Beckett and Authority: The Uses of Cliché by Elizabeth Barry

By Elizabeth Barry

This new e-book situates Beckett in a philosophical and literary culture that has argued for the artistic worth of stupidity, a key idea within the taking into account philosophers reminiscent of Wittgenstein. It investigates the connection among verbal cliché, revealing the innovations he used to problem highbrow and social authority in his works.

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Christopher Ricks’ 1990 study of death in Beckett’s writing, Beckett’s Dying Words, is the critical work that makes the most explicit examination of clich´es in Beckett’s work, and it is of course no accident that it also takes as one of its principal arguments Beckett’s recovery of the bodily metaphors and images that lie obscured in clich´e. Beckett is, for Ricks, a writer who is attuned to the ‘subterranean energies’ of this buried language (Ricks, 87). It becomes clear that particularly in English culture, a subject’s understanding of the world is both through the body and by analogy with it, language reaching out to the world like an extension of our limbs.

The discourse of romantic history that often attaches to Ireland is undercut by the clich´e ‘last ditch’, providing two conflicting versions of Ireland and its past. Is Ireland the home of stoic fighters and defiant martyrs or the last resort, a ditch to die in? Peter Lennon’s comments about the ‘Dublin way’ of using clich´e, both owning it and decrying it, are borne out in these knowing but ambivalent remarks, and Beckett’s position as an Anglo-Irish writer makes his an even more uneasy negotiation of such positions.

Oh, well, I may as well confess it now, yes I rubbed up against one. I don’t mean my mother, I did more than rub up against her. (T , 56) Alternatively, he might put them into contexts in fact newly—and often grotesquely—appropriate. Christopher Ricks in his study of Beckett’s language of death gives the famous example from First Love in which the narrator cheerfully remarks that he has, personally, ‘no bone to pick with graveyards’ (CSP, 25). Beckett gives these expressions the density of poetry, establishing new meanings for them by manipulating their form or by creating new relationships on a semantic level between their occluded images and those in the surrounding text.

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