Bounding the Self: Ethics, Anxiety and Territories of Personhood in Samuel Beckett's Fiction
Abstract

Abstract:

I study the relationship between character construction and ethics in Samuel Beckett's fiction, focusing on Molloy and "The Calmative." I ask what narrative strategies give Beckett's characters their seeming precarious sentience and show what these strategies tell us about his texts' ethical framework. Beckett creates his characters out of outward territories of power. He then keeps shifting and multiplying these territories. This narrative structure reproduces the experience of seeing a person anxiously. Moreover, it singles out anxiety as the main affect capable of either creating or destroying another person's humanity in the observer's eyes—suggesting that Beckett's ethics is grounded not in a rational axiomatic system, but in the choice and management of the affect through which we decide to make ethical judgments. This philosophically unusual relationship between affect and ethics raises questions both for theories of character construction and for more general philosophies of cognition.