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Silence Nowhen

Late Modernism, Minimalism, and Silence in the Work of Samuel Beckett


Duncan McColl Chesney

The dramatic and prose works of Samuel Beckett have long been understood as central to twentieth-century literature and particularly to questions about aesthetics, ethics, and the modernism-postmodernism distinction. Duncan McColl Chesney addresses many of the main issues in Beckett criticism by focusing on a key aspect of Beckett’s work throughout his long career: silence. Chesney links Beckett’s language and silence back to his predecessors, especially Joyce and Proust – laterally to contemporary movements of minimalism in the sister arts and theoretically in in-depth discussions of Blanchot and Adorno. By doing so, Chesney addresses how Beckett’s works remain true, to the end, to a minimalist impulse that is essentially modernist or late modernist without giving over to the rising dominant of postmodernism. Chesney delineates a sigetics – a discourse of silence whose main strategies in Beckett are reticence and ellipsis – and through studies of Godot, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Happy Days, the Trilogy, Company, and other works, teases out of Beckett’s minimal aesthetics a Beckettian minimal ethics. In brief glimmers in his texts Beckett provides proleptic hints at reconciliation and the possibility of ethical life that are neither theological nor mystical, but that minimally hold to an alternate rationality from that of the reified world of exchange and catastrophe.


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226 silence nowhen ———. Endgame in Complete Dramatic Works. ———. As the Story Was Told: Uncollected and Late Prose. London: Calder, 1990. ———. Dream of Fair to middling Women. Ed. Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier. New York: Arcade, 1992. ———. More Pricks than Kicks. 1934. London: Calder, 1993. ———. The Complete Short Prose: 1929–1989. Ed. S.E. Gontarski. New York: Grove, 1995. ———. Warten auf Godot. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003. ———. The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929–1940. Eds. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld et al. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. ———. The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941–1956. Ed. George Craig et al. Cambridge: CUP, 2011. Beckett, Samuel et al. Our Exagmination Round His Factification For Incamination of Work-in- Progress. 1929. New York: New Directions, 1972. Works on Beckett Acheson, James. Samuel Beckett’s Artistic Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 1997. Anders, Günther. “Being without Time: On Beckett’s Play Waiting for Godot.” In Esslin, Samuel Beckett: Collection of Critical Essays, 140–151. Anspaugh, Kelly. “Faith, Hope, and – what was it?: Beckett Reading Joyce Reading Dante.” Journal of Beckett Studies 5 (1996): 19–38. Badiou, Alain. Beckett: L’increvable désir. Paris: Hachette, 1995. Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. New York: HBJ, 1978. Barfield, Steven, Matthew Feldman, and Philip Tew, eds. Beckett and Death. London: Continuum, 2009. Begam, Richard. Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. Bell, L.A.J. “Between Ethics and Aesthetics: The Residual in Samuel Beckett’s Minimalism.” Journal of Beckett Studies 20.1 (2011): 32–53. Ben Zvi, Linda, ed. Women in Beckett: Performance and...

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