Not I

“Not I”, Samuel Beckett, 1972.

The character from “Not I”, Mouth, is a fragmentary woman whose neurotic speech is rapid, incoherent, and disruptive. She tells us about her loveless, emotionless past, reminiscing about how she led a dull uneventful life until a significant moment in April. This is one of the few moments in the play when there seems to be a glimmer of hope for her, a way to define her identity. If we think of T. S. Eliott’s “The Waste Land”, April is a month of regeneration- “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.” Mouth had lived her entire life in a wintry state of silence, anhedonia, and inertia and this special, obscure moment in April generated her uncharacteristic discourse. There are many possible interpretations for the play- Absurdists tend to only create the flame to encourage us to find our own way in the darkness. The spectator can speculate on her state as being a bleak conception of the afterlife- She seems to be in a purgatorial state, awaiting her judgment. The character- referred to as Mouth- can also be seen as an actress with an identity crisis. Some elements are reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s film, Persona (1966), which also deals with bleakness, neurosis, and death.

The writer of the Theatre of the Absurd is usually someone entrapped in their own inner world, trying to express existential anxieties in a congruent form. The plays move away from mirroring society personas toward portraying the nonsensical nature of human existence. Whilst existentialists approach the same theme in a philosophical, logical, and complex way, absurdists believe that the devaluation of language is essential to depict the absurdity of life. Words are insufficient and sometimes unnecessary, which is one of the reasons why Beckett often preferred silence to conversation, in his interactions with James Joyce in Paris: “They engaged in conversations which consisted often in silence directed towards each other, both suffused with sadness, Beckett mostly for the world, Joyce mostly for himself.” The two artists share the same existential anguish and that Baudelairean view of the modern world as an age of the ephemeral and the contingent.

Published by Diana Marin

Photography. Film. Poetry.

One thought on “Not I

  1. This is such an informative essay. I haven’t read any Samuel Beckett, but would love to when I’m ready. I read nihilistic books that herald horror fiction by Ligotti, and some positive existentialism grounded in Logo therapy by Frankl. I also read Christian existentialism (grounded in fideism) by Kierkegaard, and he drives me mad with his abstractions and states of sin which correspond to states of despair! So Beckett and absurdism will have to wait! I’ve watched Persona (which I found very fascinating) but I wonder sometimes if the many interpretations approach to a piece of literature is the right one. But then again, theory wouldn’t exist if we didn’t look at literature from a multitude of vantage points, and no one can really know what the author had in mind. I didn’t know about Beckett and Joyce and found that fascinating. I liked how you ended the essay by moving from analysis to personal anecdote.

    Liked by 1 person

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