Chapter 1

‘Shades of Lessing’: Beckett and the Aesthetics of the Modern Novel

Franz Michael Maier

In recent years, considerable effort has been made to understand Samuel Beckett’s artistic beginnings. Increasingly, details of these beginnings have emerged, and their conditions and contexts have been reconstructed. Important steps in this research include Jean-Michel Rabaté’s collection of articles on Beckett avant Beckett (1985), Eoin O’Brien and Édith Fournier’s edition of Beckett’s Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1992), John Pilling’s Beckett before Godot (1997), his edition of Beckett’s Dream Notebook (1999) and Brigitte Le Juez’s account of Beckett as a lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, Beckett before Beckett (2009). In 2009 Angela Moorjani indicated the importance of André Gide for the young Beckett who had been working on a monograph devoted to the author of Les Faux-monnayeurs. The publication of Beckett’s German Diaries is announced for the near future.

There is an obvious reason for this interest in Beckett’s artistic beginnings: the young Beckett was a critic as well as a writer. We read his letters, notes and reviews and find him elaborating upon art and art production. Studying the young Beckett, we hope to gain insight into the incubation of his artistic ideas which, in later years, become hidden behind a veil of enigmatic works and narratological silence. In this chapter, I wish to shed light on the young Beckett’s ideas concerning narratology. In particular, I will discuss his distinction between ‘melodic’ and ‘symphonic’ narration. I draw particularly upon two quotations, one from Beckett’s lectures at Trinity College in 1931 and another from his German Diary written in 1937.

In 1931 one of Beckett’s students at Trinity College, Rachel Burrows, heard the writer speak about Gide’s novel Paludes where he noted: ‘Action instead of being treated melodically is treated symphonically – interest in potential, in milieu, unrealised actions etc.’1 Beckett used a musical metaphor to explain Gide’s poetics. His statement sounds important and can be easily memorized, because it is structured as a binary opposition. But what does Beckett mean to say? The statement is not at all clear. At first sight, it is not evident why a novelistic description of ‘potential’ and ‘milieu’ should be called symphonic. In a later lecture, Beckett uses the same opposition again to illustrate Gide’s Bergsonisme. As a characteristic trait of Gide he gives: ‘Understanding Bergson (symphonie not mélodie; treatment of depth not of surface)’.2 Evidently, Beckett adds a new layer of meaning to the well-known opposition of the two concurring musical principles of melody and symphony (or harmony) that, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Essai sur l’origine des langues (1781) onward, has been elaborated into oppositions such as sung versus orchestral, naive versus sophisticated, spontaneous versus planned and so on.

We learn that the treatment of action in traditional novels is different from its treatment in Gide’s Paludes. Traditionally, action is based on and motivated by the character of the hero. The hero is attributed individual qualities and characteristics, and from them his deeds, accomplishments and failures spring. As the critic Albert Thibaudet put it in 1924 in a discussion of Balzac’s novels, ‘l’homme est donné avec son caractère fixé, et ses actes suivent son caractère [the hero is put in place with his character firmly defined, and his actions are the result of his character]’.3 The hero in the novel Jean-Christophe for which, in 1916, Romain Rolland was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, may serve as an example. The story recounts the life of a musician and his search for his place in society. Jean-Christophe possesses individual traits and talents, and all his successes and failures evolve from these qualities. And while the story of his life turns out to be a long and winding roman fleuve, the identical self of the hero remains stable. The actions he takes and the conversions he undergoes only help him to discover this inner self. André Gide’s Paludes offers a contrast to this.

Born in 1869 Gide was only three years younger than Rolland. Paludes appeared in 1895, long before the volumes of Jean-Christophe started to appear in 1904. The hero of Paludes is well characterized by the title for a planned monograph on Gide which Beckett, in September 1932, communicated to Thomas McGreevy: ‘paralyzed in ubiquity’.4 This title paraphrases the foreword of Paludes: ‘Si nous savons ce que nous voulions dire, nous ne savons pas si nous ne disions que cela’ [Even if we know what we wanted to say, we do not know whether we said more than that]’.5 Besides writing his book, Paludes, Gide’s hero does not do much in the traditional sense. He makes note of his plans and his actual accomplishments in his diary which consequently documents that he is not accomplishing anything. While Rolland’s Jean-Christophe, in his struggle for a decent position in a small world, is, as we may put it, ‘acting from his heart’, Gide’s hero is paralysed by his sophisticated ways. He is not driven by an inner impulse that characterizes his centre; rather, what remains identical in him is the stasis that stems from his laziness. For the hero–narrator, this means a change from making plans and evaluating results toward the imprévu négatif – the ‘unforeseen cancellation of plans’.6 We can organize the two positions as follows:

Treatment of Action in Rolland’s Jean-Christophe

Treatment of Action in Gide’s Paludes

acting from the heart

paralysed in ubiquity

melodic treatment of action

symphonic treatment of action

interest in character of the hero

interest in potential and milieu

interest in accomplished actions

interest in unrealized actions (imprévu négatif)

Evidently, Beckett organized his lecture around polarities. He taught his students a scheme proposing new versus old novel, advanced versus traditional novel, and Gide versus Rolland.

The Role of Musical Metaphor

All this is evident. But why does Beckett express this clear contraposition by the less clear comparison with melody and symphony? Let us divide this question into two. First, is the musical metaphor elaborately and consistently integrated into Beckett’s argumentation regarding Gide? Second, is the metaphor a constituent part of Beckett’s intellectual universe at that time?

The answer to the first question would appear to be ‘No, the metaphor does not fulfil an evident and clear function besides articulating an opposition between terms.’ The metaphor does not give an immediately plausible explanation of the relation between the advanced and the traditional novel, and therefore Brigitte Le Juez could misread ‘melodically’ as ‘methodically’.7 We will see below that Beckett himself explains the opposition in question without any mention of music. The answer to the second question is ‘Yes, the terms “melody” and “symphony” play an important role in Beckett’s thoughts at that time’. With their help he integrates the discussion of old versus new novel into a context that he is constantly elaborating throughout the 1930s.

Beyond Musical Metaphor

Beckett did not invent the scheme of new versus old ways of narration; rather, he adopted it from André Gide and Marcel Proust. Both participated in the ‘culte de Dostoïevsky’ that dominated literary criticism in early twentieth-century France.8 In a 1923 collection of articles and lectures, Gide praised the Russian author for the new features of his novels. Four years earlier, we find the same praise of Dostoevsky in Marcel Proust. In À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919), we see the Proustian narrator travelling to the seaside with his grandmother. She gives him a volume of the letters of Madame de Sévigné to read and the narrator is fascinated by what he calls ‘le côté Dostoïevski des Lettres de Mme de Sévigné’ [the Dostoevskian side of Mme de Sévigné’s letters]’.9 Later in the novel, the narrator explains what the two have in common:

Il est arrivé que Mme de Sévigné, comme Elstir, comme Dostoïevski, au lieu de présenter les choses dans l’ordre logique, c’est-à-dire en commençant par la cause, nous montre d’abord l’effet, l’illusion qui nous frappe. C’est ainsi que Dostoïevski présente ses personnages. Leurs actions nous apparaissent aussi trompeuses que ces effets d’Elstir où la mer a l’air d’être dans le ciel.

[Mme de Sévigné sometimes, like Elstir or Dostoevsky, instead of presenting things in the logical order, that is to say starting with the cause, begins by showing us the effect, the illusion which strikes us. That is how Dostoevsky presents his characters. Their actions have as misleading an appearance as those Elstir paintings where the sea seems to be in the sky.]10

Proust distinguishes the empirical order of events from the sequence of impressions a spectator experiences. Far from approving a misunderstanding of physical reality, he pleads for envisioning openly a complex situation without immediately reducing it to a plane of understanding whose metrics are predefined. Proust’s narrator pleads in favour of the ‘données immédiates’ (immediately given data) of his consciousness (Bergson) and criticizes a logical and geometrical stratification of his experience. Several of these unclear and puzzling situations in which the perception of an event is divergent from its physical explication can be found in the Doncières episodes in the first part of Le Côté de Guermantes: the narrator hears the crackling of a chimney fire through a closed door and mistakes it for a crowd of people in conversation; he hears the ticking of a clock in a dark room and cannot locate it and so on.

Beckett knew of this critical attitude toward the scheme of cause and effect. In his monograph Proust, he speaks of Proust’s ‘fine Dostoievskian contempt for the vulgarity of a plausible concatenation’. Some pages later he speaks of Proust’s ‘impressionism’, which would free him from forcing the phenomena into ‘a chain of cause and effect’ and allow him to show the phenomena ‘in the order and exactitude of their perception’.11 In the same vein, he calls Gide’s Les Faux-monnayeurs (which he considers the ‘greatest book since Proust’) an ‘analytical novel refusing to commit itself to conclusions’.12 For an alternative to logical conclusions, Beckett may have had in mind the Gidian narrator’s remark on Madame Vedel: ‘Il lui arrive assez souvent de ne pas achever ses phrases, ce qui donne à sa pensée une sorte de flou poétique. Elle fait de l’infini avec l’imprécis et l’inachevé. [She has a frequent habit of leaving her sentences unfinished, which gives her reflections a kind of poetic vagueness. She reaches the infinite by way of the indeterminate and the indefinite.]’13 Beckett generalizes Proust’s critique of ‘cause and effect’ into a critique of all the concepts with which we make the world the object of our rational understanding. In a long and detailed letter to Thomas McGreevy, he identified the same projection of predefined concepts into the phenomena in traditional landscape painting: ‘all the anthropomorphized landscape … all the landscape “promoted” to the emotions of the hiker, postulated as concerned with the hiker’. Beckett adds: ‘What an impertinence, worse than Aesop & the animals.’14 Beckett’s criticism of general concepts of understanding (like cause and effect, like the reduction of the outer world to an echo of our needs) is based on Henri Bergson’s critique of language: our logical approach to the world as represented by words gives us general concepts instead of the individual things and thus petrifies into an anthropocentric ontology what in truth is ‘mobilité universelle’ (universal mobility).15 Beckett’s statement in his Trinity College lecture on Gide, that ‘language can’t express confusion’, sounds like a paraphrase of Bergson’s’ ‘notre language est mal fait pour rendre les subtilités de l’analyse psychologique [our language is poorly designed to convey the subtleties of psychological analysis]’.16

Besides Proust’s epistemological openness for the unregulated and the unexpected (the imprévu), Beckett was attracted by a formal invention introduced by Gide. In an entry in his Journal des Faux-monnayeurs dated 21 November 1920, Gide distinguished narration in the traditional form of ‘confessions’ from narration in the new form of his evolving novel: confessions are made by an ego that is meant to stay with the contemplation of his very own deeds and responsibilities; a novel, on the other hand, can illuminate events by the perspectivism that results from a multiplicity of protagonists. The primus confessor is St Augustine, and it reminds us of his self-critical Retractationes when Gide remarks:

Je fus amené, tout en l’écrivant, à penser que l’intimité, la pénétration, l’investigation psychologique peut, à certains égards, étre poussée plus avant dans le ‘roman’ que même dans les ‘confessions’. L’on est parfois gêné dans celles-ci par le ‘je’.

[Even while writing it [a chapter of his autobiography], I was led to think that intimacy, insight, psychological investigation can in certain respects be carried even further in the ‘novel’ than in ‘confessions.’ In the latter one is sometimes hampered by the ‘I’.]17

Gide finds the confessor’s attitude self-centred and self-admiring and conceives of an alternative. But this does not imply a change in the object of his account. Before he sketches his new concept of dialogue, he emphasizes that he himself remains the one and only object of interest and the only source of experience: ‘Tout ce que je vois, tout ce que j’apprends, tout ce qui m’advient depuis quelques mois, je voudrais le faire entrer dans ce roman, et m’en servir pour l’enrichissement de sa touffe. [Everything I have seen, everything I have learned, everything that has happened to me for several months, I should like to get into this novel, where it will serve to enrich the texture.]’18 This remark makes clear that the following statement only regards the form of narration and does not question in any way the unity, integrity and consistency of the author’s ego:

Je voudrais que les événements ne fussent jamais racontés directement par l’auteur, mais plutôt exposés (et plusieurs fois, sous des angles divers) par ceux des acteurs sur qui ces événements auront eu quelque influence. Je voudrais que, dans le récit qu’ils en feront, ces événements apparaissent légèrement déformés ; une sorte d’intérêt vient, pour le lecteur, de ce seul fait qu’il ait à rétablir. L’histoire requiert sa collaboration pour se bien dessiner.

[I should like events never to be related directly by the author, but instead exposed (and several times from different vantages) by those actors who will be influenced by those events. I should like the events to appear slightly warped; the reader will take a sort of interest from the mere fact of having to reconstruct. The story requires his collaboration in order to take shape properly.]19

Gide demands from his reader a synthetic act in which he reconstitutes the initial unity and identity of the event that has been split into facets by the perspectivistic narration.

In his Trinity College lecture, Beckett revolts against Gide’s motif of unity. He puzzles his students by describing Gide’s poetics as oriented toward the ‘integrity of incoherence’.20 With this oxymoron, Beckett describes what he calls Gide’s ‘reconciliation between [the] authentic incoherence of post-Bergsonian thought and [the] coherence of Racinian statement’.21 A critical yet reliable reporter, Beckett quotes from Gide’s Morceaux choisis to underline that Gide’s ego was strong, contracting and integrating and that Gide did not have any sympathy for disintegration: ‘Les tendances les plus opposées n’ont jamais réussi à faire de moi un tourmenté. [The most antagonistic tendencies have never succeeded in making me a tormented soul.]’22 In his own novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women of 1932, however, Beckett would allow his hero to loudly reject the Gidian ‘reconciliation’:

“There is no such thing” said Belacqua wildly “as a simultaneity of incoherence, there is no such thing as love in a thalamus.”23

Beckett’s Preferred Musical Metaphor

In all these reflections, Beckett does not make use of musical metaphor. Why, then, does he call action in the traditional novel ‘melodic’ and action in Gide’s Paludes ‘symphonic?’ One could have expected otherwise, as Bergson explains ‘mobilité universelle’ – Beckett’s ‘confusion’ – with the continuity of a melodic line.24 But Burrows’s notes document that in Beckett’s scheme of melodic versus symphonic, Bergson was positioned on the side of symphony. Beckett identified one of Gide’s main traits as: ‘Understanding Bergson (symphonie not mélodie; treatment of depth not of surface)’.25 In Burrows’s notes, there is no trace of Bergson’s theory of melody.26 Beckett’s concept of ‘melodic’ must therefore be explained with reference to Arthur Schopenhauer, whose World as Will and Representation Beckett read in 1930. In §52 of this book, bass, tenor, alto and soprano are characterized as the four elements in music. Schopenhauer, a flutist, interprets the soprano as the leading voice and as the musical representation of the autonomous life of a human individual. He sees the melodic line of the soprano as a metaphor for the unbroken connection between a point of departure and a point of arrival in life that is made through a self-aware process of continuously progressing self-fulfilment:

As [man] alone, because endowed with reason, constantly looks before and after on the path of his actual life and its innumerable possibilities, and so achieves a course of life which is intellectual, and therefore connected as a whole; corresponding to this, I say, the melody has significant intentional connection from beginning to end.27

Schopenhauer’s metaphor of human life as a melody becomes evident if one thinks of a singer who follows the tune from note to note in a perfect legato with intellectual awareness and incessant intensity of performance. For a reader of Schopenhauer, Beckett’s statement ‘action is treated melodically’ is perfectly clear: confronted with ‘innumerable possibilities’, man remains firmly himself, is not irritated in his planning and does not deviate from his path. This is the characteristic trait of Rolland’s Jean-Christophe who is a person much to Schopenhauer’s liking.

So is the Smeraldina-Rima, the prima donna of Beckett’s first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, the archetype of a melodic person. She conquers the hero of the novel, Belacqua, with a stringent ‘master narrative’: her life is focused on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach; she will move to Vienna and study the pianoforte. Her musical idol, Bach, was lauded during the 1920s for the contrapuntal ‘linearity’ of his music, a quality that causes Belacqua Bachkrankheit, that is, ‘Bach disease’.28 In her devotion to Bach, the Smeraldina makes Belacqua sick. This is a clear indication that she represents an old-fashioned position in Dream of Fair to Middling Women. The narrator ironizes ‘melodic’ narration as ‘a lovely Pythagorean chain-chant solo of cause and effect, a one-figured teleophony that would be a pleasure to hear’.29 The allusions are evident: ‘chain-chant’ instead of ‘plain-chant’ evokes a sequence of chapters that are diligently concatenated like the quotations in Thomas Aquinas’s Catena aurea.30 ‘Cause and effect’ refers to Proust: it identifies Proust’s ‘ordre logique’ with ‘ordre mélodique’.31 ‘Solo’, ‘one-figured’ and ‘teleophony’ refer to Schopenhauer: his apotheosis of the soprano melody is interpreted as the praise of a single musical line that does not interact with other voices in symphony, but is oriented toward its own telos. Beckett’s neologism ‘teleophony’ accentuates the opposition to symphony even more sharply than ‘melody’.

The Concept of ‘Symphony’

But what of ‘symphony’ and symphonic action? What sort of concept is this and why might Beckett have integrated it into his set of aesthetic terms? The philosophically stringent argumentation, the terminological accuracy and the elegant style of Schopenhauer’s interpretation of human life as a melody did not conceal from Beckett that this interpretation rests on the assumption that every individual life finds its final fulfilment. This assumption requires a standpoint that sees life as a consummated whole and judges it from a point of view beyond time. From the standpoint of empirical existence, the future is open. There is a fundamental difference between singing the hymn Deus, creator omnium and living the life of one of his creatures: a melody one knows is completed, while even one’s own life remains open. Beckett understood that the end of life is ‘a termination but not a conclusion’32 and in this light may have felt uneasy with Schopenhauer’s speculative concept of melody. ‘What is to become of me?’ Beckett asked himself in December 1936.33 With the instability Beckett felt about his own writing career, Schopenhauer’s concept of life as an unbroken melodic line must have appeared to him as an untenable assumption. Even in Endgame, so many years later, the two antagonistic concepts are still present, exposed by the two protagonists:

CLOV: Do you believe in the life to come?

HAMM: Mine was always that.34

Clov talks about the coming eternal life, the vita venturi saeculi of the Christian Credo, in the sense in which the narrator of Les Faux-monnayeurs speaks of Madame Vedel: ‘Elle attend de la vie future tout ce qui lui manque ici-bas [She expects from a future life all that is lacking to her in this one]’,35 while Hamm talks about the chronological sequence of years that come and pass.

Beckett’s reserve against ‘melodic fulfilment’ is also a vivid young man’s protest against the predetermined ways of bourgeois existence – the tradition of a university education, family life and a social and professional routine that he did not want to follow in the way his brother Frank continued their father’s firm. Again, a negation was easier to give than a positive statement: ‘I don’t want to be a professor’, Beckett wrote to Thomas MacGreevy on 11 March 1931.36

These reservations regarding linearity and continuity may have directed Beckett’s thoughts toward the tradition of doubting a uniquely rationalist view of the world. In the notes on Stendhal in Beckett’s Dream Notebook from the early 1930s the word imprévu is found three times.37 In his letter dated 16 September 1934 to Thomas MacGreevy, Beckett also quotes from Stendhal: ‘Maintenant la civilisation a chassé le hasard, plus d’imprévu. [Nowadays civilization has eliminated chance, and the unexpected never happens.]’38 Beckett is interested in Stendhal’s complaint about a world that is ruled by linear sequences of cause and effect. He sympathizes with attitudes which Michel Raimond later called the ‘psychologie de la complexité et de l’illogisme [psychology of complexity and the illogical]’.39 A fashionable expression of the Parisian 1920s for this complexity is symphonique. Literary critics praised Dostoevsky’s novels for their ‘ordre symphonique’.40 In the same vein, Proust’s hypotactical sentences are described as symphonique – they embrace a complex situation and surpass the monodic line of traditional narration.41

Compared to these vague façons de parler, Beckett uses ‘symphonic’ in a clear and distinct sense: it designates an alternative to linear discursivity, logic and ‘melodic’ coherence. Nemo, for example, one of the mysterious heroes of Dream of Fair to Middling Women, is called ‘a symphonic, not a melodic, unit’.42 Five pages later, the ‘night firmament’ with its stars is called a ‘succinct constellations of genius’, ‘a network of loci that shall never be co-ordinate’, ‘the demented perforation of the night colander’ and ‘symphony without end’.43 Regarding Nemo as well as the starry sky, Beckett refers to ‘symphony’ in the sense of the Greek image (consonantia): this term from ancient Greek musical theory signifies a conjunction of (two) elements that are different but fit well together: Nemo’s character is, if not a complex harmony, then at least a constellation of multiple qualities; the stars allow the possibility of drawing an infinity of connecting lines between their positions. Later again, we see Belacqua and his Dublin girlfriend Alba ‘pleasantly drunk’ on the beach, and the narrator calls them ‘less buttoned up in their cohesion, more Seventh Symphony and contrapanic-stuck, than usual’.44 The first movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony resonates in Belacqua’s head all the time – even the musical notes of one central motif pop up in the text twice – and the ‘Beethoven pauses’ in bars 53–62 of the symphony’s first movement which did not make it into Dream of Fair to Middling Women, are present in Ding-Dong, the third story of More Pricks than Kicks. In these examples of symphonic action in Beckett’s early novel and short stories, he refers to the eighteenth-century musical form sinfonia, an extended musical setting with contrasting themes and sections. Beckett identifies it with plurality, imprévu, dissonance and ‘continuity bitched to hell’.45

The Concept of Miteinander

As we have seen, Beckett uses ‘symphony’ to describe the multifacetedness of the modern novel. An amalgam of image and sinfonia, it comprises symphonic protagonists as well as symphonic action. The elaboration of these concepts was still on his agenda when, at the end of his visit to Germany in March 1937, he notes in his diary a conversation in Munich. In this note, which is the second quotation discussed in this article, Beckett differentiates the dichotomy of melody versus symphony into a more complex set of terms:

Long discussion about theatre and film, which Eggers condemns, calls at the best intellectualism. Won’t hear of possibility of word’s inadequacy. The dissonance that has become principle and that the word cannot express, because literature can no more escape from chronologies to simultaneities, from Nebeneinander to Miteinander, [than] the human voice can sing chords. As I talk and listen realize suddenly how Work in Progress is the only [possible] development from Ulysses, the heroic attempt to make literature accomplish what belongs to music – the Miteinander and the simultaneous. Ulysses falsifies the unconscious, or the ‘monologue intérieur’, in so far as it is obliged to express it as a teleology.46

This proposes another version of Beckett’s Bergsonist critique of language as seen in his Trinity College lecture. There, in 1931, he found words inadequate to deal with ‘confusion’, while now, in 1937, he finds them inadequate to deal with ‘dissonance’. Also new in this note is the term Nebeneinander. Beckett found it so important for his deliberations on aesthetic multiplicity that he elaborated it into a set of four terms.

Nebeneinander stems from the monograph Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Mahlerey und Poesie (1766) in which the poet and aesthetician Gotthold Ephraim Lessing discussed the story of Laocoon, his sons and the snakes. Lessing elaborated on the difference between a realization of this scene in literature and in sculpture. He distinguished these arts by their characteristic quality: literature is the art of the ‘after-one-another’, the Aufeinander folgend or Nacheinander, while the visual arts are the arts of the ‘next-to-one-another’, the Nebeneinander. James Joyce referred to this distinction at the beginning of the third chapter of Ulysses: ‘Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably.’47 Beckett was well aware of these concepts. ‘Shades of Lessing’, he noted in his diary on 11 February 1937 on the occasion of a discussion with Willi Grohmann on Klee and Picasso versus Joyce.48 Six weeks later, in his diary entry of 26 March 1937, Beckett modified the Lessingian dichotomy by adding a third term. To the relations in time and space, Nacheinander and Nebeneinander, Beckett added the Miteinander, the ‘with-one-another’. What sort of dimensionality is this? What is its relation to space and time?

The answer is given in the note itself: Beckett still had Joyce on his mind, whose Ulysses and Work in Progress he mentioned. In the third chapter of Ulysses, Nacheinander and Nebeneinander represent the Kantian forms of perception of the outer world: time and space. Stephen walks with his eyes closed and his mind dedicated to his inner world. In his note, Beckett qualified Joyce’s way of conceiving this inner world (the unconscious, the monologue intérieur) as inadequate, because Joyce forced it into the inappropriate scheme of teleology. We already know this reproach: it is the argument against ‘teleophony’ and coherence from Dream of Fair to Middling Women that is repeated here. But the note hints at something more with the remark: ‘Ulysses falsifies the unconscious.’ The verb ‘falsify’ clearly hints at Les Faux-monnayeurs, the praised novel of incoherence in which, for Beckett, four kinds of falsification are demonstrated and overcome, among them ‘falsification of art’.49

In order to explain the narratological problem that stands behind the ‘teleological falsification’ in Ulysses, Beckett made use of a musical example: a human voice cannot sing musical chords, that is, three or four musical tones that sound simultaneously. The Miteinander of tones in a chord is the unique musical kind of Nebeneinander: chords are multiplicities that neither blend their constituent parts nor segregate them in space, but organize them into a ‘collocation’ of its own.50 This organization is what the Greeks called images. Even if one considers overtone singing as a possible objection against Beckett’s statement, elaborate chord progressions remain unattainable to the voice. It remains limited to melodic Nacheinander. With his introduction of Miteinander as the musical form of Nebeneinander, Beckett makes a substantial addition to the wealth of aesthetic concepts: even if man is an ‘eye animal’ and tends to organize (as Bergson complained) his concepts into the three dimensions of space, there are things that are neither extended in space nor apart from one another in space and yet still remain separate from one another. This was well known before Bergson: ‘An object may exist and yet be no where. … A moral reflection cannot be plac’d on the right or on the left hand of a passion, nor can a smell or sound be either of a circular or a square figure.’51

The musical tones are traditional inhabitants of this ‘space without extension’ – Marcel Proust laconically confirmed this tradition with his statement: ‘Les sons n’ont pas de lieu [Sounds have no fixed point in space]’.52 The interrelations between musical tones (whether sounding simultaneously in a chord or sequentially in a melodic line) are unique; they cannot without loss of information be embedded into a three-dimensional model. (All spatial representations of melodic relations are simplifications). These unique relations between the musical elements form the basis for metaphorical representations of complex relations in musical terms.

Why then did Beckett change from ‘symphonic’ to Miteinander? First, the epithet ‘symphonic’, as a consequence of its excessive use, had undergone a loss in significance – already in 1922, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau advertised his silent film Nosferatu with the subtitle Eine Symphonie des Grauens (A Symphony of Horror). Secondly, ‘symphonic’ was never a well defined, autonomous term in Beckett’s vocabulary – the antagonism to ‘melodic’ dominated its meaning. But the most important reason is Beckett’s shift away from Joyce (and the teleological ‘falsification’ of the monologue intérieur) toward Gide (and the concept of a polyphony of protagonists’ voices). Beckett’s orientation toward Gide’s idea of narrating events from different points of view is quite literally implicated in the word Miteinander (with-one-another), which indicates relations between human beings rather than logical or grammatical structures and which emphasizes the mutuality and liveliness of these relations. Unlike ‘symphonic’, Miteinander emphasizes the aspect of multiplicity in Gide’s concept of perspectivism and eliminates the idea of unity so essential and dear to Gide.53 Miteinander is a euphemism for ‘authentic incoherence’.54

Beckett’s notion of Miteinander is connected to the Lessingian Nebeneinander by an intermediate term. In 1879 the philosopher Hermann Lotze – a specialist in the field of space and spaces – described the visually and geometrically non-representable relations of consonant tones as ortlos auseinander, as ‘apart without being in different places’.55 Seen in these contexts, Beckett’s concept of Miteinander is a marvellous addition to Lessing. Alas, the note in the German Diary develops it no further.

Analysis of the Miteinander

Still, the note makes it clear that Miteinander is the ideal that the modern novel should accomplish. The Miteinander of 1937 is the elaboration of the ‘symphonic’ of 1931. The continuation of the note shows that the aesthetic questions of the early 1930s were still on Beckett’s mind: ‘I provoke loud amusement by description of a man at such a degree of culture that he cannot have a simple or even a predominating idea.’56 This is another description of the mental state that Beckett described in 1932 as ‘paralyzed in ubiquity’, but in the meantime, Beckett refined the scheme he taught in Dublin in 1931. Instead of limiting himself to the binary opposition of ‘melodic’ and ‘symphonic’, the Munich note juggles with the four terms ‘chronologies’, ‘simultaneities’, Nebeneinander and Miteinander. In the following attempts to organize these terms into a logical framework, three possible interpretations of their relation will be shown.

According to the first interpretation, the note in the German Diary is a mere repetition of the dualism of melodic and symphonic. It maintains a scheme of ‘from A (melodic) to B (symphonic)’, which it embellishes through two pairs of synonyms:

From melodic

to symphonic

From chronologies

to simultaneities

From Nebeneinander

to Miteinander

This interpretation raises the possible objection that only in one special instance is Nebeneinander a possible synonym for ‘chronologies’. For example, Mark Nixon translates Nebeneinander as ‘sequential’.57 Nixon thinks of the words in a text: they stand side by side and are read one after the other. But in itself, Nebeneinander denotes a relation in space that has no connotation of time. This is the basis of Lessing’s opposition of Nebeneinander and Nacheinander, in which it is Nacheinander that means ‘sequential’.

The second interpretation reflects this objection. It reads Miteinander as an additional term that elaborates the ‘from A to B’ in 1931 into ‘from A to B to C’:

From melodic

to symphonic

From chronologies

to simultaneities (Nebeneinander)

to Miteinander

From Nacheinander

to Nebeneinander

to Miteinander

The third interpretation is that of a full elaboration of the dualism of melodic and symphonic into a square of opposition, that is, into four positions with six relations among them:

Chronologies (Nacheinander)



Theatre and Film

‘action treated melodically’

‘one-figured teleophony’





Calligrammes (Apollinaire)


‘action treated symphonically’


In this scheme, the traditional ‘melodic’ novel is found under ‘Chronologies’ on the top left, whereas the novel with ‘symphonically treated action’ is located on the bottom right. Under Nebeneinander, a separate position in the logic square is given to the ‘words’ that, as Beckett puts it in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, ‘relieved themselves under Apollinaire’: in this poet’s Calligrammes the letters are quite literally localized Nebeneinander – in horizontal, vertical and diagonal order: To the ‘relief of the words’, as Beckett says, their usual horizontal order is opened into a multiplicity of spatial orientations.58 The lemma ‘Simultaneities’ finally denotes the genres the Munich discussion was concerned with: theatre and film.

Simultaneities in Film

‘Simultaneities’ is the catchword for the contemporary importance of Beckett’s and Gide’s aesthetic ideas: Stephen Gaghan’s 2005 film Syriana is a recent example of the aesthetic ideal Beckett sketched in his 1937 German Diary entry. Syriana simultaneously tells four stories (a fifth was removed) which it scatters into a puzzle of scenes of about 90 seconds length each – there are 20 scenes in the first 30 minutes (the first act) of the film. As the scenes play in different locations, it is difficult to synthesize into a coherent line even those scenes that belong to the same sequence of one of the stories. The film quite literally demonstrates Beckett’s statement that ‘dissonance has become principle’. In the end, Gide’s idea of a unity ‘à rétablir’ (to reconstruct) wins over Beckett’s concept of totally abolishing any ‘predominating idea’: the reviewers of Syriana welcomed the authentic coherence of the underlying plot that gradually becomes visible as the film progresses.59

This chapter began with Beckett’s characterization of Gide’s Paludes as the ‘symphonic’ novel, posing the question: what might be the relation of Beckett the artist toward his aesthetic concepts of the ‘symphonic’ and the Miteinander? Beckett, who did not want to be a professor, did not restrict his activities to the Lessingian ‘jeu charmant’ (charming game) of general aesthetics but was oriented toward artistic production.60 His Dream of Fair to Middling Women not only talks ironically about a ‘purely melodic’ novel,61 but also confronts the reader with new ways of narration. There is a strange collocation of voices at the end of the chapter entitled ‘Und’:

Thus dusk shall ere long gather about him–unless to be sure we take it into our head to scuttle at dead of night the brave ship where now he lies a-dreaming (creeks and springboards), the noble Hapak and all its freights, crew and cargo, and Belacqua along with his palpitations and adhesions and effusions and agenesia and wombtomb and aesthetic of inaudibilities.

L’andar su che porta?.

Oh but the bay, Mr Beckett, didn’t you know, about your brow.62

We hear the narrator, we hear (without knowing who speaks) a famous quotation from Dante’s Belacqua, and we hear a voice that talks to a mysterious ‘Mr Beckett’. It is unclear who utters the words from Dante and who speaks to ‘Mr Beckett’. From the point of view of pragmatics, all three voices share one and the same level of utterance – they speak as though they were voices in a musical setting. In Beckett’s second novel, Murphy, we find an even more sophisticated constellation in the description of ‘Murphy’s mind’ not ‘as it really was’ but as ‘it felt and pictured itself to be’.63 This indicates that in the conversation in Munich, Beckett was not lecturing on literary history but was rather confronting a contemporary narratological question of so complicated a nature that even Joyce’s Finnegans Wake appeared to Beckett not as an accomplished answer but rather as another ‘heroic attempt’. In that lively Munich conversation with its Durcheinander of voices, Beckett was arguing in favour of the artistic potential of theatre and film. The aesthetic concept that flashed through his mind along the associative lines of Nacheinander, Nebeneinander and Miteinander sheds light on the openness to a bounty of genres and media that would make Beckett’s work, in the years to come, unique among the artistic creations of the twentieth century.

1 The text given here was conveyed to me by John Pilling in a communication dated 3 Feb. 2011. See also John Pilling, Beckett before Godot (Cambridge, 2004), p. 240 n. 17. This chapter is an elaborated version of a paper first given at the International Conference ‘Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive’, York, 2011.

2 Samuel Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, Trinity College Dublin, Michaelmas, 1931 (notes taken by Rachel Burrows, née Dobbin, TCD Mic 60), in Brigitte Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett (London, 2009), p. 44.

3 Albert Thibaudet, Réflexions sur le roman [1924], quoted in Michel Raimond, La Crise du roman: Des lendemains du Naturalisme aux années vingt (Paris, 1966), p. 447.

4 The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1: 1929–1940, ed. Martha D. Fehsenfeld and Lois M. Overbeck (Cambridge, 2009), p. 123 n. 3.

5 André Gide, Paludes, Romans et récits: Œuvres lyriques et dramatiques 1, ed. Pierre Masson (Paris, 2009), p. 259.

6 Ibid., p. 298; on keeping a diary and on rewriting diary entries, see pp. 266, 277, 296.

7 See Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 43.

8 Michel Raimond, La Crise du roman, p. 446.

9 Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, ed. Jean-Yves Tadié (Paris, 1988), vol. 2, p. 14; Eng. trans.: In Search of Lost Time, ed. Christopher Prendergast (London, 2002), vol. 2, p. 233.

10 Ibid., vol. 3, p. 880; Eng. trans., vol. 5, p. 350.

11 Samuel Beckett, Proust, in Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit (London, 1965), pp. 81–2, 86.

12 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 43.

13 André Gide, Les Faux-monnayeurs, Romans et récits: Œuvres lyriques et dramatiques 2, ed. Pierre Masson (Paris, 2009), p. 350; Eng. trans.: The Counterfeiters, trans. Dorothy Bussy, Kindle edn (New York, 1973).

14 Samuel Beckett to Thomas McGreevy, 8 Sept. 1934, in The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1, p. 222.

15 See Henri Bergson, La perception du changement, in Œuvres, ed. André Robinet (Paris, 1959), p. 1385; for ‘nous ne voyons pas les choses mêmes [we do not see the things themselves]’, see Henri Bergson, Le Rire: Essai sur la signification du comique, in Œuvres, p. 460.

16 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez Beckett before Beckett, p. 35; Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, in Œuvres, p. 13.

17 André Gide, Journal des Faux-monnayeurs, Romans et récits: Œuvres lyriques et dramatiques 2, ed. Pierre Masson (Paris, 2009), p. 529 (entry for 21 Nov. 1920); Eng. trans. The Journal of the Counterfeiters, trans. Justin O’Brien, Kindle edn (New York, 1973).

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 44.

21 Ibid., p. 35.

22 Ibid., p. 44. Gide’s original text reads: ‘un être tourmenté’ (André Gide, Morceaux choisis, 20th edn (Paris, 1928), p. 434).

23 Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, ed. Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier (Dublin, 1992), p. 102.

24 See Bergson, La Perception du changement, pp. 1382–5.

25 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 44.

26 For Bergson’s concept of melody, see Franz Michael Maier, ‘Melodisch, Melodie’, in Karlheinz Barck et al. (eds), Ästhetische Grundbegriffe: Historisches Wörterbuch in sieben Bänden (Stuttgart, 2002), vol. 4, pp. 38–58 (p. 55).

27 Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, trans. R.B. Haldane and J. Kemp (London, 1883), vol. 1, p. 335. For Schopenhauer’s terms ‘intellectual’ (besonnen) and ‘connected’ (zusammenhängend), see Franz Michael Maier, ‘The Idea of Melodic Connection in Samuel Beckett’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 61/2 (2008): 383–6.

28 Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, p. 45. For ‘linearity’, see Ernst Kurth, Grundlagen des linearen Kontrapunkts: Bachs melodische Polyphonie (Bern, 1917).

29 Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, p. 10.

30 For Beckett’s concept of catena (chain), see his letter to Thomas McGreevy, 31 Jan. 1938: ‘The rest of the essay … holds together perfectly. It is more “construit” perhaps, more Catena’ (The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1, p. 598).

31 For ‘ordre logique’ see the quotation from Proust on p. 12 above.

32 Beckett, Proust, p. 68.

33 Samuel Beckett, German Diary, 13 Dec. 1936, in Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936–1937 (London, 2011), p. 178.

34 Samuel Beckett, Endgame, in The Complete Dramatic Works (London, 1986), p. 116.

35 Gide, Les Faux-monnayeurs, p. 350.

36 The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1, p. 72.

37 Samuel Beckett, Dream Notebook, ed. John Pilling (Reading, 1999), pp. 127–8.

38 The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1, p. 228, 229 n. 6.

39 Raimond, La Crise du roman, p. 448; see also p. 449.

40 Ibid., p. 400.

41 Ibid., pp. 405, 282.

42 Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, p. 11.

43 Ibid., p. 16.

44 Ibid., p. 188.

45 Ibid., p. 138.

46 Beckett, German Diary, 26 Mar. 1937, quoted in James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London, 1996), p. 258 (my italics); for a slightly different reading, see Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries, p. 167.

47 James Joyce, Ulysses (Oxford, 1998), p. 37.

48 Beckett, German Diary, 11 Feb. 1937, in Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries, p. 166.

49 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 44.

50 For the concept of ‘collocation’ in the theory of elementary perception, see Franz Brentano, ‘Über Individuation sinnlicher Erscheinungen’, in Untersuchungen zur Sinnespsychologie [1907] (Hamburg, 1979), p. 81.

51 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, [1739/40], Bk 1, Pt 4, §5, ed. Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge (Oxford, 1888), pp. 235–6.

52 Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, vol. 2, p. 374; Eng. trans, vol. 3, p. 72.

53 See the quotations from Gide’s Journal des Faux-monnayeurs, p. 14 above.

54 Beckett, lectures on Gide and Racine, in Le Juez, Beckett before Beckett, p. 35.

55 Hermann Lotze, Metaphysik: Drei Bücher der Ontologie, Kosmologie und Psychologie, ed. Georg Misch (Leipzig, 1912), p. 161.

56 Beckett, German Diary, 26 Mar. 1937, quoted in Knowlson, Damned to Fame, p. 258.

57 Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries, p. 167.

58 See Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, p. 171.

59 See Stephen Farber, ‘A Half-Dozen Ways to Watch the Same Movie’, New York Times: Movies (13 Nov. 2005), <>.

60 Samuel Beckett, Le Monde et le pantalon (Paris, 2010), p. 11.

61 Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, p. 10.

62 Ibid., p. 140–41.

63 Samuel Beckett, Murphy (New York, 1957), pp. 10, 107.

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