From the Call of Conscience to the Torture of Language
This chapter provides a conclusion to the book by asking whether the “call of conscience” in Heidegger finds a strange literary truth in the compulsive and tortured voice to be heard in Beckett’s The Unnamable, and by tracing a set of connections between these apparently disparate phenomena. These connections pass through the “imperatives” referred to in Beckett’s Molloy, through the anxiety and uncanniness in Kafka’s The Trial, and through Heidegger’s 1950 essay, “Language,” which contains the famous statement, “Language speaks” (“Die Sprache spricht”), which Heidegger figures as a call of language and poetry. It is shown that this essay, which appeared during the same post-war period as Beckett’s Unnamable, has some striking resonances with the latter, but diverges with it in its continued courting of sublime height and grandeur, and of the divine. The extent of Beckett’s demotion of literature from its redemptive promises is measured in an examination of Blanchot’s praise of The Unnamable in his essay “Where now? Who now?” (“Où maintenant? Qui maintenant?”)—an extreme work whose compulsive writing reveals “nothing admirable,” but rather exposes the narrative voice in its naked, helpless agony. The limitless and suffocating literary space opened by such unredeemable speech defines the imperative to write in its no longer noble demands.
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