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The "moreness" or "lessness" of "natural" narratology: Samuel Beckett's "Lessness" reconsidered.

In Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (1996). Monika Fludemik reconstitutes narativity on the basis of experientiality, i.e., humanity's embodiedness in the world, and claims that incomprehensible texts can be made more readable if one attempts to narrativize them. Since Samuel Beckett's short prose work "Lessness" is one of the most enigmatic texts of the twentieth century, it serves as an ideal test case for this new narratological paradigm. "Lessness" does indeed lose its initial strangeness if one reads this piece as narrative. Moreover, although a "natural" narratological analysis paves the way for a new interpretation of "Lessness," the new paradigm provides only a partially satisfying analysis of it. To make the text fit into the new consciousness-oriented paradigm, Fludernik's quasiuniversal naturalizing mode has to ignore certain aspects such as the mechanical structure of "Lessness." Beckett's later prose work challenges narrativization and the "natural" narratological project. A reading of "Lessness" should be liberated from the confines of experientiality and instead concentrate on the role of chance and chaos. Beckett's text must be located in a counterworld, a limbo between signifier and signified. One should allow this limbo world to seep into the "real world" and not attempt to explain this different counterworld by means of "real-world" knowledge.

1. Introduction

According to J. E. Dearlove, the fragmentary short prose works that Samuel Beckett produced in the period following the publication of Comment C'est(1961), i.e., "All Strange Away" (1963-64), "Imagination Dead Imagine" (1965), "Enough" (1965), "Ping" (1966), "Lessness" (1969), and "The Lost Ones" (1966, 1970), might strike readers as "utterly alien and incomprehensible," and by thrusting the burden of creating order and meaning on readers, "demand a new critical response" ("Last Images" 104, 116). Similarly, Mary Bryden points out that some readers have reacted adversely to Beckett's later prose, seeing it as "perversely uncommunicative" and "teasingly mysterious" (137). The short prose work "Lessness" is definitely one of the most enigmatic texts of the period after How It Is. Because of the initial shock that this strange and incomprehensible prose work might produce in readers, it may be used as a case to test the new narratological approach Monika Fludernik puts forward in Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (1996).

Fludernik attempts to counteract some of the shortcomings of classical narratology and other traditional approaches to narrative theory. Her aim is the radical "reconceptualization of narratology" and "the creation of a new narrative paradigm"(xi), a paradigm, however, that despite its interdisciplinary make-up, will still be identifiable as narratological. As Gibson notes, Fludernik sets out to redefine narrativity in terms not of plot but of cognitive or what she calls "natural" parameters. These parameters are based on our experience, on our sense of embodiedness in the world ("Review" 234). Whereas structuralist narratology employs formal categories defined in terms of binary oppositions, Fludernik wishes to institute organic frames of reading. She reconstitutes narrativity on the basis of experientiality, a feature derived from research on oral narrative established by Labov (Language). At the same time experientiality relates to Kate Hamburger's thesis that narrative is the only form of discourse that c an portray consciousness, particularly the consciousness of someone else (83). Since, for Fludernik, the prototypical case of narrative is given in its oral version (textual make-up is considered to be a variable), the "natural" narratological paradigm, as Ronen suggests, identifies narrativity with conversational parameters in a storytelling situation (647). Furthermore, Fludernik wishes to institute a reconceptualization of the term "natural" within a more specifically cognitive perspective. She argues that "natural" narratives, i.e., narratives of spontaneous storytelling, cognitively correlate with perceptual parameters of human experience. According to her, these parameters are still in force even in more sophisticated written narratives like those in many experimental twentieth-century texts. Fludernik subsumes the experientiality of "natural" narrative and the cognitive parameters that are based on "real-life" experience in the process of "narrativization," i.e., a reading strategy that naturalizes (Cu ller 134-60) texts by recourse to narrative schemata. She argues that inconsistencies of strange and incomprehensible texts cease to be worrisome when we can read them as a series of events, a story, or when we can explain them as the skewed vision of a ruling consciousness, that of a teller, or that of a reflective or "registering" mind. Such reading processes that manufacture sense out of apparent nonsense are observed to apply even more radically when experimentation touches the core of narrative: the establishment of a fictional situation and/or the very language of storytelling. Fludernik argues that "natural" narratology is sorely tested at points where the oddities of experimental texts like "Lessness" obstruct readers' attempts to narrativize on the basis of "natural" parameters.

Fludernik's reconceptualization of narrativity allows us to define a great number of plotless narratives from the twentieth century as narratives fully satisfying the requirement of experientiality, since such texts operate by means of a projection of consciousness without necessarily needing any actantial base structure. In contrast to this, the traditional definition of narrative in terms of (a series of) action(s) (Genette, Narrative Discourse 30; Rimmon-Kenan 15; Stanzel 150; Prince, Dictionary 58; Genette, Revisited 20; Bal 16) does not cover plotless experimental twentieth-century texts like Beckett's later prose. Although all of these texts have discourse reference, what precisely (if anything) is their story (or plot) frequently cannot be determined with any clarity. Events and stories are simply no longer central to the focus of what these texts are about. Interestingly, Gerard Genette points out that "for Beckett," 'I walk' would already be "too much to narrate" (Revisited 19). Since Beckett, for ex ample in "Ping" and "Lessness," does not rely on Genettean minimal forms of narrative, action or event sequences, his experimental texts do not qualify as narratives in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, Genette's statement implies that Beckett narrates, i.e., produces a narrative. The central question, then, is the question of what constitutes Beckett's narrative. An obvious theoretical solution to this problem is to deny the label narrative to such texts, to say, that is, that the norm for twentieth-century fiction is no longer instantiated by the narrative discourse type, and consequently to marginalize such texts. The predominantly negative characterization of experiemental fiction as contravening traditional story parameters (Nassan 9) points in this direction, as does the prevalence of the labels "anti-narrative" (Chatman 56-59; Prince, Dictionary 6) and "anti-literature" (Dearlove, "Last Images" 117; Buning 102; Hassan 3) among both traditional narratologists and Beckett critics, as well as in M.-L. Ryan's proposal of the term "antinarrativity" (379-80). Fludernik offers an entirely different solution to this problem. Rather than pointing out the negative features of this kind of narrative, Fludernik's approach describes its structure in terms of experientiality (Lieske 374). Therefore, in the present paper I wish to treat "Lessness" in so far as it relates to the visualizing of a story (plot) situation and/or a storytelling situation (Fludernik, Towards 269). More precisely, in my "natural" narratological analysis I shall concentrate on the establishment of story-world, that is, on characters, setting and plot, as well as on the storytelling frame and the language of storytelling. According to Fludernik, a text like "Lessness" does not completely disrupt the process of narrativization, but "merely dilute[s] constants of mimetic conceptualization to the point where realist frames become tenuous and are reduced to the notions of malleable or inconstant character, setting and event outlines" (273).

The purpose of the present paper is threefold. First, I wish to demonstrate the superiority of Fludernik's "natural" narratology to structuralist narratology in accounting for marginally narrative texts like Beckett' s "Lessness." Second, I shall illustrate the utility of Fludernik's new paradigm for the literary interpretation of such an incomprehensible avant-garde text. Third, I will discuss some of the shortcomings or what I call the "lessness" of "natural" narratology.

2. The "Natural" Narratological Paradigm

2.1. The Redefinition of Narrativity in Terms of Experientiality

In Towards a 'Natural' Narratology, Fludernik rejects all traditional plot-based concepts of narrativity, i.e., the quality of "narrativehood," as Prince calls it ("On Narratology" 80), and equates narrativity with experientiality. "Narrativity is a function of narrative texts and centres on experientiality of an anthropomorphic nature" (26). According to Fludernik, experientiality involves "the quasi-mimetic evocation of 'real-life experience"' (12) and is established by readers in the reading process (36). Experientiality includes a sense of moving with time, of the now of experience (Ricoeur 62-65). In contrast to Ricoeur, Fludernik supplements this almost static level of temporal experience by more dynamic and evaluative factors. Within her model, temporality is a constitutive aspect of embodiment and evaluation, but it is secondary to the experience itself. For her, experience cannot be subsumed under the umbrella of temporality. Rather, experience includes temporality as one of its parameters. Human exp erience typically embraces goal-oriented behavior and activity, with its reaction to obstacles encountered on the way. She argues that unexpected obstacles dynamically trigger the reaction of the protagonist. According to Fludernik, the three-part schema of "situation-event (incidence)-reaction to event" constitutes the core of all human action experience (29). Moreover, whereas in oral narrative, narrated experience always tends to be related to incidence, more extended narrative ventures frequently reproduce quite uneventful experiences and tend to center on the narrator's mental situations. Thus, the dynamics of experientiality reposes not only on the changes brought about by external developments or effected through the goal-oriented actions of a central intelligence. Rather, it is related particularly to the resolution effect of the narrative endpoint and to the tension between tellability and narrative "point" (Labov, Language 366; Fludernik, "Historical" 374-77). In other words, for Fludernik, the emot ional involvement with an experience and its evaluation provide cognitive anchor points for the constitution of narrativity (Towards 13). She argues that embodiment constitutes the most basic feature of experientiality; specificity and individuality can in fact be subsumed under it. Embodiedness evokes all the parameters of a "real-life" schema of existence in a specific time and space frame. Experientiality combines a number of cognitively relevant factors. The most important of these is the presence of a human protagonist and his experience of events as they impinge on his situation. Experientiality always implies the protagonist's consciousness. "Narrativity can emerge from the experiential portrayal of dynamic event sequences which are already configured emotively and evaluatively, but it can also consist in the experiential depiction of human consciousness tout court" (30). Fludernik demotes the criteria of sequentiality and logical connectedness from the central role they usually play in most discussion s of narrative. For her, the bounded sequentiality of "The king died and then the queen died of grief' (Forster 87) holds little or no interest as narrative. In Fludernik's model there can be narratives without plot, but there cannot be any narratives without a human experiencer at some narrative level. The fictional existence of an anthropomorphic experiencer is the sine qua non for the constitution of narrativity. In contrast to traditional narratologists, who endow plot-oriented narratives with proto-typical narrativity (Prince, Narratology 146), Fludernik argues that events or actantial and motivational parameters in and of themselves constitute only a zero degree of narrativity, a minimal frame for the production of experientiality. I also wish to note that Fludernik refuses to locate narrativity in the existence of a narrator (Towards 26). For her, all narrative is produced through the mediating function of consciousness. According to Fludernik, consciousness is the locus of experientiality and can surf ace on several levels and in different shapes.

2.2. The Three Ingredients of "Natural" Narratology

Since William Labov and Joshua Waletzky (1967) hypothesized that narrative structures can be found in oral accounts of personal experience, conversational storytelling, as Minami notes, has received much attention (467). Fludernik has been influenced by "natural" narrative and relies on the results of research in discourse analysis established by Labov in Language in the Inner City (1972). In her approach, "natural" narrative includes only spontaneous conversational storytelling (Towards 13-14). According to Fludernik, one has to conceptualize the move from orality to literacy as a continuum that affords the narratologist interesting insights into the various functions of elements within their narrative pattern (53). Fludernik views "natural" narrative as a prototype for the constitution of narrativity and argues that narrative is always "natural" in the sense that, as Ronen suggests, it is anchored in human everyday experience (647).

The second basic ingredient of Fludernik's model is "natural" linguistics. For instance, she mentions Wolfgang Dressier and his Naturlichkeitstheorie ("theory of naturalness"). Dressler judges "natural" those elements of language that appear to be regulated by cognitive parameters based on man's experience in the "real world" (5). "Natural" linguistics attempts to locate linguistic processes within more general processes of cognitive comprehension: the general parameters of language relate to human embodiedness in "natural" environments; metaphors of embodiment serve as the basis for describing them. The central insights that Fludernik adopts from these approaches for her narratological paradigm are that cognitive categories are embodied and that higher-level symbolic categories rely on embodied schemata. The question of how human embodiment in the environment is reflected in readers' cognitive categories and schemata interests her most (Towards 19).

The third basic ingredient of Fludernik's model is the concept Jonathan Culler calls "naturalization." Culler came up with this concept in order to account for readers' interpretative strategies when encountering initially odd or inconsistent texts. According to Culler, readers attempt to recuperate inexplicable elements or a text by taking recourse to available interpretative patterns. In naturalizing a text we give it a place in our cultural world (137). Culler's naturalization in particular comprises the Familiarization of the strange. Fludernik redeploys and redefines Culler's concept as "narrativization," that is to say, as a reading strategy that naturalizes texts by recourse to narrative schemata (Towards 34). She argues that whenever readers are confronted with potentially unreadable narratives, they look for ways of recuperating them as narratives. In the process of narrativization, something is made a narrative by the sheer act of imposing narrativity on it. Readers attempt to re(-)cognize texts in terms of the "natural" telling, or experiencing, or viewing parameters; or they try to recuperate inconsistencies in terms of actions and event structures at the most minimal level. In the process of narrativization, readers engage in reading texts as manifesting experientiality, and therefore construct these texts in terms of their alignment with experiential cognitive parameters (313). According to Pier, the dynamics of narrative are set into motion in this process. These dynamics are largely absent in the static models proposed by classical narratology (557).

2.3. Mimesis and Realism

Fludernik conceives of mimesis in radically constructivist terms. According to her, we must not identify mimesis as the imitation of reality. Rather, we should understand mimesis as the artificial and illusionary projection of a semiotic structure. Readers recuperate this structure in terms of a fictional reality. Since this process of recuperation takes place within the cognitive parameters of the readers' "real-world" experience, every reading experience in terms of making sense of a text inevitably results in an "implicit though incomplete homologization of the fictional and the real world" (Towards 35). With regard to experimental narrative. Fludernik suggests to read it as a kind of "intertextual play with language and with generic modes" (35). In this analytical context, as Lieske notes, experimental texts are not mimetic in terms of reproducing a prototypical version of narrative experience but in their structured anticipation of the readers' attempts to reinterpret them mimetically, if only at the lev el of an explicitly "anti-mimetic" language game (374).

Similarly, Fludernik develops a constructivist concept of realism. She does not relate realism to the nineteenth--century movement of realism. Rather, she links it with the specific mimetic evocation of "reality" and specific forms of the mimetic representation of individual experience. Fludernik sees realism as an interpretational strategy. In the process of narrativization, readers make texts conform to "real-life" parameters. Realism in Fludernik's sense closely corresponds to "a mimetic representation of individual experience that cognitively and epistemically relies on real-world knowledge" (38). The process of reading narratives as narratives inevitably involves an activity of narrativization on the readers' part. Readers project a realistic frame on the text and its enunciational properties. Fludernik demonstrates that the wide range of anti-illusionistic techniques radically disrupts conventional realistic story parameters and does not allow readers a realist mode of understanding. At the same time, a s Lieske points out, she stresses that such disruptions do not inevitably destroy narrativity per se but deconstruct the overall narrative coherence of the text and affect the most fundamental properties of narrative discourse (374).

2.4. The Four-Level Model

Fludernik summarizes the cognitive categories and criteria of "natural" narratology in a four-level model. This model runs somewhat parallel to the three Mimeses developed in Ricoeur's Time and Narrative. Mimesis I relates to prefiguration (54-64), Mimesis II to configuration in the shape of emplotment (64-70), and Mimesis III to reconfiguration (70-87). Fludernik's level I is identical to Ricoeur's Mimesis I. It includes the pretextual "real-life" schemata of action and experience such as the schema of agency as goal-oriented process or reaction to the unexpected, the configuration of experienced and evaluated occurrence, and the "natural" comprehension of observed event processes as well as their supposed cause-and-effect explanations. Furthermore, on this level, teleology, i.e., temporal directedness and inevitable plotting, combines with the narrator's after-the-fact evaluation of narrative experience, as is typical of "natural" narrative, and with the goal-orientedness of acting subjects. Fludernik's lev el II introduces the "natural," macro-textual schemata or frames of narrative mediation. On this level she distinguishes between the "real-world" scripts of TELLING and REFLECTING,' the "real-world" schema of VIEWING, and the access to one's own narrativizable experience (EXPERIENCING). Further, Fludernik situates the schema of ACTION or ACTING on level II (Towards 43-44). Fludernik's level III constitutes a fine-tuning of level II through well-known "naturally" occurring storytelling situations, generic criteria and narratological concepts. At this point I wish to emphasize that Fludernik' s levels II and III do not reproduce Ricoeur's Mimesis II. Rather, they characterize features that are partially relevant for Ricoeur' s reconfiguration on the level of Mimesis III. In contrast to the cognitive parameters on levels I and II, which are basic-level experiential frames, the categories on level III are culturally determined. One might argue that they are metaphorical extensions of concepts from levels I and II . Nevertheless, they are "natural" because they operate in a non-reflective manner and relate to one's experience of hearing and reading stories. I also wish to note that readers' interpretations do not (yet) constitute the cognitive parameters on level III. Rather, they provide cognitive tools for the interpretation of narrative texts (45). Finally, Fludernik's level IV is that of narrativization, the level on which the "natural" parameters from levels I to III are utilized in order to grasp, and usually transform textual inconsistencies and oddities. Narrativization is the process of naturalization that enables readers to re(-)cognize as narrative texts that appear to be non-narrative according to the cognitive parameters on levels land II or III (46). The "natural" frames on levels I to III do not effect narrativization. Rather, narrativization utilizes "natural" parameters as part of the larger process of naturalization applied by readers. Although narrativized non-"natural" text types do not become "natu ral," a new cognitive parameter may become available (330). For instance, second-person fiction (Fludernik "Introduction," "Second," "Second-Person Narrative") does not become "natural" in the process of narrativization. Rather, a semantic and interpretative perspective renders this type of narrative recuperable, because readers have recourse to "natural" categories. It may institute a new genre or a new narrative mode and will then have to be included as a reference model on level III.

I shall now turn to my own "natural" narratological analysis of Samuel Beckett's "Lessness." I am of course aware that other readers might narrativize the text differently.

3. "Natural" Narratology and Beckett's "Lessness"

3.1. The "Setting"

"Lessness" is set in a container. At some point, this enclosure must have resembled the box-like chamber in Beckett's "Ping" and the first two stages of the shape-shifting container in Beckett's "All Strange Away." At the time of narration in "Lessness," the four walls of the container of this piece have fallen open into "scattered ruins" (197); "Blacked out fallen open four walls over backwards true refuge issueless." The whiteness of "Ping," i.e., the image of "four square all light sheer white blank planes," is "gone from mind" ("Lessness" 197). Moreover, the narrative voice of "Lessness" abandons the fluctuations of light and darkness in "All Strange Away" and "Imagination Dead Imagine," and reduces them to a pervasive and passive grey (Dearlove, "Last Images" 121). The container is "ash grey" like "the sand" (197). Earth and sky have the same color as the enclosure: "ash grey sky mirrored earth mirrored sky" (197). From our "real-world" knowledge we can infer that since the world of "Lessness" is not bla ck but grey, a dim light has to emanate from somewhere. But the text does not contain any information about the source of the light. Moreover, as in "Enough," there is "no stir," that is no wind, in the world of "Lessness," and, as in "Ping," the silence of this world is unbroken: "no sound" (197). "Day and night" (198) appear to be abandoned in "Lessness." The piece is "timeless" (199), and the narrative voice characterizes the world of "Lessness" in terms of "changelessness" (197). Philip H. Solomon argues that the hour in question must be 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. "Each is a moment of transition with respect to light and dark--the grey of dawn or the grey of dusk" (66). In "Lessness," time seems to have come to rest in a transitional period.

The "setting" of "Lessness" resembles places in the "real world." The scattered ruins of this piece may consist of stone. Indeed, the narrative voice mentions sand, carth, and sky. Since there is no wind and no sound, however, the world of "Lessness" also differs from "real-world" settings. Moreover, "Lessness" makes it impossible to differentiate between earth, sky, and the scattered ruins, because they are all ash grey. In contrast to the other "Residua," which are set in a measurable container, the narrative voice of this piece does not give us any information as to the size of the enclosure in "Lessness." The only hint we get is the phrase "the ruins flatness endless" (199). Spatial structure appears to be lacking altogether. Furthermore, the fact that there is no movement with time seriously impairs a "realistic" reconstitution of story-world.

3.2. The Future

The enclosure of "Lessness" contains an immobile "little body ash grey locked rigid" (197). The body's contours have been eroded: "Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness" (198). The figure's sex is undecidable. The "genitals" of this "little block" are "overrun" (198) and its features are barely defined: "grey face features crack and little holes two pale blue" (197); "grey smooth no relief a few holes" (198). The body is incapable of action: "Face to white calm touch close eye calm long last all gone from mind" (198). In a very ambiguous manner, the text indicates that the figure is alive: "Grey face two pale blue little body heart beating only upright" (197). This might imply that the body is the only constituent of story-world in an upright position, and consequently that the figure is alive, or that the body's heart beats only in an upright position. The figure is grey like the rest of this world. Furthermore, the narrative voice refers to the figure's past and to a possibl e future. I wish to note that in such instances, the voice refers to the figure in terms of the personal pronoun "he." Additionally, the text presents the future as a return to past possibilities: "He will curse God again as in the blessed days face to the open sky the passing deluge" (197); "On him will rain again as in the blessed days of blue the passing cloud" (197). Later on, the references to past and future turn out to be dreams and figments: "Never was but grey air timeless no sound figment the passing light" (197); "Never but this changelessness dream the passing hour" (197). Susan Brienza and Enoch Brater point out that in the two sentences containing the personal pronoun "he," which I have quoted above, the past is superimposed on the indefinite future by using the phrase "as in the blessed days" (250-51). They argue that a cycle of endlessness in time results, because both the "deluge" and the "cloud" will not pass nor have they passed. The present participle "passing" creates an action suspended in time, which is endless, like the "waiting" in Waiting for Godot (1985).

The figure in "Lessness" is most radically dehumanized. The narrative voice describes the little body exclusively in terms of bodily fragments. Additionally, its bodily parts are not recognizable. Readers will hardly confuse the block-like figure with inhabitants of the "real world." This figure is indistinguishable from the box-like chamber. In fact, it seems to have become a brick of the scattered ruins. (2) In other words, one cannot possibly differentiate between the figure and the "setting." The only "features" that distinguish the body from the rest of story-world are pale blue eyes, and its possibly upright position. Moreover, the figure does not express any signs of intentionality or goal-orientedness in terms of Fludernik's cognitive level I. Its "life signs" are reduced to its upright position or the beating of its heart. I do not think that the figure's "eyes" can be seen as a life sign, since a dead body may (at least for some time) have pale blue eyes as well. Furthermore, the figure's past and f uture turn out to be mere illusions. The body is trapped in the timeless zone of fiction.

At this point, I wish to note that both the "setting" and the figure in "Lessness" differ from familiar narratological concepts on Fludernik's cognitive level III. But in contrast to Buning, who merely points out the "absence" of traditional story parameters and characterizes "Lessness" in terms of an "anti-literary tendency" (102), "natural" narratology takes a closer look at such allegedly absent constituents. On the basis of experientiality, "natural" narratology attempts to explain why these constituents are so different from traditional concepts. I would argue that the description of the "setting" and the figure in "Lessness" are reminiscent of the perception of an insane person or a person on drugs. We should keep this in mind while looking at other aspects of "Lessness."

3.3. The "Plot"

The body in "Lessness" is incapable of action, and the "setting" undergoes no noticeable transformation. The narrative voice presents us with repeated descriptions of the rudimentary features of the strange world of this piece. Indeed, the voice postulates an imaginative realm of dreams and future possibilities. "Lessness" consists of 120 sentences, and is divided into twenty-four paragraphs. Upon closer inspection, we realize that the text consists of sixty sentences, each of which occurs exactly twice. There are sixty sentences in the first twelve paragraphs. Later on, they are repeated in a different order. Ruby Cohn divides the sentences thematically into the following six groups or families (265): (1) the ruins as "true refuge"; (2) the endless grey of earth and sky; (3) the little body; (4) the space "all gone from mind"; (5) past tenses combined with "never"; (6) future tenses of active verbs and the "figment" sentence "Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk" (199; 201). Martin Es slin uses the following categories for the same groups: (1) the ruins; (2) the vastness of earth and sky; (3) the little body; (4) the fact that the enclosed space is now forgotten; (5) a denial of past and future; (6) an affirmation of past and future. (3) J.E. Dearlove points out that the titles of the first four families are fairly consistent, whereas the last two groups are more enigmatic because they deal with daydreams and figments in reference to past and future. For Cohn, the distinction is one of tense, whereas for Esslin, the difference is one of assertion ("Last Images" 120). Beckett's method of composition in Sans (1969), the original French version of "Lessness," is extremely creative. 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 totaling one hundred twenty (265).

According to Poutney, "Lessness" confronts us with the fact that an arbitrary and capricious world of chance lies beyond man-made, imposed order (56). "The confusion is not my invention," Beckett told Tom Driver. "It is all around us and our only chance is to let it in" (Finney, "Assumption" 63). The formal patterning in "Lessness" may give readers the impression that a random number generator produced the text. This is, to some extent, true. (4) Furthermore, there is a complete absence of memorable events in "Lessness." Nothing happens at all in it. Events most certainly do not constitute the primary focus of this text. Hence, we are not in a position to reconstruct a proper event-series in terms of the ACTION schema on Fludernik's cognitive level II. Since there is a complete elimination of "plot," the text exclusively consists in (vague and distorted) descriptions. Moreover, "Lessness" lacks teleology and closure. In contrast to Brienza and Brater, who argue that "the abrupt last line does not leave us wit h the impression that the piece might go on indefinitely" (254), I would argue that the cyclical way in which the narrative voice describes the central "situation" of "Lessness," in combination with the final sentence ("Figment dawn dispeller of figments and the other called dusk" [201]), which is circular in itself, suggests that this short prose work may indeed continue forever. Whereas Mood simply argues that "Lessness" is "plotless" (78), "natural" narratology concerns itself with whether there is not a different story buried under the (admittedly quite) uneventful cloak.

3.4. The Language of Storytelling

The syntax of "Lessness" is most radically disrupted. The piece shares with "Ping" its sentence style and structure as well as the absence of any punctuation except periods. The "scattered ruins" (197) might be a description of the words themselves. The narrative voice uses verbs sparingly; present tense verbs are entirely absent. The personal pronoun "he" occurs only in connection with sentences dealing with the past or the future. This voice gives us the impression that human existence is possible only in the past or in the future. Later on, however, the voice reveals this to be a mere illusion. Occasionally, it also drops articles and prepositions. Its radical reductionism generates a terse, staccato-like style, and is reminiscent of a computerized programme. Moreover, the reduced syntactical form creates pseudo-independent phrases like individual images. Thus, Murphy argues (114) that the words may be said to face on "all sides endlessness." For instance, as I have shown above, we can read the phrase "hea rt beating only upright" in several different ways. Likewise, in the sentence "little body little block genitals overrun arse a single block grey crack overrun" (198), it remains unclear whether the genitals, or the arse, or both are overrun, and the "grey crack" is ambiguous (eye, tip of penis, vagina, or anus?). Additionally, in all but two of the twenty-four paragraphs, we come across words containing the suffix "-less" or the suffix "-lessness" ("endless," "timless," "issueless," "endlessness," "changelessness"). These words, like the neologism "Lessness," stand out and set up a network of tenuous meanings. Furthermore, we are faced with a mass of repeated elements in which no clear subordination of one to another is established (Knowlson and Pilling 176), so that we may concentrate on different elements each time we read the text. There are thirty-eight phrases containing "all," as in "all sides" (198) or "all light" (197), that seem to be cancelled out by the thirty-four occurrences of "no," as in "no s ound" (197) or "no hold" (198) (Brienza and Brater 252), and a number of contradictory constructions like "all gone" and "never but" are used. This may give readers the impression that the narrative voice constructs a rudimentary world, and, at the same time, deconstructs it.

The language of "Lessness" is reminiscent of a person in a state of shock, or a madman, i.e., the babbling of a deranged person. This piece most radically foregrounds the linguistic medium. The construction of "sentences" is so awkward that it seriously impairs the reconstruction process. Hence, the text draws our attention to the "sentence"-structure itself. The narrative voice reduces language to repetitious echoings in a syntaxless chain of words and phrases. The deliberate nonfluency, in combination with the repetitive structure of this piece and the proliferation of conspicious "less(ness)" words, generates a style in which the words draw attention to themselves more as signifiers than as signifieds. The language is free-floating in proper Derridean fashion. Indeed, the strategy of constructing and simultaneously deconstructing is reminiscent of Robbe-Grillet's "mouvement paradoxal" (130).

3.5. The Storytelling Frame

While Ruby Cohn argues that in "Lessness" we are confronted with an observant third-person narrator (262), Mary F. Catanzaro thinks that the narrative voice should be attributed to the "little body," the faceless storyteller of this piece ("Musical" 47). Although I find both accounts of the text convincing, one might argue that since the personal pronoun "he" occurs several times, Cohn's interpretation makes much more sense. The dispassionate depiction of the rudimentary world of this piece is reminiscent of third-person neutral narrative. We get, Fludernik suggests, the typical "camera-eye" effect of the mechanical shutter that registers incoming stimuli but does not interpret them (Towards 175). Since the depicted images are distorted ones, however, we get the impression that there has to be something wrong with the "camera." Further, I wish to note that the non-figural "camera-eye" cannot convincingly be ascribed to any position of fixity. Throughout, the text gives a sense of two distinct points of view o perating, namely the point of view of the body, on the one hand, and the point of view of the "narrator," on the other (Murphy 113). In this piece, the subject-object division is made obsolete. The disembodied voice may simultaneously be related to both points of view, that is to "narrator" and narrated alike. Hence. we may be confronted with first-person or third-person neutral narrative. The deliberately defocalized presentation of "Lessness" constitutes a serious problem for "natural" narratology not only because it rules out possible anchor points for experientiality but also because the narrative voice remains covert and impersonal (Chatman 197) throughout the piece. Is it then possible to establish experientiality anywhere in the text?

I think that we can read "Lessness" as the projection of the consciousness or imagination of the "character," the "narrator," or both, the "narrator"-narrated. To begin with, the human faculty of imagination plays a crucial role in the depiction of story-world. One can only distinguish between the sand, the sky, the ruins, and the figure with the "eye of imagination," not with the "eye of flesh." Furthermore, the piece evokes desire for a state where time has come to rest or where the mind enjoys "the blue celeste of poesy" (199). I would argue that the projected mind in "Lessness" carries out a mental experiment, namely the experiment of imagining the end of time. Like the attempt to imagine the death of imagination in Beckett's "Imagination Dead Imagine," this mental experiment is based on a paradox, since time is ultimately necessary to imagine a state in which time has come to rest. As the work unfolds, the projected consciousness realizes that the experiment of imagining the end of time is doomed to fail ure. The form of "Lessness," that is the repetition of the sixty sentences, which constitutes the most outstanding feature of the text, contradicts the subject matter of this piece. "The passing hour" (197) is not a "dream" but the ultimate reality of human existence. "Dusk" and "dawn" are not "figments" but "dispeller[s] of figments" (201). This short prose work is not "timeless" and cannot be characterized in terms of "changelessness" because the mind it projects moves within time, and, in doing so, changes the order of the sixty sentences. The "true refuge," in which one can have the illusion of an eternal present, is ultimately "issueless" (197) since time will always go on.

In terms of "natural" narratology, this problem is handled by the REFLECTING frame on Fludernik's cognitive level II. This script tends to project a reflecting consciousness (Towards 44). The ruminations of the projected mind in "Lessness" might be directed at imagining the end of time, and are ultimately dependent on the "real-world" parameter of time. To sum up, in this piece, we may establish experientiality in terms of the necessity of the human faculty of imagination for depicting a story-world, in terms of the human wish to stop the stream of infinite time, and in terms of the "real-world" knowledge that stopping time is ultimately impossible. Thematically, human time seems to have been central to the composition of "Lessness." Without coming to this conclusion, Ruby Cohn points out that although "Lessness" is almost bare of figures, it compels calculation. She notes that the resultant numbers serve to call attention to human time: "The number of sentences per paragraph stops at seven, the number of day s in a week. The number of paragraphs reaches twenty-four, the number of hours in a day. The number of different sentences is sixty, the number of seconds in a minute, of minutes in an hour" (263).

Moreover, we can read "Lessness" as the projection of the readers' consciousness. Readers are brought into this text, as they must join the narrative voice in imagining whatever may be going on in its mind. When we read Beckett's "Lessness," we get the impression that we (as readers) have the same "dream" as the narrative voice of this text. Therefore, one may argue that there is a large degree of involvement in "Lessness" (Opas and Kujamaki 287). This effect is extremely disconcerting since the narrative voice cannot be pictured as directing or directly addressing readers. Because there is no corresponding use of the first person, no deictic locus of utterance, "Lessness" lacks a first-person narrator, a speaker with whom we might identify.

4. Consequences and Conclusions

"Natural" narratology provides only a partially satisfying analysis of Beckett's "Lessness." Problems center on the redefinition of narrativity in terms of an experientiality that turns out to be a vague criterion. One may refer to the points mentioned below as the "moreness" or "lessness" of "natural" narratology. I shall begin with what I call the "moreness" of the new paradigm.

One might argue that Fludernik's redefinition of narrativity is useful, because it allows us to define a great number of experimental and plotless texts as narratives fully satisfying the requirement of experientiality, since they operate by means of a projection of consciousness--the character's, that of the narrative voice, or the readers'. Traditional narratologists like Gerard Genette, Gerald Prince, and Franz Karl Stanzel can only read such texts as contravening traditional parameters. They would ultimately have to deny the label narrative to such texts, and consequently marginalize them. For instance, Stanzel explicitly states that there is "no place" for Beckett's "Ping" in his typological circle (236), and this claim is obviously also true for "Lessness." Additionally, Genette discusses very little experimental writing in any of the three books I have cited and mentions postmodernist texts merely in passing. As Lieske points out, Fludernik's approach is particularly important in the context of poststr ucturalist debates about the end of narrative or the death of the author because it reclaims postmodernist fiction for narratological analysis despite this fiction's lack of conventional plot or logical coherence (374).

Moreover, Fludernik's narrative paradigm has helped this essay to an entirely new interpretation of "Lessness." One might argue that "natural" narratology paves the way for a new reading of this initially alien and uncommunicative text. I have utilized the following schemas, frames, or scripts as parts of a larger attempt to narrativize Beckett's "Lessness." First, I have employed the schema of temporal directedness and that of agency as a goal-oriented process on Fludernik' s cognitive level I for the context of a thought experiment. Second, I have referred to the REFLECTING frame on level II, which turns the act of telling into a process of self-reflexive rumination, for the mental activity in the course of a thought experiment. Third, I have utilized narratological concepts and familiar knowledge about first-and third-person neutral narrative on level III in order to establish a storytelling situation. As I have shown, narrativization by means of the consciousness factor acquires a central status in experi mental writing like "Lessness" where the readers' establishment of experientiality serves to identify some sort of teller-figure, a registering mind. Even though the readers' attempts to establish experientiality are seriously impaired, we may read "Lessness" as the projection of the readers' consciousness or of the consciousness of the block-like figure. the "narrator," or both, the "narrator"-narrated. One might argue that the projected mind carries out a mental experiment that is similar to the attempt to imagine the death of imagination, namely the experiment of imagining the end of time. Further, I would argue that the projected consciousness in this piece struggles with its imaginings in the course of the mental experiment and realizes that the task of imagining the end of time is ultimately impossible. Hence, we can read "Lessness" as the agonized ruminations of a mind that struggles with some kind of traumatic experience. I think that the projected consciousness realizes not only that its own existenc e but also that its "heroic" attempt to break out of the stream of infinite time are nothing but insignificant ripples on the surface of infinite time. Time imprisons us all. The mind begins to understand that while the stream of infinite time will never stop, both its existence and the mental experiment will sooner or later end. This quasi-traumatic experience of feeling the ultimate meaninglessness of one's own existence could, in a way, account for why the images that can be reconstituted on the basis of the information given in the text are very distorted ones. One might argue that the projected mind finds itself in a state of shock. Consequently, the language of this mind is syntaxless and its perception, deranged. It may experience feelings of terror, hallucinations, or psychosomatic disturbances. I suspect that we are all more or less familiar with such disruptions of ordinary human experience. As far as "Lessness" is concerned, Fludernik suggests, embodiment is reduced to consciousness with the settin g dwindling to rudimentary implied contiguities (Towards 311). Furthermore, I would like to argue that after paragraph twelve, the projected mind ends the mental experiment because it is overwhelmed by the stream of infinite time, and decides to do nothing but move passively within time. It decides to invent nothing new but to merely reshuffle old material. This decision could account for the repetitive structure of this short prose work, i.e., the repetition of the first sixty "sentences" in the second half of the piece. Since I feel that there are also problems with this new interpretation of "Lessness," I shall now turn to what I call the "lessness" of Fludernik's new paradigm.

Despite my (more or less) desperate attempts to make Beckett's "Lessness" more readable, I wish to note that this text constitutes a borderline case. "Lessness" challenges narrativization and the whole "natural" narratological project. My analysis of this piece is obviously a strategy radically appropriated to the mimetic project, a move to make sense contrary to all linguistic evidence. When reading this text, we are confronted with a slippery boundary on which we may hesitate to tread for fear of losing our mental balance.

We have to situate "Lessness" at the boundary between the genres of narrative and lyric. In the realm of extremely experimental writing, the traditional distinctions between genres become erased. Fludernik argues, indeed, that where narrativity can no longer be recuperated by any means at all, the narrative genre merges with poetry (Towards 310). This obviously raises the question of what it takes for a text to project experientiality but still remain narrative and not lyrical. Fludernik speaks of "poetry's typical lack of experientiality (and hence narrativity)" (355). I do not see why, according to Fludernik, poetry's typical preoccupation with sensibilia" (356) should have nothing to do with experientiality. Furthermore, she argues that the boundary between poetry and narrative is permeable (356). That is to say that, for her, there are degrees of narrativity. In contrast to her, I think that it is impossible to distinguish between narrative and lyrical texts, or to determine the different grades of narrat ivity, on the basis of experientiality, i.e., "the quasi-mimetic evocation of 'real-life experience"' (12). For such a distinction, categories like plot, action, character, real-world" setting, all of which Fludernik attempts to play down in her paradigm, turn out to be crucial after all. Interestingly, she claims that in her redefinition of narrativity in terms of experientiality she insists on such essentialities as plot, character, and voice in the constructivist interpretation of their cognitive foundation (305). For Fludernik, such categories can be subsumed under experientiality and embodiment. In contrast to her, I think that the categories of plot and "real-world" setting should play a crucial role in the definition of narrative as a distinguishing feature, because according to the approach taking "experientiality first, plot later," almost every poem qualifies as a narrative. Furthermore, not only would almost every poem be a narrative but even almost every text. For instance, according to the exper ientiality criterion, inarticulate screams of horror would qualify as narratives. Fludernik's definition of narrative is thus too broad. Because she attempts to include almost every text in her definition (347ff.), the term "narrative" becomes meaningless. The more a term includes, the less it means. And this is the "lessness" of "natural" narratology.

Another problem is, of course, that the new paradigm is supposed to deal with an incredibly large number of "narrative" texts. I doubt that Fludernik's quasi-universal naturalizing mode of reading can do justice to all these texts. As I have shown, if one is willing to, it is even possible to narrativize a machine-generated text like "Lessness," actually structured by a throw of the dice, as the expression of a subject's thought. A "natural" narratological analysis ultimately has to ignore certain aspects, like the mechanical structure of "Lessness," in order to make a text fit into its new consciousness-oriented paradigm. Such a piece calls for another mode of reading than the naturalizing mode prescribed by "natural" narratology. By narrativizing "Lessness," we miss the central point of a postmodernist text that foregrounds ontological chaos, i.e., ontological questions concerning the self, or the mode of existence of the self (McHale 9-11); we impose a normalizing strategy on the text rather than deal with its fundamental otherness. Throughout the writing of this paper, I had the odd sensation that the easier it is to narrativize Beckett's "Lessness," the more modernist the text becomes or seems To put this slightly differently, I thought that my consciousness-oriented, "natural" narratological analysis ultimately involves some kind of modernist reading strategy. It is obviously much easier to

establish a consciousness factor in a kind of writing that deals excessively with the depiction of consciousness (e.g., in texts by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, or William Faulkner) than it is to do so in a kind of writing that calls the very existence of consciousness into question. There is a fundamental contradiction between the aims of postmodernist literature, i.e., pieces like "Lessness" and texts written by experimentalists like B.S. Johnson, Christine Brook-Rose, Alasdair Gray, or Brigid Brophy, on the one hand, and Fludernik's attempt to narrativize them on the other. In Towards a 'Natural' Nar ratology, Fludernik postulates something like a biological core, a minimal cognitive basis. (6) In contrast to this, both postmodernist literature and poststructuralist thought (in Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, et al) call the very existence of a biological core and a minimal cognitive basis into question, and look at human beings as free-floating signifiers. One can of course argue that such self-reflexive word-gaming constitutes a last-ditch scenario for narrativization in terms of "natural" cognitive parameters, and that it ultimately has its roots in the "real world." Nevertheless, I think that where experientiality resolves into words, "natural" narratology finds its ultimate horizon. Where language has become pure language, structured by a machine, or free-floating in Derrida's sense, disembodied from speaker, context, and reference, both human experience and Fludernik's concept of narrativization by means of human experience become redundant.

Since narrativity (in both the traditional and Fludernik's sense) is not a necessary condition of inclusion in the literary canon (one need only consider the mass of "non-narratological" Beckett scholarship), narratologists do not have to deal with avant-garde texts like Beckett's "Lessness" and may leave such texts to other approaches, perhaps of a more poststructuralist or even musicological orientation. A reading of "Lessness" should be liberated from the confines of experientiality, i.e., the feasible, the logically consistent, and humanly plausible, and instead concentrate on the text's otherness, on its monstrosity, on the role of chance and chaos. Reading "Lessness" draws the recipient "forwards towards the new, into strange, unfamiliar and monstrous compounds" (Gibson, Towards 272). "Lessness" deconstructs the categories of the anthropological and the textual, the human and the material. The disembodied voice of this text constitutes itself in and through the text and arrives at a new identity that ha s to be located in a counterworld, a limbo between signifiant and signifie. We should allow this limbo-world to seep into our "real world" and not attempt to explain this different counterworld by means of our "real-world" knowledge. Gibson argues that one should register elements of monstrous deformation and explore their implications (259). I wish to note that the word-stock in "Lessness" is finite and structured by chance. For me, "Lessness" implies that we attempt to define and redefine ourselves with regard to the limits of our discourses and that chance is actually the sole criterion that imposes a structure on our limited possibilities. Given the choice between taking Fludernik's approach to fiction, which is based on order and meaning, and Gibson's approach, which is based on chaos and confusion, with regard to "Lessness," I prefer Gibson's, because, as Beckett puts it: "The confusion [...] is all around us and our only chance is to let it in" (Finney 63).

Finally, there are also problems with the rather ahistorical conception of Fludernik's cognitive four-level model. If one accepts the redefinition of narrativity in terms of experientiality, I feel that it is necessary to investigate whether there are not different types of embodiment (and hence narrativity) in different centuries, i.e., the question whether one can distinguish between something like realist, modernist, and postmodernist experientiality. Additionally, we should address the difference between male and female experientiality. I agree with Gibson, who points out that Fludernik takes the concept of "embodiedness" to be an unproblematic given ("Review" 237). For instance, dehumanization, fragmentation, perspectivism, decentering, and self-reflexivity, e.g. in MTV video clips, which are arguably part of our everyday experience, play a much more crucial role in forms of postmodernist than of modernist experientiality, whereas an interest in consciousness and subjectivity and the assumption that ther e is something like a minimal cognitive basis is a more integral part of modernist than of postmodernist experientiality. Consequently, readers nowadays may consider postmodernist texts to be much closer to their everyday experience, and they may feel that they have to narrativize (in a postmodernist sense) earlier texts to make them "natural." Irrespective of texts like "Lessness," which are to be located beyond the scope of both experientiality ("natural" narratology) and plot-orientation (classical narratology), what is at stake, with regard to diachronic narratological projects, is the creation of a new narrative paradigm, one that subsumes "natural" narratology as the special case of an extended application of realist parameters or that is able to account for realism differently within its own framework. Experientiality thus remains a problematic criterion. On the one hand, it does not allow us to distinguish between narrative and lyrical texts; on the other, it does not address whether embodiment, i.e., humanity's being in the world, has not changed fundamentally over the centuries. I consider this paper to be a first step toward a larger investigation of the "moreness" and/or "lessness" of "natural" narratology.


(1.) "Reflecting" refers to the mental activities outside utterance that turn the act of telling into a process of recollection and self-reflective introspection or rumination (44).

(2.) The body in "Lessness" is reminiscent of the figures in Play, where we are confronted with "three identical grey urns." We learn that "from each a head protrudes, the neck held fast in the urn's mouth" (147).

(3.) Esslin's list is from his introduction to the BBC Radio 3 production of "Lessness" (25 February 1971) and is quoted by Brian Finney (Since 39-40).

(4.) J. M. Coetzee uses the computer program Univac 1106 to deal with the combination of sentences in "Lessness." His results verify mathematically that no significant ordering principle governs the arrangement of phrases, sentences, or paragraphs (195-98).

(5.) As far as modernism is concerned, I refer to Brian McHale's distinction between modernist and postmodernist fiction. According to McHale, modernist fiction, particularly the stream-of-consciousness novel, foregrounds epistemological questions, i.e., questions of knowledge and consciousness, whereas postmodernist fiction foregrounds ontological questions, i.e., questions of modes of existence (9-11).

(6.) Experientiality is an essentialist notion; Fludernik assumes that experience is the same for everyone.

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Jan Alber ( teaches English literature at the University of Freiburg, Germany. He is currently completing a Ph.D. thesis on the depiction of prisons from the Victorian novel to twentieth-century film. He is editing an. anthology on modernism and postmodernism together with Monika Fludernik.
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