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Existence Sans Existence: Deconstructing SamuelBecket's Lessness".

Byline: Attequr Rahman Najma Saher

: Abstract

Beckett's short story Lessness" seems an abstract painting of life in words through which he unconsciously tries to reason out life. Lessness" seems to be an effort to translate the abstract concept of uselessness and purposelessness of life. The repetitive pattern of words used in twenty-four paragraphs of the short story presents the uselessness and changelessness of life not only for a day but also for the entire existence in a generic way. Through deconstruction of the text of Lessness" the idea of changelessness and uselessness of life is analysed. The blanket of monotony and timelessness that shrouds our existence adds dullness to our life. The eternal wait to find a change lasts endlessly without any finding. Thus not only an individual's existence but also existence in general becomes a symbol of dullness.

Keywords: Beckett Lessness" deconstruction; existentialism; emptiness;


Lessness" not only is considered one of the most enigmatic short texts of the twentieth century utterly alien and incomprehensible" (Dearlove 104) perversely uncommunicative" and teasingly mysterious" (Bryden 137) it was also written in the most enigmatic way we are told.1 No small wonder that readers in general feel disoriented when confronted with this text or any other text of a similar kind. This happens because readers in general try to map onto the text their own real-world experiences and assumptions. However cautioning his readers Beckett told Tom Driver: "The confusion is not my invention. It is all around us and our only chance is to let it in" (Finney 63). This requires of the reader simultaneous construction and deconstruction of the text.

Lessness" has been the choice of critics not only for its thematic significance but also for its structural pattern. Haahr and Drew focus on the random permutation to order sentences" (1) whereas Brienza and Brater focus on the spatial configuration of the paragraphs. The latter two argue that the verbal arrangement is figurative and not logical (244). However Seaver points out that the division of the text of Lessness" in twenty-four paragraphs seems to be symbolic of the twenty-four hours of an ordinary single day (555). This paper is an attempt to take this idea further by a close textual deconstruction2 of the story. However we should not forget Beckett's own comment about his own works: There is no key [to my works] . . . If the subject of my [works] could be explicated in philosophical terms there wouldn't be any reason to write them" (as cited in Acheson 27).

Deconstructing Lessness"

The first twelve paragraphs seem to represent the first twelve hours of the day; whereas the remaining twelve seem to signify the later twelve hours of the day. The repetitive pattern of words in the first twelve paragraphs reappears in the same sequence in the next twelve. It seems to suggest that an individual experiences the same environment the same suffering the same sense of uselessness worthlessness and timelessness all over the day as well as throughout one's life. Whatever impression of existence emerges in the first paragraph seems reflected in the thirteenth " the first paragraph of the second part of the day. Similar effect appears in successive paragraphs making this piece of twenty-four paragraphs a story of one complete day. It shows that time repeats the same state of existence which it shows only twelve hours ago. The uselessness of time is shrouded in manmade time spectrum of twenty four hours. It suggests that time passes but nothing changes.

Such monotony turns time into timelessness. Thus a single day seems to be a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm " the entire life. This changelessness of one day goes beyond that day and continues to expand into infinity. Time passes all over life without a sign of change in this changelessness.

The very first hour of the day is shrouded in emptiness and uselessness expressed in the first paragraph. The Ruins" (557) seem to suggest the uselessness and futility of existence. The ruins also seem to reflect the monotony and timelessness of the existence. Time presents the same feeling of nothingness and uselessness that surrounds the reader again in paragraph thirteenth. Time passes on but not in the direction of change. The existence stays stagnant. Life though pale" and grey" (557) keeps on going endlessly in pursuit of change but to no avail as it remains same in the second part of the day. The stillness and silence no sound no stir" (557) in the first part of the day finds no hope of change in the beginning of the second part of the day. The same ruins" appear in the second part of the day emphasizing the sameness to nullify change. Existence appears locked up in the changelessness of time and space in the first as well in the latter part of the day

This monotonous stillness and endlessness eliminate the very difference between day and night. Mind loses its ability to distinguish earth from sky sky mirrored earth mirrored sky" (557559) whether it is day or it is night. Thus the fourteenth hour of the day replicates the second hour of the day expressed in the same sequence of paragraphs. The early and latter part of the day overlaps each other with almost same surrounding and affliction. Existence suffers the loss of space and time It will be day and night again over him" (559). The monotonous environment too becomes a part of this habitual routine. Every passing hour is still but it takes us imperceptibly into a new hour which is not new in any sense. There seems to be no escape from such situation. Individual seems to be forcibly trapped in it. Even time losses its healing ability; it rather intensifies the painful experience of existence. The meaninglessness of time multiplies with every passing hour.

The idea of changelessness of time eliminates the very difference between day and night which in turn leads to endless monotony in existence. The very feeling of being stuck in a motionless time makes it a dream like experience. But this dream itself is a still dream; an empty dream signifying nothingness. Night seems to be a dream about day; and day seems to be a dream about night. Time passes in the larger perspective but due to the monotonous lack of change it seems to have stopped eternally.

As there is no one to answer no one to help out the whole situation leads to disbelief in the very existence of God. Human beings have felt this disbelief since long. Men decay and humankind remains dissatisfied with everything. The utter silence and blankness of light create a vacuum where thinking also becomes stagnant like time. Intermittently human mind may get out of this vacuum but there is no permanent escape. Thinking starts; but it starts to end. Memory of the blessed days" (557559) brings a hope of change which as usual ends up in hopelessness. Thus hopelessness leads to hope that in turn takes us near to hopelessness. Hope intermittently stirs the human mind but vanishes away due to the darkness surrounding every aspect of existence. It is thinking that makes this endless alternation possible bringing some relief to the wretched state of the humans. Even in this relief there is a prevailing sense of helplessness and worthlessness.

Every new day brings a sense of loss and lost happiness. Empty existence continues to exist unharmed in a dull and useless manner.

There is flatness everywhere as horizon has ceased to exist. The four square" (557559) in the fourth and sixteenth paragraph seems to emphasize its own absence as everything has acquired a flat monotony. It foregrounds the effect of endless hopelessness. The whole day becomes a torturous reminder of changelessness and uselessness. Existence appears to be unhappy with this state of affairs but there is no way out of it. It has to be faced. The brightness of day and the darkness of night are indistinguishable. The grey environment adds to the confusion caused by timelessness. The changelessness of time and space adds to the dullness of existence. Life as a whole becomes a journey into nothingness. All the movements result in stagnation. As a result a short span of time becomes infinity. The days begotten by dark nights do not have the light of newness. The desire to change turns into a dream based on endless uselessness. It seems like a death without being dead.

It is existence without knowing the purpose and meaning of existence. The more one thinks to find the answers the more one gets lost in the showers of endless stagnation and loses one's tenor of thinking. Thus the result is a frustrating feeling of endlessness" (557560) as appears in paragraph five and seventeen. The endlessness of such monotonous existence causes a deep sense of frustration which is repeatedly felt all over twenty-four hours.

This frustration cannot end the existence. Every effort to bring a change lasts in changelessness. Such an effort itself becomes a dreamlike unreality. Existence falls utterly hopeless but continues to survive. The heart beating" (557560) shows the continuity of existence despite all the changelessness and emptiness of the surroundings. The long day lasts in nothing but faces the same monotony. Efforts to bring a change bring a monotonous changelessness everywhere He will stir in the sand there will be stir in the sky the air the sand" (557560). An effort to bring change nullifies the very effect of change and thus what remains is changelessness. The flatness of time and space in every direction adds futility to the passing hours. Existence never seems to end but at every step and point of existence there is a sense of futility hopelessness and timelessness.

The same gray-ness surrounds every generation. An Individual appears to be a mere spectator who cannot appreciate whatever is going on but has to watch every thing as a part of habitual routine.

One wishes every passing hour to pass quickly; instead time gets stagnant the passing hour long short" (558560). Even a single minute both in the early and later part of the day prolongs into infinity. Man's helplessness sees no option but to face and bear it. Every passing hour shoves existence into the same timelessness and helplessness. The walls of protection fall and the ruins fail to provide protection against the uselessness of this timeless existence. The flatness in all aspects of existence results in an utter lack of movement in any direction since every direction is painted in the same shade of hopelessness. The idea of changelessness of time eliminates the very difference between night and day which in turn leads to an endless monotony in existence.

This all-embracing changelessness not only contributes to the changelessness in the process of creativity in the intellectual sense but also in the physical sense. As every new generation appears to be identical to the previous one in every respect; they do not come across any new environment. The purpose of existence is as mysterious to us as it was for the previous generation. Time is as stagnant as it was; existence is as useless as it was. Thus like the block arms" (558) that seems to stand for the helplessness of individual the genitals" (560) are also blocked and helpless. Clearly reproduction seems to be useless since this very act of reproduction cannot bring any change to the futility of existence of the coming generation. This situation seems to be a legacy passed on to us by the previous generations and we seem to be here to pass it on to the posterity.

Thus every new generation is the replica of the previous one. Their faces feelings expressions and helplessness are all the same. As a result despite the multiplying number of people in the world there is issueless-ness.

The excited-ness of new love is lost in the uselessness of existence as love itself is shrouded in the changelessness of existence " leading to excitement-lessness. New love cannot be celebrated as it appears to be the replica of the previous one a continuous suffering. Thus moving forward in any aspect of existence brings us back to square one. The frustration caused is so overpowering that it sweeps away the very happiness of new love. There is no fascination in new love: old love new love as in the blessed days unhappiness will reign again" (558). It seems love too is a part of this changelessness; it has failed to understand the real cause of static restlessness of existence. Thus love despite it being new cannot mitigate the feeling of uselessness of existence. The calm eyes" (558560) lack the lustre of new excitement. It seems eyes have lost the power to reflect the excitement felt at heart.

The heart seems to have lost the ability to feel as there is nothing to feel but a feeling -less monotony. The passing time fails to heal such a paralyzed state of feeling-lessness. The purpose of existence seems to remain unanswered. Thus the little hope associated with the appearance of new love is washed away from the mind all gone from mind" (558560). The human mind seems to be drained off all the attempts to rationalize this changelessness. In this state of wretchedness the ability to think is a step forward to break the monotony. As there seems to be no way out of this wretched state thinking seems to be the only way to tackle it though it may not bring any change.

All the prevailing silence and changelessness mute away the very laughter and cries. It seems that the wretchedness of existence has eliminated the very existence of laughter and crying. Eyes are calm as if there is no feeling of sorrow or happiness; as if there is no hope to change. The difference between happiness and sorrow mitigates gradually. The sense of reality is taken away from these feelings which exist more like fragments of imagination. Dawn and dusk appear more like a product of imagination. All the efforts to differentiate the change all over the day produce no results. It seems as if mind too gradually yields to the endless game of changelessness since it can no longer distinguish the changing parameters of time and human feelings all gone from mind" (559560). As a result things seem blacked" (558) or black" (560). Blackness is shrouded in blackness. Neither day nor night can take away this pall.

Vision is blurred as there is either whiteness showered with whiteness or darkness intensified by more darkness. Neither day nor night plays the agent of change. Existence survives in both these extreme situations striving but failing to find the purpose of its own creation.

Moving backward or forward does not make any difference to the uselessness of existence. It is the same wretched sameness shrouding all aspects of existence. He" (558560) seems to be the existence which is weary of its own being due to the endlessness and emptiness of things around. Later in the eleventh hour of the day the frustration has increased and existence seems to be fed up with the Creator of this Futility. Hope is now a hopeless dream. This seems to be inevitable and unavoidable. New day starts after an hour but the sloth caused by changelessness seems to have sucked the hope of change out of the mind. Everything is flat same and static. Night and day signify the sameness of time. It seems the end of time; yet time keeps on passing. As time space and boundaries fail to provide a true refuge; everything turns to ruins which in turn fail to provide a true refuge. And thus the mind suffers from dullness and emptiness.

Such a mind fails to think since there is nothing. It has turned into a white slate without any spot. It has the capacity to think but seems to have lost the ability to do so. Every thought seems less a thought and more a useless fragment of fancy. Thinking appears to have failed to produce change in this state of changelessness. It seems difficult to get out of this stagnation of time and space. Individuals exist without existing since all the body parts seem to be functionless despite being alive. Midday ends up with hopelessness. Man seems more like a part of ruins. Like the ruins man exists; Heart beating" (558) devoid of any purpose. The whiteness of day does not break through the darkness caused by the monotonous changelessness. Thus thinking is killed before it is born.

The last hour of the day presents a more eclectic frame of mind. The mind seems full of emptiness as nothing has changed at all over the previous twenty-three hours. The intermittent flashes of hope during the last hour of the day too fail to bring a change in the status quo. Even physical intercourse fails to bring freshness in the mid of this timeless changelessness block genitals overrun are a single block grey crag overrun" (560). The act of physical union in the last hour of the day seems to suggest that even this act fails to provide satisfaction. It is monotonous like the new love which is dull and flat despite its newness. The whiteness of morning and the blackness of night both are replaced with grey" (558560). There is no clarity in any aspect of existence. The dawn seems to be a mirage which announces a new day with all its oldness and monotony.

The very thinking of dawn brings a changeless and timeless repetition of events to mind which in no way seems to be a different beginning of a day. Thus a new day replicates the previous dull day. The new dawn instead of bringing clarity to the grey-ness of the scene discards all the hopes associated to the existence. A new day starts after few hours with suffocating feelings of a dull new dawn. Hour after hour day after day the same sameness prevails. The only way to cope with it is to bear it.


Although Beckett carefully avoids making authoritative statements about man and his world (Acheson 20) he has explored the problem of human existence in a way that no other writer has. Lie contends: Of the themes that Samuel Beckett has explored over the years the most important and recurrent is undoubtedly that of subjective representation. In the bleakest forms Beckett has denied human experience the most fundamental of all certainties " subjectivity and self-consciousness " and exposed conventional realism's inability to convey the ungovernable flux of the world and the individual's unfixed subjective response. (p. 1)

In Lessness" Becket suggests that true refuge from the meaninglessness of life is beyond expression of words. Every aspect of life turns into boundary-less ruins as one moves to seek the answer to this uselessness and emptiness of the surrounding world. Life though pale and grey goes on endlessly in a meaningless pursuit but to no avail. It is a feeling of nothingness that surrounds one as one steps forward to find an end to it. The monotonous and redundant repetition of things seems to be spreading in every direction. It results in a feeling of stagnation of time " an infinite stagnation like stagnant infinity. This sameness of situation even dulls the most thoughtful mind. The eternal wait to find a change lasts endlessly without any findings. This strange feeling results in eliminating the difference between day and night between the Earth and the Sky between dream and reality and between time and timelessness.

The story of monotonous changelessness and timeless dullness is skilfully wrapped in twenty-four hours. Lessness" seems to be an effort to translate the abstract conception of uselessness and purposelessness of existence. Only the passing time makes us go through a claustrophobic feeling of futility of existence. Thus the answer to such an existence lies in living through it as it is useless to expect a change.

In Lessness" Beckett deals with the problem of human existence condensed in twenty-four hours " since we humans live from one day to another every day starting with a dull dawn' repeating the monotony of the previous day: the same start the same end " the same start to life the same end to it! Notes

1 Cohn reports that: Beckett wrote each of the sixty sentences on a separate piece of paper mixed them all in a container and then drew them out in random order twice. This became the order of the hundred twenty sentences in Sans. Beckett then wrote the number 3 on four separate pieces of paper the number 4 on six pieces of paper the number 5 on four pieces the number 6 on six pieces and the number 7 on four pieces of paper. Again drawing randomly he ordered the sentences into paragraphs according to the number drawn finally totalling one hundred twenty" (265).

2 For details see Deconstruction+(literature). Deconstruction" was introduced by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the decade of 1960s. In general deconstruction is a philosophy of meaning (reading) which deals with the ways that meaning of a text is constructed by writers. In such a reading the unconscious and unarticulated" ideas are surfaced; it reads the text against the text. Thus what appears to the naked eye turns out to be entirely different from its face value. Site accessed on 17th of April 2012.


Acheson J. (1988). Samuel Beckett's early fiction and drama: A study of artistic theory and practice. Unpublished PhD thesis University of Canterbury. Becket S. (1976). Lessness." I can't go on I'll go on. Richard W. Seaver (ed.). New York: Grove.

Brater E. and Briezna S. (1976). The composition of Becket's Lessness'. Baltimore John Hopkins University Press. Bryden M. (1993). Women in Samuel Beckett's Prose and Drama: Her Own Other. Lanham: Barnes and Noble Books. Cohn R. (1973). Back to Beckett. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP.

Dearlove J. E. (1977). "'Last Images': Samuel Beckett's Residual Fiction." Journal of Modern Literature 6.1: 104-26. Finney B. (1972). Since 'How It Is': A Study of Samuel Beckett's Later Fiction. London: Covent Garden.

Haahr M. and Drew E. (2002). "Lessness; Randomness Consciousness and Meaning." Paper presented at the 4th International CAiiA-STAR Research Conference Consciousness Reframed' in Perth Australia 1-4 August 2002.

Lie J. (2006). Samuel Beckett's late aesthetics of subjectivation. Unpublished PhD thesis Lingnan University Hong Kong. Pountney R. (1987). "The Structuring of Lessness." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 7.2: 55-75.

Seaver R. W. (ed.). (1976). I can't go on I'll go on. New York: Grove.
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Publication:The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Date:Aug 31, 2013
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