In a word? Is that what you want to know? (29)
One reads the exchange as evidence of Clov’s subservience to Hamm’s narrative of the world. According to the researcher’s idea, Hamm knows what all is, but encourages Clov to come up with an alternative description of the outside world, demonstrating that Hamm has the upper hand (the upper word) on Clov. Another way to read the passage, however, is to witness how both characters cause language to fragment, to hesitate, to stutter, to wait. Indeed, the passage reveals that both Hamm and Clov tear language apart, forcing each other’s words to break prematurely. Clov cuts Hamm off in mid sentence, and Hamm cuts Clov off in mid word. Clov may defer to Hamm’s demand to “Wait till you’re spoken to!”(67) but Hamm, too, impedes the smooth flow of speech.
Moments later, Hamm stumbles over one of the most famous lines in the play, as he questions the changing value of his and Clov’s life together: “We’re not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?” (32). Again, Hamm fails to speak without stuttering, faltering temporarily before deciding where his sentence is leading him. He continues to falter through his ensuing speech, in poor control of his language: “And without going so far as that, we ourselves . . . (with emotion) . . . we ourselves . . . at certain moments . . . (Vehemently.) To think perhaps it won’t all have been for nothing!” (33). Like Clov when trying to describe the “multitude . . . in transports . . . of joy,” Hamm struggles to find words and finally gives up.
Some of Hamm’s most stilted speech comes late in the drama. In a moment of poignant reflection, for example, Hamm muses about the future:
HAMM: There I.ll be, in the old shelter, alone against the silence and . . .
. . . the stillness. If I can hold my peace, and sit quiet, it will be all
over with sound, and motion, all over and done with.
I.ll have called my father and I.ll have called my . . .
. . . my son. And even twice, or three times, in case they shouldn.t
have heard me, the first time, or the second.
I.ll say to myself, He.ll come back.
He couldn.t, he has gone too far.
(Pause. Very agitated.)
All kinds of fantasies! That I.m being watched! A rat! Steps!
Breath held and then . . .
(He breathes out.)
Then babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns
himself into children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper
together, in the dark.
Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of . . .
. . . that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to
a life. (69-70)
Hamm’s soliloquy is filled with pauses, hesitations, and echoes. When he can’t go on, he resorts to repetition, restating a phrase until the next one presents itself. Hamm thus becomes a babbler-stuttering, stumbling, stammering- even as he contemplates the day when he will babble to himself in the dark.
Indeed, the argument is concentrated on Clov’s inability to speak autonomously without hesitation, yet, as Hamm’s dialogue reveals time and again, the eyeless man in the center of the room makes more of a mess of speech than Clov. Hamm’s sentences, phrases, and words tend to atrophy over the course of the drama. While one of the famous lines in the play may reveal that Hamm introduces Clov to language. “I use the words you taught me” (44)- Hamm shows no singular ability to control it any better than his cohort. Thus when Hamm, like a mad director, exclaims “Articulate!” (80), he is talking as much to himself as to Clov.
Nagg and Nell likewise contribute to the play’s cracked dialogue. The decrepit husband and wife take turns cutting each other off, slicing sentences literally to pieces:
NAGG: Do you remember.
NAGG: When we crashed on our tandem and lost our shanks. (16)
NELL: Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But.
NAGG: (shocked): Oh! (18)
Hamm adds to the fissuring of the old couple’s speech, as Nagg haggles for two biscuits from his unyielding son:
NAGG: One for me and one for.
HAMM: One! Silence! (50)
During the prayer scene, Hamm again truncates Nagg:
NAGG: Our Father which art.
HAMM: Silence! In silence! Where are your manners? (55)
Much like Hamm and Clov, Nagg and Nell evidence an inability to speak in smooth, glib patterns. Their language, to adopt Deleuze’s vision, “sprouts dashes in order to create spatiotemporal intervals [.]. It is an almost mad sentence, with its changes in direction, its bifurcations, its ruptures and leaps, its prolongations, its sproutings, its parentheses” (58). The broken dialogue of Nagg and Nell complements that of their fellow shelter-dwellers, reiterating the problems with vocalization that mark Beckett’s entire drama.
Significantly, the egregious stuttering of the characters is not, by itself, enough to invent a revolutionary and liberating literature. The injured words and phrases of Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell are speech acts that take place in a greater system of language that of the play as a whole. The characters contribute to the materialization of a missing people, but they cannot bring about a full manifestation. According to Deleuze, a revolutionary writer employs “an atmospheric quality, a milieu that acts as the conductor of words- that brings together within itself the quiver, the murmur, the stutter, the tremolo, or the vibrato, and makes the indicated affect [sic] reverberate through the words”(Anti_Oedipus 108). Deleuze, in other words, calls for a merging of the form of expression with the form of content, of the words of the characters with the characters themselves, as well as with their surroundings. Various authors have the power to achieve such a feat:
This, at least, is what happens in great writers like Melville, in whom the hum of the forests and caves, the silence of the house, and the presence of the guitar are evidence of Isabelle’s murmurings, and her soft, “foreign intonations”; or Kafka, who confirms Gregor’s squeaking through the trembling of his feet and the oscillations of his body; or even Masoch, who doubles the stammering of his characters with the heavy suspense of the Boudoir, the hum of the village, or the vibrations of the steppe. The affects [sic] of language here become the object of an indirect effectuation, and yet they remain close to those that are made directly, when there are no characters other than the words themselves. (Anti_Oedipus 108)
4.1.3 Endgame and Repetition
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud maintained that we repeat because we have repressed a traumatic experience which then returns in symptomatic form. Gilles Deleuze, on the contrary insisted, in Différence and Répétition, that we do not repeat because we repress; rather, we repress in order to repeat. In a reformulation of this same point, he contended that we do not disguise because we have repressed; rather, we repress so that we may disguise. Along with arguing for the primacy of repetition over an earlier traumatic event that has been repressed, Deleuze further suggested that the highest function of art is to put into play all the various forms of repetition, ranging from the most clichéd to the most creative.
Différence et repetition was followed several years later by the publication of a volume entitled Création et répétition which offered a collection of essays exploring the applications of Deleuze’s central idea to a great variety of artistic domains, including painting, sculpture, music, theater, and film. After pointing out that, in Beckett’s plays, repetition is a dynamic principle and that, as such, it replaces plot and story as the source of forward movement, Deleuze’s basic contention:
We must take into account two opposing forms of repetition. . . .On the one hand, we find a pure, geometrical form in which repetition occurs without any accompanying differences; this is its most visible manifestation and, for this reason, the one that we generally notice. It involves a static situation which is repeatedly mechanically and incessantly. This pure form of repetition occurs mainly on the level of the larger theatrical units or elements of the stage action. In contrast, the differences produced by the play of repetition are found in the myriad actions or theatrical elements played out within smaller units that subvert the ostensible situation or theme; these elements, which incorporate difference, are repeated to virtual infinity. (167-8)
Deleuze’s revision of Freud helps us to see more clearly the two divergent forms that repetition occur in Endgame: in the “Freudian” case of Hamm, it is a psychological compulsion aimed at both repeating and reversing (unsuccessfully, to be sure) an involuntarily repressed trauma from his personal past; for Beckett on the other hand, it involves a “Deleuzean” form of artistic activity that voluntarily “represses” the cultural past, which he then subjects to repetitions whose effect depends upon our hearing – or seeing — in them the traces of their origin. In other words, Hamm needs to forget the originary demonstration of his helplessness that he struggles to replace – via a dialectical reversal — with a commanding stage presence. Beckett, as well as his audience, on the other hand, needs to at least partially remember the remnants of our collective cultural past which he constantly repeats, neither routinely nor dialectically, but, rather, in innovative and always surprising ways in Endgame.
That Hamm’s words and gestures are intended to serve as a dialectical reversal of a past trauma is made especially clear when his father brings to the surface the repressed infantile memory that Beckett called “Nagg’s admonition”:
Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace. I was asleep, and happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn’t indispensable, you didn’t really need to have me listen to you. I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice. Yes, I hope I’ll live to then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope. (56)
The situation that Nagg evokes here closely resembles the discovery of dependency and helplessness that Freud analyzes. Freud’s godson is able to transform real helplessness into imaginary mastery by displacing his mother’s comings and goings (over which he had no actual control) onto a spool, which, unlike his mother, is unfailingly responsive to his commands. The godson, in effect, returns in Endgame as Hamm, who gives orders to a substitute mother figure played by Clov with the intended aim