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Reviewed by:
  • Samuel Beckett as World Literature by Thirthankar Chakraborty and Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez
  • Susan Mooney (bio)
Samuel Beckett as World Literature. Edited by Thirthankar Chakraborty and Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez. Literatures as World Literature series. New York: Bloomsbury, 2020. xviii + 219 pp. Cloth $108.00, paper $35.90, ebook 86.40

There can be no argument that Samuel Beckett’s work qualifies as World literature. The quibble comes in the finer points of hashing out the why. Enter fifteen essays by scholars from around the world in a 2020 volume edited by Thirthankar Chakraborty and Juan Luis Toribio Vazquez. Although a number of contributors refer to David Damrosch’s How to Read World Literature [End Page 176] (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003) or Emily Apter’s Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (London: Verso, 2013) as authorities on what makes or does not make world literature, there emerged little (common) understanding of how Beckett’s work belongs to World literature. The editors claim that this volume offers

alternative readings to prevailing modes of approaching Beckett’s oeuvre through labels such as “minimalism,” “absurdism” or even “modernism” and “postmodernism.”. . . The underlying purpose of the collection is thus to show how and why Beckett’s texts are particularly resistant to any “contemporary pigeon hole”. . . Accordingly, the volume examines Beckett as a cosmopolitan author.


Although the editors don’t unpack the European history and context of “cosmopolitan,” many Beckett scholars will recognize it. It is unclear how much Beckett’s work “resists” in the ways the editors claim; after all, numerous essays here verify how Beckett’s work is received and transferred by others worldwide into various alternative as well as coinciding interpretations.

What seems obvious about Beckett as world author at the same time remains opaque. Beckett beyond borders? A trans-Beckett? The strongest pieces in this volume tend to highlight how Beckett is adapted to a particular non-white non-western-European scene, whether in Brazil, Japan, or China. Despite the diversity of the contributors and their cultural contexts, it was remarkable how many were reluctant to interpret race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of diversity.

The editors chose to divide the book into three parts: I, Translation; II, Adaptation; and III, Circulation. At first glance, this seems logical, as choice of language is central to Beckett, who excelled in modern languages as an undergraduate at Trinity, and then used his multilingualism to even greater artistic advantage in Paris when he befriended Joyce. Well before Beckett purposively opted for French as his first language to write in after World War II (WWII), in the 1930s he was extensively reading and keeping notebooks, long swaths of quoted material from Descartes to Proust. Beckett was haunted by the power of influence of the words of writers—not just Joyce, but also many other inspirational writers back into earlier ages. How much are those writers of inspiration considered world writers? How does Beckett’s interest in philosophers relate to world literature in terms of the play of ideas related to people across cultures, such as domination, suffering, desire, and embodiment? How to produce anything without making a copy? These were questions left unpursued. [End Page 177]

Unfortunately, a good portion of this first part of the book does not engage readers looking for new ideas about translation and world literature with Beckett in mind. Opening the entire book in Part I is an old 1970s essay by John Fletcher on “Bilingual Beckett.” One is hoping to read something new in a book published in 2020, given that much scholarship has transpired on translation and Beckett in the past forty years or so. In a footnote, the editors qualify they revised and updated the essay in consultation with Fletcher. Yet, these revisions do not include recent scholarship on translation and Beckett. Why open a whole collection with this essay, not written originally for the theme of the book? At least Dirk Van Hulle and Pim Verhulst provide good translation research (especially Sinéad Mooney’s A Tongue Not Mine: Beckett and Translation, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011), but at the same time I struggled to see how their compartmentalization of...