Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Playing Nothing

Games and Cognitive Difference in Murphy

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2019), 13, (2), 159–175.

Abstract

In Murphy, Samuel Beckett uses games to undermine expectations of cognitive normativity. He aligns mental disability with play, re-contextualizing cognitive difference as an interactive process rather than a frightening Otherness. Informed by visits to mental hospitals and personal experience with psychoanalytic treatment, characters in Murphy often enter interdependent relationships that question their own subjectivities, exploring what it means to be recognized as mentally disabled. The article suggests Beckett uses games to unsettle logical narrative sequence and permit unanticipated results. The ludic framework emphasizes the features games share with non-normative epistemologies, or “cripistemologies.” Near the end of the novel Murphy plays chess with the schizophrenic Mr Endon, seeking equal recognition as mentally disabled. The game results in “Nothing,” a Nothing that is not a void but the feeling of an inarticulate something, the presence of which develops through playful exchange. This Nothing allows space for understandings of cognitive difference existing outside normative conventions, expanding considerations of mental disability through processes of exchange.

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Works Cited

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Massumi, Brian. What Animals Teach Us About Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 2014. Print. Google Scholar

Beckett, Samuel. The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929–1940. Eds. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck. New York: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print. Google Scholar

Beckett, Samuel. Molloy. Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. New York: Grove Press, 2009. 1–170. Print. Google Scholar

McRuer, Robert and Merri Lisa Johnson. “Proliferating Cripistemologies: A Virtual Roundtable.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014): 127–47. Print. Google Scholar

Beckett, Samuel. Murphy. New York: Grove Press, 1938. Print. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print. Google Scholar

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press, 1952. Print. Google Scholar

Mollow, Anna. “Criphystemologies: What Disability Theory Needs to Know about Hysteria.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014): 185–201. Print. Google Scholar

Pendergast, Catherine. “The Unexceptional Schizophrenic: a Post-Postmodern Introduction.” Journal of Literary Disability 2.1 (2008): 55–62. Print. Google Scholar

Berkeley, George. Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues. Ed. Howard Robinson. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print. Google Scholar

Price, Margret. Mad at School. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2014. Print. Google Scholar

Davidson, Michael. “‘Every Man his Specialty’: Beckett, Disability and Dependence.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 1.2 (2007): 55–68. Print. Google Scholar

Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print. Google Scholar

Davis, Lennard J. The End of Normal. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2013. Print. Google Scholar

Quayson, Ato. “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions: On Samuel Beckett’s Murphy.” University of Toronto Quarterly 79.2 (2010): 838–64. Print. Google Scholar

Donaldson, Elizabeth J. “The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness.” The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability. Eds. David Bolt, Julia Miele Rodas, and Elizabeth J. Donaldson. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2012. 11–31. Print. Google Scholar

Shloss, Carol Loeb. Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. Print. Google Scholar

Johnson, Merri Lisa and Robert McRuer. “Cripistemologies: Introduction.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014): 127–47. Print. Google Scholar

Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 1996. Print. Google Scholar

Stevens, Victoria. “Nothingness, No-Thing, and Nothing in the Work of Wilfred Bion and in Samuel Beckett’s Murphy.” The Psychoanalytic Review 92.4 (2005): 607–35. Print. Google Scholar

Thurston, Luke. “Outselves: Beckett, Bion and Beyond.” Journal of Modern Literature 32.3 (Spring 2009): 121–43. Print. Google Scholar

Mallarmé, Stephane. Un Coup de dès jamais n’abolira le hasard. Paris: Gallimard, 1914. Print. Google Scholar

Massumi, Brian. What Animals Teach Us About Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 2014. Print. Google Scholar

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. Print. Google Scholar

McRuer, Robert and Merri Lisa Johnson. “Proliferating Cripistemologies: A Virtual Roundtable.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014): 127–47. Print. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Print. Google Scholar

Mollow, Anna. “Criphystemologies: What Disability Theory Needs to Know about Hysteria.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014): 185–201. Print. Google Scholar

Pendergast, Catherine. “The Unexceptional Schizophrenic: a Post-Postmodern Introduction.” Journal of Literary Disability 2.1 (2008): 55–62. Print. Google Scholar

Price, Margret. Mad at School. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2014. Print. Google Scholar

Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Print. Google Scholar

Quayson, Ato. “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions: On Samuel Beckett’s Murphy.” University of Toronto Quarterly 79.2 (2010): 838–64. Print. Google Scholar

Shloss, Carol Loeb. Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. Print. Google Scholar

Stevens, Victoria. “Nothingness, No-Thing, and Nothing in the Work of Wilfred Bion and in Samuel Beckett’s Murphy.” The Psychoanalytic Review 92.4 (2005): 607–35. Print. Google Scholar

Thurston, Luke. “Outselves: Beckett, Bion and Beyond.” Journal of Modern Literature 32.3 (Spring 2009): 121–43. Print. Google Scholar

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. Print. Google Scholar

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Author details

Marchisotto, Jennifer