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Reviewed by:
  • La Violence dans l'œuvre de Samuel Beckett: entre langage et corps dir. by Llewellyn Brown
  • Adam Piette
La Violence dans l'œuvre de Samuel Beckett: entre langage et corps. Sous la direction de Llewellyn Brown. (Revue des lettres modernes; Samuel Beckett, 4.) Paris: Lettres modernes Minard, 2017. 462 pp.

Violence as staged in Samuel Beckett's texts, from the Trilogy's mother-battering and axe murders to the torture routines of How It Is and the late political plays, has psychoanalytic, political, and aesthetic functions that are difficult to disentangle. Oedipal violence of a peculiarly neurotic kind motivates the textual psychiatric hospital that is mid-century Beckett. Beckett's absorption in Sade's work in the 1930s and late 1950s has political significance, clearly, with the sadistic drive to hell-making that structures his more Dantescan texts, drawing on his own fascinated horror at totalitarian and fascist spaces. And the decision in the late 1930s to accommodate the mess as writerly project (see his 1961 interview with Tom Diver)—to wreak an assault on language's surfaces in order to release inward forces of derangement—takes violence as one of its techniques to ensure an aesthetic of deliberate failure. This collection, expertly brought together by Llewellyn [End Page 463] Brown, goes some considerable way to helping scholarship disentangle two of the strands, the psychoanalytic and aesthetic, with the advantage of the contributors' sharp command of critical theory as a mode of engagement. There is therefore a certain coherence to the volume of essays, which makes for a fine book. The theme is introduced by Brown's spirited argument about the super-ego as lynchpin to Beckett's interest in violence. This is echoed by a hardcore Lacanian reading by Bruno Geneste, one of the highlights of the collection. Geneste looks towards the super-ego as key to Beckett's exploration of cold instrumental forms of violence, occurring at the point of insertion of language into the body of the speaking subject. It is this piercing inscription that motivates the torturing narrator of Comment c'est, the main text for most of the contributors; it is this novel where lalangue leaks out as symptomatic fluid from the wounded body (or as extorted text), and which most frighteningly and bleakly stages a Sadean processing of victims as objects and numbers in a hellish series of violent textual and tortural exchanges. A terrific article by Elisa Baroghel traces the influence of Sade on Beckett, particularly Beckett's attempts to translate Les Cent vingt journées de Sodom, and meditates on Beckett's unreserved admiration for Maurice Blanchot's essay on the Marquis. Anthony Cordingley treats with gusto the vicious interactional narratological form that the violence of Comment c'est generates. Claire Lozier writes elegantly and persuasively on Georges Bataille and Molloy, whilst Natália Laranjinha gives a plausible account of 'dressage' in the plays. Three articles on the violent gaze, by Éric Wessler, Anne-Cécile Guilbard, and Eri Miyawaki, complete the volume. The collection's coherence lies in the sustained and detailed attention to the psychoanalytic and theoretical dimensions of Beckettian violence as super-ego drive and textual self-destruction. Although the political Beckett is missing (there is nothing on torture in Algeria as the real driver behind Comment c'est), this is an invaluable contribution to Beckett studies.

Adam Piette
University of Sheffield
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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 463-464
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-15
Open Access
No
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