Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Deconstructive Reading of Samuel Beckett's the Unnamable: The Threshold of Language Limits

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Deconstructive Reading of Samuel Beckett's the Unnamable: The Threshold of Language Limits

Article excerpt


This study examines one of Samuel Beckett's enigmatic fictions, The Unnamable, in the light of deconstructive reading. Based on the close study of deconstruction and Derrida's works, the main concern of the discussion concentrates on those paradoxical aspects of language and especially literary language that profoundly affect the act of literary reading. Deconstructive reading of a literary text is a matter of entering into the play of contradiction, multiple references, and the ceaseless questioning of conclusions and responses. This article asks how the literary text, through deconstructive study of its oppositions, can be against itself and stand at the threshold of coming new meanings and interpretations. Then, it is not so difficult to see how this approach might be related to Beckett's The Unnamable, which like Derrida's deconstruction is deeply concerned with the problem of "aporia", deeply interested in the play of language, the deferral of meaning and the rejection of any system of classification that is grounded in subject-object relations, and at the end a reading that is itself unnamable.

Key words: Transcendental signified; Differance; Aporia; Representation; Poststructuralism; Structuralism; Metaphysics of presence


The first part of this paper deals with the play of sign and the process of signification in reading a literary text. It examines the fact that the words in a literary text are captured in the labyrinth of metaphysic system of language, yet they constantly reproduce the infinite possibilities of meanings and so postpone the final reference. The next part studies the relationship between the text's desire for singularity or originality and at the same time reading and interpretation. Repetition as one of the important paradoxical features of The Unnamable's language makes the original text of the novel to function such as differance to exist and survive. The ending part is related to the notion of negation and impossibility in deconstructive reading of literary language. Since the language's negativity is always followed by the promise of other meanings, deconstructive reading is assumed as an affirmative movement. Through the reading of The Unnamable the impossibility and negativity of silence is endlessly promised in the affirmative process of continuity of speaking and writing the text.


To find the relation of representation with what is represented and of the signifier with what is signified, Derrida refers to the role of sign in the text and the question that what is the difference between the sign as signifying and the sign as signified concept? And really is it possible to separate them from each other? How do words act in the text? Do they represent an outside transcendental reference or act in a differential relationship between signs and always defer the ultimate reference? Does the acceptance of the differential system for language mean the rejection of metaphysic system of thought?

On the one hand, Derrida affirms Saussure's command that language is a system based on differences and the meaning of signifiers is through their relationships and differences with others. Derrida (2004) sees Saussure's theory as "an absolutely decisive critical role" that acts against the metaphysical tradition by expressing that "the signified is inseparable from the signifier, that the signified and signifier are the two sides of one and the same production" (p.18). On the other hand, Derrida attacks Saussure's idea because if every sign is made up of a potentially infinite chain of differences, "what has become of Saussure's idea that language forms a closed, stable system?" (Eagleton, 1983, p.127). Derrida (2004) argues that one of the important failures of Saussure's theory is "the maintenance of the rigorous distinction" between the signifier and the signified that "inherently leaves open the possibility of thinking a concept signified in and of itself, a concept simply present for thought, independent of a relationship to language, that is of a relationship to a system of signifiers" (p. …

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