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Fidelity to Failure: Beckett and Blanchot

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2009, 22(3), pp.31-53
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Ilhyung Park 1

1홍익대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In spite of the deluge of references to philosophical and literary traditions which Samuel Beckett relies on, it is not easy to come across comparative studies with his contemporaries. One of the first to come to mind to those studying Beckett might be Maurice Blanchot. Blanchot, as Beckett's contemporary, was a writer in the French literary circle and critic who laid the foundation for Beckett studies. He was also one of the few critics who scrutinized Beckett, still an obscure figure in the early fifties, and hence his critical work had a fundamental effect on Beckett studies. But the reason researchers in Beckett have been fascinated with his perspective is not for his status as a major commentator of Beckett, but for the profound relation and similarity between Beckett and Blanchot as well as the significance of Blanchot as the founding father of post-structuralist literary theory. The problem is that specific and objective proofs of their similarity are significantly lacking. The scarcity of material has been the major stumbling block in examining the relationship between the two writers in earnest. But recently, Shane Weller’s and Curt G. Willits’ studies have come up with material proof of the mutual influence that existed between the two writers. Based on their material, tracing the common logic between Beckett and Blanchot shows that they were both obsessed with the notion of ‘the logic of failure’. Beckett himself succinctly described it as “fidelity to failure” which comprises ideas such as negation of language, author without subject and reflection of literature as a general economy. Each of these ideas is consistently and coherently exploited in their literary works. In Beckett, they take the form of a passive author caught in between impossibility and responsibility and narrators who throw themselves into the abyss of non-meaning in pursuit of failure that resists the conversion into success. In the meantime, Blanchot explores these same ideas as neuter, worklessness and the death of the author. But these ideas, unlike what the researchers suggest, cannot be traced back to either of the writers. Rather, their thoughts on failure turn out to be ‘neuter’ in themselves. They are not owned or appropriated by someone. Both Beckett and Blanchot reflect on the ideas simply in response to the demand from the negativity of language. In addition, although it is true that “fidelity to failure” is one of the main features of modernist aesthetics, it is a conception that has assumed its form in the post-structuralist literary theory. Its real form can only be unveiled through an effort at digging up the intellectual layer that various writers have built up around Beckett and Blanchot.

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