Abstract

This article identifies allusions to the works and life of Blaise Pascal in Samuel Beckett’s last two novels, L’innommable/The Unnamable and Comment c’est/How It Is, and explores the relationship Beckett forges between literary allusions and the contents of memory when relating Pascal’s mysticism to the notion of “involuntary memory” in Marcel Proust’s writing. It demonstrates how these Pascalian ideas complicate the long-held view of the “Cartesianism” of these texts, showing how Beckett exploits a wider philosophical-theological dialect between reason and the relinquishing of reason in mysticism. The nineteenth-century literary historian and novelist Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve is considered as a potential mediator between Pascal and Proust in Beckett’s thinking. Yet Beckett is shown to neutralize the referential content of his Pascalian and Proustian allusions over the course of his rewriting manuscript versions of Comment c’est. He thus moves away from directly allusive to abstracted and poetic language, attempting to bring an “ignorant” perspective to his past learning. The question of finding an authentic, original voice out of past experience is shown, finally, to be at the heart not only of the meaning of these novels but of Beckett’s creative process. This article therefore attempts to offer a precise example of what has been termed Beckett’s “poetics of ignorance.”

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1464
Print ISSN
0022-281X
Pages
pp. 129-152
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-02
Open Access
No
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