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It used to be fashionable at junctures such as this to refer disparagingly to the "Beckett industry"—willfully suggesting that the critical work under consideration was yet one more cranked out for a hungry readership. Such statements were a symptom of the insecurities of Beckett criticism in its adolescence. But times have changed. The past five years have seen the publication of a number of sophisticated, insightful studies of Beckett's drama and fiction, and we no longer [End Page 719] have to stare at the carpet as we speak.
Admittedly, James Acheson and Kateryna Arthur's collection of essays by diverse hands is of mixed usefulness to readers of this journal. Seven of the thirteen essays focus wholly or in part on Beckett's fiction, but only three make major contributions to Beckett scholarship. Martin Esslin's far-ranging essay titled "Towards the Zero of Language" is exceptionally important; Esslin stresses the significance of the visual image in Beckett, who seems in his recent work in drama, television film, and fiction to be permitting the picture to take the place of words. Stan Gontarski's "Company for Company: Androgyny and Theatricality in Samuel Beckett's Prose" (a misleading title) is insightful and well written; Gontarski recounts in detail his personal struggle to mount a stage production of Company, one of Beckett's recent, rather nostalgic works of fiction, and in the process shows how "in many respects the text acquires resonances through its translation into stage language." Brian Finney's "Still to Worstward Ho: Beckett's Fiction Since The Lost Ones" argues that these later works create a new subgenre that "has pushed back the frontiers of postmodernist fiction in a highly original manner"; these condensed texts are exceptionally self-conscious (nothing new in Beckett), in oversized print that draws our attention to the individual word on the page and take as long to read as a short novel.
Even more can be said of Susan D. Brienza's Samuel Beckett's New Worlds. It breaks new ground. Simply put, it is one of the best book-length studies of Beckett's fiction to appear in many years. Although others have admired Beckett's style in both his prose and drama, no one before Brienza has taken the effort to analyze his texts at close range, demonstrating in detail how his words and phrases creep excruciatingly slowly across the page, deliberately so, and how the works of the last twenty years function most essentially at the level of style. Brienza justifies her approach this way: "With plot, character, and setting all diminished in the late Beckett fictions, the only drama remaining is the 'drama of the sentence' as the reader experiences suspense not of action but of syntax itself; he wonders not 'Will the hero marry or die?' but 'Will the narrator ever reach the end of the sentence?' and 'What adventures lie between subject and object?'"
Brienza's book is nicely written—clear, detailed, with an occasional light humor—and for the most part avoids the tedium that threatens all stylistic analyses. This is not altogether true. Chapters Two (on From an Abandoned Work), Three (Enough), Nine (Lessness), and Ten (Fizzles) are rather unfocused and tend to jump disturbingly from topic to topic, from one sort of stylistic approach to another. In these chapters Brienza loses sight of her goals. Fellow Beckett critics, schooled in patience, are willing to follow her detailed analyses but only if we sense that the exercise is not an end unto itself. Part of the difficulty comes from her typically inductive way of writing, which adds a sense of drama to the proceedings but which is sometimes frustrating to the reader who is forced to discover as he or she goes. I might add that one other problem with the book is its wholly inadequate (and inaccurate) index. Will we...