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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland


Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.


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Chapter Five Initiatory Rites in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable and Other Prose 117


Chapter Five Initiatory Rites in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable and Other Prose The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett’s English translation of his L’Innommable (1953), was first published in 1958. It is the third novel of his trilogy, the former two novels being Molloy and Malone Dies. The author regarded himself primarily as a novelist and in these three novels, especially in The Unnamable, Beckett engages in a profound exploration of the self. The Unnamable portrays a long, introspective search into a series of vague, unnameable experiences couched in a stream of consciousness mono- logue. It also launches on a search for what lays behind the creation of the characters and stories that people his other novels. Early in the novel the narrator expresses his frustration with these characters, saying: ‘[a]ll the Murphys, Molloys and Malones do not fool me. They have made me waste my time, suffer for nothing, speak of them when, in order to stop speaking, I should have spoken of me and me alone’.1 The Unnamable, as Mary Junker observes, is thus very autobiographical, coming from the depths of the author’s being. Beckett himself said: ‘[i]n my last book L’innommable, there’s complete disintegration. No “I”, no “have”, no “being”, no nominative, no accusative, no verb. There’s no way to go on’.2 The intensity of this inner excursion was to be such a test of nerves that he chose to break up the writing of the trilogy before beginning The Unnamable with what he felt was a less...

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