- Cerebrating and Celebrating Beckett
Celebratory collections do more than celebrate. They provide a kind of archaeology of knowledge, enabling us to identify the critical strata through which an author's reception history has passed. Where does the writer stand in relation to current and past literary canons? Which schools, movements, or influences have shaped his development? What theoretical paradigms or methodological approaches does his work provoke, invite, or resist? Beckett at 100: Revolving It All, a splendid omnium gatherum edited by Linda Ben-Zvi and Angela Moorjani, addresses these questions with subtlety and insight, and the answers it provides will certainly give scholars of the Irish writer reason to celebrate. For the volume demonstrates not only that Beckett is one of the preeminent authors of the twentieth century, but also that his appeal is broad and enduring, extending across national boundaries and beyond literary genres to include radio, television, and cinema, the musical and plastic arts, philosophy and history—indeed virtually every aspect of culture.
Ben-Zvi and Moorjani begin their collection with a kind of prelude entitled "Images: For Ruby Cohn," to whom the volume is dedicated. The first entry, "Still for Ruby," consists of six handsomely [End Page 205] abstract illustrations culled from Peter Gidal's Room Film (1973). This visual essay is followed by James Knowlson's fascinating account, drawn from the unpublished "German Diaries," of Beckett's sojourns in Bamberg and Würzburg in 1937. In Bamberg, Beckett visited the famous cathedral, where he took extensive notes on the Fürstentor, or north portal, as well as the celebrated statue Der Bamberger Reiter. In Würzburg, he was struck by Tiepolo's ceiling fresco in the Residenz, a painting which he later immortalized in Malone Dies. Also notable was his viewing of sculpture by the "Wolfskehlmeister," whose figures of the "senile and [the] collapsed" (29) anticipate Beckett's postwar interest in abjection and decay.
The body of the collection is divided into three large sections. The first, "Thinking through Beckett," primarily deals with the writer's relation to philosophy. Gottfried Leibniz's influence on Beckett is the focus of Naoya Mori's essay. While scholars have long known of Beckett's interest in Leibniz, both through his reading of Wilhelm Windelband and the allusions in the "Whoroscope Notebook" and Murphy, Mori offers some valuable observations on the subject, especially insofar as it helped Beckett develop a more dynamic conception of the self. This in turn leads to a discussion of Leibniz and infinity, which yields a number of revealing insights on Endgame and Stirrings Still. Bringing Beckett's philosophical interests into the modern period, S. E. Gontarski examines the writer's debt to Henri Bergson in a fine-grained and scholarly essay. Not only does Gontarski recover remarks Beckett made while teaching Bergson at Trinity College Dublin, but he also shows how Bergson affected Beckett's understanding of durational and chronometric time. The implications of Bergsonian temporality are substantial for Beckett, reaching beyond ideas of memory and subjectivity in Proust and Dream of Fair to Middling Women to include such major works as Waiting for Godot, where the suspense of time becomes the play's central trope.
Carla Locatelli shifts from authorial influence to explanatory model in drawing on Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man to consider how one might autobiographically read Beckett, for whom the writing of the self is so fraught. Concentrating on Krapp's Last [End Page 206] Tape and Not I, Locatelli investigates the way both works dramatize the gap between the enunciating subject and the act of enunciation. What results in these plays is a Derridean angustia, or "anguish," whose original Latin indicates not only "distress" or "grief" but also "restriction" or "narrowing." Although Locatelli does not mention it, another term for "restriction"—one that reduces a passage to a point of impasse—is aporia, the announced method of The Unnamable.1 Suffering is also the topic of David Houston Jones's essay on Beckett and Giorgio Agamben. Of special interest...