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Reviewed by:
  • Beckett and Philosophy
  • Paul Shields
Richard Lane, ed. Beckett and Philosophy. Houndmills, Eng.: Palgrave, 2002. x + 184 pp.

Samuel Beckett had an admitted affinity for symmetry: "It's the shape that matters." Richard Lane, the editor of Beckett and Philosophy, does not. The collection Lane has edited is divided into three unbalanced parts, the first containing two essays, the second containing five, and the third containing four. I would have added a third article [End Page 780] to the first section to complete the Pythagorean figure. But, in arranging the book as he does, perhaps Lane is suggesting that any study on Beckett is unclosed, incomplete, or devoid of a "right angle." Or maybe a cigar is just a cigar. No symbols where none intended, cautions Watt's addenda.

Part one is comprised of Richard Begam's "Beckett and Postfoundationalism, or, How Fundamental are those Fundamental Sounds?" and Robert Eaglestone's "Beckett in the Wilderness: Writing about (Not) Writing about Beckett." In what is the longest article in the collection, Begam addresses the idea of postfoundationalism in Beckett's work, focusing on both Beckett's fiction (Company) and the drama/radio plays (Krapp's Last Tape, Not I, Embers, Rough for Radio II, among others). Begam's essay contains, incidentally, one of my favorite lines in the book: "Indeed, in Company the first-person singular or plural becomes the last person one is likely to meet" (21). Eaglestone sets out to explore the boundaries between literature and philosophical writing, concentrating on how Beckett's "works do clearly test the limits of our ideas about what literature is" (41).

Part two includes essays on Beckett and French thought by Gary Banham (Derrida and Beckett), Thomas Hunkeler (Foucault and Beckett), Mary Bryden (Deleuze and Beckett), Andrew Gibson (Badiou and Beckett), and Ulrika Maude (Merleau-Ponty and Beckett). Collectively, these essays happily provide the reader with philosophical discussions of a variety of Beckett's genres, including his novels (Banham and Hunkeler), his television plays (Bryden), and his stage plays (Maude).

Essays on Beckett and German philosophy by David Cunningham (Adorno and Beckett), Philip Tew (Habermas and Beckett), Steve Barfield (Heidegger and Beckett), and Richard Lane (Beckett and Nietzsche) round out the collection. In his playful essay, Lane casts Beckett and Nietzsche in the roles of "B" and "N" in what is effectively a critical analysis for two players. The article morphs into a performance piece in which Lane reveals how the two writers are "characters in one another's texts" (168).

Ulrika Maude's essay "The Body of Memory: Beckett and Merleau-Ponty" is one of the highlights of the collection. Maude uses Merleau-Ponty's theory about "phantom limbs" to reveal how a figure like Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape might experience a phantom body when confronted by a tape-recorded memory (117). According to Maude, Krapp is involved in a process of involuntary memory as he listens to himself (or his former selves) describe specific images, such as a black ball, on tape; his body, rather than his mind, recollects the past through sensory experience, Maude contends (116-17). [End Page 781]

Like Krapp's Last Tape, Beckett and Philosophy contains its own bizarre array of phantoms. Indeed, Lane's introduction introduces the reader to a "Mary Brydon" who studies the work of a theorist named "Delueze" (4). I have no idea who "Mary Brydon" is, but I do know of a Mary Bryden who studies the work of Gilles Deleuze. I would usually not make such a fuss over spelling mistakes, but when one runs across the name Deleuze misspelled three times in three consecutive sentences at the outset of a book dedicated to philosophy (4), one cannot avoid some level of sarcasm. "Anthony Ullman," the phantom cousin of Anthony Uhlmann, also makes some appearances (46, 52). Other gaffes break the reader's concentration from time to time. Beckett's essay "Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce" (the dots between the names represent the number of centuries dividing each thinker) is presented in Philip Tew's essay as Dante . . . Bruno . . . Vico . . . Joyce (142). In some Beckett circles, this mix-up is as egregious...