Samuel Beckett, Modernism and Christianity

Part of the Modernism and … book series (MAND)


Christianity is Samuel Beckett’s fundamental antagonist: his thought, his aesthetics and his writing cannot be fully understood in isolation from his lifelong struggle with it.116 That may seem a large claim, until one realizes how persistently Beckett returns to this agon with Christianity when defining his whole artistic project vis-à-vis those of his contemporaries and chosen precursors. A telling emblem of this is the above letter to Duthuit (part of an important series from 1949 which culminated in the publication of Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit in December). Inserted into the discussion of Bram Van Velde’s painting is a reference to the ‘great refusal’ made by one in Dante’s zone of unnamed neutrals in Inferno III, those rejected by both Heaven and Hell and driven to chase one banner after another for eternity. In Three Dialogues, Van Velde’s art is tellingly associated with Beckett’s own obsessive concern with a ‘fidelity to failure’ (SBDi, 145); similarly, in another letter, Van Velde exemplifies ‘fidelity to the prison-house, this refusal of any probationary freedom’ (to Duthuit, 2 March 1949; SBL2, 130). The artistic task of the gran rifiuto therefore is to remain within a probationless zone of rejection and expulsion, tracing the ever-onward but futile movement inside the prison-house of existence, while eschewing both heroism and any kind of redemption.


Religious Experience Involuntary Memory Important Series Artistic Task Obsessive Concern 
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Copyright information

© Erik Tonning 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Foreign LanguagesUniversity of BergenNorway

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