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  • The Drama in the Text: Beckett’s Late Fiction
  • Stephen Barker
Enoch Brater. The Drama in the Text: Beckett’s Late Fiction. New York: Oxford U P, 1994. 207 pp. No price given.

Enoch Brater continues his exploration of Beckett’s oeuvre, this time of the very spare and highly poetic final works Beckett squeezed out in virtually invisible ink. Brater’s has been a passionate and engaged journey through Beckett’s work, and has evidenced an increasing attention to the performative in the text. With this volume, he throws caution to the winds and declares, repeatedly, his now-fully-evolved notion that “those moments we remember” from Beckett’s writing “are remembered [End Page 901] precisely because they are so wonderfully speakable: they are written for the performative voice, a resonant human voice, and they attain their full spontaneity only when spoken aloud. Sound literally makes sense here” (4). Collapsing into a straight forward, central interpretive phalanx what might in another framework have been a very dense set of themes, Brater declares that “Beckett’s story is the old story, the one story, the simple human drama of a voice that calls out to us from the silence and insists on getting itself heard” (13). In other words, The Drama in the Text is a book full of the rhetoric of desire for “the earthing of language” (17), and denies any poststructuralist notion, from at least Barthes on, that language and the world are dissonant and dissociated realms. Though I fundamentally disagree with Enoch Brater’s point of view with regard to Beckett’s writing, and see a quite different set of tensions in those bony pages of the late fiction, I have immense respect for the vitality, and the breadth and sheer networking of Brater’s research into and grasp of not only Beckett’s work but the Beckett industry as well. Brater shows himself to be the supreme chronicler of Beckett’s works’ “presence” in the academic and performative sphere, and regardless of one’s interpretive attitude toward the slant Brater takes in the book, anyone interested in the minutae of Beckettiana must be very grateful for this compendium of associations and information; I will use this book frequently, despite my divergent take on the primary material, precisely because salted into his interpretive framework Brater presents so much sheer information here.

Occluded in the volume’s “simple human drama” of the warm, humanistic voice, of course, is the long struggle crrrrritics and theorists have had, particularly egregiously regarding Beckett’s work, with the conundrum of subjectivity. With this in mind, and since The Drama in the Text so assiduously avoids laying claim to a concerted interpretive position, I want to speculate on an approach hinted at in Brater’s chapter headings, particularly that of Chapter Two, “Acts of Enunciation.” Roland Barthes is mentioned only once in the book (and in a very backhanded way):

Stillness is the one thing this voice finds “impossible to follow let alone describe.” Difficult to perceive and, like that other absolute, zero, stillness can never be captured in words. But Beckett’s language insists on a life of its own: so much to do, as much as to say. The memory that language brings with it, [End Page 902] this time Barthes notwithstanding, is by no means secondary, for as Beckett demonstrates, this “character” of his language is always primary.


But Brater’s pivotal notion of enunciation evokes that of Barthes, who shows that only silence can meaningfully engage both the “death of the Author,” on which his semiosis is based, and the fact that the empty signifier “living enunciation” is an insoluble and ineluctable conundrum. For Barthes, textual enunciation enounces the absence of the subject (the speaking and the reading one) within the “fascism” of a language always trapped in its self-referentiality. The fiction of presence, as the play of subjecthood, Brater’s “drama in the text,” is precisely that. Beckett’s is pervasively and minutely a pensum on the “scriptible” and “lisible” by which Barthes deals with the problematic enunciation of subjecthood—and thus with Enoch Brater’s key word, voice. “The goal of literary work...

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