beckett and bibliography
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This summary of the academic response to Beckett’s work, first published in 1987, still holds true; the steady flow of critical literature devoted to him shows no sign of diminishing, and yet it is hard to see a fixed consensus about his work emerging from the voluminous material already available. On the contrary: Beckett’s position in twentieth-century literature might be secure, but the nature of his contribution is a matter of debate. He is variously the last of the humanists, portraying the individual soul surviving in the utmost extremity; the last of the modernists, in whose work the experimental urges of the interwar years reach their endpoint; one of the first post-modernists, pulling apart the underlying mechanisms of the literary and dramatic text; a philosopher, in whose work the history of Western thought can be discerned; an anti-rationalist, perhaps even a mystic; and so on, and so on. Beckett’s relation to academic criticism has been both unstable and problematic and, at the same time, endlessly fruitful. (One only has to look at the contents page of this collection to gain a sense of the many critical uses to which his work has been put.) And yet there is no consensus. If we were to look to Beckett’s own work for analogies, we might be irresistibly drawn to dismissals of the critical enterprise (Molloy farting into the Times Literary Supplement, or the despairing cry in Catastrophe — ‘This craze for explicitation! Every i dotted to death!’); or to the warning at the beginning of ‘Dante…Bruno. Vico. Joyce’ (‘The danger is in the neatness of identifications.’) Perhaps, though, the best analogy comes from Watt, and from Watt’s determined attempt to read meaning into the painting in Erskine’s room.
KeywordsLiterary Criticism Literary Text Western Thought Grand Narrative Individual Soul
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