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The problem of Beckett in postmodern American literature

Baxter, J. (2018) The problem of Beckett in postmodern American literature. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

In this thesis, I return to the unsettled ground of Beckett’s influence over the emergence of postmodern fiction. Taking on board Peter Boxall’s piercing assertion that ‘one of the most significant of Beckett’s legacies […] is a conception of legacy itself,’ (2009) I provide a narrative of inheritance in which the exhaustion of literary experiment glimpsed in Beckett provides a bequest that is simultaneously energising and enervating. In particular, I connect this to the strained relationship of Beckett regarding the U.S., enshrined in his statement that this is ‘somehow not the right country for me.’ (Knowlson, 1996) The first chapter details the practicalities of Beckett’s U.S. migration via the Grove Press periodical Evergreen Review. Beckett’s 16 (1957-1973) appearances in the American periodical serve as a core vehicle of the author’s deracination, contextualising his publisher Barney Rosset’s description of Beckett’s ‘nontogetherness.’ The second chapter focuses on the work of Thomas Pynchon, in which Beckett’s poetics of exhaustion is integrated alongside the vitalism of the popular Beat avant-garde staged in Evergreen. In particular, I argue that Beckett’s influence intersects with the postmodern problem of hermeneutics, dramatized through shared images of ending, ‘Zero,’ and entropy. The final chapter reframes the Beckettian disjuncture against the work of Don DeLillo and the author’s interrogation of ‘this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture.’ (Jameson, 1991) Framed by DeLillo as the ‘last writer to shape the way we think and see,’ (Mao II, 157) Beckett’s presence is one of termination; at the same time, it discloses a means whereby fiction might ‘extend into the world.’ (Adelman, 2004) Alongside developments in DeLillo’s spatial-poetics to a fiction set ‘nowhere in particular,’ I finally provide a view of Beckett’s problematic bequest as one that is integrated into the fabric of the text over time.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Matthews, S.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Languages and Social Sciences
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Literature
ID Code:77543
Date on Title Page:2017

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