Literary aphasia

An addendum to my posting on Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love, about her husband Paul’s aphasia:

Paul’s tortured search for words reminded me of work by Samuel Beckett, the wild and woolly Irish playwright, novelist, member of the French Resistance during WWII, and literary assistant to James Joyce. In his best-known play, Waiting for Godot, Beckett describes God’s inscrutability as “divine aphasia,” and God utters such aphasic gibberist as “Quaquaquaqua.” [compare Paul’s mem mem mem mem] I had a new appreciation for Beckett’s character Watt, who speaks with aphasic peculiarity, jumbling word order, letters, and sense until they’re cockeyed and no one can understand him. (p. 175)

Things get worse.

Paul had relished Beckett, devoured his funny aphasic-sounding fiction especially, and shared it with his students. In an odd twist of fate, Paul now spoke as if he were one of Beckett’s characters, as if he existed within Beckett’s novels.

My penchant for Beckett rekindled, I stumbled upon his final creation: an aphasic poem [following on a fall, probably triggered by a stroke]… His last work, “What Is the Word,” tortures itself with relentless aphasic striving… In the poem’s avalanche of repeats, elisions, stumbling, and stuttering, I heard Paul’s voice as he beat the mental bushes, hunting for lost words. (p. 176)

Beckett died, still in the prison of aphasia, a year and a half after the stroke.


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