Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity

Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity

Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity

Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity

Synopsis

This study explores the relation between Beckett's five major novels and the phenomenon that has been described as the 'end of modernity'. Begam argues against the tendency to treat the postmodern as the negation of Enlightenment thinking.

Excerpt

In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition, a book in which he argued that modernity--broadly defined as the Western Enlightenment tradition--had fallen into a "legitimation crisis" from which it could not deliver itself. The time had come, Lyotard urged, to explore a postmodern alternative. A year later in Modernity Versus Postmodernity,Jürgen Habermas took pointed issue with Lyotard, contending that modernity remained an "incomplete project" and that, rather than abandon it, "we should learn from the mistakes of those extravagant programs" that sought to replace it. The debate on the "end of modernity" had been joined. There followed in quick succession Lyotard What Is Postmodernism? (1982) and The Postmodern Explained (1988), Habermas's The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985), and Gianni Vattimo's The End of Modernity (1985). The last two books were particularly valuable for the way they placed this debate in its larger context, relating it both to French poststructuralism and the philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger.

The present study expands upon that context by focusing on the five major novels Samuel Beckett wrote between 1935 and 1950: Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. It will be my claim that these novels provide the earliest and most influential literary expression we have of the "end of modernity." At the same time, I want to qualify the categorical distinction that is usually drawn between philosophy and literature, between theory and text, and I am therefore interested not only in reading Beckett through the discourse of poststructuralism but also in reading the discourse of poststructuralism through Beckett. Such an approach . . .

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