Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James Swearingen

Second Advisor

Robert Boyle

Third Advisor

Michael Patrick Gillespie

Fourth Advisor

Joseph Schwartz


This dissertation argues that Samuel Beckett's works, by disclosing the technological assumptions inherent in many contemporary conceptions of language, embody his artistic response to a world defined by technology. Based on a literary analysis of Beckett's major works in a roughly chronological sequence, the study focuses on the conceptions and uses of language depicted both within the works and exhibited by the texts themselves. Chapter I explores the early English fiction, concentrating on Beckett's parody of pseudo-intellectual solipsism in "Dante and the Lobster," Cartesian dualism in Murphy, and rationalism and positivism in Watt. Chapter II analyzes Beckett's dismantling of the Cartesian project in The Trilogy from Molloy's inability to name himself as subject, through Malone's failure to express the present tense, to the Unnamable's sense of "objectness." Chapter III discusses Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Happy Days, in which Beckett satirizes language conceived as game, language viewed as instrument of the ego, and language seen as a vehicle of cultural and interpersonal communication. Chapter IV concentrates on Beckett's use of technological instruments in Krapp's Last Tape, Embers, and Eh Joe to dismantle Proustian notions of memory and the Berkeleyan approach to perception, which suggest the conception of language as a medium. Chapter V examines Beckett's fiction of the sixties--How It Is, Imagination Dead Imagine, and The Lost Ones--which explore the artistic process in a technological age. The concluding chapter assesses the general contours of Beckett's treatment of language and surveys five of Beckett's recent works from Company to Worstward Ho as poetic preludes designed to open out into meditative silence. While Beckett dismantles many current conceptions of language that find their common denominator in the philosophical assumptions underlying the scientific and technological revolutions, his own language resonates increasingly in images and sounds and suggests ways of seeing, hearing, and knowing other than the analytical and the empirical. Beckett's techne, having disclosed the final impotence of all human faculties, reveals itself as an artistic mode of surrendering all pretensions of power in the indivisible and indefinable human-saying-silence that constitutes the irreducible desire to be.



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