Beckett's Art of Mismaking

Beckett's Art of Mismaking

by Leland de la Durantaye


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Readers have long responded to Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays with wonder or bafflement. They portray blind, lame, maimed creatures cracking whips and wielding can openers who are funny when they should be chilling, cruel when they should be tender, warm when most wounded. His works seem less to conclude than to stop dead. And so readers quite naturally ask: what might all this be meant to mean?

In a lively and enlivening study of a singular creative nature, Leland de la Durantaye helps us better understand Beckett’s strangeness and the notorious difficulties it presents. He argues that Beckett’s lifelong campaign was to mismake on purpose—not to denigrate himself, or his audience, nor even to reconnect with the child or the savage within, but because he believed that such mismaking is in the interest of art and will shape its future. Whether called “creative willed mismaking,” “logoclasm,” or “word-storming in the name of beauty,” Beckett meant by these terms an art that attacks language and reason, unity and continuity, art and life, with wit and venom.

Beckett’s Art of Mismaking explains Beckett’s views on language, the relation between work and world, and the interactions between stage and page, as well as the motives guiding his sixty-year-long career—his strange decision to adopt French as his literary language, swerve from the complex novels to the minimalist plays, determination to “fail better,” and principled refusal to follow any easy path to originality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674504851
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 01/04/2016
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Leland de la Durantaye is Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College.

Table of Contents

Note on Sources and Abbreviations xi

Introduction: The Art of Mismaking 1

Artistic Character 2

By No Definition 4

Is It Difficult? or On Riddles 7

Watt? 10

Word-Storming, or Logoclasm 13

Hic sunt leones 15

1 First Forms to Accommodate the Mess 17

A Brief Bit of Biography 17

Balzac, Bathos, Chloroform, Clockwork 21

The Artifice of Artificiality 25

Excessive Freedom, or Drama 28

Playing God, or L'nemmerdable 30

Artificial icy, or The Hatchet Is Mightier Than the Pencil 32

2 The Will to Mismake, or Fish and Chips 36

M Is for… 37

The Issue, or Fellowship 39

The Life of the Mind 43

How Not to Read Philosophy, or Reading Schopenhauer 45

The Artist's View 49

3 Nature Painting 53

Landscape Painting and the Forest of Symbols 54

4 The Alibi of a Foreign Language 61

In French and on Style 67

Pour fain remarquer moi, or The Need to Be Ill-Equipped 69

Rejoyce 72

Animism 76

5 To Hell with All This Fucking Scenery 82

6 No Symbols Where None Intended 90

Mud 93

The Gravity of Symbolism 98

Allegory 100

7 The Psychopathology of Character Creation, or The Series 108

The Series 109

2 To 3 111

Logoclasm 116

Slight Excesses of Language 121

How It Will Be 127

Conclusion: Aesthetic Pessimism 131

Critics, Bastards, Shutting Off 131

Fail Better 134

Negative Capability 138

Aesthetic Pessimism 146

How History Works 148

The Human Condition 150

Reading Kafka, or Serenity and Disaster 155

The Christmas Tree 163

Notes 167

Works Cited 179

Acknowledgments 189

Index 191

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