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Against metaphor: Samuel Beckett and the influence of science

Duffy, Nikolai (2014) Against metaphor: Samuel Beckett and the influence of science. Diacritics, 41 (4). pp. 36-58. ISSN 1080-6539

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Abstract

In conversation with Georges Duthuit, Samuel Beckett famously remarked, “there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”1 Over the years, this statement has been read in numerous ways, and it is arguable that it has frequently been overread as an aesthetic manifesto that casts interpretative light on Beckett’s project as a whole. Irrespective of the complexities or problems that underpin such an overdetermined reading, however, what is particularly interesting about this statement for my purposes here is simply that for Beckett, language in its common form— language as we know it and use it on a daily basis—is not fit for purpose. In the famous “German letter of 1937,” Beckett writes that language is increasingly “a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind.” And as Beckett continues in the same letter, his task is to experiment with “grammar and style” in order that he might “drill one hole after another into [language] until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through—I cannot,” Beckett adds, “imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.”2

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