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Samuel Beckett’s humour: attuning philosophy and literary criticism

Bariselli, M. (2019) Samuel Beckett’s humour: attuning philosophy and literary criticism. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00085510


This thesis explores and describes the comic features of Samuel Beckett’s prose works. It explores fundamental questions about Beckett’s humour. On the one hand, it investigates the nature of humour, and, on the other, it investigates what counts as humour in Beckett. This twofold investigation requires ‘attuning’ philosophy and literary criticism, where questions and tools of each discipline mutually sharpen and refine each other. Chapter 1 evaluates philosophical accounts of humour and identifies Incongruity Theory as the theory offering the best account of humour. According to this theory, a necessary and not sufficient condition for comic amusement is the perception of an incongruity. Chapter 2 starts exploring what counts as humour in Beckett by examining where comic incongruities are located. By doing so, this chapter puts the Incongruity Theory to the test, and, evaluates the analytical tools ordinarily used in describing humour. This exploration uses Ruby Cohn’s seminal description of Beckett’s humour as a springboard. This chapter individuates a comic layer which Cohn’s description has overlooked – the ‘comic of language acts’. Chapter 3 analyses Beckett’s texts in order to describe the comic devices that depend on the (mis)performance of language acts. In order to do so, the discussion makes use of Austin’s Theory of Speech Acts. As a result, this chapter develops a set of tools able to capture ‘the comic of language acts’, a comic layer which crucially shapes Beckett’s writing. Chapter 4 demonstrates how to make use of the set of tools developed in Chapter 3 by examining three key works of Beckett – More Pricks than Kicks, Watt, and Molloy. This examination leads to the individuation of three movements at the level of illocutionary acts – ‘twists’, ‘convolutions’, and ‘oscillations’ – which are informative of Beckett’s writing and of the experience of reading these works.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:De Gaynesford, M. and Nixon, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanites
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:85510
Date on Title Page:2018


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