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13 Apr

Beckett and Philosophy

The theme of Beckett and philosophy can be approached in yet another way. Besides philosophers influencing Beckett, Beckett has also interested – even mesmerised – contemporary philosophers and critics, from Sartre, Lukacs, and Theodor Adorno, to Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Alain Badiou, Gilles Deleuze, George Steiner,Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Wolfgang Iser, Slavoj Zizek, and many others. They have all been attracted to Beckett’s relentless vision of the world and our human place in it.They have sought to reflect on Beckett’s meaning from quite divergent points of view, seeking to recruit Beckett to one cause or other: from modernism to postmodernism, from structuralism to deconstruction.

Sartre, himself the author of existential plays such as Huis Clos (1946) saw himself as engaged with his fellow dramatist Beckett in a common cause of producing a drama that ‘decentralised the subject’. The Hungarian Marxist critic George Lukacs saw the Beckett’s work as exemplifying capitalist decadence and abstract bourgeois individualism. The German Jewish philosopher and critical theorist Theodor Adorno, however, strongly disagreed with Lukacs. Endgame in particular had a very powerful impact on Adorno, who saw in Beckett a kind of ‘organised meaninglessness’. For him, Beckett exposes the bankruptcy of philosophy ‘as the dreamlike dross of the experiential world and the poetic process shows itself as worn out.’ Beckett identifies the tedium of spirit of our late age.

Dermot Moran (2006) “Beckett and Philosophy”, in Christopher Murray (ed.), Samuel Beckett – One Hundred Years (Dublin: New Island Press), pp. 93–110. Quote from pp. 100-101.

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14 May

Beckett the Nietzschean Hedonist

[Beckett] deftly suppressed his philosophical reading in public statements. We don’t know why. According to David Addyman and Matthew Feldman between 1930 and 1938 he wrote 266 Folios of five hundred sides of variously typed and handwritten recto and verso notebook pages on philosophy taken from four sources. […] For this reason it is not unlikely that Beckett was not always sketching a generalized philosophical theme but had a specific one in mind.

Thomas Dilworth and Christopher Langlois think so. They propose that when Hamm remembers visiting a ‘madman’ in some anomalous visit, a recollection occurring halfway through ‘Endgame’ that draws attention to both memory and its defaults as well as the strategic location of the occurrence in the text as a whole, the ‘madman’ is to be identified as Nietzsche. […]

They conclude that, as with allusions to Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ in the characters Pozzo and Lucky of ‘Godot’, Beckett ‘… is repeating the strategy of referring through dramatized imagery to a famous philosophical text in order to emphasise a pervasive theme in the play’. Jean-Michel Rabaté notes that Beckett’s relationship to philosophy is purposively playful. At times it works as shorthand, a gesture towards some idea that may or may not be a central concern, at other times it illustrates some more general feature, such as the structure of dramatic reality in the use of the sorites found also in ‘Endgame’.

Was Beckett a philosopher? (He is not in The IP Bible). Richard Marshall in 3:AM Magazine outlines parallels between Nietzsche and Beckett. In this extract he argues that Beckett systematically uses philosophy in his work.

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