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Out ofIreland: Revisionist Strategies in Beckett's Drama LAURA BARGE Adeliberate and very public effort to situate Samuel Beckett within he Irish dramatic tradition occurred during thel991 Dublin Theatre Festivalwhen Michael Colgan,Director ofthe GateTheatre,remarked that the moment had arrived "to introduce a Dublin Audience to this greatwriterwho needs to belooked at in Ireland."1 Anyone familiarwith this writer's history understands only too well Colgan's sense ofthe necessity ofsuch an introduction. Beckett's personal, cultural, and aesthetic expatriation from Ireland is so adequately documented in the critical and biographical literature that it needs no reiteration here. Instead, we can remember that Beckett chooses early in his career not only to reject but also to insult—albeit with a humorous mockery—the Irish Celtic literary movement, that he forsakes Ireland as homeland in a biographically definitive manner, and that he deliberately adopts French as the language in which he writes. Thus Rodney Sharkey is surely on target when he claims that any effort attempting to "view Beckett in an Irish context cuts its own throat ifit chooses to ignore" that Beckett's literary careerwas definitivelyformed bythe philosophical and aesthetic culture ofEurope.2 Embracingas earlyas 1934 theaesthetic credo thatthewriter must cut all ties with familial, national, and cultural origins in order to explore the interior ofhis own unique vision,3 Beckett early stakes out his literary path and its territory and never departs from it. 175 176Comparative Drama How, then,can we account forBeckett's recitation in theyearhe died, 1989, on the occasion of the critic Hugh Kenner's final visit, of the last movement of Yeats's poem "The Tower," beginning wim the line referring to artistic self-creation, "Now shall I make my soul"?4 And how explain Beckett's literary Irishness as documented in Vivian Mercier's book The Irish Comic Tradition, in John Harrington's The Irish Beckett, in Mary Junker-Brennan's The Irish Dimension,5 and in a growing collection of scholarly articles? In particular, what should we make of the fact tiiat several of these studies connect specifically both the content and style of Beckett's drama with Irish influences, such as the plays of Yeats, Synge, and O'Casey?6 These numerous evidences ofBeckett's literary debt to the history, culture, language, persons, places, and landscapes of Ireland cannot be ignored. I think the answer to these questions lies in critically situating the Irish influences within the boundaries of Beckett's expatriation, that is, by foregrounding the revisionary nature of the majority of such influences . By following this course, we can contest Anthony Roche's misguided assumption that Beckett's quoting Yeats's "Now shall I make my soul" to Hugh Kenner indicated that Beckett had chosen Yeats rather than Joyce as a "major precursor."7 Few statements about Beckett as a writer could be more misleading. As Harrington says, "Beckett's work deconstructs a local revivalism confident ofthe sureties ofplace and collective consciousness." But Harrington is stopping short of exploring the rich Irish dimension of Beckett's writings when he argues further that because Beckett does not "consequently construct a positive" and "evident alternative" but remains in an "intractable" mode that issues merely in "an endless comedy of substitution," his writings are "unsuitable for revisionist use."8 1 think instead that Beckett moves beyond the stasis of revolt to function as an expatriate Irish writer on the literary frontiers ofthis century. As Sharkey insists,"...it is important not to view Beckett's Irishness as a type of tale ...signifying nihilism," but rather as the "condition" of"specific Irish experiences" and "understanding" out ofwhich Beckett's "extraordinary artistic vision emerged."9 A strong proof for this claim that springs immediately to mind is Beckett's incredibly innovative response to the work of James Joyce. Nothing could be more expected—and easily executed by someone of Laura Barge177 Beckett's genius—than to follow in the revolutionary/revisionary mode executed by Joyce's literary upheaval. That Beckett incorporates in his saying ofnothing the revisionarysaying ofeverythingby Joyce, and then moves beyond Joyce's amplitude ofform and content to an original impoverishment of both form and content that makes Beckett's achievement equal that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 175-209
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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