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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Adam, Beckett and superfluity

adam and economics
Our basest beggars, King Lear said, are in the poorest thing superfluous. This is a truth that is often bent about to show how true communism goes against the human instinct for acquisition. I don’t think it works like that – in fact, it is only under the system of unlimited private enterprise that the population is truly stripped of its assets, so that, at the end of the day, in many of the most advanced economies in the world, the vast majority really owns nothing after you tally up assets versus debts. This is very much true of the U.S. But if you let the truth point to its own meaning, it does show something about human expansiveness – which takes a shitload of history to turn into acquisition. Human breadth does require superfluidity, repetition, margins. Molloy, Beckett’s beggar, runs perhaps the most famous riff on the beggar’s possessions:
“I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of
sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on
this occasion I laid in 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. “
Adam doesn’t do sucking stones, although he probably would if his ever vigilant parents didn't pluck pebbles, or coins, or other small objects from his mouth as soon as he had slyly hiked one of them up there. But he does have his system with what we call “sucettes” – pacifiers. When he is seated comfortably, say, in his chair in the back seat of the car, he will take one sucette and put it in his mouth while keeping the fingers of one hand laced through the ring of another sucette. Sometimes, he will raise the sucette not in use above his head. He’ll entangle it moodily in his hair, whilst sucking on the first sucette. At these moments I think Adam is balanced between the exaltation of having extra sucettes and the peace induced by the first sucette, which is bobbing up and down in his mouth as he gets the most exact flavor from it. I say exaltation, and not a sense of extra property, because in the mood of feeling that he has extra sucettes, he tends to throw them about. Here, he differs from Molloy, whose pockets are part of the whole system of sucking stones. Adam doesn’t have the notion of storing his sucettes on his person. When he wants a sucette kept safe, he will hand it to me or Antonia. This is done with the kind of gesture that must reproduce, in miniature, a King giving the sceptre to some trusted bystanding official. The King is still King, and maybe even more King, in giving away for the moment one of the usufructs of the office – and Adam is still Adam even without the extra sucette. However, the flaw in the system is that the world does not spontaneously generate sucette, meaning that they can get lost, somehow.
Molloy’s system too had its flaws, and he himself, after elaborate meditations and changes of numbers of stones among his four pockets, admits it:
“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 six teen, it was not in order to ballast my self in such and such a way, or to suck them turn about, but simply to have a little store, so as never to be with¬out. But deep down I didn’t give a fid dler’s curse about being with out, when they were all gone they would be all gone, I wouldn’t be any the worse off, or hardly any. And the so¬lu tion to which I ral lied in the end was to throw away all the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in an other…”

I think Molloy’s greater experience speaks here – as for Adam, it is by no means clear that they would taste exactly the same, his sucette, and certainly they have different colors and some of them you manipulate through the little plastic ring attached to them and others, which are most often the least valuable, although sometimes, just to spring a surprise on the world, are the ones you cry for most and won’t settle until you have, these others have no little plastic ring adorning them and you have to hold them and turn them around by the little brace to which the rubber nipple is attached. But with this difference – between the infinite hopefulness of Adam and the infinite resignation of Molloy – this is how the logic of superfluity comes about. 

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