The Christ Disbelieved by Beckett: Christian Iconography in Samuel Beckett’s Work
This paper is about the problematic figure of Christ in Samuel Beckett’s work, with special reference to the novel Watt and the play Waiting for Godot,1 and my suggestion is that in order to understand the ambiguous ‘present absences’ of the Christ-figure in Beckett, we must take seriously his considerable knowledge of the visual arts, and of Christian iconography in particular.
The reader should be warned at the outset that the purpose of this essay is not to provide new interpretations of Beckett’s novel and play, though a new visual source for Godot is tentatively suggested at the end. Instead, Watt and Godot are used as examples here, firstly because they make excellent starting-points for a survey of the ways in which the Christ-figure in Beckett’s work is commonly approached by critics, and secondly because both these works have been connected specifically with the Christ of visual art. My suggestion then is that some of the inadequacies of existing discussions of Christ-in-Beckett may be remedied if we consider more explicitly what difference the Christ of visual art might make to Beckett’s thinking about, and writerly uses of, the Christ-figure. To this end, the essay draws on the growing body of work on Beckett and visual art principally associated with James Knowlson’s biography and subsequent essays; and also on Mark ← 167 | 168 → Nixon’s recent indispensable monograph on Beckett’s ‘German diaries’ from his six-month journey in 1936–7 that was clearly conceived as an art trip. Collating...
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