In this episode we discuss Samuel Beckett's oddball novel, Watt.
Be prepared for Watt. Few novelists find the ability (or gall) to include the syncopated musical notation of three croaking frogs or a two-page description of the twenty ways four objects in a room are positioned. There are sentences written backwards, a man who eats the same meal every day, and an unseen dog that has its origins explained for longer than any other scene in the novel. This unseen dog’s story begins to feel more real than most of the surreal novel, and these moments clarify that amidst the abysmal tones and purgatorial drudgery, Beckett is trying to tell you the most important fact about life.
The story about the peculiar protagonist, Watt, is not a direct one. All that can be said of the plot is that our Watt ventures to a manor in the Irish countryside where he works for an obscure duration for obscure reasons, eventually leaving having learned nothing. Watt works for a Mr. Knott, even more enigmatic than our “hero” whose quotidian tasks epitomize the banal and tedious. The details surrounding Watt and his environs do nothing less than chronicle a prevailing sense of absurd purpose. The characters are ugly, their treatment of each other inhumane, and those considered the most sane are more vapid than the universe the audience is forced to recognize.
Heralded as the last modernist, Beckett stretches the movement to its disintegration point and exhausts the function of the narrative. He sequences the story out of order, distorts the events, enumerates catalogues worth of permutations resembling either pretzel logic or the most precise and thus insane depictions of analysis. Always, the metaphorical specter of death looms over the characters, influencing their nonsensical behaviors, the few most resistant to its terror are those most aware of the beckoning soil beneath their feet.
The mirror that Beckett lifts to our face through Watt is of an unmistakable absurdity in something unmistakably familiar, the two contingent on the other, the familiar birthing the absurd. As hopeless as Watt or Beckett appear, the two find a way to reconcile truth and existence, a means to abide with honesty and selflessness. Watt finds a way to speak of our eventual absence in the only thing more real, our presence: “For the only one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something…” the darkest iteration of affirmation in our modern times.