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"The Means to Put an End to Things": Samuel Beckett and the Idea of the Uninterpretable Work

Wolterman, Nicholas Peter (2016) "The Means to Put an End to Things": Samuel Beckett and the Idea of the Uninterpretable Work. PhD thesis, University of York.

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nicholas peter wolterman--phd thesis english september 2016--the means to put an end to things samuel beckett and the idea of the uninterpretable work.pdf - Examined Thesis (PDF)
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This thesis responds to a long-established consensus around the work of Samuel Beckett: namely, that it is singularly resistant to interpretation and yet its capacity to resist interpretation can be understood through Beckett’s own comments and through claims implicit in the work itself. In his fictional writings and critical essays as well as his correspondence and reported comments, Beckett frequently insists that “the labour of composition” does not involve the artist’s intellect, and accordingly he recommends a mode of reception that places little weight on the search for meanings or messages. Particularly in Beckett’s fictional texts, these recommendations are often accompanied by begrudging, oblique acknowledgements that the mode of reception they describe is an impossible one, since audiences and readers are consistently imagined to be possessed by a fundamental need to “make sense” of the work. This thesis elucidates the dialogue with that imagined need that underlies so much of Beckett’s work by drawing upon modern theoretical accounts of the inevitability of interpretation offered by thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Peter Bürger, Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, Lionel Abel, Derek Attridge, and Charles Taylor. It is divided into four chapters that investigate how Beckett’s work operates under the weight of such logics of interpretation and that discuss the relation between Beckett’s anti-hermeneutic leanings and contemporaneous debates about artistic expression and proper modes of reception. In light of these discussions, each chapter re-evaluates one of Beckett’s rhetorical or stylistic strategies for “work[ing] on the nerves of the audience, not its intellect”: among these are de-centering or de-authorizing forms of multi-vocality; overt reliance on clichéd phrases and generic conventions; non-productive expenditures of words and events, particularly in the form of repetition; and meta-theatrical play with the unstable relationship between a performed play and a written script. Ultimately, the thesis shows that the Beckettian resistance to interpretation is not as singular as is commonly thought, and it opens up room for readings and adaptations of Beckett’s works that do not necessarily conform wholly to received notions of what Beckett would or would not have authorized.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Nicholas Peter Wolterman
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2017 09:48
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2019 14:28
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/16048

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