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By S. Weller

If there's one trait universal to nearly all post-Holocaust theories of literature, it's arguably the proposal that the literary occasion constitutes the confirmation of an alterity that resists all dialectical mastery and makes attainable a post-metaphysical ethics. Beckett's oeuvre particularly has again and again been deployed as exemplary of simply such an confirmation. In Beckett, Literature and the Ethics of Alterity, although, Weller argues via an research of the interrelated subject matters of translation, comedy, and gender that to learn Beckett during this manner is to overlook the surprisingly 'anethical' nature of his paintings.

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Extra info for Beckett, Literature and the Ethics of Alterity

Example text

Alone. (Beckett 1980, 88–9) 26 Beckett, Literature, and the Ethics of Alterity For all these affirmations of an essential solitude, however, there is also considerable evidence to support the counter-argument – that Beckett’s œuvre 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.

Derrida 1992a, 215) Perhaps surprisingly for those who would accuse him of a radically dehistoricizing approach to both literature and philosophy, Derrida ties this conception of literature as alterior to itself to a history, not just of literature but also of the experience of alterity itself. Literature, he argues, may become the privileged form of this experience of alterity at a particular historical moment. Indeed, the specificity of the modern lies, at least in part, in this privileging of literature.

That such attempted reductions to nothing of a threatening alterity will become not just a theme but the very object or aim of the textual event is suggested by a series of laborious returns to what, in his 1931 monograph on Proust, Beckett terms the ‘irremediable solitude to which every human being is condemned’ (Beckett 1987, 63). In both How It Is (1961) and Company (1980), the reader is carried slowly towards an apocalyptic affirmation of identity for which there is simply no other. How It Is ends with the affirmation of a being ‘alone in the mud’ (Beckett 1964, 160), while Company closes with the promise of an absolute solitude, the reduction to nothing of any possible other, and indeed the affirmation of both the truth and the value of this reduction: Till finally you hear how words are coming to an end.

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