Publication details

How No Foucault : Decomposing the Asylum in Malone Dies


LITTLE James Joseph

Year of publication 2017
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description At the start of Worstward Ho (1983), republished in 1989 as part of the collection Nohow On, Beckett outlines a recurring biopolitical scenario in his writing—that of imagining a body in an enclosed bare room: Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still. Though ‘on’ is often thought to be Beckett’s favourite preposition, this passage, as well as the so-called ‘closed space’ pieces of the 1960s and 70s which precede it, demonstrate that ‘stay[ing] in’ is often an alternative impasse to going on in Beckett’s reduced social worlds. If, as I contend, confinement is central to Beckett’s political aesthetic, ‘[w]hy has there been no sustained examination of Beckett in relation to the work of Michel Foucault’, the most influential 20th-century theorist of carceral space? This paper will address the relations between the politics of Beckett’s and Foucault’s writing through an examination of the two writers’ career-long engagements with confinement. Though both were drawn to the asylum and the prison as sites of social exclusion and alienation, Beckett’s poetics of ‘vaguening’ stripped down in his imagined enclosed spaces the socio-political networks that are recorded in such detail in Foucault’s institutional histories and genealogies. Focussing on Macmann’s asylum scene in Malone Dies, I will argue that the absence of a ‘political tactics’ of confinement in the House of Saint John of God points to a wider divergence between Beckett and Foucault, which hinges around the question of an ethics, or an ‘anethics’, of representing a situation of suffering which is not one’s own.
Related projects: