In Beckett’s The Unnamable, the figure of Mahood represents the world of the mind, and conceptualizes an idealized, intellectual approach to the problem of naming that ultimately abuses, falsifies, obscures, and attempts to control the very language, or system of naming, it wishes to perfect. Mahood acts simultaneously as a part of the narrator and a separate entity, and speaks for, of, and through the narrator while constantly attempting to harness him with fixity and stability. By hounding the narrator with linguistic ideals such as wholeness of language, fixation of essence through naming, and having ones own unique voice, Mahood, rather a concept than an actual being, represents an elevated, intellectual system of naming de-legitimized by the attempt to force correspondence, and allows the text to further explore and explicate the binary opposition between labels and things that the first two sections of The Trilogy began developing. Through Mahood, the reader discovers the flaws and obstacles that make the attainment of these linguistic ideals impossible, but understanding Mahood alone reveals nothing; The Unnamable inextricably links the concepts he represents with those of his anti-thesis, Worm, and ties both figures to the narrator. Having scrutinized the “Mahood” approach to language, the reader can then decode the narrator of The Unnamable as language itself, opening the gateway to fully understanding the problem of naming as it appears in The Trilogy. From there, one can see the development of this problem further still, in the later work of Endgame.
The idea of “Mahood” language symbolizing the mental realm litters The Unnamable as the text constantly identifies him with the concepts of naming, abstract thought, knowledge, and idealism. These concepts, however, are continuously associated with the theme of domination. When speaking of those adhering to “Mahood” ideas, the narrator refers to the word “think” as “one of their words,” indicating a possessive and tyrannical approach to the issue of words and naming as well as that of thought (335). These figures of the mind prompt the narrator into “asking [him]self questions,” in order make him intellectual, in other words, to have him learn (334). As an incarnation of such knowledge and learning, “pupil Mahood,” recites the phrase, “man is a higher mammal,” associating the world of the mind with hierarchical notions of existence that place thinking man in an idealized, superior position to the rest of the world (337). When prompting the narrator to learn, then, the Mahood-ites attempt to force him to adhere to their own idealistic conception of existence. Also, the narrator mentions Mahood’s tendency “to note...certain things, perhaps I should say all things, so as to turn them to account, for his governance,” which not only aligns Mahood with intellectualism, but again intellectualism with a desire to manipulate and control (339). Mahood, by his very name, attempts self-definition, “mahood” denoting “my-hood,” or “my-ness,” the idea of drawing from an object itself a name that captures the essence of that object. However, Mahood’s wish to control the world by forcing upon it ideas of hierarchy belies the legitimacy of the idealistic “my-ness,” instead trying to saddle things with names that fix essence by brute domination. Through the attempt to force correspondence between words and concepts, Mahood ceases to be “my-hood” and becomes “my hood,” or that which covers and conceals the truth of non-correspondence.
Such attempts at hiding non-correspondence appear earlier in The Trilogy as well. In the Molloy section, Lousse, in whose house and garden Molloy stays for a long period, represents, like Mahood, the attitude intellectual, formal style takes towards naming. Molloy’s stay with Lousse is a stay in the figurative house of traditional, elevated language. Lousse, as a figure of domination, attempts to “mollify Molloy, with the result that [he] was nothing more than a lump of melting wax” (47). The elevated language of Lousse wishes to smooth Molloy over in an attempt to turn him into the seal with which she chooses to imprint him. Her ideal naming system conquers, melts, and reshapes the object into a constant display of its name. Because of her need for things to reflect the labels with which she saddles them, Lousse cannot stand it when names and things do not correspond; for example, she thinks of her dog, Teddy, “like a child” (33): pure, innocent, and young. However, she is on her way, when she meets Molloy, to have the dog euthanized because it is “old, blind, deaf, crippled with rheumatism and perpetually incontinent” (33). Because Teddy’s non-correspondence can no longer be ignored, Lousse must destroy and bury him. Her garden itself symbolizes control. There Lousse can decide which flowers stay and which are pulled, she holds dominion over names and things in the garden, and has it constantly cared for “in order to preserve [it] from apparent change” (52). Names in the garden and house of Lousse attempt to dominate both the wild and the horrific, forcing those uglier concepts to submit to the more pleasing label with which she binds them in the same way that Mahood attempts to force the world to submit to the controlling labels with which he binds it. Unlike Mahood, however, Lousse does not address the issue of intellectual education. Rather, she awaits the company of those who are already educated in order to mold them anew.
Similarly, the figure of Moll, from Malone Dies, symbolizes a formal approach to language and attempts to educate Macmann, the worldly figure. Moll leads Macmann to “[penetrate] the world of reading, thanks to the inflammatory letters which [she] brought and put into his hands,” effectually educating him (260). Moll’s efforts to teach Macmann language (naming) are efforts to make him like her, to “Moll-ify” him. Here, as with Mahood, the theme of mollification accompanies the ideas of education and naming, along with the attempt to pull the lower concepts of the world up to the higher realm of the mind, but, unlike Mahood, Moll de-legitimizes her language through eroticization, not domination. Moll’s approach to language, like Mahood’s, emphasizes the assignment of hierarchical order to concepts, made visible through her placing and tying “in chronological order” the letters with which she teaches Macmann language (260). Moll “inform[s] Macmann, when he [does] something, if that thing [is] permitted or not, and similarly, when he remain[s] inert, whether or not he [is] entitled to,” paralleling Mahood’s need for control (257). Moll thinks of her language as a savior figure, telling Macmann, “Christ is in my mouth,” but the literal tooth in her mouth, fashioned in the shape of the crucifix, is “loose” and “rotten” (263-4). As the gap between the reality and the ideal of Moll’s language widens, she “begin[s] to smell” and vomit, and Moll rots along with her tooth-carved crucifix (264). By attempting to force her concept of naming and language onto Macmann, Moll succeeds only in destroying herself.
If Mahood, like his predecessors Lousse and Moll, represents the oppressive world of intellectualism and knowledge, then his polar opposite, Worm, represents the physical world. Worm is not only incapable of knowing “what he is, where he is, [and] what is happening,” he also “does not know there is anything to know” (346). Worm is the world without mind—without intellectualism—that Mahood wishes to intellectualize and control through language. Worm is “without voice or reason” but doesn’t “know it,” his only function is to “be Worm” (347). Completing the mental/physical binary, Worm exists as the “Anti-Mahood…. Inexpugnable” (346-7). Like the physical world, Worm is neither positive nor negative, but simply exists, unaware of anything. Worm’s existence, however, is “not for himself, [but] for others, others conceive him and say, Worm is, since we conceive him, as if there could be no being but being conceived,” reinforcing the idea that he is the physical world, which has no desires (346). These “others” who wish conceptualize Worm view him as “the truest possession, because the most unchanging,” and, through this view, uphold Mahood philosophies concerning forced conceptualization in conjunction with ideas of ownership and dominance (346). The Mahood-ites, through their language, wish to “lay hold of [Worm]…. For [his] transit, from darkness to light” (357). No bodily or worldly figure goes un-assailed by attempts at mollification in The Trilogy.
I want the bomb
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...