Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Joseph Adamson


This study shows how the narrative strategies of Beckett's early fiction, developed as a dialogical response to Joyce's work, lead to an implied critique of conventional notions of narrative and subjectivity. Beckett' s work, the study argues, takes up the challenge posed by Joyce's "Work in Progress," and Beckett's individualistic reading of Proust, and finally "refus (es) the possibilities of modernist writing" (Said 50). Thus Beckett attempts an "impossible" fiction in which protagonists and narrators reject their roles, the presumption of audience interest is examined and sacrificed, and the speaker's power over language radically questioned. Consequently, More Pricks than Kicks, Murphy, Watt, Malone Dies and The Unnamable demonstrate the fictional potential of rejected and "impossible" tactics such as silence, futility, and apparent incompetence. The study demonstrates that the isolated individualism of Beckett's protagonists is associated with a breakdown of language and self, a process that provides a fictional anticipation of the theoretical view that language removed from either actual or conventional situations of utterance and reply ("writing" as opposed to speech) becomes an autonomous sign-system which remains silent about questions of self and identity. (Since it is only in human dialogue, in taking up an anchored subject-position within language, that a speaker's subjectivity can emerge). Beckett's protagonists, seeking to maintain their distance from the social distribution cf subject positions, and seeking to propagate their personal monologue outside any dialogue, find themselves lost in a "moment before speech," or in langue without parole, and thus are unable to base their own subjectivity in the unmoored or ungrounded discourse they inhabit. To explicate these implicit ideas, I turn to theorists of language and the self such as Emile Benveniste and Jacques Lacan (whose ideas were developing at the same time as Beckett was writing the works treated: in Paris in the 1930's).

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