'Insomnia, Waste and Melancholia’ in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable


‘Where now? Who now? When now? Unquestioning. I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going on, call that going, call that on’. And so begins Samuel Beckett’s anti-novel The Unnamable. A profoundly disorienting, prolix and indefatigable work, there are no characters, so much as voices, voices that neither sleep nor stay awake, but remain eternally in the restless state that lies between sleep and wakefulness, insentience and cognisance. The voices in The Unnamable are plagued by questions, hypotheses, fickle memories, and volumes of detritus. The question of ‘going on’ envelops Beckett’s text; the narration famously ends with the words ‘you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on’. Beckett’s voices are haunted not by death, nor deprivation, but rather, by the exuberance of existence, of this always ‘having to go on’. If only these voices could sleep. This paper focuses upon patterns of insomnia, melancholia and waste in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable (1953). The psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Julia Kristeva and the phenomenological theories of Emmanuel Levinas are used to illuminate Beckett’s novel.


Peer-reviewed, Abstract only


Further information about the London Beckett Seminar may be accessed here

The Author:

Dr Deborah Pike