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Kites

September 18, 2008

I’d like to quote the final chapter of Murphy in its entirety.  But I guess that’d be nuts.  And you wouldn’t really read it, would you?   It is in these final few pages that Beckett finally comes around to writing seriously about the image that got him started on the book in the first place—kites and old men in the park.   And the writing is glorious, lyrical, melancholy.  Maybe even optimistic.  First paragraph:

“Late afternoon, Saturday, October the 26th.  A mild, clear sunless day, sudden gentle eddies of rotting leaves, branches still against the still sky, from a chimney a pine of smoke.”

Again, it’s the words; a mild, clear sunless day.   A clear sunless day?  That’s a new image.  And the “branches still against the still sky”, and like that lonely tree on a country road—“from a chimney a pine of smoke.”  A lone pine arrowing to the sky, smoke.  Lovely.

“Celia wheeled Mr. Kelly into position, at the north-east corner of the plot between the Round Pond and the Broad Walk, the prow of his chair wedged against the railing.  She took the assembled kite gently from his hands, backed along the path until she stood on the margin of the water, held up the kite as high as her arms would reach and waited for the glove to fall.”

So are we dealing with the Cartesian duality that scholars have frequently found in Murphy?  The kite represents the separation of body and mind, at the end of its line—“ there was nothing to be seen, for the kite had disappeared from view.  Mr. Kelly was enraptured.”   Physical kite, mental kite—physical Murphy, mental Murphy—the mind that is repelled by Celia, the man who wants her.

“Mr. Kelly’s hand felt the wind he wanted, the glove fell, Celia threw up the kite.  And so great was his skill that in five minutes he was lying back, breathing hard and short, his eyes closed of necessity but in ecstasy as it happened, half his line paid out, sailing by feel.”

An ecstasy born not of this world, but of the other-worldly kite.

“The end of the line skimmed the water, jerked upward in a wild whirl, vanished joyfully in the dusk.”

Joyfully?  So Murphy ends optimistically?  Moving from the captive in his crummy cage of a flat at the opening to a wild joyful whirl in the dusk?   Well, maybe not.  After all, Murphy’s ashes had just been washed down the drain at his pub. It’s a Beckettian grin, grim with a glimpse of the world’s irrational heart.

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