Molloy

This is the version of the text I am performing at Nottingham Contemporary for the Otobong Nkanga installation – A Taste of Stone. It’s taken from Samuel Beckett’s Molloy (1947-49).

I took advantage of being at the seaside to collect a store of sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on this occasion I collected a considerable store. I distributed them equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following way…

I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat. Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had finished sucking it.

Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets, but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to suck took hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my greatcoat, certain of not taking the same stone as the last time. And while I sucked it I rearranged the other stones in the way I have just described. And so on.

But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that, by chance, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four. Far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn-about, I was really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn-about. But I shuffled them well in my pockets, before I began to suck, and again, while I sucked, before transferring them from pocket to pocket. But this was only a makeshift solution that could not long content a man like me. So I began to look for something else…

I might do better to transfer the stones four by four, instead of one by one, that is to say, during the sucking, to take the three stones remaining in the right pocket of my greatcoat and replace them by the four in the right pocket of my trousers, and these by the four in the left pocket of my trousers, and these by the four in the left pocket of my greatcoat, and finally these by the three from the right pocket of my greatcoat, plus the one, as soon as I had finished sucking it, which was in my mouth. It seemed to me at first that by so doing I would arrive at a better result.

But on further reflection I confess that the circulation of the stones four by four came to exactly the same thing as their circulation one by one. For if I was certain of finding each time, in the right pocket of my greatcoat, four stones totally different from their predecessors, the possibility nevertheless remained of my always chancing on the same stone, within each group of four, and consequently of my sucking, not the sixteen turn and turn-about, but in fact four only, always the same, turn and turn-about.

But no matter how I caused the stones to circulate, I always ran the same risk. It was obvious that by increasing the number of my pockets I was bound to increase my chances of enjoying my stones in the way I planned, that is to say one after the other until their number was exhausted. Had I had eight pockets, for example, instead of the four I did have, then even the most diabolical hazard could not have prevented me from sucking at least eight of my sixteen stones, turn and turn-about.

The truth is I should have needed sixteen pockets in order to be quite easy in my mind. And for a long time I could see no other conclusion than this, that short of having sixteen pockets, each with its stone, I could never reach the goal I had set myself, short of an extraordinary hazard. And if at a pinch I could double the number of my pockets, were it only by dividing each pocket in two to quadruple them seemed to be more than I could manage. And sitting on the shore, before the sea, the sixteen stones spread out before me, I gazed at them in anger and perplexity…

Until I finally reached a solution, inelegant assuredly, but sound, sound. Now I am willing to believe that other solutions to this problem might have been found and indeed may still be found, no less sound, but much more elegant than the one I shall now describe, if I can …

Good. Now I can begin to suck. Watch me closely. I take a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, suck it, stop sucking it, put it in the left pocket of my greatcoat, the one empty. I take a second stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, suck it put it in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And so on until the right pocket of my greatcoat is empty and the six stones I have just sucked, one after the other, are all in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

Pausing and concentrating, I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, in which there are no stones left, the five stones in the right pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat. At this stage the left pocket of my greatcoat is again empty, while the right pocket of my greatcoat is again supplied with other stones than those I have just sucked.

These other stones I then begin to suck, one after the other, and to transfer as I go along to the left pocket of my greatcoat, being certain that I am not sucking the same stones as a moment before, but others. And when the right pocket of my greatcoat is again empty, and the five I have just sucked are all in the left pocket of my greatcoat, then I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, the five stones in the right pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And there I am ready to begin again. Do I have to go on?

To suck the stones in the method I have described was a bodily need. But deep down I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand and the left, backwards and forwards. And deep down it was all the same to me whether I sucked a different stone each time or always the same stone, until the end of time. For they all tasted exactly the same. And if I had collected sixteen, it was not in order to ballast myself in such a way, or to suck them turn-about, but simply to have a little store, so as never to be without.

But deep down I didn’t give a fiddler’s curse about being without, when they were all gone they would be all gone, I wouldn’t be any the worse off. And the solution to which I rallied in the end was to throw away all the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in another, and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or gave away, or swallowed.

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Images: Julian Hughes