mute column

Don't Wait to be Hunted to Hide

By neinsager, 23 October 2010

Following on from Benedict Seymour's precise placement of the analytical axe in 'We’re into Endgame', the previous ‘Fifth Column’...


The Beckett double acts do indeed unthread the sub-dialectical spooooooooool of ‘hawk’-‘dove’ codependency, institutional autophagy and ‘sobriety’ backed by Quantitative Easing.

To this, however, should be added the insights contained in the great Trilogy of novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable) regarding the downsourced-outsized-voluntary-self policing of the Huge, Big, Tall, Fat (Malone Dies, see below) Society. Contrary to the author’s reputation in some quarters, he gives at least one very practical example of what those on the receiving end of continual Taser-voltage ‘Nudges’ might do about it.

The first place to look for these insights is the second half of Molloy, told from the viewpoint of Moran, ‘agent’ of an unspecified agency, sent out to hunt down the undocumented vagrant and sucking-stone abuser Molloy. Today’s Financial Times (Oct. 22) reports on planned ‘outsourcing targets’ for ‘public services’, to the undoubted delight of multitasking contractors such as Serco, ‘provider’ of immigration gulags, prison vans (one murder charge to date for running down a Brixton ‘street drinker’), welfare enforcement and hospital pathology departments. In passing, Moran describes some internal workings of such agencies ‘serving’ a horizontally-integrated, multi-‘partnered’ state:

Each messenger, before being appointed, had to submit his code to the directorate. Gaber understood nothing about the messenges he carried. Reflecting on them he arrived at the most extravagantly false conclusions. Yes, it was not enough for him to understand nothing about them, he also had to believe he understood everything about them. This was not all. His memory was so bad that his messages had no existence in his head, but only in his notebook. He had only to close his notebook to become, a moment later, perfectly innocent of its contents.

No need to dwell at length here on Moran’s subsequent degeneration (or regeneration, depending on your theological standpoint) as he gets lost in ‘Molloy country’ and gradually acquires the full complement of vagrant attributes; eventually he is hunted down himself by agency management (represented by Gaber, the amnesiac messenger), though not before killing a collateral vagrant in classic outsourced security style:

I do not know what happened then. But a little later, perhaps a long time later, I found him stretched on the ground, his head in a pulp. I am sorry I cannot indicate more clearly how this result was obtained, it would have been worth reading. (See Serco above; also the recent deportation-assassination of an Angolan migrant by G4S, another ‘Welfare-to-Work’ contract bidder).

Of more immediate interest here may be the fact that Moran’s employer (or the agency employing the agency, or the contractor subcontracting that one, etc etc...) appears to show precocious concern (Molloy was first published 1951) for ‘work-life balance’ and/or ‘vocational training’ and/or ‘lifelong learning’ (and/or and so on unto despair) by ordering the agent to take his young son out ‘into the field’ with him. The implications of this literal deployment of the phrase ‘hard-working families’ in 2010 shine forth at the point where Moran starts to worry about his dereliction of duty to the agency that’s now pursuing him. As anyone subject to social worker visits or ‘360 degree’ job appraisal knows, intermingling of ‘economic’ and ‘personal’ life constitues a ‘public-private’ feedback loop: each informs on the other under, reproducing ‘grassroots’ discipline under multi-institutional eyes.

Question. Should I tell my son what had happened?

Answer. No, for then it would be his duty to denounce me.

Question. Would he denounce me?


Question. How did I feel?

Answer. Much as usual.

Throughout his metamorphosis from jauntily bicycling pursuer to crutch-dragging pursued, Moran’s sense of unlimited liability is unwavering. Its particular contemporary relevance is best expressed in his immortal motto:


But this is by no means all the Trilogy has to say about the Big, or spontaneously policed, Society. The very last pages of Malone Dies are first descriptively accurate then prescriptively suggestive regarding ‘voluntary sector’ agencies administering ‘services’ to non-voluntarily captive ‘clients’. The following passages (which can’t be quoted at any less length without the sense being lost) generally speak for themselves. It only needs to be specified that:

1. This is the last of the ‘stories’ the dying Malone tells himself throughout the book; Macmann is the last name given to the stories’ recurring protagonist.

2. Macmann is an inmate of the Saint John of God’s mental hospital (“known pleasantly locally as the Johnny Goddams or the Goddam Johhnies”); Macmann’s ‘keeper’ Lemuel cannot answer whether it’s a state or private institution, and Macmann doesn’t know how he got there: at some point he just woke up in a cell.

3. Lemuel is the very lowest grade of keeper (a job once done by Beckett himself, who also wrote about it in Murphy and Watt). ‘The Saxon’, ‘the giant’, ‘the youth’ and ‘the thin one’ are inmates.

4. Lady Pedal is a “huge, big, fat, tall” benefactor, leading the inmates and their barely distinguishable keeper on a compulsory “outing to the islands which was going to cost her dear, but she was well off and lived for doing good and bringing a little happiness into the lives of those less fortunate than herself, who was all right in the head and to whom life had always smiled or, as she had it herself, returned her smile, enlarged as in a convex mirror, or a concave, I forget.” She even provides her own private security service in the form of Ernest and Maurice, variously described as “sailors” and “colossi”, whose hired muscle is also needed to row inmates and keeper out to their island picnic site.

Thus the party sets out for the coast in “wagonette” drawn down a steep slope by “stumbling horses”.

The passengers yielding with unanimous inertia to the tilt of the seats, sprawled pell-mell beneath the box. Sit back! cried Lady Pedal. Nobody stirred. What good would that do? said one of the sailors. None, said the other. Should they not all get down, said Lady Pedal to the coachman, and walk? When they were safely at the bottom of the hill at last Lady Pedal turned affably to her guests. Courage my hearties! she said, to show she was not superior. The wagonette jolted on with gathering speed. The giant lay on the boards, between the seats. Are you the one in charge? said Lady Pedal. One of the sailors turned towards Lemuel and said, She wants to know if you’re the one in charge. Fuck off, said Lemuel. The Saxon uttered a roar which Lady Pedal, on the qui vive for the least sign of animation, was pleased to interpret as a manifestation of joy. That’s the spirit! she cried. Sing! Make the most of this glorious day! Banish your cares, for an hour or so! And she burst forth:

Oh the jolly jolly spring

Blue and sun and nests and flowers

Alleluiah Christ is King

Oh the happy happy hours

Oh the jolly jolly –

She broke off, discouraged. What is the matter with them, she said.

After the crossing by rudderless rowboat to the island (“the shore facing the open sea is jagged with creeks...nobody lives there”), the inmates variously “chafe to run around”, slump down or refuse to leave the boat. “Macmann was not free either, Lemuel held him around the waist, perhaps lovingly”: practical solidarity between legal and economic prisoners is about to become a decisive theme. Lady Pedal proposes some edifying fun, and Malone/Beckett proposes a course of action against edifiers and fun-mongers.

Well, said Lady Pedal, you are the one in charge. She moved away with Ernest. Suddenly she turned and said, You know, on the island, there are...Druid remains. She looked at them in turn. When we have had our tea, she said, shall we hunt for them, what do you say? Finally she moved away again, followed by Ernest carrying the hamper in his arms. When she had disappeared Lemuel released Macmann, went up behind Maurice who was sitting on a stone filling his pipe and killed him with the hatchet. We’re getting on, getting on. The youth and the giant took no notice. The thin one broke his umbrella against a rock, a curious gesture. The Saxon cried, bending forward and slapping his thighs, Nice work, sir, nice work! A litte later Ernest came back to fetch them. Going to meet him Lemuel killed him in his turn, in the same way as the other. It merely took a little longer. Two decent, quiet, harmless men, bothers-in-law into the bargain, there are billions of such brutes. Macmann’s huge head. He has put his hat on again. The voice of Lady Pedal, calling. She appeared, joyous. Come along, she cried, all of you, before the tea gets cold. But at the sight of the late sailors she fainted, which caused her to fall. Smash her! screamed the Saxon. She had raised her veil and was holding in her hand a tiny sandwich. She must have broken something in her fall, her hip perhaps, old ladies often break their hips, for no sooner had she recovered her senses than she began to moan and groan, as if she were the only one on the face of the earth deserving of pity. When the sun had vanished, behind the hills, and the lights of the land began to glitter, Lemuel made Macmann and the two others get in the boat and got into it himself. Then they set out, all six, from the shore.

Gurgles of outflow.