Badiou, Beckett, and Contemporary
Badiou’s accounts of Beckett dispute the emphases of a whole critical tradition. This tradition has too often turned Beckett into an absurdist or existentialist, a nihilist or tragic pessimist. In doing so, it has effectively always contemplated Beckett as its own opposite, as the negative to the unrelenting positivity of its own discourse. In its very admiration of Beckett, the tradition has declared its distance from him. That distance is also the measure of its own worldliness. It has invariably adopted the point of view of the proprietor, for whom possessions are ‘the sole proof of being and sense’ (CS, 331). For Badiou, the great founding principle of philosophy is resistance to injustice, which is always resistance to the world as it is.1 The tradition of Beckett criticism has been ‘too appropriate [approprié]’ to that world.2 It has been able to understand Beckett only as inverting what it takes to be a self-evident plenitude (of which more later). From a philosophical perspective, however, that plenitude—of being and meaning—is no more self-evident than is the supposed ‘poverty’ of Beckett’s art. What primarily commands the philosopher’s attention, here, is not a condition of existential deprivation.3 It is the evidence of labour, unremitting effort, and, above all, thought: ‘Beckett speaks to us’, Badiou writes, with existentialist criticism in mind, of something ‘much
1 See ‘D’un sujet enfin sans objet’, Après le sujet qui vient, Cahiers confrontation, 20 (Winter 1989), 13–22, p. 16.
2DP, 22. The phrase is not applied to Beckett criticism. But it indicates how Badiou sees the three major tendencies of twentieth-century philosophy, the hermeneutic, the analytic, and the postmodern-deconstructive, and fits precisely into the context of the argument in this chapter as a whole.
3 It is worth noting in this context that Badiou points out that the characters in Beckett’s plays never die. See RT, 133 n. 87.