Beckett, Literature, and the Ethics of Alterity by Shane Weller (auth.)

By Shane Weller (auth.)

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Extra info for Beckett, Literature, and the Ethics of Alterity

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Literality of the Hi:ilderlinian kind loosens the attachment of meaning to language to such an extent that it threatens unintelligibility, alterity, madness, meaning's disappearance. It is clear, then, that literal translation threatens nihilism, thought by Hi:ilderlin in his ode 'Bread and Wine' (1802), to which Benjamin alludes, as the meantime (indessen) of a mean time (diirftige Zeit). But, crucially, if literality threatens (droht) nihilism, it also points towards or promises (hindeutet) that which lies beyond nihilism, beyond history, beyond both the history of nihilism and the nihilism of history.

On the thematic level, alterity in Beckett is experienced principally as a threat to the freedom of the subject, a threat that is to be nullified not through the shoring up of that subject but through its happy dissolution into an indifference associated with what in Beckett's first novel, Dream ofFair to Middling Women (written in 1931-32), is termed the 'wombtomb'. This indifference beyond the antagonism of self and other finds perhaps its most explicit thematic inscription in chapter 6 of Murphy (1938), where it bears a close resemblance to Schopenhauerian Gleichgultigkeit, a condition of being that can be achieved only through the withdrawal from all contact with the 'outer reality', in accordance with the Belgian Occasionalist Arnold Geulincx's ethical imperative, Ubi nihil vales, ibi nihil velis (where you are worth nothing, there you should want nothing)/ and that complete negation (Vemeinung) of the will advocated Introduction 25 by Schopenhauer.

And how better in the end labour lost and silence. And you as you always were. Alone. (Beckett 1980, 88-9) 26 Beckett, Literature, and the Ethics ofAlterity For all these affirmations of an essential solitude, however, there is also considerable evidence to support the counter-argument- that Beckett's ceuvre discloses an alterity that is quite simply irreducible, though not necessarily a value and thus not proof that the work is governed by an ethics of alterity. The experience of the self as fundamentally self-alienated, or 'schizophrenic' (Deleuze 1995, 23), appears to reach an extreme in The Unnamable.

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