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Modern Fiction Studies 41.3-4 (1995) 515-530

The Pornographic Imagination in All Strange Away

Graham Fraser

On first looking into All Strange Away, one is struck by the change in tone between this and Beckett's other texts of the period. Rather than the measured rhythms of Imagination Dead Imagine, the dispassionate pseudo-empiricism of The Lost Ones, or the abstract patternings of Ping and Lessness, the reader is confronted with an intrusive, hasty, and humorless narrative imagination--and with a narrative which contains surprising passages of a coarsely sexual nature. This unusual quality has been located by critics in the voyeuristic or sexual concerns of the narrator and has on occasion been termed "pornographic" (Murphy 86, Pilling 139). And indeed, All Strange Away creates a climate of sexual tension and fascination which does not inform Beckett's other works. But the presence of naked, sweating bodies (common to all the "rotunda works" 1 of the '60s) and the occasional passage of crude sexual reverie are alone not enough to account for the unusual texture of this work. The sexual theme is not uppermost in All Strange Away, and the pornographic imagination which informs it is essentially asexual, or rather, its sexual component is secondary to its other concerns. All Strange Away, like the other rotunda texts of the '60s, is a reflexive assessment of the imagining narrator's own imagination. The [End Page 515] box or rotunda is a projection of the narrator's own skull, a displacement of his own imaginative space, which he can use to explore the dynamics of his own imagination. 2 Thus the climate and goings-on within the rotunda illustrate (and occasionally subvert) the imaginative aesthetics which inform their very narration. In doing this, however, the narrator's imagination functions in a manner formally similar to the pornographic narrative imagination. If there is a pornographic sexual element, it is because there is a pornographic imaginative dynamic to the text. The sexual elements are not privileged, but all aspects of "a place" and the "someone in it" (117) are considered in a manner "conventional" pornography usually reserves for the erotic.

The mental function which dominates All Strange Away is not Imagination but Fancy. Although "fancy" is apparently used in the text as synonym for "imagination," viewing Fancy and Imagination in light of the distinction drawn between them by the Romantics suggests that Beckett is actually using the term to indicate the specific mode of mental activity which underlies the narration. Coleridge defined Fancy as a permutative power which "has no other counters to play with but fixities and definites," contrasting with the higher power of Imagination, which takes the units of experience organized by Fancy and "dissolves, diffuses, and dissipates [them] in order to re-create" poetically or metaphorically (Barfield 86).

Pornography, as a visual or narrative genre, makes heavy use of repetition and permutation. De Sade provides the quintessential example, assembling a cast of characters and running them through a gamut of sexual conjunctions until the combinations, if not the sexual energies of the characters, are exhausted. Roland Barthes, in his essay on Bataille's Story of the Eye, notes that this permutative drive is "the beginning and end of Sadean narrative. In Sade there is no appeal to the metaphorical or metonymical imagination, his eroticism being purely combinatory" (126). De Sade's is an eroticism of Fancy, then, rather than of the Imagination. More astutely still, Barthes notes that in Sade the permutative drive is as prominent as the sexual: "[Sade's] eroticism is encyclopedic, sharing the same accounting spirit as prompted Newton and Fourier. For Sade it is a question of tallying erotic combinations, an undertaking that (technically) does not involve any transgression of the sexual" (126). The permutative impulse is equally strong in [End Page 516] All Strange Away, where it functions as an end--a need--in itself, a principle which holds for the narrator the urgency of a sexual obsession.

The play of Fancy in All Strange Away is expressed in the narrator's obsessive manipulation of his material--repeatedly returning to an ever-diminishing pool of "fixities and definites." Repetition has always been a vital narrative strategy for Beckett, and there are more extreme instances of it in his work both before and after All Strange Away. But repetition is used differently in this text, and isolating the differences provides a clue to the pornographic effect of the work as a whole. The narrator opens with two concerns, which he admits repeat earlier narrations: "A place, then someone in it, that again" (117). These elements--the box-like space, the figure within it, and the relative positions and dimensions of both constitute his "fixities and definites," the poles between which his imagination oscillates as he provides and eliminates "details." Since the narrator's intent is to contract his imaginative scenario by ushering "all strange away" (121), his inventory of images and phrases diminishes as the narrative advances.

From the outset, the narrator's repetition indicates he is fixated on certain ideas, struggling to work beyond them: "Stool, bare walls when the light comes on, women's faces on the walls when the light comes on. In a corner when the light comes on tattered syntaxes of Jolly and Draeger Praeger Draeger" (117). Despite his attempts to clarify what happens "when the light comes on" (and the permutative canter of "Draeger Praeger Draeger"), the narrator can only say "[l]ight off and let him be" (117). In the darkness, the narrator then attempts to imagine the figure "[s]itting, standing, walking, kneeling, crawling, lying, creeping, in the dark and in the light, try all" (117). "Try all" is the oft-repeated motto of the narrator's permutative mind, and the sexual reveries follow a similar verbal escalation. Likewise, the narrator's attempt to re-illuminate the box--"Imagine light. Imagine light." (117)--features the same stalled repetition as his imaginative detailing of Emma, later: "[I]magine hands. Imagine hands" (120).

The narrator's interest in the "place" is as pornographically permutative as his interest in the contortions of the figure. Indeed, the place holds more obsessive interest than the "someone in it." After an initial series of spatial contractions and consequent reposturings of the figure inside, the narrator declares, "[p]lace then most clear so far but [End Page 517] of him nothing and perhaps never save jointed segments variously disposed white when light at full" (120). Although the narrator then goes on to detail the figure (first changing the sex from the male Emmo to the female Emma), his real interest remains the confining space. This is most apparent when, after a passage which erases Emma's hair, the narrator opens a parenthesis, saying "[c]ease here from face a space to note how place no longer cube but rotunda three foot diameter . . . all right, resume face" (123). But the narrator does not resume a description of her face. Rather, he continues to work out the rotunda's new dimensions, pausing only to mention that Emma "still might be mathematically speaking more than seven foot long" (124). If Emma's dimensions are contingent upon those of the "place," then it comes as no surprise when the narrator declares, in terms which could apply as well to the architecture of the rotunda as to the figure inside it, his weariness of "all this poking and prying about for cracks holes and appendages" (125).

The pornographic imagination is clearly evident in the narrator's schematic, geometric impulses. Dividing the floor and ceiling angles into points a, b, c, d, etc., the narrator provides himself with fodder for his permutative obsession. The text constantly returns to such passages as "arse to knees say diagonal ac, feet say at d, head on left cheek at b" (119). The goal of such geometry is not to fix the figures but to provide "fixities" for the narrator--he relishes the permutative possibilities of the system: "Arse to knees, say bd, feet say at c, head on right cheek at a. Then arse to knees say again ac, but feet at b and head on left cheek at d. Then arse to knees say again bd, but feet at a and head on right cheek at c. So on other four possibilities when begin again" (119-120). The instruction to "begin again" indicates that the point of the permutation is not to exhaust the possibilities but to repeat them endlessly. The geometric insistence of the text recalls Susan Sontag's belief that Sade's "descriptions are too schematic to be sensuous. The fictional actions are illustrations, rather, of his relentlessly repeated ideas" (99). Each shrinkage of the confining rotunda and consequent re-positioning of the figure requires--or rather allows--the narrator to run through his permutations again, to "try all" in his desire for an elusive "best" position (119). Although the text ultimately settles into positions which are "maintained," the "best" position is not particularly desired, as it would entail the end of the permutative series, and hence [End Page 518] of the imaginative activity. When the narrator speculates on this stable point he says: "and this again and again till final renouncement with faint sweet relief, faint disappointment will have been here too" (127). The narrator, then, is himself a victim of his fanciful compulsion. Unable to transcend his images and propositions through the metaphorical power of imagination, and compelled to reconfigure endlessly the same "counters," the narrator does not use his repetitive images but is encircled by them.

Crucially, in All Strange Away these repetitions and permutations are not undercut by humor. The permutations of Watt, while much more obsessive, are subverted by the comedy of exhaustive listing which is quite missing from the abbreviated, but endlessly recurring, repetitions of All Strange Away. Likewise, the "sucking stones" episode of Molloy, while testifying to Molloy's "mania for symmetry" is comically undercut by the revelation that the stones "all tasted exactly the same" (Molloy 90, 79), thus allowing the narrator to rise above the obsession of the text and dissipate the tension generated by the repetition. The pornographic imagination, however, provides no such comic relief, and instead seeks to heighten the tension. In his study of repetition in Beckett, Steven Connor notes, via the "pot" crisis in Watt, that "repetition can sometimes involve the attempt to efface the signifier, so as to collapse the distinction between it and the signified. The compulsive repetitions of the child's demands for food, or of the language of pornography, both testify to the desire to make of the sign a substance, identical with what it signifies" (33; emphasis added). Connor further notes that "[r]epetition can often be read as an attempt to close the gap between word and thing, even though it is repetition which insistently opens up that gap" (33). Just as the sexual imagination of the pornographic spectator attempts, through repetition of imagery and words, to bring the desired object into "reality" (or to suspend disbelief, to return to a Coleridgean operation), so does the narrator of All Strange Away seek to deny his own authorship of the rotunda as an image of his skull. He seeks to maintain the image as a discrete, objective, yet possessable and knowable "reality" through the incantatory repetitions of its salient points. Annette Kuhn, in her study of photographic pornography, notes that the suspension of disbelief before the pornographic image must ultimately break down, and that one's awareness of the artificiality of the image ensures the spectator's "desire remains ungratified" [End Page 519] (31). As a result, Kuhn argues, the spectator is "condemned to endless investigation" (31). The awareness of his own authorship of the rotunda and figure, and of their imaginary condition, has precisely the same effect on the narrator of All Strange Away, condemning him to endless repetition, as he seeks to actualize his virtual images: "Say again though no real image puckered tip of left breast, leave right a mere name" (121). Here, the reflexive decision to repeat--to "say again"--is clearly an attempt to overcome the "unreality" of the image. The decision to leave Emma's other breast "a mere name" suggests that, despite the pornographic desire to conjure things from words, the right breast must, for now at least, remain unrepeated and thus only a signifier--a "mere name."

Although the narrator returns to his "fixities and definites" throughout the text, these returns are irregular, fragmented, and abbreviated. Whereas the narrators of Watt or Molloy painstakingly work through their permutations, here the narrator is as hasty as he is obsessed. He exhibits a pornographic haste when, in his hurry to consummate his imaginative desire, he provides only sketches of repeated formulations and promises "details later" (which of course allows him further room for repetition to "maintain" his imaginary discourse). The narrator's hasty description of murmurs provides an excellent example: "Imagine other murmurs, Mother mother, Mother in heaven, Mother of God, God in heaven, combinations with Christ and Jesus, other proper names in great numbers say of loved ones for the most part and cherished haunts, imagine as needed" (122). This is later repeated in still more abbreviated form: "Mother mother, Mother in heaven and of God, God in heaven, Christ and Jesus all combinations, loved ones and places" (127). Another striking example is the word "Diagram," inserted as a page break in the text. Here the narrator substitutes the word for the thing (and even a diagram of the rotunda would only stand in as a signifier for the "actual" construction). Not only is this doubly "no real image," but it underlines the need (or desire) for a diagram generated by the narrator's schematic imagination. Although the narrator's fumbling rush is not a form suited to generating erotic response (the way lingering description might be), it aptly communicates the pornographic mood by suggesting the heat of imaginative desire within the possibilities of cool combination, when "ohs and ahs copulate cold" (122). This fragmentation then, in concert with [End Page 520] repetition, creates a more pornographic imaginative atmosphere than in Watt or Molloy (or in later rotunda works) in which repetition is more systematically worked through.

In this obsessive environment of pornographic Fancy, the human figures are treated primarily as objects for manipulation rather than as sites of erotic possibility. Although Emma and Emmo have a definite sexual aspect, it is brought out by their objectification--by their treatment as little more than "jointed segments variously disposed" (120) and ripe for "refolding" (124). Contrary to the belief expressed in Enough, "anatomy" is not a "whole" here (140). Human forms are discussed as fragments, anatomical "fixities and definites" which rarely add up to a whole. Initially, the box is inhabited by Emmo, seated on a stool and surrounded by "women's faces on the walls when the light comes on" (117). Following the reduction of the space from closet to steamer trunk dimensions, the narrator announces, "[f]aces now naked bodies, eye level, two per wall, eight in all, all right, details later" (119), which recalls Hamm's sarcastic insinuation in Endgame that Clov's desire to return to his kitchen is semi-erotic: "What do you see on your wall? . . . Naked bodies?" (12). These naked bodies are shortly changed again: "eight no more, one per wall, four in all, say all of Emma" (119). This coalescence of disparate "bodies" into the single, named, female Emma might seem to be a unifying gesture, were it not that Emma, as an image on the wall, exists only as a series of bodily fragments: "First face alone, lovely beyond words, leave it at that, then deasil breasts alone, then thighs and cunt alone, then arse and hole alone, all lovely beyond words" (119). The repetition of "alone" isolates the fragments; Emma does not exist in nude panorama, but as a collage of dissected images, sawn apart like the magician's "lovely" assistant. Fragmentation of the body is of course a key code of both visual and narrative pornography. "In pornography," Annette Kuhn notes, "photographs are often composed in such a way that a particular bodily part is greatly emphasised. Or it may even fill the whole of the picture, in which case the body is fragmented, cut up, by the frame" (36). This is clearly Emma's condition at this point in All Strange Away. Kuhn goes on to write, however, that "porn's attention to bits of bodies is never random. Pornography is preoccupied with what it regards as the signifiers of sexual difference and sexuality: genitals, breasts, buttocks . . ." (37). It is undeniable that these "parts"--imagined in pornographic [End Page 521] kaleidoscope--fire the erotic imagination of the narrator. Viewing the images of Emma's body induces Emmo's erotic reverie: "say deasil first from face through hole then back through face, murmuring, Imagine him kissing, caressing, licking, sucking, fucking and buggering all this stuff, no sound" (119). This sentence is a startlingly sexual intrusion, although the groundwork for it has been laid by the play of Fancy and anatomical fragmentation. The "Imagine" which starts this reverie of course emphasizes the imaginary context of the eroticism, a pornographic fancy within a pornographic fancy. It is unclear whose imagination is said to have these thoughts. The discourses of the figures in All Strange Away are couched in the third person, which suggests that the reverie is Emmo's. This is supported by the structure of the sentence, the capitalized "Imagine" indicating, as it does throughout this text, a piece of "speech." However, the narrator's imagination embraces the world of his rotunda and the figures in it, and so clearly he shares in the reverie, even as he displaces responsibility for it onto Emmo's hunched shoulders.

Emmo's reverie (and Emma's, too, when she repeats the fantasy) is a strange mixture of the fevered and the bland. While it lasts, the narrator follows the reverie with much more erotic interest than in other Beckett texts, such as the confused grapplings of Molloy and Ruth (Molloy 59-62), the repulsive descriptions of "making unmakable love" in the cylinder of The Lost Ones (160), or the nostalgic yet ambivalent "penis licking" episode in Enough (139). This sexual intensity is evident in the rising eroticism of the progression of "kissing, caressing, licking, sucking, fucking and buggering." Yet the catalogue of sexual acts is run through too quickly to be sensual, and the erotic mood is quickly damped with the dismissive "this stuff" and the abrupt shift to a description of Emmo's posture: "Then halt and up to position of rest, back of head touching ceiling . . ." (119). But this abandonment of the sexual is not an abandonment of the pornographic--the narrator's real obsession is not erotic, but with the manipulation of the human forms in the space.

While the images of Emma's body are fragmented and eroticized, we are told little of Emmo. He moves about the box collecting paper and pins and then is himself pinioned as the narrator tightens the space around him. The narrator initially seems reluctant to denude him: "take off his coat, no, naked, all right, leave it for the moment" (117) although [End Page 522] the narrator then has the coat rot away into "flitters" (118). The narrator, however, is unwilling, or unable, to describe Emmo's body and instead returns to a description of the box: "Physique, flesh and fell, nail him to that while still tender, nothing clear, place again" (118). After contracting the space still further and initiating his geometric descriptions of it, the narrator remarks, "[p]lace then most clear so far but of him nothing and perhaps never save jointed segments variously disposed" (120). The narrator takes advantage of Emmo's ambiguous "physique" to switch his position with Emma's: "no life or dying here but his, a speck of dirt. Or hers since sex not seen so far, say Emma standing, turning, sitting, kneeling, lying" (120). This switch is telling, since even if Emmo's sex has not been seen, he has been referred to as "he" and he has been naked since the disintegration of his coat. This narrator seems to feel towards his characters the way Clov feels towards his toy-dog-in-progress, namely, that "the sex goes on at the end" (Endgame 40). But the switch in the figure's gender is more important than this in terms of the pornographic functioning of the narrator's imagination. Sontag writes that "the pornographic imagination tends to make one person interchangeable with another and all people interchangeable with things" (100); this allows greater repetitive and permutative range. This is indeed the case in All Strange Away, since now it is Emma who undergoes the narrator's manipulations and repeats many of the actions earlier undergone by Emmo. However, this interchangeability is not, as Sontag implies, without consequence. As Annette Kuhn writes, regarding the fragmentation of the body in the pornographic image, "the process of fragmentation is by no means disinterested as regards gender. Although it is not difficult to find examples of fetishized representations of the male body, it is much more often the female body and its representation which receives this kind of treatment" (37). Thus, while the fragmentary images on the walls are now of Emmo, the narrator is less interested in maintaining them. The earlier scene of erotic reverie is repeated, but in abbreviated form: "Emmo on the walls, first the face, handsome beyond words, then deasil details later. And how crouching down and back she turns murmuring, Fancy her being all kissed, licked, sucked, fucked and so on by all that" (120). This sentence is cast in the passive, making Emma less the source than the object of desire. There is a tension in the word "Fancy" which introduces the reverie, since if it is attributed to [End Page 523] Emma the reverie becomes an expression of her desire (although since Emma is a projection of the narrator's own imagination, this desire is actually embedded within his own). If the "fancy" is the narrator's, then it underlines his erotic interest in Emma, an interest previously filtered through Emmo. The abbreviated description of Emmo's body and the attenuated sexual reverie suggest that this is the case, and now that Emma is the figure within the box, Emmo is no longer needed as a lens through which to observe her. Consequently, Emmo is erased from the scenario entirely: "no Emmo, no need, never was" (120). Although upon cutting short Emma's sexual reverie the narrator returns to a delectation of her geometrical position and dimensions, his descriptions of Emma's "physique" become much more detailed than they were of Emmo's, and assume a more sexual tone.

Although he manipulates the geometry of Emma's various "joints and segments" (120), the narrator rarely lingers over areas of sexual interest. He nevertheless provides details of Emma's "physique": "Highest point from ground top of swell of right haunch, say twenty inches, slim woman" (120) or later "small woman scarce five foot fully extended" (124). The narrator re-describes parts of her body with a pornographic fixity. Several times he mentions the "left breast puckered in the dust" (120, 121), as well as Emma's long dark hair and eyelashes (indicators of femininity in Beckett's work, although subsequently erased from Emma). The narrator's imagination is particularly fixed on Emma's hands: "hands, imagine hands. Imagine hands" (120). These hands are both objects of geometrical obsession and emblems of femininity. Shortly after the "Diagram" break, the narrator says, "[g]lare now on hands most womanly clear and womanly especially right still loosely clenched as before but no longer on ground since corrected pose but now on outer of right knee just where it swells to thighs while left still loosely hitched to right shoulder ball as before. All that most clear" (124). Even the clenching of Emma's fist is feminized: "crush down most womanly straining knuckles" (125). The narrator's description of Emma's neck reveals his sexual assessment of her: "healthy natural neck with even hint of jugular and cords suggesting perhaps past her best" (125). But any possible tenderness or sympathy between narrator and figure which might be implied by this feminizing of Emma's "physique" is brutally forestalled when the narrator continues "and thence on down to other meat" (125). As "meat" Emma's [End Page 524] body is both sexually objectified and abstracted, meeting the Sadean condition of person as thing, a series of "cracks holes and appendages" (125) used less as an object of sexual pleasure than as a set of "fixities and definites" for manipulation and arrangement.

Bodies in Beckett's post-Trilogy prose (particularly those of the rotunda group) are often viewed in terms of their parts and fragments. Leslie Hill writes that in these works Beckett presents the body as "a series of undifferentiated parts of limbs and scraps of flesh which in themselves have no identity or essential being" (147), while Mary Bryden argues that "the viewed bodies are not apprehended as sexual presences: indeed their gender is scarcely recuperable" (147). In All Strange Away, however, these "scraps of flesh" are given an unusual sexual edge, less dependent on the gender of the figure than on the display of bodily fragments in a geometrical fantasy which is experienced in pornographic--if not strictly sexual--terms. It is one thing to fragment or "geometrize" the body by saying "[l]egs side by side broken right angles at the knees" as Still does (183), but it is quite another to refer to "thighs and cunt alone" or the "cracks holes and appendages" which constitute the "other meat."

The introduction of Emma as the object of such "prying about," and the link between inspection and erotic reverie (on the part of both the figures and the narrator) indicate a key element in the pornographic imagination operant in this text--the gaze. There is a metaphorical equivalence in Beckett's writing between the eye and the imagination, a metaphor which dominates the "rotunda" works of the '60s. The visual inspection of the rotunda is a metaphor for the narrator's imagination of it, and "seeing," "imagining," and "fancying" are often used interchangeably. When the narrator's (or figure's) gaze operates voyeuristically, then, it is evidence of an imagination acting pornographically as well.

Sontag notes that "there is no personal consciousness, except that of the author, in Sade's books" (99), which is very much the case for All Strange Away--indeed, in so far as the rotunda is a displaced model of the narrator's own imagination, there is nothing else in the text but the narrator's consciousness. This consciousness, however, is divided into two imaginative tiers, apparent in the construction of the gazes in the text. The narrator views the rotunda and figures from his own perspective, while those figures also see images of each other [End Page 525] "projected" on the walls. As constructions of the narrator's imagination, the figures are subject to his gaze, and thus the narrator shares in their inspection of the images on the walls. Their gaze--and desires--are embedded in his own. This predatory gaze--which Beckett later calls the "eye of prey" in Imagination Dead Imagine (147)--is a voyeuristic gaze. Kuhn writes that "[t]he voyeur's pleasure depends on the object of this look being unable to see him: to this extent, it is a pleasure of power, and the look a controlling one" (28). This is very much the case in All Strange Away, in which the narrator's imagination, expressed as his gaze, manipulates the figure and her environment. The power relationship inherent in the gaze puts a pornographic edge on that already existing in the hierarchy of imaginer and imagined. But whereas in the writings of Sade such power is extreme and violent (and sado-masochistic pornography complements, if not replaces, sexual difference with differences in power [Kuhn 46]), in All Strange Away this power is expressed in fussy obsessions and manipulations, and in the control inherent in the narrator's contraction of the figure's world. Ironically, the narrator is not in complete control of his imaginative construction, as he is subject to those obsessions himself which cause him to return to his "fixities and definites," as well as to the need to explore their new permutations.

Within pornography, voyeurism provides not only a mode of looking but also a genre. Discussing the conventions of the voyeuristic image-narrative, Kuhn notes that while the spectator remains unseen, "the bodies and parts of bodies in the pictures are obligingly composed so that the spectator can get a good look at what pornography says are the really important things" (32-33). The voyeuristic gaze is evident in the fragmented projections of sexual images on the walls of the box, relished by both the narrator and the inhabitants. But if conventional pornography says the "really important things" are limited to these sexual fragments and fantasies, the pornographic imagination in Beckett's text is equally if not more interested in the rotunda itself and the composition of the figure within it. Nothing is hidden from the narrator's gaze: the place and the "someone in it" are obligingly displayed and rearranged to gratify his imaginative desires. Kuhn identifies this desire to penetrate or know the image (and both terms have a sexual connotation): "The image addresses the spectator as desiring--desiring specifically to penetrate this mystery . . .--and says that knowledge [End Page 526] is to be secured through looking" (40). This recalls works such as The Lost Ones, in which the narrator declares, "[f]or in the cylinder alone are certitudes to be found and without nothing but mystery" (171) or the white expanses which surround the containers of Imagination Dead Imagine and Ping. Kuhn goes on to note that "the desire to understand implies that the spectator is in some sense set apart from the object of his look. . . . The object of enquiry is objectified" (40). Establishing a clear subject-object divide is exactly what the narrator of All Strange Away wishes to do, in order that he may explore this model of his own mind without being aware of its origins within his own imagination. However, this project is undercut, as is the illusory reality of the pornographic image, by the inescapable awareness that this is "no real image." Or rather, that it is not real and all image.

This voyeurism is reversed in Imagination Dead Imagine and in many subsequent Beckett texts in which the voyeuristic gaze of the narrator is met by that of the object of his scrutiny. This reading may also explain the horror which accompanies the meeting of the gaze in Beckett's fiction. While this horror is usually read as an existentialist take on the "Esse est percipi" motto of Film (163), there may also be a pornographic reading available, particularly in the rotunda works and Ill Seen Ill Said, in which the voyeuristic narrator is caught out by his own object or creation. In All Strange Away the narrator narrowly avoids such eye contact by cutting away when the eyelids open: "without hesitation hell gaping they part and the black eye appears leave now this face for the moment" (124). The lack of such eye contact in All Strange Away only enhances the pornographic climate of its informing imagination.

Voyeurism, Kuhn notes, can induce guilt and stress in the pornographic spectator, a guilt which is conventionally circumvented by introducing an exhibitionistic or inviting note to the observed object (43-44). There is none of this in All Strange Away (or other Beckett fictions), although the audience is invited to participate in the voyeurism through such phrases as "[s]ee how he crouches down to see [the sexual fragments of Emma]" (119) or to participate imaginatively (which amounts to the same thing) by the imperative possibility of the verb introducing the "Imagine him kissing, caressing, sucking . . ." passages. (Beckett develops this tactic of reader implication much more fully in Imagination Dead Imagine with its introductory second-person pronoun which lends an imperative mood to the subsequent verbs). Although [End Page 527] the voyeuristic narrative of All Strange Away generates little (if any) erotic arousal, there is certainly a good deal of claustrophobic anxiety created as the reader imagines the figure in the tightening box. Although this de-eroticizes the text (if it needs de-eroticizing) by alienating the reader from the narrator, it confirms the narrator's voyeuristic, pornographic intentions. The gaze is the pornographic element which Beckett most often employs in his subsequent fiction. With the exception of Enough, a few Fizzles, and Company, every text after All Strange Away is informed much more by the inspection theme than by self-conscious "telling." But it is in the extremely voyeuristic context of the rotundas (particularly All Strange Away, where the gaze is not returned) where, enhanced by permutation, fragmentation, and manipulation, the gaze takes on a controlling, pornographic texture--a metaphor for the pornographic imagination.

It only remains, then, to ask why Beckett chooses this pornographic mode for All Strange Away. A recuperative argument could be made which says that Beckett is intentionally exploring this imaginative mode--the sexualizing, obsessive effects of Fancy without Imagination. This argument would suggest that, like the narrative of the obnoxious Moran, the text is intentionally repetitive; an accurate portrayal of an unimaginative imagination. Unlike Moran's tale, however, in which Beckett transcends Moran's limitations through irony, humor, and a retrospective framework, All Strange Away is not a success. It is circular, repetitive, and at times irritating or tedious. All Strange Away is in fact an accurate depiction of Beckett's own confusion and limitations at the time. Beckett's suppression of the work for twelve years in favor of other rotunda texts attests to this. 3 All Strange Away reflects Beckett's own attempt--and failure--to transcend the "fixities and definites" of the rotunda scenario, at least at this initial stage of its conception, and to find the imaginative or narrative tone he will adopt for subsequent works (a similar aura of frustration attaches to The Lost Ones, Beckett's other great aborted work of the '60s). All Strange Away is not a failure because it is pornographic, but rather it fails pornographically, reverting to the non-culminating energies of Fanciful repetition in conjunction with the pornographic conventions of fragmentation, a (minimal) eroticism, and the voyeuristic gaze. All Strange Away, while constituting a watershed for Beckett's future use of these elements in less "pornographic" [End Page 528] settings, illustrates not only a pornographic imagination, but, in this case unfortunately, a failure of that imagination.

Graham Fraser is completing his Ph.D. dissertation on narrative and aesthetic strategies in Beckett's later prose at the University of Reading. He has published articles in the American Review of Canadian Studies and has forthcoming an essay on narrative strategies in Ballard's short fiction.


1. These "rotunda works" are All Strange Away, Imagination Dead Imagine, Ping, Lessness, and The Lost Ones. All written in the '60s, they share a theme of a geometric container (called a "rotunda" in both All Strange Away and Imagination Dead Imagine) enclosing figures who are subject to fluctuations of heat and light (motifs of imaginative activity for Beckett).

2. This reading of the rotunda as an imaginative projection of the narrator's mind, as well as the narrator's desire to "forget" his own authorship of it, is adapted from James Hansford.

3. Although written in 1963-1964, All Strange Away was not published until 1976, and then only in a Gotham Book Mart limited edition of 226 copies. Republished in the Journal of Beckett Studies 3 (Summer 1978), it was republished separately in 1979, and anthologized in Beckett's Collected Shorter Prose by John Calder. Its American publication was in Rockaby and Other Short Pieces published by Grove Press in 1981.

Works Cited

Barfield, Owen. What Coleridge Thought. London: Oxford UP, 1971.

Barthes, Roland. "The Metaphor of the Eye." 1963. Trans. J. A. Underwood. Appendix to Bataille. 119-27.

Bataille, Georges. Story of the Eye. 1928. Trans. Joachim Neugroschal. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Beckett, Samuel. "All Strange Away." 1976. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 117-28.

------. Company. London: John Calder, 1980.

------. Endgame. New York: Grove P, 1958.

------. "Enough." 1967. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 139-44.

------. "Film." 1964. Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett. London: Faber, 1984. 162-74.

------. For to End Yet Again and Other Fizzles. London: John Calder, 1976.

------. Ill Seen Ill Said. 1981. London: John Calder, 1982.

------. "Imagination Dead Imagine." 1966. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 145-47.

------. "Lessness." 1970. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 153-57.

------. "The Lost Ones." 1972. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 159-78.

------. Molloy. 1955. London: John Calder, 1976.

------. "Ping." 1967. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 149-51.

------. Rockaby and Other Short Pieces. New York: Grove P, 1981.

------. "Still." 1974. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: John Calder, 1986. 183-85.

------. Watt. 1953. London: John Calder, 1976.

Bryden, Mary. Women in Samuel Beckett's Prose and Drama: Her Own Other. London: Macmillan, 1993.

Connor, Steven. Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory and Text. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

Hansford, James. "Imagination Dead Imagine: The Imagination and its Context." Journal of Beckett Studies 7 (Spring 1982): 49-70.

Hill, Leslie. Beckett's Fiction: In Different Words. Cambridge Studies in French. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Kuhn, Annette. The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

Murphy, Peter J. Reconstructing Beckett: Language for Being in Samuel Beckett's Fiction. U of Toronto Romance Series 62. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990.

Pilling, John. "Ends and Odds in Prose." Frescoes of the Skull: The Later Prose and Drama of Samuel Beckett. Ed. James Knowlson and John Pilling. London: John Calder, 1979. 131-91.

Sontag, Susan. "The Pornographic Imagination." 1967. Appendix to Bataille 83-118.


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