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标标 ;The Nietzschean madman in Beckett's Endgame

    作者; Thomas Dilworth

    来源; The Explicator. 65.3 (Spring 2007): p167. From Literature Resource


    文章型;标标标 Article

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    Halfway through Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Hamm remembers visiting a

    "madman." The remembered visit is anomalous--it is unlike Hamm to have had a friend or to have visited anyone. The unusualness calls attention to the memory. So does its strategic placement. The memory occurs on page 44, at the approximate middle of this 84-page play--the pagination of the original publication in French is an even closer approximation to the middle--the passage occurring on pages 62-63 of the 112-page book. In this play middleness is thematically emphasized. Shortly after remembering the madman, Hamm says of the ringing of Clov's alarm, "I prefer the middle" (48). Earlier, after having Clov push his chair round the room, he insists on being placed "right in the center [...] more or less [...] right in the center [...] roughly [...] Bang in the center" (26-27). By placing Hamm's remembered visit to the madman at the center of the play, Beckett seems to be signalling its importance to the play as a whole. The episode is aesthetically problematic, as it seems to contribute little to the rest of the play--unless or until the reader notices that the madman Hamm visits resembles the madman in Nietzsche's The Gay Science. That importance appears to be its allusion to Nietzsche's madman at a moment of Nietzsche's most famous pronouncement, "God is dead." By bringing a similar, equally prophetic madman into Endgame

    through Hamm's remembered visit, Beckett establishes his play as thoroughgoing contradiction of the Nietzschean optimism about the putative nonexistence of God.

    Halfway through the play, Hamm says to Clov:

     I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He

     was a painter--and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used

     to go and see him, in the asylum. I'd take him by the hand and drag

     him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there!

     Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness!


     He'd snatch away his hand and go back into his corner. Appalled. All

     he had seen was ashes.


     He alone had been spared.




     It appears the case is ... was not so ... so unusual. (44)The madman's atheism is implied, because for him "the end of the world" involves no religious or metaphysical hope. His atheism correlates with that ambiguously expressed by Hamm after he, Clov, and Nagg attempt, apparently in vain, to pray: "The bastard! He doesn't exist!" (55). The case of the madman is, as Hamm says, not so unusual because the appalling

    conditions he describes, once limited to the man's insanity, are now the reality of the characters in the play. Looking out the windows at the earth and sea, Clov reports: "Zero [...] zero [...] and zero" (29), "Corpsed" (30). In his garden, seeds will not sprout (13). He says (only slightly exaggerating), "There's no more nature" (11). Hamm says, "Outside of here it's death" (9). The vision of the madman has proved prophetic. (1)

    Hamm's friend, the "madman who thought the end of the world had come" and who thinks the earth and the sea are now "ashes," closely resembles the madman in The Gay Science, who announces in the marketplace that "God is Dead. [...] And we have killed him" (184). (He is a transparent spokesman for Nietzsche, who twice elsewhere in the book announces without intermediary that "God is Dead" [108, 279]). After Hamm says that God "doesn't exist!" Clov says, "Not yet" (55). The notion of a God not-yet existing balances Nietzsche's notion of God once-existing but now dead: both deny God's essential attribute of eternal life. After Nietzsche's madman declares God dead, he relates the consequences. As in Beckett's play, the consequences are ecological and apocalyptic, although Nietzsche's is also cosmological. As in Beckett's play, only the madman can see them:

     How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away

     the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth

     from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away

     from all suns? Are we not plunging continuously? Backwards,

     sideways, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?

     Are we not straying through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the

     breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night

     continually closing in on us? (181)

    So far, the madmen of Nietzsche and Beckett are in close agreement--their visions corresponding closely to the future as experienced by Hamm and Clov, for whom the land and the sea are waste.

    After expressing his vision of desolation, Nietzsche's madman becomes optimistic: "Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us--for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto" (181). Later in the book, in a section titled "The meaning of our cheerfulness," Nietzsche continues: the consequences of God being dead "are not at all sad and gloomy but rather like a new and scarcely describable kind of light, happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement, dawn. [...] our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation" (280).

    Endgame contradicts this optimism. For Beckett, God's non-existence is not the occasion for the joyful freedom. His characters everywhere implicitly deny Nietzschean optimism as farcical delusion. Absence of God is the absence of meaning and precludes real or lasting happiness. In Beckett, all that is left to Godless humanity is absurdity and despair, which Hamm fearfully, habitually (and, for the audience, unsuccessfully) attempts to keep at bay through generating dialogue, enacting familiar routines, asking "the same questions" and giving "the same answers" (5), and retelling and extending a little his narrative (50-54). Clov says, "life" is a "farce, day after day" (32). Hamm says "crying" is proof of "living" (62). If "nature has left us," nevertheless, "Something is taking its course" (13), and that can only mean, "we change!

    We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!" (11). What Hamm says of the dialogue is true of their lives: "This is not much fun" (13), "This is deadly" (28). When he finally says of his life, "I was never there," Clov replies, "Lucky for you" (74).

    Beckett's allusion to The Gay Science begs further questions about the play. Are other aspects intended to contradict or ridicule Nietzsche? Might Clov be Beckett's ironic version of the Overman, who, in the next generation, will give meaning to godless existence? Just before Hamm remembers visiting the madman, Clov says to him that if "the words you taught me [...] don't mean anything anymore, teach me others. Or let me be silent" (44). This may allude to Nietzsche asserting that names, initially false, give things their apparent meaning and that creating new names would create new things (122). Hamm orders Clov to build a raft so he can "embark" and be carried "to other ... mammals" but then he wonders about there being sharks and changes the subject (34-35). This may allude to Nietzsche exhorting philosophers to "embark" in order to discover new worlds (231-32). The play ends with Clov having announced his intention to leave but remaining on stage, so the next performance, the one after that, and those that follow may be considered as a single long play or sequence of plays or endless cycle of plays that amounts to a discouraging version of Nietzsche's hypothesis of eternal return. (2) --THOMAS DILWORTH, University of Windsor, Ontario Copyright [c] 2007 Heldref Publications


    Samuel Beckett, Endgame, The Gay Science, godlessness, madness,

    Nietzsche, the Overman, prophecy


    1. Prophecy is a minor motif in the play, owing to Hamm asking Clov, "what do you see on your wall? Mene, mene?" (12)--words seen by the prophet Daniel on the wall, foretelling the end of a kingdom (Daniel 5:25-26). 2. Martin Esslin correctly writes, although not apropos of any work in particular, "Beckett suffers under the thought of eternal recurrence" but "never overcame the dread of an infinity of time and suffering. His quest, in contrast to Nietzsche's remains the pursuit of that supreme moment of unity with eternity that is the end of time [...]" (122-23).


    Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. New York: Grove P, 1959.

    ______. Fin de partie. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1957.

    Esslin, Martin. "Samuel Beckett--Infinity, Eternity." Becket at 80 / Beckett in Context. Ed. Enoch Brater. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 122-23.

    Nietzsche, Freidrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random, 1974. 184.

    Dilworth, Thomas


    Dilworth, Thomas. "The Nietzschean madman in Beckett's Endgame." The

    Explicator 65.3 (2007): 167+. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 12 Jan.


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