‘‘This hell of stories: a Hegelian approach to the novels of Samuel Beckett’
by Hans-Joachim Schulz (The Hague, Mouton, 1973. 117
‘Art and the artist in the works of Samuel Beckett’
by Hannah Case Copeland
(The Hague, Mouton, 1975. 229 pp.)
Structure de la trilogie de Beckett: Molloy, Malone meurt, L’Innommable’
by Dina Sherzer (The Hague, Mouton, 1976. 100 pp.)
These three monographs from the same sheepfold—the first and last originating as doctoral dissertations, the second arising from a seminar project—can conveniently be reviewed together, and quite briefly. Mr. Schulz offers what is best read as a free-wheeling essay loosely interpreting Beckett in the light of Hegel without positing any direct influence—rather, as a shared structure of thought. The later sections are the most satisfying, containing useful insights like ‘it is in How it is that the immeasurability of an existence without time takes on the vast proportions of Hegel’s “bad infinity” (schlechte Unendlichkeit).’ Perhaps because he is so interested in what he calls Beckett’s ‘absurdism’ Mr. Schulz is somewhat cavalier about style and structure. He dismisses the ‘contrapuntal’ structure of Molloy as ‘perhaps not important,’ and paradox in Murphy as ‘merely verbal and witty.’ Still, I suppose joking, even of Beckett’s masterly variety, seems frivolous if you’re deep into Hegel.
Miss Copeland’s leisurely and urbane essay consists largely of well-arranged quotations from other critics. If you happen to be one of those critics it is flattering at first, but tedious in the end, to read your own obiter dicta at frequent intervals, especially as nothing much is done with them—no real controversy engaged or debate started. The name of one of us (Huguette Delye) is consistently mis-spelt, and the hero of ‘Le Calmant’ is stated to be waiting for death rather than, as the text makes clear, dead already.
Mrs. Sherzer contributes by far the most original and exciting essay, despite some silly slips (misprints and mis-quotations—up to six errors of transcription in one cited sentence on page 33, for instance), and despite a tendency to consider the narrator as a literary device and Molloy (for example) as the character whose actions are narrated by that device; but can the first-person narrator be split, like the atom? The great virtue of her linguistics-based study, however, is that it gives us verifiable data based on rigorous close analysis on the text as it is, and not—pace Mr. Schulz—as it can be induced to seem. Her dissection of the Trilogy is masterly and puts all future readers of Beckett’s masterpiece in her debt. It certainly renders much previous impressionistic criticism and analysis obsolete, and work like Brian T. Fitch’s, not based on a sound grasp of linguistic theory, largely superfluous.