restricted access Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett (review)
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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 530-532

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Book Review

Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett

Daniel Katz. Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1999. vii + 220 pp.

Since the 1950s scholarship on Samuel Beckett's work has attempted to account for negation, especially philosophical negation, in Beckett's texts. In many respects, Daniel Katz's text, Saying I No More, is a recent offering of a long line of offerings that tries to account for, and even affirm, the negativity in Beckett's texts. Early studies in the Humanist tradition typically take Beckett's negativity and turn it into an Idealistic or Universalized life affirming statement: Beckett's characters bravely go on (in postwar Europe) in spite of the fact that they are completely devoid of hope and have no way to go on. More recently, so-called poststructuralist readings ride the wave of Beckett's negativity with Beckett as they interpret his negativity as a negativity directed against the very Humanist tradition the former critics were espousing. Overall, this two-sided critical situation has worked to construct a rather ironic binary among Beckett scholars: an us versus them situation. It is unfortunate that this binary exists at all, of course, but the line has been drawn in the sand (and as Beckett would say, "Nothing to be done"), with the Humanists, many of whom actually knew Mr. Beckett, fiercely guarding their version of Beckett, while the theory-informed poststructuralists, brazenly (so it seems to the former camp) play the new-kids-on-the-block with readings that demolish, or worse, pay no heed to earlier Beckett interpretations.

Oddly, while Katz's text definitely claims a place in the poststructuralist camp, its subject matter still has one foot firmly in the [End Page 530] Humanist camp. This situation comes about because Katz's text takes on topics that presume a Humanist, subjective "I" and a consciousness instead of the postmodern or postructuralist complete disavowal of subjectivity or consciousness in favor of, at best, a constructed "I" which has limited agency. Also, in terms of fiction, the idea of character has been replaced by the poststructuralist text. Is Beckett's power from the subjectivized "no" or is it from the complete departure, the complete abandonment of the subjectivized "I," which in turn puts into question all subjectivized readings of Beckett's prose? For example, Katz devotes two of six chapters to the trilogy of novels, including one chapter to The Unnamable. In his discussion of the narrator's subjectivity in The Unnamable Katz fails to acknowledge a sense of irony or parody in relation to the text. This lack, in turn, is itself ironic because Katz's interpretation is theoretically informed by Derrida who, one would imagine, would be the first to treat the narrator as a text. The fact that Derrida informs a thesis that attempts to overwrite a Cartesian reading of Beckett speaks to Katz's theoretical belatedness. This belatedness may be due, in part, to the fact that Saying I No More was originally Katz's 1994 Ph.D. dissertation. Late 1980s buzz words such as "origin" ("it might be wise to look at how the trilogy discusses origins and destinations, especially as the characters in the trilogy tend to depict the destinations of their journeys as an arrival at some sort of origin for themselves--is the origin something Beckett's texts allow us to arrive at?"), "logocentric" and "signature" ("Beckett's first-person texts never support the logocentric claims above, but while rejecting the transcendental pretensions of the authority of the signature, they also reject the dodging of the issue of the origin-effect that a recourse to third person narration sometimes implies") belie its 1999 publication date. The fact that this text was originally a dissertation shows up, too, in the prose which tends to summarize (without proper citation) a string of critical arguments which sometimes have little to...