- Writing in the Disciplinary Borderlands
Samuel Beckett’s work has been of interest to philosophers ever since it began appearing in French. Molloy, published in 1951, was greeted almost immediately by a review by Georges Bataille, which was followed two years later by a piece from Maurice Blanchot. By the early sixties, Beckett was emerging as arguably the key figure for Adorno’s aesthetics; Stanley Cavell, Julia Kristeva, and Gilles Deleuze also added their own reflections over the following years. At the same time, Beckett’s earliest critics across the channel and the Atlantic were quick to point to Beckett’s own evident philosophical culture as an element of equal if not greater importance than his youthful association with Joyce and his circle. His reading and rewriting of Descartes, for example, has been one of the staples of work on Beckett for fifty years, while, since the eighties and nineties, a new wave of Beckett critics have been working in yet another philosophical mode, as Beckett seems in many ways the ideal author for working through the implications of Jacques Derrida, Paul DeMan, and [End Page 853] Jacques Lacan. At the same time, Wittgensteinian approaches have continued to play a major role, and recent investigations of ethics and nihilism frequently find Beckett’s work to be a central stopping point. No postwar author has been read in relation to philosophy, or by philosophers, more than Beckett.
That these questions are in no way exhausted can be seen by the fact that three major university presses have released books on Beckett and philosophy, or Beckett and a particular philosopher, over the last two years. Andrew Gibson’s Beckett and Badiou is instigated by an increasingly discussed contemporary encounter—Alain Badiou’s philosophy with Beckett’s writings—while Asja Szafraniec, on the contrary, starts from a noteworthy non-encounter, to wit, the surprising refusal of Jacques Derrida to write on Beckett, despite parallels that have seemed striking to many—not least to the philosopher himself. Finally, Anthony Uhlmann has several different goals and emphases in his Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image; very large sections of it are devoted to Beckett and Gilles Deleuze, and Uhlmann’s theoretical framework is massively indebted to the latter. Despite their significant differences, then, these three books all inquire into Beckett’s place within late-twentieth-century French philosophy and ask what this philosophy can do for our understanding of Beckett.
Beckett and Badiou is a book that has seemed inevitable for a few years now, as Badiou’s work has become increasingly available and influential outside of France, and the importance of Beckett to his thinking has become increasingly apparent. Gibson, a noted specialist of both Irish modernism and contemporary French philosophy, would seem ideally placed to undertake the task of writing it; this impression proves not to be mistaken. Gibson’s ambitious book sets out to introduce the major principles of Badiou’s thought, chart Beckett’s place within this thought, show what Badiou’s work on Beckett contributes to current Beckett criticism, and establish how Badiou’s work in other areas can be brought to bear on the Beckettian oeuvre. If that was not enough, he also places Badiou in the context of recent and contemporary French philosophy, including figures that remain quite obscure outside of France (such as Françoise Proust). None of this is easy, as Badiou presents challenges of a difficulty comparable to those offered by Beckett. To start with, Badiou’s philosophy draws on a bewildering variety of sources and disciplines. For example, Badiou not only grounds his metaphysics in highly specialized discussions of mathematics and set theory, but also in the poetics of Mallarmé; Gibson shows himself to be entirely comfortable with both, in addition to the very wide range of classical and “continental” philosophy, political thought, and French literature from Racine forward, all of which figure prominently in...