines between them) attempting to live on after the nuclear fallout of World War Terminus. Most humans have immigrated to Mars colonies, away from the hazardous radioactive dust that has blanketed planet Earth. Isidore, however, has not emigrated. As a result, he has been regulated to the status of “chickenhead,” a second-class citizen whose extended exposure to the dust has (supposedly) altered his genes and cursed him with deficient mental faculties. And yet for all his alleged slow wit, he—similar to Henrietta and Lucky—displays unexpected acumen when the Pris Stratton callously snips the legs off a spider. Isidore is overwhelmed with grief, “‘Don’t mutilate it,’ he said wheezingly. Imploringly” (206). He is extremely lucid here, expressing arguably the most virtuous of human emotions, compassion. He has the presence of mind to mercifully end the spider’s suffering, grabbing it from Pris and quickly drowning it in the sink. And he is also capable of comprehending the situation, sadly noting that this may have been the last spider on Earth and that the species may now be extinct. The extent of radiation’s impact on all three of these protagonists’ lives is admittedly uncertain; however, readers are still tempted to read these characters within the period’s context of atomic anxiety. But even in the midst of this fear, they still captivate us with moments of great potential even in amidst other medical disabilities. It may be said that they possess even greater promise than their fellow, more healthy protagonists. The significance of all this to Godot is that an atomic

20 explosion can profoundly affect all of its protagonists, and an atomic reading can potentially affect readers as well. It appears the atomic age may be reflected in the way

Lucky, Henrietta, and Isidore perceive the world around them—and the atomic age can also influence the way we perceive Godot. We are made increasingly aware of our position within the global network, and how its politics alter our lives. Reading Lucky in ways that are comparable to victims of nuclear mutation evokes discontent in readers—perhaps towards Lucky for his strange behavior, but more likely towards the forces responsible for wartime violence and political strife.

Not all of Godot’s absence is bad. In Vladimir and Estragon exists an absence of chaos that so often accompanies times of . As David Birn says, “most post- holocaust novels are little boy wish about running amok in a world without rules” (qtd. in Seed 177). Later, Seed comments on “the projected view of the post- nuclear situation where the majority of deaths occur from lawlessness” (177). It seems the post-apocalyptic is fertile ground for misbehavior. When society crumbles, apparently so to do the rules and regulations that govern it. A nuclear blast has the potential to eradicate inhibitions and rational thought; violence, greed, and depravity then quickly rush to fill the void. This moral decline is on display in the contemporary literature—in Frank’s novel, Dr. Gunn is attacked and nearly killed by a marauding gang for his car, gasoline reserves, and medical tools—and it is certainly present in

Godot. The play features a considerable amount of violence, with Estragon apparently getting assaulted and left in a ditch before Act I, and the boy confessing that Godot beats his brother later in Act II. And of course Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky offers the most blatant example of malice. Mercier reads Pozzo as a character fueled by

21 capitalistic greed. His intentions to sell Lucky suggest a master/slave relationship.

Pozzo has abandoned basic human decency, berating Lucky with taunts of “Pig!” and violently jerking the rope wrapped around his neck. Regardless of Pozzo’s exact motivation, he has embraced savagery.

And yet Vladimir and Estragon do not commit such . They do not participate in the chaos, prompting readers nearly to the point of applause. Pozzo asks them if they are highwaymen and Estragon is offended: “Highwaymen! Do we look like highwaymen?” (Godot 77). He is deeply insulted by the thought of he or Vladimir being common criminals. Their ragged clothing conceals a gentlemanly nature. And there are opportunities for the tramps to surrender to the anarchy, as when Lucky kicks

Estragon—“[Estragon approaches Lucky and makes to wipe his eyes. Lucky kicks him violently in the shins. Estragon drops the handkerchief, recoils, staggers about the stage howling with pain]” (Godot 26)—but they never return the violence. They each endure physical pain without spitefully reciprocating it. In a world without law or consequence, they can theoretically get away with anything. At one point, Vladimir tells Estragon to

“Calm yourself,” but both are already remarkably calm, choosing not to indulge themselves in the same violence as their peers (Godot 10). As unambitious and unproductive as their daily routine of waiting may seem, there is also a quiet and understated nobility. Vladimir and Estragon represent the absence of corruption—and of all the play’s absences, this may be the most striking. The tramps may not rebuild society’s ruins (like Bragg in Alas, Babylon), but they refuse to participate in destroying it any further.

22 Reading Waiting for Godot in the context of post-war literature contextualizes the play within the politics and current events that surrounded the time of its publication. Godot becomes bigger than the tramps—it becomes global. Robbe-Grillet suggests the play is about the reduction of all aspects of life; speech, routine, plots, and companionship are slowly stripped away, resulting in a profound absence. A post- apocalyptic reading maintains this general train of thought, but it presents nuclear devastation as one possible cause of the wreckage and emptiness in the play. It is a reading that emphasizes a Cold War context for possible interpretation. Seed writes,

“For if nuclear war can only be approached speculatively, then literature—and particularly science fiction—can occupy a space equal to sociological, strategic, and other modes of speculation” (4). Due to Beckett’s ambiguity and science fiction’s interest in the future, extrapolation serves the needs of both sides—they supplement each other well. So the atomic bomb might be understood as the catalyst for all that occurs in the play. The fact that Vladimir and Estragon never encounter Godot reinforces an absence of control. This may strike parallels for readers—a political leader

(or a small group of political leaders) we will never meet may someday attack us with a nuclear device and change our way of life. We are initially attracted to the exploits of the two tramps, yet the void that surrounds them is just as gripping. The play’s focus is not just Vladimir and Estragon, but the people who are no longer there; and the play’s focus is not just the arrival of Godot, but the people who can never come back. “Come to my arms!” says Vladimir, perhaps also reminding readers of the world’s (Godot 68). This pursuit of nuclear weapons has left the tramps exhausted—

23 Estragon says, “That’s enough. I’m tired” (Godot 68)—and by play’s end, readers may be just as weary.

Of course, this would not be Beckett if the play were not also paradoxical. The play demands it be read in nuances, in a series of interpretations that at times complement each other and at other times contradict. As mentioned earlier, radioactive exposure may help explain Lucky’s peculiar behavior. Yet despite his many other hardships and handicaps, his soliloquy demonstrates an eloquence superior to that of his peers; he appears able to express emotion and imagery in a way unlike any of the play’s other characters. Considering the time period, anxieties regarding radiation exposure could be one possible context for his “mutant” communication skills that are more sophisticated, more aesthetically pleasing, and presumably, more profound. Also,

Vladimir and Estragon should be recognized, if not absolutely commended, for their relatively calm composure. Many readers fixate on the tramps’ lack of action when it is actually their lack of depraved action that is most astounding. They are not of the same absent morality that plagues Pozzo. And while their rebuilding efforts may not be immediately evident, they do exist: simply put, they are persevering. Robbe-Grillet writes, “A character in a play usually does no more than play a part, as all those about us do who are trying to shrink their own existence. But in Beckett’s play, it is as if the two tramps were on the stage without a part to play” (113). But perhaps it can be argued that Vladimir and Estragon are playing the roles of all the other victims who are no longer here. They struggle valiantly with this responsibility, attempting the impossible task of filling all the empty space. And amazingly, they manage to fill some of that space with laughter. The levity makes the play seem less grim, less uptight as some of

24 the other post-apocalyptic science fiction of the time. While acting silly cannot alone restore civilization, it can at least help lighten the mood. And in their situation, small victories may be the best kind of victories left. The sight of the two luckless tramps waxing poetic about nothing particularly important, while surrounded by wreckage, hilariously satirizes science fiction’s more solemn Day After texts. Godot is not entirely grim-faced as its post-apocalyptic contemporaries; rather, it remains intensely thoughtful while flashing a wry smirk.


Molloy (1955) is a negotiation between unlike halves—enlightenment and confusion, pleasure and torment, man and bicycle. Beckett presents his novel in two parts: first, Molloy (who may also be Moran) searches for his mother; second, Moran searches for Molloy (or possibly for himself). Edith Kern suggests that Molloy and

Moran are fragments of the same personality: “Since Moran is not accounted for by the novel’s title and is never referred to by Molloy, one is tempted to see him in an earlier phase of the latter—an supported by much textual evidence” (195).

Moreover, both Molloy and Moran share an uncanny resemblance in mannerism, disposition, and physical traits. Moran helps further blur the hazy lines of identity when he says:

Molloy, or Mollose, was no stranger to me. If I had had colleagues, I

might have suspected I had spoken of him to them, as of one destined to

occupy us, sooner or later. But I had no colleagues and knew nothing of

the circumstances in which I had learnt of his existence. Perhaps I had

invented him, I mean found him ready made in my head. (Molloy 107)

Moran never actually finds Molloy and it becomes a maddening ordeal trying to explicate the novel. For the sake of making this chapter as clear as possible, I suggest that Molloy and Moran are indeed the same person. Any mention of one can potentially

26 be read as a reference to the other. “Molloy” and “Moran” can be interchangeable, and not solely because of convenience but also because of compelling textual support.4

This chapter’s primary interest is dualism. Hugh Kenner reads the title character as a synthesis of two separate parts—human and machine. He reinforces the bicycle’s importance to Beckett’s mythology, making note of its steady appearances throughout the author’s work. Kenner believes Molloy’s relationship with his bicycle is a Cartesian exploration of the body/mind dichotomy. He maintains there is partnership between

Molloy’s “body” (the culmination of his flesh, bones, blood, and now, bicycle) and his

“mind” (the immaterial entity responsible for thought and reason): “man and machine mingle in conjoint stasis indispensible to the other’s support. At rest, the bicycle extends and stabilizes Molloy’s endoskeleton…This odd machine exactly complements

Molloy. It even compensates for his inability to sit down” (118). So it appears Molloy is a sum of his parts plus extra parts.

Yet when evaluating Kenner’s terminology, there are complications. For example, he writes, “If we would admire a body worthy of the human reason we shall have to create it, as the Greeks did when they united the functions of rational and animal being, man with horse” (119). “The Cartesian Centaur” was published in 1961, so it makes sense that Kenner would perceive of such intimate partnership in centaur terms. It is certainly pragmatic; indeed, Molloy and his bicycle are conjoined, in a vaguely similar way that the mythical human half is conjoined with its horse half.

Overall, it is a fine means to study Cartesian themes within Beckett’s novel. Yet, with the atomic bomb already having been detonated, Kenner stands on the precipice of a technological explosion. The scientific landscape is rapidly developing, paving the path

27 for a world that is less reliant on old and more concerned with new discovery.

And today, twenty-first century readers are especially sensitive to the growing symbiosis between organic and technological constructs. In that sense, it seems Molloy more closely resembles a different creature: a cyborg. Chris Hables Gray explains cyborgism:

The melding of the organic and the machinic…This merging of the

evolved and the developed, this integration of the constructor and the

constructed, these systems of dying flesh and undead circuits, and of

living and artificial cells, have been called many things: bionic systems,

vital machines, . They are a central figure of the late Twentieth

Century. (2)

They are human beings that are augmented through machinery; the fusion of their biological parts with new bionic parts can, theoretically, make them more powerful.

This human/machine construct is a testament to humankind’s innate desire to experiment with new technology, improve flaw or injury, and transcend designated social status. The cyborg truly is a pioneer, built for an existence profoundly different than all that preceded it. N. Katherine Hayles suggests the is essential to cyborg discourse: “the posthuman does not mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of human, a conception that may have applied, at best, to a fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power, and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings” (Posthuman 286). Furthermore, argues that these new creatures need not be feared. She insists that male and female relations (and by extension, the entire human species) can benefit from our increased

28 collaboration with technology. This new life form is transcendent, allowing us to move forward as a society. Like most forward thinkers, she insists “the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now” (2299). Like Hayles, she maintains cyborg imagery “can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (2299). Haraway implores her audience to seize the power of scientific hybridity and utilize “impure” constructs (human/machine included) as a means to challenge old gender divisions—with hope, this progress can extend to all social groups.

It is necessary to distinguish cyborgs from other similar concepts: and androids. Edwin G. Johnsen and William R. Corliss define the former as “an made in the shape of a man. Robots are usually preprogrammed or, in science fiction particularly, self-adapting and intelligent” (qtd. in Gray 89); Dick refers to the latter, the android, as a “humanoid ,” basically a mechanical device made up of inorganic material with the purpose of looking and acting human (qtd. in Gray 16). Indeed, both are fascinating constructions, but neither will be explored further in this project. The focus will be cyborg narratives, as they are prime opportunities to examine technology’s impact on the human condition, as well as the many ways an intimate relationship with machines can benefit and complicate our existence.

Gray addresses the intimate relationship between cyborgism and science fiction:

“The compleat cyborgologist must study science fiction as the anthropologist listens to myths and prophecies. Science fiction has often led the way in theorizing and examining cyborgs, showing their proliferation and suggesting some of the dilemmas

29 and social implications they represent” (5). With society’s increasing advancement of and dependence on electronics, cyborgism has become a prevalent trope in science fiction. It was during the post-World War II and Cold War period that science fiction’s cyborg narratives enjoyed an especially prolific run, including C.L. Moore’s “No

Woman Born” (1950), Cordwainer Smith’s “Scanners Live in Vain” (1950) and Anne

McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang” (1969). Beckett was also productive during this time. When describing the bond with his bicycle, Molloy conjures imagery that is analogous to cyborgism: “I fastened my crutches to the cross-bar, one on either side, I propped the foot of my stiff leg (I forgot which, now they’re both stiff) on the projecting axle, and I pedaled with the other” (Molloy 12). This marriage is between body and machine. Granted, it is fair for Kenner to assert that Molloy shares a symbiosis with his bicycle, a multifaceted operating system of several separate pieces working together towards a shared objective. The limbs, joints, bones, and muscles of the human body work in concert to achieve a common goal. So, in that sense, it is a

“machine.” Specifically, though, the Molloy/bicycle hybrid is not quite the same as two animals halves joining forces, like . Rather, it is a human’s attempt to harness the power of technology to become bigger and better. An evolution from a

Centaur reading and an application of cyborgian context can potentially illuminate

Molloy. And as this chapter hopes to demonstrate, the significance does not end with the fairly obvious observation that a bicycle is not a beast. Readers may be compelled to take a once-mythical monster and contextualize him within contemporary cyber- technology—it appears a new creature has taken shape, and it should be recognized.

30 Just as a historical context helped elucidate Waiting for Godot in the previous chapter, applying some of those same themes may also benefit Molloy. Beckett wrote the novel during the postwar years, beginning in May 1947 and reaching publication in

January 1950. It is possible to read the novel as a reflection of the current political landscape; its apparent cyborg imagery shares parallels to the plight of maimed and disillusioned soldiers returning from battle. Reading the novel’s protagonist as commensurate to a war veteran creates a narrative for those trying to cope with losses suffered from war, and trying to adjust to a life that is vastly different from the one they had left behind. It is possible Molloy’s personal life might have included military service. He informs readers that he is destitute, pointing out that everything “costs money and I had none” (20). We also learn that he is confused and agitated, evident in a rambling exchange between him and a police officer in which he can barely remember his own name or his mother’s. This is an individual who, financially and emotionally, has seen better days—this might be compatible with the downtrodden, shell-shocked veterans of the period. In the novel’s second half, Moran is now identified specifically as a private investigator but curiously still exhibits characteristics often attributed to a former soldier. For instance, consider his streak of violence when confronted by a stranger in the woods. Moran leaves him “stretched on the ground, his head in a pulp”

(Molloy 145). He seemingly has some level of training in hand-to-hand combat, which could have been acquired by way of the military. These textual clues are similar to the symptoms of postwar society, which allows for a correspondence between the novel and the period.

31 Molloy’s complaints of chronic pain, especially with his legs, are a running theme throughout the narrative: “I was about to conclude as usual that it was just another bad dream when a fulgurating pain went through my knee…The sensation could indeed well be compared to that of a blow, such as I fancy a horse’s hoof might give…But before getting to sleep again I had time to remember that the pain in question was not altogether new to me” (Molloy 133). Molloy is clearly suffering. The situation becomes even more ghastly when Beckett reveals the full extent of his injuries:

For the disorders to come, as for example the loss of the toes on my left

foot, no I am wrong, my right foot, who can say exactly when on my

helpless the fatal seeds were thrown. So all I can, and I do my best

to say no more, is that during my stay with Lousse no more new

symptoms appeared, of a pathological nature, I mean nothing new or

strange, nothing I could not have foreseen if I could have, nothing at all

comparable to the sudden loss of half my toes. (Molloy 74)

He is essentially crippled. The novel can benefit from a reading alongside its place in history, and by comparing it to the traumatic experience of World War II. It is these physical limitations that lead to the Molloy/bicycle partnership. He articulates this fondness for his bicycle:

To describe it at length would be a pleasure…I will go further and

declare that if I were obliged to record, in a roll of honour, those

activities which in the course of my interminable existence that have

given me only a mild pain in the balls, the blowing of a rubber horn—

toot!—would figure among the first. (Molloy 12)

32 By Beckett’s standards, only being a “mild pain” is a close approximation of fondness.

Molloy then claims his bicycle is an “earthly paradise,” and proudly boasts, “we cleared these straits, my bicycle and I, together” (Molloy 12, 16). Later Molloy says, “It was I and my bicycle. I began to play, gesticulating, waving my bicycle to and fro before me, blowing the horn” (Molloy 33). Later still, Moran demonstrates the same affection towards bicycles, mentioning he too would “gladly write four thousand words” on a nice enough model (Molloy 40). The protagonist gains much pleasure from his bicycle, exemplifying a decidedly un-Beckettian glimmer of hope. Molloy’s brand of cyborgism reflects the attempts of battered, mutilated veterans trying to adjust to postwar life.

Battle in Europe and the Pacific left countless soldiers wounded and disfigured. And

Molloy’s feelings of loss—including but not limited to his toes—may epitomize the despair shared by a generation of grieving soldiers. Like Molloy, they are crippled and broken. They are still suffering long after fighting has ended, searching for a reprieve.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “That Man That Was Used Up” (1839) can be useful to read alongside Molloy as it comments on the physical and mental state of veterans.5 The short story follows an unnamed narrator who meets the celebrated war hero Brevet

Brigadier General John A. B. C. Smith. The narrator is immediately struck by the

General’s remarkable good looks. “He was, perhaps, six feet in height, and of a presence singularly commanding,” the narrator says, also lingering over his piercing eyes, flawless white teeth, and lustrous black hair (244). Poe establishes the General as a supreme specimen of male virility. During their first extended conversation, the

General foreshadows future events by praising modern technology: “we are a wonderful people, and live in a wonderful age…who shall calculate the immense influence upon

33 social life—upon arts—upon literature…There really is no end to the march of invention.” (248). The narrator is intrigued, and he travels to the General’s residence.

Much to his surprise, the narrator stumbles across a disturbing scene: the General is lying on his bedroom floor as a deconstructed pile of various body parts and .

It turns out the General was mutilated during his battle with the Bugaboo and Kickapoo

Indians and, amazingly, now requires a servant hand named Pompey to de-assemble him each evening and re-assemble him each morning. Pompey meticulously screws on arms, attaches legs, and fastens a wig—the brutality of war has reduced General Smith to a patchwork.

An initial reading may compel readers to view Molloy and General Smith as failed cyborgs. Indeed, Poe seems to emphasize not General Smith’s hope for a technological future, but instead the narrator’s disappointment and unease upon discovering the General’s injuries. Since many scholars point to General Winfield Scott

(he served the U.S. military throughout the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War) as the real-life inspiration for General Smith, Poe appears to position the story as a cautionary tale of war’s futility. The narrator ends the story with a solemn realization: “I acknowledged his kindness in my best manner, and took leave of him at once, with a perfect understanding…It was a clear case. Brevet Brigadier General John

A. B. C. Smith was the man—was the man that was used up” (258). General Smith has been exploited by the war, and many other veterans return from battle the same way: exhausted and spent. The armed forces is an inherently and unavoidably merciless business—soldiers create casualties then become casualties themselves, perpetuating an endless cycle of loss. For General Smith, the failure lies in his inability to re-assemble

34 himself after his nightly deactivation.6 He is entirely dependent on his servant’s aid—

“Pompey, bring me that leg!” he says (256)—which ultimately leaves him at the servant’s mercy. Should Pompey one day decide he does not care to help rebuild

General Smith (and since he treats Pompey so poorly, it may only be a matter of time),

General Smith would be left completely limbless—and as a result, helpless. Of the fateful confrontation that disfigured him, General Smith says, “‘And a bloody action it was,’ continued the thing, as if in a soliloquy; ‘but then one mustn’t fight with the

Bugaboos and Kickapoos, and think of coming off with a mere scratch’” (256). It would appear that General Smith fails to realize that he is just as crippled now as he was on the battlefield. The strapping physical specimen the narrator first met at the story’s onset is an illusion, a veiled mirage hiding a broken man. His new cyborg lifestyle has stripped him of autonomy, making him incapable of agency without Pompey’s direct assistance.

The narrator’s final line connotes sadness and disappointment, as war has ruined

General Smith.

Molloy shares similar limitations. He soon requires the aid of a police officer for locomotion: “We took the little side streets, quiet, sunlit, I springing along between my crutches, he pushing my bicycle, with the tips of his white-gloved fingers” (Molloy 16).

Like General Smith, his mechanical apparatus is insufficient—Molloy needs another hand. From there, his human/machine partnership begins to further rust and decay: “I left [Lousse] my bicycle which I had taken a dislike to, suspecting it to be the vehicle of some malignant agency and perhaps the cause of my recent misfortunes” (Molloy 54).

Molloy’s resolve is shaken; it appears that his bicycle has forsaken him, or perhaps it was not a savior to begin with. And soon his bicycle is no more, left with only the horn

35 as a souvenir: “From time to time I blew my horn, through the cloth of my pocket. Its hoot was fainter every time. I had taken it off my bicycle” (Molloy 83-84). The horn’s feeble hooting is seemingly the cyborg’s death knell. A bicycle-less Molloy describe his new method of transport:

Flat on my belly, using my crutches like grapnels, I plunged them ahead

of me into the undergrowth, and when I felt they had a hold, I pulled

myself forward, with an effort of my wrists. For my wrists were still

quite strong, fortunately, in spite of my decrepitude, though all swollen

and racked by a kind of chronic arthritis probably. (Molloy 84)

He has been reduced to a wriggling worm, no longer resembling any kind of mechanical marvel. It seems technology has not saved General Smith and perhaps the same fate will befall Molloy.

Nevertheless, these failures are only physical in nature. Admittedly, Molloy cannot match the awesome physical prowess of the period’s many other cyborgs.

Examples include Martel from Smith’s “Scanners Live in Vain,” a human/machine construct designed to protect passengers from the dangers of spaceflight; by the story’s end, he engages in an exciting mid-air, high-speed battle with a fellow cyborg in order to prevent an assassination. Also, Deirdre from Moore’s “No Woman Born,” a singer and dancer who nearly perished in a theater fire but was revived by Maltzer as a cyborg.

With her augmentations, she is more able-bodied than ever:

I don’t work on hinges now. I can make every motion a long curve if I

want to. My body’s different enough now to work out a whole new

school of dancing…I’ve been practicing. Do you know I can turn a

36 hundred fouettés now without a flaw? And I think I could go right on and

turn a thousand, if I wanted. (35)

Martel and Deirdre more closely resemble the strength, agility, and stamina often associated with a colloquial sense of cyborgism. While they are powered by their ground-breaking hydraulics and mighty fuel cells, Molloy sits atop what is, essentially, a thin metal frame with two air-filled inner tubes. Yet what makes Molloy lacks in peak physical fitness, he may compensate for in other areas.

Gray’s reminds us that “There is no one kind of cyborg,” which can help guide readers when exploring these other potential areas (3). In an attempt to identify these different kinds of cyborgs and their different functions, he diagrams four categories: the restorative, which can “restore lost functions and replace lost organs and limbs”; the normalizing, which can “restore some creature to indistinguishable normality; the enhancing, which speaks to “the dream many computer scientists have—downloading their into immortal computers”; and the reconfiguring, which can

“[create] posthuman creatures equal to but different from humans…the type of modifications proto-humans will undergo to live in space or under the sea having given up the comforts of terrestrial existence” (3). The applicability of the first three categories to Molloy seems questionable, as the protagonist fails to reap any extended curative benefit from his bicycle. It is, however, the fourth category that is of the most interest to the novel. As Haraway suggests, cyborgism blurs lines of existence in an effort to abandon past dyads—many of which are oppressive, antiquated, and discriminatory.

37 It is important to understand where Molloy and Haraway do and do not intersect.

The two do not seem to share the exact temperament—Haraway’s manifesto is more hopeful, championing technology as a catalyst for a more equitable social order; by contrast, Molloy is still decidedly desperate, hesitant to display the same optimism. The novel emanates the anguish and doubt that has come to be expected from Beckett.

Shades of Haraway, then, can potentially be found within the novel’s insatiable need to continuously question and complicate. Gray’s concept of reconfiguration becomes crucial to interpreting Molloy, as cyborgism does not necessarily improve but undoubtedly differentiates its protagonist. Haraway’s essay is “an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction”— this sentiment seems to fit Beckett’s sensibilities as well as it does Haraway’s (2270).

The novel is rife with pairings that complement and conflict one another. The Molloy and Moran narrative halves combine, creating a hybrid that theoretically reads as a coherent storyline but supplies just enough deception to keep their identities ambiguous.

Moran says, “No conclusions need be drawn from this. Oh the stories I could tell you, if

I were easy. What a rabble in my head, what a gallery of moribunds. , Watt,

Yerk, Mercier and all the others” (Molloy 132). Now references to previous texts are combining with the current narrative, which further muddles an already murky text.

As already mentioned, human and bicycle also combine, creating a hybrid that travels well early but deteriorates late. But there is another oddity yet undiscussed by this chapter: the possibility that Molloy may be using an anachronistic bicycle. He describes it as “a chainless bicycle with a free-wheel” (Molloy 12). It is difficult to determine much from this brief description—it appears near the beginning of the text

38 and does not reappear at any other point. But working with the little that is available, it sounds curiously like an “old-timey” bicycle, otherwise known as a velocipede. It was one of the bicycle’s earliest models, and many would immediately recognize it if they saw it: a massive front wheel in the front, and a smaller wheel in the back. It had no chain mechanism and instead achieved propulsion by attaching the pedals directly to the front wheel, which seems to vaguely resemble Molloy’s bicycle. This is yet another example of Beckett’s bewildering pairings, as a velocipede would be anachronistic at any time beyond the early ninteenth century, let alone in the post-World War II years. It would seem bizarre for Molloy to use such an obsolete machine, yet there is it—the chainless bicycle contributes to the uncertainty. It continues planting seeds of doubt in readers’ minds as to exactly what these cyborgian unions can possibly achieve or provide.7

Then we reach the Moran and Jacque combination, which creates a hybrid as frustrating as any other the novel has to offer. It is the narrative’s most prominent human/human relationship; until this point, Molloy merely drifts from one character to another, never lingering for too long. The novel’s father/son construct is a paradox. At times, Moran does show intermittent warmth towards Jacque. He insists that his son eat well and maintain his nourishment: “Eat your soup, I said, and tell me what you think of it. I’m not hungry, he said. Eat your soup, I said” (Molloy 111). He is concerned his son may be running a fever: “Have you a temperature?...Go and get the minute- thermometer, I said, out of the second right-hand drawer of my desk” (Molloy 112).

And he hopes for his son to receive a good night’s sleep: “I went upstairs again. I stopped at my son’s door. I stooped and applied my ear to the keyhole. Some apply the

39 eye, I the ear, to the keyholes…I took good care not to open the door” (Molloy 118).

These are apparent signs of concerned fatherhood. Yet, example of fatherly kindness is outnumbered by he mocks, bullies, and mistreats his child. Moran laments,

“My son could only embarrass me” (Molloy 119)—more often than not, the relationship is contentious. The novel’s first half featured puzzling human/machine hybrids, and the second half’s human/human hybrid seems equally as troubled.

Another element is added to Moran and Jacques’s relationship while journeying across the countryside, as father gives instructions to son:

Stop trying to understand, I said, just listen to what I am going to say,

because I shall not say it twice…Do you know what a new bicycle is? I

said? Yes papa, he said. Very well, I said, if you can’t find a second-

hand bicycle buy a new bicycle…I repeated, Tell me what you are to do.

He pondered. Go to Hole, he said, fifteen miles away—. Don’t worry

about the miles, I said. (Molloy 137)

Again a bicycle is introduced to obscure the narrative’s message. On its surface, this is a simple scene in which Moran sends Jacques on an errand. But upon closer study, the desire for technology creates both physical and emotional distance between them. When

Jacques first returns with his newly purchased bicycle, the two climb upon the machine in an attempt to ride it together, creating a human/human/machine cyborg. They wobble along precariously then suddenly, “The bicycle swayed, righted itself, gained speed.

Bravo! I cried, beside myself with joy” (Molloy 151). This seems to be perfect cyborgian harmony—yet it lasts only a moment. The joy between father and son ends abruptly as Jacques shouts an ecstatic “Hurrah!” only to be met with Moran’s

40 disdainful, “How I loathe that expression!” (Molloy 151). Cyborgism successfully bridges people together in texts like Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang.” She writes about a future that addresses severely disabled children by removing the healthy brain from the deformed body and transplanting it into a metal shell, which will be transplanted into a spaceship at a later date. When Helva, the protagonist, is installed in her ship, she falls in love with Jennan, the human scout who accompanies her on missions. McCaffrey’s text is a more explicit example of cyborgian camaraderie, whereas Beckett’s text is built upon ambivalence. The bicycle plays a conflicted role in their father/son dynamic—as usual for Beckett, it facilitates at times and hinders at others. The serpentine nature of Moran and Jacques’s relationship lacks McCaffrey’s but makes up for it in complexity and dispute.

A return to Moore’s text can help further illuminate Molloy, as it reflects many of the same anxieties. Deirdre’s first cyborgian performance is an apparent success—the audience is amazed by the display of technological showmanship. But their applause does not placate Maltzer, Deirdre, or her agent, John Harris; each are still deeply concerned over cyborgism’s ontological ramifications. They are unsure of how the introduction of metal to flesh effects the nature of humanity. Maltzer warns, “the human race is your enemy, my dear, whether you admit it now or later…They’re going to hate you, after a while, because you are still beautiful and they’re going to persecute you because you are different—and helpless” (54). Harris adds, “she was the Deirdre he had always known, pale gold, exquisitely graceful in remembered postures…Later he would think again that it might be only a disguise” (57). Deirdre reflects on their worries, ending the story with much uncertainty: ‘“I wonder,’ she repeated, the distant taint of

41 metal already in her voice” (64). Moran also speaks of a voice; perhaps it is his imagination, or a higher being, or Beckett himself. And though the origin is never revealed, he refers to it as “an ambiguous voice and not always easy to follow” (Molloy

126). Moore and Beckett’s narratives share a palpable unease—the main protagonists are never confident in who they are, what they stand for, and where they are going.

They reflect many of the same parallels, demonstrating the profound struggles of a hybrid existence. Readers may find themselves reenacting many of the same reactions as Malzter and Harris. The novel, much like Deirdre, is a baffling figure—its apprehension begets intrigue and curiosity. A centaur is the fusion of two unlike things, as the human and the horse (or other combination) grapples with its new opportunities; a cyborg takes that several steps further, combining two things that are even more strikingly disparate and weighing the consequences.

And another reason the narrative shift in the novel’s second half is so interesting is because it broadens the scope of technology’s growing societal presence.

Molloy/bicycle is important because it explores the interaction between one human and one machine. It is an intimate study, chronicling the effects of a cyborgian existence on a solitary tramp. The Moran/Jacques/bicycle construct, however, is slightly different in that it expands the range of this flesh-and-metal relationship. On the surface, the inclusion of one additional human may not seem immediately noteworthy, but perhaps readers can extract some significant underlying : technology’s interaction with humans is only growing, and as more people (along with more machines) are added to the fold, this new way of life encounters more possibilities. Molloy’s second half follows the efforts of a father, son, and machine—but it could also possibly reflect

42 the world surrounding the novel’s release, one where an increasing number of people are coming into more direct and more prolonged contact with technology.

The purpose of this chapter is not to discredit Kenner’s insightful interpretation, nor is it to simply point out a semantic difference between our terminologies; instead, I am interested in exploring the disparity between animal/machine relations society’s twenty-first century sensibilities in place of Descartes’ seventeenth century ideals. A more modern, more technological reading can leave us with a new set of implications to consider while enjoying Molloy. In light of the political climate surrounding its publication, the protagonist might be read alongside the hopes and anxieties expressed by disfigured and disillusioned World War II veterans. Molloy’s bicycle, however, suffers many shortcomings, which suggests that the Beckettian cyborg is not necessarily an immaculate figure, but an uncertain creature that attempts to face an uncertain postwar future. Ultimately, Molloy is a flurry of contradictions and inconsistencies, a theme maintained by the novel’s final lines: “I do not know. I shall learn. Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining” (Molloy 170). Each pairing includes a proposal along with an equal and opposite negation—that is the nature of the Beckettian cyborg. It is comprised of flesh, metal, and most importantly, fluidity. A cyborgian existence is especially complicated and as a result, it seems, equipped with more potential. Beckett scholarship is a time-honored and well-established institution; yet, the same qualities that make that body of criticism so highly respected may also be the qualities that make it grow stagnant. And so this is an important evolution; it is the transformation from centaur to cyborg, from to machine, and from yesterday to tomorrow. This would

43 ideally compel readers to move towards a more progressive interpretation of the novel while using more progressive concepts. Haraway writes, “This is a dream not of a common , but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia…It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, spaces, stories” (2299).

Molloy’s cyborgian confusion actively resists conventionality. And while it may at times inhibit readerly clarity, its defiance can allow it to challenge social, political, and literary norms. A cyborg approach is, of course, an exceedingly relevant and contemporary concept; but more importantly, it stands as an appropriate for the novel’s themes of collaboration and ambiguity. And as Hayles writes, “the posthuman evokes the exhilarating prospect of getting out of some of the old boxes and opening up new ways of thinking about what being human means” (Posthuman 285).

Beckett’s cyborg is not a deux ex machina; rather than a savior, it is an opportunity for subversion. This ambivalent disposition is required to best navigate a world that is postwar, postmodern, and posthuman.


Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) begins “A late evening in the future,” which almost immediately invites a science fiction reading (Krapp’s 121). Sixty-nine-year-old Krapp is a weary and disheveled man who has taken to the yearly ritual of using his tape recorder to listen to the events of the previous years, and then subsequently document his review of the current year. Krapp chooses the moments captured on box three, spool five and loads it into the tape recorder—“Thirty-nine today, sound as a bell,” he says, in a voice that is described as “rather pompous, clearly Krapp’s at a much earlier time”

(Krapp’s 223). The journey is an apparent success; Krapp the senior intersects with

Krapp the junior. He has traveled back thirty years, witness to a time and a place thought long gone. Yet, it is rarely as simple as shuttling back and forth across time and space—complexities and paradoxes usually abound. I will do my best to address the basic principles of time travel, but ultimately this chapter will not necessarily focus on tachyons, quantum tunneling, or other scientific terminology; instead, this chapter is more concerned with evaluating the social ramifications of reading (and just as importantly, hearing) Krapp’s Last Tape as a potential time travel narrative.

Time travel is one of science fiction’s most prevalent and most beloved conventions. The desire to relive past moments and experience far-away moments is essential to the human condition. Narratives have long experimented with accelerating and decelerating the passage of time, including such titles as ’ A

45 Christmas Carol (1843), Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819), and Mark

Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). These texts, however, showcase protagonists that are hurtled forward and backward in time against their will by supernatural powers. Our contemporary perception of time travel literature—one that is more heavily grounded in actual science—is often attributed to H.G. Wells’ The Time

Machine (1895). Wells’ novel popularized the concept of using a mechanical device that is specifically designed to transport voyagers to precise moments in history. The prospect of traveling through time engages our imagination and fulfills our of witnessing what once was and what soon may be.

In an interview, director says of the play, “there are one-and-a-half characters (one character and his ghost)” (qtd. in Knapp 123). However, another protagonist should be accounted for—the tape recorder. The tape recorder is as essential to the play’s success as Krapp, since there is no play without it. It is the narrative device that moves the text forward, and as it were, backwards as well. Knowlson reminds us that tape recorders were sophisticated technology in 1958. So revolutionary was the model used for the play that Beckett wrote to ask Donald McWhinnie, Krapp’s soon-to- be director, if he could send him an instruction manual. For the audience members of the play’s premiere, it would be easy to marvel at this new-age machine, with buttons to push and knobs to prod. Watch the tape decks rotate, clockwise for the future and counter-clockwise for the past. It casts its hypnotic spell, and then we are instantly hurtled thirty years back. The play features a remarkable collision of literary and technological innovation, which fuels Beckett’s growing interest in utilizing many different means to convey his craft. He attempts to create a new dramatic experience

46 with the aid of new equipment; he immerses audiences in the immediacy of the spoken voice alongside the spectral recorded voice. Krapp’s tape recorder helps bring science to the forefront of this dramatic performance, augmenting our ability to recall.

Introspection—almost always an author’s prime objective—becomes more powerful with the tape recorder’s unique capability to reproduce.

Like the Molloy/bicycle partnership in the previous chapter, the Krapp/tape recorder pairing has some cyborg elements. Krapp, with his “Laborious walk,” may not run as smoothly as he once did, but his synchronization with the tape recorder is more effective—he listens to and records himself every year (Krapp’s 121). He is devoted to this ritual. And for the duration of this one-act play, Krapp and machine are conjoined.

Krapp is more ambulatory than other Beckettian protagonists; his collection of tapes allows him to journey across a lifetime of events. Compared to Didi and Gogo (who choose not to move anywhere) and Molloy/Moran (who move temporarily, and then are besieged by immobility), Krapp covers a life span’s worth of ground. He is not bound by the physical and is able to explore further than human memory normally allows.

Krapp enjoys a unique expansiveness that spans from the sixty-nine-year-old Krapp we see before us, all the way back to childhood.

The tape recorder combines with man and evokes man as well. Whereas

Molloy/Moran’s bicycle complements his limited gait, Krapp’s tape recorder succeeds in capturing, replicating, and performing his exact likeness.8 Here, the interaction between man and machine seems absolute. It is not that recorded voice is infallible— like written documentation, it is still subject to inhibition or personal agenda—but it is extraordinarily uncanny. Freud describes the phenomenon of the uncanny as “that class

47 of the frightening which leads back to what is known and long familiar”, which is certainly produced by listening to one’s own voice (930). The experience recreates moments in time that can seem unsettling, but also more vivid and animated than flat, monochromatic scrawling on a notebook. Regarding the significance of voice, Steven

Connor writes:

Although writing can provide a repeatable version of nearly any

utterance, it does so inevitably by translating that utterance into another

medium, so that what is recorded is only a version of the words, and not

the acoustic materiality of the words themselves. A tape recorder, on the

other hand, makes possible the absolute retrieval of spoken words, in

what seems to promise a fusion of the written and the spoken. (127-128)

As Conner points out, the ability to capture and play back audio recordings allows

Krapp’s tape recorder to act as a time capsule, with each tape resembling an artifact that transmits firsthand accounts of specific moments in time. Storytelling began as an oral practice, and Krapp continues the tradition. And not only does he emulate the rhapsodes of Ancient Greece, but also accomplishes that which was logistically impossible for them: documenting the oral essence of those . Eventually, Krapp’s tape recorder compels readers to consider the limitations, implications, and possibilities of the passage of time.

Initially, Krapp manipulates the time/space continuum with a flick of his wrist.9

First, he travels backwards: “Krapp switches off, winds back tape a little, bends his ear closer to the machine, switches on (Krapp’s 225). Then, later, travels forward: “Krapp switches off impatiently, winds tape forward, switches on again” (Krapp’s 226). This

48 seems to demonstrate the perception of time shared by much of the general public: a string of events that occur in succession, with the consequences of one event directly influencing the following event. This inspires many time travel narratives to experiment with continuity and disturb its order. It has become a science fiction convention called the butterfly effect, a hypothesis that small, seemingly insignificant changes in the past

(or depending on your perspective, the present) can potentially cause extraordinary, and sometimes catastrophic, changes to the future. The term can be traced as far back as

Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” (1952), which features a future-day protagonist named Eckel who commissions Time Safari, Inc., a that allows its clients to travel to the past and hunt prehistoric game. The safari leaders, Travis and Lesperance, are careful to avoid any unnecessary movements that may disturb the time/space continuum. They try to explain to Travis the potentially devastating effects of inadvertently interfering with the past: stepping on a mouse could kill off whole generations of mice, which could have fed a species of fox, which could have fed a species of sabretooth tigers, which could have fed the human race—and as a result, no more people. Unfortunately, Travis does not heed their advice and accidentally steps on a butterfly, effectively re-writing the course of history.

Krapp’s Last Tape is immune to the principles of the butterfly effect, for better and for worse. Krapp is incapable of using his approximation of time travel to affect the surrounding events of his life. No changes can be made to his past and, it seems, no significant changes have been made to his present or future. Krapp does not possess the same kind of influence—he can only observe. He is a nonparticipant time traveler, limited to simply watching his life’s events without actually communicating with them.

49 In one instance, Krapp travels back thirty years to watch as his thirty-nine-year-old self chooses to spend his ailing mother’s final moments playing fetch with a dog:

Moments. Her moments, my moments. [Pause.] The dog’s moments.

[Pause.] In the end I held it out to him and he took it in his mouth,

gently, gently. A small, old, black, hard, solid rubber ball. [Pause.] I

shall feel it, in my hand, until my dying day. [Pause.] I might have kept

it. [Pause.] But I gave it to the dog. (Krapp’s 226)

Krapp surrendered the rubber ball to the dog, but more importantly, he surrendered his time to the dog as well—this was attention perhaps better spent at his mother’s side.10

Krapp’s incessant pausing may be read as his attempt to emulate Eckel crushing the butterfly—they resemble attempts to somehow prevent or change the course of his personal history. By interfering with the timeline and replacing an indifferent, insensitive thirty-nine-year-old Krapp with a more considerate, consoling version of himself, his final memories of his mother could possibly have been more affectionate, or at least less painful.

Yet these liberties escape Krapp, rendering him as little more than glorified spectator. He cannot and did not change his decisive last moments with his mother. His tape recorder aids him in traveling alongside his past, but falls short of any tangible interaction. His voyages into the time stream seem impotent. His helpless situation causes him to lash out in frustration, “[Settling himself more comfortably he knocks one of the boxes off the table, curses, switches off, sweeps boxes and ledger violently to the ground],” but his temper tantrum goes unnoticed by the universe (Krapp’s 223). Krapp is reduced to grunts of dissatisfaction, as a meaningless “Pah!” is all he can muster.

50 None of these outbursts improve his current living condition. And without the opportunity to correct mistakes, time travel suddenly loses much of its appeal. Paul

Lawley writes of the protagonist’s excursions into the past: “Krapp constantly interrupts both himself and his taped voice. The interruptions are made in the interest of his grain- from-husks separation. He switches off in order to look up a word or to brood, to go off for a drink, or simply to wind forward or back…in short, he edits” (90). He “edits” insofar as controlling the pace of his tape reel, but that is the extent of his authority.

True editing would suggest some degree of revision, to relive scenes not just how they were but also how they might be. As with Molloy, Krapp shares an imperfect union with machinery. And as with Waiting for Godot, there exists an absence of agency and a lack of influence over his life’s trajectory. He lacks his own “Eckels moment,” an analogous instance in which he steps on his own proverbial butterfly to dramatically rearrange his reality. Krapp cannot actually do anything upon visiting earlier times. He is a specter floating ineffectually in the background of his past.

It appears now that it may be more profitable to separate Krapp’s from “A

Sound of Thunder” and other like-minded linear time travel narratives and look elsewhere for comparison. There are alternative ways that science fiction authors have approached the concept of time travel, many of whom likely believed time/space too slippery and nebulous to impose such oppressive notions as backwards and forwards, or before and after, or beginning and end. A relevant observation appears in the series finale “All Good Things…” of : The Next Generation, when Q says to Captain

Picard, “How little do you mortals understand time. Must you be so linear, Jean-Luc?”

And so moving forward, this chapter will shift focus to non-linear narratives. Such texts

51 are predicated on Eintein’s theory of special relativity, which Clifford A. Pickover defines as “The theory says between two events is usually different when recorded by an Earth observer or a spaceship commander” (37). And J. Richard Gott adds, “According to Einstein, universal time does not exist. Time is different for different observers” (44). In layman’s terms, time/space may very well move and exist in ways that challenge our conventional understanding of succession. Non-linear time narratives are often more intricate in their thematic scope and scientific expertise, and as a result, more demanding of their readers—it seems this sophistication would fit well with Beckett’s sensibilities.

Beckett’s fondness for repetition makes it worthwhile to examine the possibility of time loops in the play. Stanislaw Lem explores this phenomenon in “The Seventh

Voyage” (1976), which he defines as “the bending of the direction of the flow of time in the presence of gravitational fields of great intensity, which phenomenon might even on occasion lead to the complete reversal of time and the ‘duplication of the present’” (4).

Lem’s protagonist, Ijon Tichy, is a space explorer trapped in one of these closed circuits and encounters different versions of himself from different days of the week—and as he drifts further into the time loop, he even encounters Tichys from different ages. His ship sustains damage to its rudder, and as it becomes apparent that repair is a two-person job,

Tichy spends the rest of the narrative trying to find some way to work alongside either a past or future version of himself. Similar to the various on-stage renditions of Krapp, various apparitions of Tichy also appear. The entire narrative consists of iterations of the same recurring event: Tichy trying to figure out how to fix the rudder. Eventually,

52 two childhood Tichys sneak off to repair the damages while the elder Tichys bicker amongst themselves, thereby ending the time loop.

Both Beckett and Lem’s narratives share similarities in the way they repeat a finite sequence of events. The sixty-nine-year-old Krapp laments, “Be again, be again.

[Pause.] All that old misery. [Pause.] Once wasn’t enough for you” (Krapp’s 229).

Krapp and Tichy share similar qualities, each spoooling around their timeline and constantly encountering reoccurrence. Circular imagery permeates so much of Beckett’s work, such as the mirrored images of Godot’s two acts and Molloy’s bicycle wheel. And it is also prevalent here—Krapp’s life winds and unwinds, forever bound to the tape reel that houses it. Unlike Tichy, Krapp does not encounter physical versions of his older and younger selves; however, the combined efforts of the sound of his recorded voice, the narrative that his tapes and journals details, and the impulses of his imaginative memory creates ersatz Krapp doppelgangers. In a way, he has been reproduced. Krapp is interacting, so to speak, with several of his own counterparts—the combination of mind and machine has produced an auditory illusion that is comparable with Tichy’s situation. As Cohn mentions, the similarities between these young and old Krapps are eerily striking:

Krapp was born sixty-nine years to the day before the time of his last

tape, set in some putative future, but he is reborn every birthday through

his ritualization; he listens to an old tape and records a new one. With the

device of the tape recorder, Beckett provides a credible stage reason for

his favorite technique, repetition…It may be recalled that sixty-nine-

year-old Krapp, the ruined figure on stage, is addicted to bananas that

53 constipate him, to alcohol he drinks offstage, to desire for women in fact

(Fanny) and fantasy (Effie Briest). He listens to the tape recorded on his

thirty-ninth birthday, in which he laments his addiction to bananas,

resolves to drink less, and lingers over his farewell to love. (Beckett

Canon 116-117)

And it goes on that way, all throughout the years. Each reflection of the preceding year is a replica of the present year. Paul Lawley adds, “monologue in Beckett tends, paradoxically, to yield more voices than one” and “Monologue is never single: Krapp has his tape recorder to multiply voices…Far from revealing and confirming individual identity, as we might expect the mode to do, monologue in these plays tends to destabilize and disperse it” (88). But these multiple voices serve as only the illusion of companionship. Krapp and Tichy diverge in that the latter physically interacts with his many selves and the former cannot—this of course can be explained by the fact that

Beckett’s protagonist is only a figurative time traveler. As a result, one of the play’s prevailing themes is the impotency of Krapp’s solitude. He loses his mother, the girl on the lake, the girl in the green coat, Bianca in Kedar Street—all of these contacts are lost to him. At thirty-nine-years-old, “Not a soul” surrounds him (Krapp’s 223); and at sixty-nine-years-old, he is still surrounded by “Not a soul” (Krapp’s 228). His only remaining relationship is with his tape recorder, which of course plays a pivotal role in landing him in this predicament in the first place.

The play can easily be read as a monument to misery, but choosing to read it as a testimony to the importance of company is equally justifiable, if not substantially more profitable. Krapp’s may server as a testament to the importance of human

54 relationships, and maintaining those relationships through compassion, dedication, and effort. Lem’s protagonist(s) converses with himself when trying to make sense of his dilemma:

“Wednesday,” he said. “Come on, let’s get that rudder fixed while we

have the chance!”

“But where’s the Monday me?” I asked.

“Gone. Which means, I suppose, that you are he.”

“How is that?”

“Well, the Monday me on Monday night became, Tuesday morning, the

Tuesday me, and so on.” (6)

Despite Tichy’s growing frustration over his byzantine predicament, he is at least able to interact with the other Tichys. Krapp attempts the same: “Hard to believe I was ever that young whelp. The voice! Jesus! And the aspirations! [Brief laugh in which Krapp joins.] And the resolutions! [Brief laugh in which Krapp joins.] To drink less, in particular. [Brief laugh of Krapp alone.]” (Krapp’s 224). Although, he soon realizes the futility; he cannot make tangible contact with a memory—and so the laugh goes unreciprocated. He cannot interact, only mimic. Moreover, Tichy says the following when reflecting on his time loop adventure:

Those little tykes had fixed it after all, while we adults were stuck in

endless disagreements. I imagine that one of them placed his arms in the

sleeves of the suit, and the other—in the pants; that way, they could have

tightened the nut and bolt with wrenches at the same time, working on

55 either side of the rudder…my heart [was] full of boundless gratitude for

those brave lads I had been so long ago! (18)

Tichy’s broken rudder may be seen as a possible analogy for life—success can be difficult without the support of another helping hand. And that is a luxury Krapp does not enjoy. Each of his pauses is filled with a silence—an “extraordinary silence,” says thirty-nine-year-old Krapp—that serves as a reminder of his profound loneliness (224).

When the final stage direction reads, “[Krapp motionless staring before him. The tape runs on in silence.],” the play’s desolation reverberates throughout the stage and, ironically, that heavy silence speaks of society’s widespread isolation (Krapp’s 230).

The theme of isolation also appears in Robert Heinlein’s similarly mind-bending short story “—All You Zombies—” (1958), published the same year as Krapp’s premiere. Gott outlines Heinlein’s intricate plot, which can get a bit dizzying:

The bartender, who is Jane, has gone back in time to become his own

mother and father. His world line is indeed complex. He starts as baby

Jane, is taken back in time by a bartender, grows up in an orphanage, has

sex with a man, gives birth to a girl named Jane, changes sex, goes to a

bar to lament his fate, takes a trip back in time with a bartender, has sex

with a woman named Jane, and is picked up by the bartender who then

travels back in time to engineer the whole thing. (25)

Gott then goes on to explain the science behind such a phenomenon, citing Andrei

Linde’s theory of chaotic inflation: “an inflating universe could sprout baby universes in the way that branches grow from a tree trunk. Each baby universe would then…bud its own baby universes. This would continue forever, with inflating universes continually

56 branching off older branches, making an enormous fractal tree” (186-187). So it turns out that all the main characters of Heinlein’s narrative are the same person, and that same person is his/her own mother and father. Krapp’s accomplishes something similar through the use of the tape recorder, allowing him to occupy different phases of his life at the same time. Similarly, Cohn actually calls Krapp a “self-centered individual,” which seems to be the case—it is as if he too is a self-manufactured and self- perpetuated figure (Beckett Canon 240). All the taped entries are about himself, and any brief moments mentioning other people is solely about their significance in relation to himself. Sharing parallels with Jane/Bartender, the play creates an impression that

Krapp is his own everything, the center of his universe, the singular reason for his existence. Thirty-nine-year-old Krapp says, “The earth might be uninhabited” (230).

And though the veracity of that claim is uncertain, what is more clear (and more important) is that Krapp’s personal life is deserted. His voice is the play’s only voice.

Isolation is significant not only to Krapp but to life in general—it offers a stronger sense of self and causation. Lawley writes, “Beckett is careful, early in the play, to drive a wedge between the Krapp we see on the stage and the Krapp we hear on the tape” (90). There is no single present that can seize our attention, but a cacophony of moments that all compete for recognition on the crowded stage. Through the aid of the tape recorder, so many different Krapps—past, present, future; young, middle-aged, old; here, there, and otherwise—appear at the same time. Beckett, Lem, and Heinlein’s texts all experiment with the many different angles a fixed amount of events can be observed; ultimately, this leads to a much deeper, richer reading. The final recorded moments of box three, spool five reads: “Here I end this reel. Box—[pause]—three,

57 spool—[pause]—five. [Pause.] Perhaps my best days are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back” (Krapp’s 230). The interesting thing that seems to escape

Krapp is that “wanting them back” is irrelevant. Those days are fundamental to the thirty-nine-year-old man that originally recorded the message, as well as the sixty-nine- year-old man that sits before us. Krapp begins his recording for his sixty-ninth year with, “Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that’s all done with anyway” (Krapp’s

228). Readers can profit, however, by appreciating the importance of causality to one’s life. These memories are never all done with—not for Krapp, and not for anyone else.

Younger Krapp reads, “Sat before the fire with closed eyes, separating the grain from the husks…The grain, now what I wonder do I mean by that, I mean…[hesitates]…I suppose I mean those things worth having when all the dust has—when all my dust has settled” (Krapp’s 223-224). Although in anything short of death, there will never be an end to the swirling dust of his life; the grain and husk are all relevant all of the time.

Fragments of the past, present, and future will always stir, creating the confusing and inspiring storm of events that amount to a lifetime. The reiteration in both Beckett and

Heinlein’s narratives helps to remind that all memories—no matter how inconsequential they may or may not initially seem—add up to the individual we are today. We are all a summation of our experiences.

Just as there are innumerable ways to interpret the concept of time/space, there are numerous ways to read Krapp’s Last Tape. For instance, Lawley is most interested in the role that the power of medium—in this play’s case, a tape recorder—plays in

58 shaping the identity of protagonists; Connor writes how the tension between “live” speech and “dead” writing is further amplified by the introduction of simultaneously live/dead recorded speech; Rosemary Puntney makes note of the play’s to

Shakespeare’s Othello, which makes Beckett’s texts a collection of both pre-existing memories as well as pre-existing literature; and S.E. Gontarski focuses on the careful balance between pathos and comedy. Moreover, there are also many other time theories that can potentially help explicate the play. For instance, the many-worlds theory may lead to an interpretation that Krapp has indeed made beneficial decisions to positively alter the course of his life, but neither he nor audience are able to perceive these favorable outcomes because human consciousness is only aware of one universe at a time; or, application of the Novikov self-consistency principle can allow for an exploration of the tensions between free will and predetermination; or, a closer study of

Einsteinian and Minkowskian physics can evaluate the text not only philosophically but also mathematically.11

All of these approaches can help illuminate the play; however, this chapter will end with another interpretation that is particularly encouraging. Krapp is so devoted to his notion of time travel, dutifully recording his thoughts from the present year and reflecting on his thoughts from yesteryears—and as a result, there is something admirable about his efforts. He is self-reflexive and self-referential, qualities that embody the sum of Beckett’s work; more importantly, though, these are qualities that characterize someone who has a healthy curiosity of the world around them. Like a good Humanities student—or simply someone determined to learn as much as can about the human experience—he hunches over his recordings. At one point, he hears his

59 younger self says a word he has apparently forgotten the definition of: “[Krapp switches off, raises his head, stares blankly before him. His lips move in the syllables of ‘viduity.’

No sound. He gets up, goes backstage into darkness, comes back with an enormous dictionary, lays it on the table, sits down and looks up the word” (Krapp’s 225). Despite his lack of much tangible success, he clearly wants to learn. Perhaps Krapp can be commended for his enthusiasm for knowledge, his meditative nature, and his insatiable need for self-discovery. It is, strangely, an inspirational image. Make no mistake, Krapp in practice is hardly an enviable figure—after all, he is sad and alone. Yet, Krapp in theory may succeed in wrestling a begrudging respect from his audience. Above all else, Krapp studies. And that can be appreciated.

This is also an appropriate time to re-visit and re-emphasize the play’s most distinctive quality: Krapp’s recorded voice. Listening to one’s own voice—especially doing so at your own leisure, and many decades after the fact—is a tremendously surreal experience. The sound of your own voice, somehow familiar and foreign at the same time, may be repulsive. Perhaps it is too shrill, or nasally, or affected by a distracting lisp—whatever the reason, it is a sound so potentially unsettling that it is a wonder that Krapp is able to listen to his tapes at all. It is one thing to simply read about one’s past adventures in a journal or diary; it is another thing entirely to hear about those same exploits. You are essentially speaking to yourself from somewhere and sometime beyond the present. The sonic quality of the recorded voice coupled with the sheer narrative magnitude of the tapes provides moments of amusement, confusion, and regret. And as it were, the bulk of Beckett’s work (Krapp’s or otherwise) is likely to

60 elicit many of those same surrealistic reactions from its readers. Both the tape recorder and Beckett’s texts impart that same haunting sense of the uncanny.

Cohn calls Krapp’s Last Tape “Beckett’s most approachable stage play”

(Beckett Canon 238). And indeed it is approachable, as it is a wonderful study of the course of a man’s life. The narrative is built upon nostalgia, one of our most powerful emotions. The text beckons to anyone who has ever grown older, who has ever documented moments in order to revisit them later, who has ever looked back on their past in wistful remembrance—which is to say, everyone. Readers and audience members, however, would be remiss in mistaking the play’s approachability for being overly straightforward or, worse yet, undemanding. As it were, Krapp’s is just as arduous as any of Beckett’s other texts. A premise that may initially seem basic enough—old man uses tapes to listen to himself as a young man—is made significantly more complex when read as narrative compatible with time travel theory. The tape recorder is not an actual time machine of course, but its own unique approximation of time travel allows us to sway—not necessarily change, but sway—time, similar to the advent of the typewriter and how it allowed us to cajole the written word. Krapp’s inability to directly rearrange his timeline, thus becoming a “real” time-traveler, is ultimately irrelevant because the play still shares science fiction’s fascination with the nature of time, as well as its keen interest in using scientific discovery in concert with philosophical discovery. Heinlein’s protagonist describes a ring s/he wears: “The Worm

Ouroboros…the World Snake that eats its own tail, forever without end. A symbol of the Great Paradox,” which makes for appropriate analogy for this play in particular,

Beckett's work in general, and the phenomenon of time/space as a whole (“Zombies”

61 38). Krapp’s makes time/space more than something that just happens; instead, it compels us to acknowledge it as a fluid, frustrating, and fascinating concept that demands thoughtful reflection. And while the spectacle of a mechanical box that captures the human voice is not as astonishing today as it was during the play’s premiere, the eerie sound of a voice emanating from a time since passed is jolting and forces us to take immediate notice. These meditations on the fabric of time/space can then complicate our perception of history along with the role we all play in documenting it. In the play, time begs to be observed—not solved, necessarily, but deeply contemplated.


It appears Samuel Beckett and science fiction can make for a profitable collaboration. They combine to generate new insight, and investigate ideas that were previously underdeveloped or otherwise unexplored. Reaching the end of this project, one of the most striking parallels between all three texts is the presence, implied or overt, of postwar technology. It serves as the catalyst for the texts’ conflict and commentary, potentially taking a form comparable to an atomic bomb, a cyborg, and a time machine. Waiting for Godot portrays a landscape seemingly analogous to an atomic bomb blast site, with the small cast of characters serving as hapless survivors of the horrible attack. The tramps and technology share a volatile relationship; it appears an atomic bomb may have destroyed their previous way of life and threatens hope for the future. The play’s suspense is never consummated, as Vladimir and Estragon never do meet who they are waiting for. But that may be the point: there is nothing more dramatic or eventful as an atomic explosion, and any waiting to follow will undoubtedly be anticlimactic. Moving on to Molloy, it becomes clear the novel is filled with dualistic imagery: human and bicycle, father and son, illumination and confusion. Neither halves enjoy extended dominance, and instead trade opportunity for both success and failure.

The true objective, though, is not some unreasonable notion of infallibility; instead, the goal is to surpass outmoded concepts and in its place create something entirely different. And in Krapp’s Last Tape, the protagonist employs the aid of a tape recorder

63 to pause and fast-forward through expired moments. The sound of his recorded voice allows him to study a lifetime of decisions. And while this approximation of time travel is unable to impress substantial improvement upon Krapp’s life—thus suggesting the possibility that time/space may be non-linear and far more complex than we realize—he still demonstrates an intellectual curiosity that is truly admirable.

And there is still so much untapped potential with this approach, as many other

Beckett texts can be read alongside many other science fiction conventions. Take

Beckett’s representation of animals, which is surprisingly sympathetic. In Endgame

(1957), for instance, Hamm is a (stuffed) dog owner and muses, “Oh I am willing to believe they suffer as much as such creatures can suffer. But does that mean their sufferings equal mine? No doubt” (93); also, in “Dante and the Lobster” (1934),

Belacqua is appalled when he learns of the preparation requirements for a lobster dinner: “‘But it’s not dead,’ protested , ‘you can’t boil it like that’” (87). Both protagonists show compassion for what many others may otherwise deem “lesser” life forms. Hamm and Belacqua are deeply concerned with the intersection between humans and animals—particularly the moral obligations that come with that relationship.

Science fiction texts like Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and

Cordwainer Smith’s We the Underpeople are sensitive to animal rights, and coupled with Beckett, these narratives can be used to explore the way humans identify and interact with their animal companions.

Beckett and science fiction work well together because they have the same objective in mind: simultaneously comment on the present while contributing to the future. They each gaze far in the distance, appreciating the potential and promise that

64 comes with the unknown. Beckett devoted his career to the pursuit of artistic innovation. Rather than simply regurgitate the status quo, he sought to revolutionize every medium he worked with. Waiting for Godot, Molloy, and Krapp’s Last Tape are nearly unprecedented texts that are distinguished from most of their contemporaries.

They resist expectations by offering narratives that are bizarre, unclear, and aggressively stubborn. It is this sustained effort of progression and subversion that is the very spirit of science fiction. That makes Beckett a figurative time-traveler, creating works that perpetually seem ahead of its time.

65 Notes

1. Theodor Adorno writes about nuclear holocaust in “Trying to Understand

Endgame,” but the contextualization of the post-apocalyptic or science fiction in general is not extended throughout most of Beckett’s other work.

2. Beckett is very particular about the staging of his dramatic work, and interestingly, he long opposed the use of women actors portraying the male characters of Godot.

3. In his research for the role, (who played Lucky in the play’s premiere) deduced that his character’s stuttering resembled that of a sufferer of

Parkinson’s disease. When he shared this information with Beckett, the playwright agreed with Martin’s interpretation and disclosed that his mother had actually suffered from the condition. This serves as precedent to study Lucky’s medical condition and state of mind.

4. Edith Kern also offers another equally interesting theory: “On the other hand, the very ambiguity of the novel’s formal structure also induces us to see Molloy as a creation of Moran’s” (195).

5. For some, Poe may seem like an unlikely science fiction figure, but his efforts were influential in helping establish the burgeoning genre.

66 6. The text never explicitly explains why General Smith must take himself apart each evening, but it can be presumed that it must have something to do with reserving his power source.

7. Perhaps in another project it could be worthwhile to pursue the potential significance of Molloy’s bizarre bicycle and , a sub-genre of science fiction concerned with anachronistic collisions of chronology and technological innovation.

8. It is important to note that Beckett was likely influenced by the “” chapter of ’s in which considers the possibility of keeping gramophone recordings of the deceased. This would serve as the closest approximation of a “living” memento for the bereaved. In turn, Beckett’s play may have helped influence a scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969): “Billy

Pilgrim says now that this really is the way he is going to die, too. As a time-traveler” he has seen his own death many times, has described it to a tape recorder. The tape is locked up with his will and some other valuables in his safe-deposit box” (180).

9. This chapter will continue reference to the term “time/space,” which is also just as commonly referred to as “spacetime.” Clifford A. Pickover defines this interchangeable term as “the stage upon which all events occur, from atomic to galactic realms. The invariance of the spacetime interval—its independence of the state of motion of —compels us to recognize that time cannot be separated from space. Space and time are part of a single entity” (105).

10. Krapp’s apparent indifference is in stark contrast to Beckett’s bedside manner during his own mother’s final days. Knowlson notes that Beckett “sat watching over her

67 for an entire week, leaving the nursing home only when it was absolutely necessary”


11. Pickover defines the many-worlds theory: “whenever the universe (‘world’) is confronted by a choice of paths at the quantum level, it actually follows both possibilities, splitting into two universes” (83-84). All possible universes exist then, and as Gott humorously points out, “Unfortunately, you are just in the wrong one” (16).


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