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Paul A. Bove THE IMAGE OF THE CREATOR IN BECKETT'S POSTMODERN WRITING In the constantly expanding body of Beckett scholarship and criticism, a fairly homogenous, but multi-featured, image of Beckett the creator has emerged. He appears as an anguished, belated practitioner of fictional forms no longer relevant to Modern life. Yet, nonetheless, most of his critics find that his tenacious humor and sympathy contain a wealth of accurate and enlivening comments upon the tragedy of life in our century. He remains, however, an isolated figure, setting himself more and more impossible projects as he reduces the very materials of his craft to a point beyond that which any other novelist or critic would have dreamt possible. He sometimes is said to be looking for the basic metaphor of silence which exists on the "other side" of writing; this part of his project is a negatively theological one. In The Literature of Silence, for example, Ihab Hassan describes Beckett's minimalist project in the language of mysticism: "Mystics have always maintained that the way down is also the way out and that the end of things heralds a new beginning—negative transcendence, as we call it today, is a form of transcendence nevertheless. And therefore silence in literature does not necessarily augur the death of spirit." But, at the same time as Hassan sees Beckett reducing language to the zero degree, other critics and novelists, focusing on other aspects of this chameleon-like creator, find that Beckett is, indeed, an entertaining , joyous liberator of language itself, an apologist for "pure" nonrepresentational writing. His liquid sounds and cadenza-like improvisations , his repetitive elaborations upon a theme, recall both Shakespeare's wealth of invention and Dante's sonorous drama of love and language. It is easily understandable that this last critical position has set in as a reaction against the dark and existential image of Beckett generated by the early responses to Waiting for Godot and the famous trilogy of novels. For this image was largely a function of the bleakness and futility experienced, especially in France, after World War II, and so 47 48Philosophy and Literature aptly represented by Sartre's Chemins de la Liberté. And, of course, the fates of Beckett's characters can be easily interpreted by a rhetoric of nihilism and despair. But with the easing of the cold war and the reduction of the authority of existentialism in, for example, the fictions of Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and others, critical attention turned to Beckett's allegorical insights into the problems and possibilities of postmodern writing. The more formally, technically, and methodologically oriented disciplines of structuralism, sociology, and poststructuralism have allowed critics to explore this dimension of Beckett's achievement more fully than earlier existential readings. Roland Barthes's exemplary defense of the writing principles of le nouvelle roman in Writing Degree Zero established a model for clear, rational, almost empirical observation of the skills, techniques, and conventions of writing. He also provided an important initiative for speculation on the potential effects of the new writing upon traditional systems of signification. Barthes's interests have been extended by poststructuralist criticism based on the works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Beckett's texts are seen in this last context as an allegory of writing itself. Poststructuralist thinking represents his work as a meditation upon the problems and impossibilities of bringing reality to presence and makes his texts a pretext for its discovery of the emptiness and duplicity of the linguistic sign. Since the loss of meaning entails the loss of the self, Beckett also is seen as the paradigm of the disappearance of the author from the stage of creation. For poststructuralists then, Beckett's works represent the loss of authority in the Modern scene of writing. In "What Is An Author?" Foucault raises the question of the status of the author in the Modern world and tolls his death as a biological, psychological, sociological entity: . . . the writing of our day has freed itself from the necessity of "expression"; it only refers to itself, yet it is not restricted to the confines of interiority. On the contrary, we recognize it in its exterior...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 47-65
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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