Volume 16, issue 2 (January 2018) : 65-87|
Samuel Beckett’s Invention of Nothing
Molloy, Literary History, and a Beckettian Theory of Character
Rubric A: Narrative as a Way of Thinking
Rubric B: The English Novel
While it has become a commonplace among Beckett’s critics to read his novels as inquiries into the unstable nature of selfhood and identity, this tendency takes for granted the novelistic specificity of these works. Beckett consistently maintained his works’ generic specificity, and as his interested in contemporary philosophy was ambivalent, his work demands critical reappraisal not through the lens of philosophy but through that of the works’ ongoing conversation with their own literary inheritance. This article begins by exploring what kind of questions might arise from reading the “novelness” of the prose works. What do they have to tell us about the work of fiction as such? And more specifically, what may they tell us about this unique kind of novelistic being, the literary character? Framing Beckett’s fiction not within philosophical discussions of selfhood but within literary-critical analyses of character’s uniquely fictive mode of being, I analyze the characters of his novels not as people but distinctly as literary characters and ultimately argue that Beckett’s characters gain their fictive semblance of life, their illusion of personhood, by reference not to extratextual subjects but to other literary characters. Reading the role of literary-historical allusions in the creation of Molloy’s protagonist, the article suggests that Beckett offers us something like a theory of its mode of being, a means of considering this uncanny way in which character lives as a uniquely fictional entity, one whose existence amounts to the invention of something out of nothing.