Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

Synopsis

The book aims to make easily accessible to students and scholars stimulating and innovative writing on the work of Samuel Beckett, representing the wide range of new perspectives opened up by contemporary critical theory: philosophical, political and psychoanalytic criticism, feminist and gender studies, semiotics, and reception theory.

Excerpt

International Beckett

The reception of Samuel Beckett’s texts has from the start been an international business. During his lifetime, Beckett’s peculiar status as an Irish writer who lived most of his adult life in France, writing fiction and plays in both English and French, translated into dozens of languages, and staged in dozens of countries, marked him out as a thoroughly international writer. He formed working relationships and friendships in the United States and Germany as well as in France, England and Ireland, with publishers, translators, theatre directors, producers, actors, academics, and occasionally even critics. And over the forty-five years since Waiting for Godot and the prose trilogy brought him the fame with which he found it so difficult to come to terms, his work has generated one of the most voluminous international libraries of critical commentary on any author in the history of world literature. Turnover in the Beckett critical industry is now so high that compiling bibliographies by country of production has become not only a practical possibility but also an academic necessity. For the extracts included in this volume, understanding the distinctive contribution made to the Beckettian critical domain by their countries of origin is a key part of the process of placing them on a complex intellectual map.

What all the extracts have in common is that they signal a radical shift within the tradition that dominated Beckett studies until the mid-1980s. This tradition goes by various names. P.J. Murphy identifies the ‘first period of serious Beckett criticism’ as having been governed by ‘a combination of “formalist” (read “New Criticism”) and “existentialist” terms’, and argues that Beckett’s major critics of the early 1960s (for him, Hugh Kenner, John Fletcher, Ruby Cohn and Martin Esslin) moved between these two approaches ‘without however being able to show theoretically how the two came to be reconciled’ (Murphy, in Murphy et al., 1994, pp. 3–4). It is, as he points out, ‘the whole ideology of existential humanism’ that allows . . .

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