Reconstructing the Fabricated
The concept of Samuel Beckett’s Nohow On begins at a juncture where the author already takes for granted that conventional literary forms have been torn down and rendered unnecessary. He is writing from a post-modern platform that is post-character, post-plot, and post-setting. Even when these elements can not be (or are not needed to be) completely removed, they are relied on as tools rather than as story-building focal-points themselves, as they would have necessarily been in literary moments prior to the one in which Beckett writes. He writes with the confidence that the efforts to tear down these problematic paradigms of the past has already been completed (by both critics and artists such as Borges), making it now his responsibility with this work to reconstruct just as admittedly fallible paradigms in the places where the old ones have been removed. The intention of the three “stories” in Nohow On, therefore, seem to be the construction of an elaborate simulacrum of both “literary form” and “reality” at the same time in the absence that the removal of prior forms of each have left. If it is understood from the point at which Beckett stands at the beginning of the work that “realities” are constructs of representations such as “literary form,” and these representative tools are also themselves constructs, and any prior assumptions of “truths” imbedded in either sides of these representative paradigms are therefore inconsequential, then Nohow On situates itself as a work that constructs new structures where the old ones have been stripped away, with the assumed understanding that the new forms are no more “real” than the ones that they replace.
The first “story” in the work, “Company,” presents an interesting corollary metaphor for the way that Beckett’s reconstruction in the entire work operates. Without giving the reader any more than elusive and extremely slight fragments of plot and setting, and only one extremely undeveloped shell of a character that we are told, in the last line of the work, has been the entire time “alone,” Beckett creates a story-telling format that operates with different necessary elements than these, while at the same time, by way of tools of language that rely on very different constructs, builds hypothetical “tangibles” by using the same sort of elusive and unsecured language. Within this tale, these tangibles are referred to as “company,” characters that are mere figures of language to keep the protagonist from being alone. These creations are built by way of language itself, which, by continually altering viewpoints, constructs a cacophony of voices, members of the “company,” that are no less yet definitely not more closely aligned to traditional “characters” than the one that we are told is alone.
Rather than utilize metafiction as merely an element of the storytelling convention, in “Company” metafiction is among the primary premises of the work, and in this way the piece is allegorical for Beckett’s reconstructionist ideology with Nohow On as a whole. The single “character” is, through language, “devising it all for company” (44). In order to not be alone, he creates, by way of narrative position and tense alterations, multiple voices that create one another. When he creates one, that one will spin off and change the position from which it speaks, thus constructing “yet another still devising it all for company” (44). The voices are the representation of characters; these representations create other representations. Thus, as the need for originals of characters to be represented becomes stripped away, we find that all are merely representations of representations, which, according to conventional story-telling guidelines, would render them to be nothing at all. Beckett, however, demonstrates actively how they are created, and therefore demonstrates that, because we are taking for granted now that conventional characterization is also merely representations of representations and therefore subjective or inconsequential, that the constructs themselves, built on nothing besides their nature as constructs, are the goal of the narration, and by their very constructed nature are viable entities, or at least as viable (or as nonviable) as any other representation. In this way, Beckett demonstrates how he will construct viability for all three of the stories in Nohow On, and demonstrates the point of the work to be the reconstruction of artificial representations that are as close to being as unhindered by “truthful” representations as the author can muster. Just as the “character” in “Company” lays on his minimalist bed and constructs a room full of voices, so Beckett stands on the blank slate of the post-modern critical understanding and constructs, with newly reutilized linguistic tools, his own form of representative story-telling.
Thus, as Borges demonstrates with his mirrors, and countless critics such as Baudrillard demonstrate with their theories of the postmodern, that all concepts of “reality” are representations that have little or no secure foundation, Beckett stands on this footing, in the chasm where the constructs have been torn down and takes the next step. He creates, just as the lone “character” in “Company” creates with language the voices of others to share the room with him, a new fallible reality to fill the gap that has been recently vacated, using as few as possible of the old tools, to rather start a new, and reconstruct false objects for the sake of the objects and their fallacy themselves.