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Weder Noch: Aufsätze zu Samuel Beckkett (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007
pp. 837-839 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0015

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Samuel Beckett’s preference for “lessness” is often regarded as the exact opposite of James Joyce’s expansive writing method.1 To a certain extent, Beckett himself added to this contradistinction when, in several interviews, he contrasted his writing method to Joyce’s.2 At first sight, the differences are indeed undeniable, but on a more fundamental level there are also a few remarkable correspondences. Friedhelm Rathjen has always seen both writers as two sides of the same coin. In 1994, he edited In Principle, Beckett Is Joyce.3 The principle referred to in the title of this work is Giordano Bruno’s theory of the coincidentia oppositorum.4 In “Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce,” Beckett summarizes Bruno’s theory as follows: “There is no difference, says Bruno between the smallest possible chord and the smallest possible arc, no difference between the infinite circle and the straight line. . . . Maximal speed is a state of rest. The maximum of corruption and the minimum of generation are identical: in principle, corruption is generation.”5

In his recent collection of essays, Weder Noch: Aufsätze zu Samuel Beckett, Rathjen quotes Bruno’s theory to analyze the ways in which Joyce and Beckett implement this identity of opposites in their works. Joyce realizes it in the form of a “both/and” construction; Beckett tries to find a connection between the identical extremes with a “neither” strategy (87), which he described in the only opera libretto he ever wrote: “to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow/from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither.”6 This no man’s land could be described as the “unspeakable home” to which Beckett refers in the last line of “Neither.”7 In an essay on Arno Schmidt, Joyce, and Beckett, Rathjen suggests that Beckett’s close affinity to Joyce’s “Work in Progress” did not result only in the realization that he had to find his own voice to avoid becoming a Joyce epigone (93). The voice he found is not simply different from Joyce’s but is uniquely marked by principles of reversal, negation, and falsification. The impulse to counter Joyce, however, and resist his influence was nevertheless marked by that original affinity, to which Beckett sometimes still alludes in his later works.

Thus, rather than featuring the differences between Joyce and Beckett, Rathjen enumerates some of what he calls the “fundamental correspondences” between their respective works (85): the wealth of allusions in their texts; the interaction between universals and particulars; the profanation of the mythical and the mythification of the everyday; and the use of language, not as a window on reality but as a reality in and of itself. Rathjen refers to Beckett’s often-quoted German letter to Axel Kaun (9 July 1937) and notably to the passage in which Beckett calls Joyce’s last work an apotheosis of the word with which his own project “has nothing whatever to do”—“[u]nless perhaps Ascension to Heaven and Descent to Hell are somehow one and the same. How beautiful it would be to be able to believe that that indeed was the case” (86).8

This possible connection is suggested in the title of another essay in the volume, announced as a “[g]astbeitrag von Friederike Rasch und Peadar O’Donnell” (“guest contribution by Friederike Rasch and Peadar O’Donnell”): “Sam Beckett + James Joyce = Same Boy” (111).9 The text is conceived as an “ALPhabet” with one entry for each letter (111). Thus, B stands for “Beckett, Samuel. See Joyce, James”; and J stands for “Joyce, James. See Beckett, Samuel.” (111, 115). The entry for P is Paris (119), where both Joyce and Beckett lived for a longer period than anywhere else, and draws attention to the occasion when Beckett accompanied Joyce to the station as Joyce left Paris for good, in December 1939. (Beckett died fifty years later, almost to the day.)

In the introduction, Rathjen explains that the essays collected in this volume were originally written for different audiences and different occasions (7). Some are introductory pieces, and some are reviews—for instance, “Dubliner Zentralklosett” (125–33), a review of Christian Enzensberger’s German translation of More Pricks...



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