John Pilling


Attempts to elicit a poetics from Beckett’s work which might with profit be applied retroactively to any individual text are sufficiently rare for one to register surprise and pleasure that the present issue should contain two such, one of which is of particular value for those primarily concerned with Beckett’s prose, the other of which addresses the inherently more problematic genre (for anyone intent on elaborating a poetics) of drama, which perhaps only someone who is first and foremost a man of the theatre, like Pierre Chabert, could approach with confidence. It seems to me essential, even after over twenty years of critical writing on Beckett, that interpreters of his work should have at their disposal essays in which his fundamental concerns are thus clarified, on which their own subsequent activity may depend. It is an index of how certain crucial themes may be scanted that this issue should contain the first in-depth consideration of Beckett’s attitude to animals, which is clearly of great importance to our understanding of how he views mankind.


The six articles which concentrate on individual texts are a testament to how various may be the ways in which a Beckett critic sets about the enterprise of interpretation. Two of these texts, Company and ‘As the story was told,’ are effectively virgin territory, though for different reasons. But the articles on Godot and Play demonstrate that even the territory one thought one knew well must be revisited if one’s knowledge is not to atrophy or become sterile.


Everyone interested in Beckett will be gratified to have his precise debt to Mauthner clarified and contextualized with reference to the recent prose text which (with its ‘companion’ piece Mal vu mal dit) seems already to have taken on a ‘classic’ status within the oeuvre as a whole: Company. And it is especially pleasant to see that the writings of Tom Stoppard, whose seriousness as a dramatist has been questioned in some quarters, respond so well to the right kind of inquiry conducted with patience and acumen by a sympathetic critic.


One’s regret at the elapsed time between important productions of Beckett’s plays and critical consideration of them in this journal is tempered by the knowledge that, outside the ephemeral world of the newspaper and particularly in a bi-annual, such a delay is inevitable. It is better, in my view, to print such estimates belatedly than not to print them at all; for how else, when the history of Beckett in the theatre comes to be written, will the scholar be able to found his study upon secure and authoritative foundations?