Colloques & Conferences de l'Universite Lyon 2, Modernism and Unreadability / Modernisme et Illisibilite

Reading is Perceiving: Experiments with Genres and Genealogy of the Unreadable in Samuel Beckett'sWork

Kumiko Kiuchi

Temps: 2008-10-24  03:25  – 04:00
Dernière modification: 2008-07-07


The purpose of this paper is to investigate the figures and expressions of unreadability in the
work of bilingual writer Samuel Beckett. The paper demonstrates that Beckett's exploration
of unreadability is grounded in his criticism of modernist writers and further investigated
through his experiments with different literary genres such as theatre, film, television. The
paper clarifies this process by analysing the figures of hearing and writing as the acts of
articulating the potentiality (possibility and impossibility) of reading in Beckett's works. I
would suggest that Beckett's use of letters of the alphabet (H, M,W) in his late trilogy points
to one ultimate site of unreadability in his work.
The paper is divided into three parts. Part one examines Beckett's essay 'Dante . . . Bruno .
Vico . . Joyce', especially his critique of Joyce's Work in Progress (Finnegans Wake) in order
to elucidate an alternative of reading proposed by Beckett, explicated as the transition from
reading (understanding meaning) to perceiving (through vision and audition). The paper also
touches on Beckett's German letter in which he expresses reservations about Joyce's
apotheosis of word and advocates Gertrude Stein's logograph. With this in mind, part two
scrutinises the relationship between the unreadable and the imperceptible, hearing and writing
in Beckett's novels and theatre. A genealogy of hearing in Beckett novels (Molloy,
L'Innommable/The Unnamable and Comment c'est/How It Is) is presented as a process by
which narrators are deprived of their physicality and control over language, whilst writing is
presented as the site that counterfeits the deprivation of perception and records the
potentiality of perception. By contrast, Beckett's late theatre presents the body as the site of
writing by separating physicality from voice and obscuring the body's ability to hear. In order
to further clarify the relationship between language and perception, the final part of the paper
studies Beckett's late prose Company/ Compagnie. By analysing the image 'one in the dark'
and the structure of overhearing with reference to the namability of this figure, I would argue
that this figure crystallises the site of (un)readability/(im)perceptibility as the unnamable
letters of the alphabet, failed M, failedW and failed H. I would argue that the potentiality of
Beckett's logograph lies in the site of the grafting of 'one in the dark', hearing and alphabet,
image, performance and writing.