`Structures in Beckett’s Watt by John C. DiPierro. York, South Carolina: French Literature Publications Company, 1981. 116 pp.
The reader of Structures in Beckett’s ‘Watt’ should consider carefully the warning John D. Erickson offers us in his preface to the effect that ‘perhaps the most original aspect of this study’ is DiPierro’s procedure which approximates the very way Beckett himself proceeds (p. ix). In truth, the conclusions DiPierro reaches are not unfamiliar. We learn: that Beckett has performed a number of interesting linguistic experiments which add to the dimensions of the characters and to the thematic aspects (p. 29), that the plot and ‘situation regarding Watt are carefully designed (p. 49), that what appears simple may acquire a variety of meanings (p. 49), that character structure and plot are closely related (p. 49), and that Beckett’s structure reflects his ideas (p. 60).
If the conclusions are not surprising, the methods of proving them often are. For example, DiPierro dismisses previous critics’ interpretations of character names as ‘amusing and unconvincing’ and promises instead the rigors of a ‘thorough, scientific examination’ (p. 29). He then provides us with passages and notes such as the following:
One can easily dispose of the names of the minor characters in this group, Spiro and Graves. Spiro’s name is clearly Greek in origin. (One need merely refer to the first name of a recent Vice President of the United States.) It gives us a Mediterranean flavor. It is also indubitably Jewish, most likely of that branch of Jewry known as Sephardic whose people were numerous in Greek-speaking areas. (p. 26)23 For the Jewish aspect see the New York telephone Directory, Manhattan 1976-77 (New York, 1976), p. 1306. Also under `Spero’, p. 1305. The Greek root of Spiro also appears in such Greek names as Spironis, Sprides, etc. (p. 45).
Unlike many less courageous authors, DiPierro is not unwilling to take to task his predecessors, chastising them for evaluating Beckett `without examining the intellectual conceptions behind his novels’ (p. 66). Nor is he diffident about dismissing ‘trifles’, passing over the debate on Watt’s missing ladder as ‘One of Beckett’s puns, which need not detain us’ (p. 68). Nor is he hesitant to introduce the speculative, annotating his reference to Bardsley’s English Surnames (1889) by asking, ‘Was Beckett aware of the possibility, known already in Bardsley’s well-known work in the 19th century? On the surface it seems to have no application to his Knott. But, then, one can always indulge in Wattian speculations and come up with twelve solutions’ (p. 45).
In short, Structures in Beckett’s ‘Watt’ is a compendium of the foolish things we have all at some time thought, said, or, to our eternal embarrassment, published. The catalogue is complete from the graphic to the biographic, from nondistinctive definitions to fragments and tautologies, from blithe assumptions to patent inaccuracies, from Einstein to Buddha.
DiPierro has run the risk of the imitative fallacy in his first four chapters in order to make us experience the critical equivalent of the ‘nothingness’ he celebrates in all four of his epigraphs. Only in the final chapter does DiPierro return to his own voice and imply a motive for his madness: By approaching Watt rationally we tend to slip into the trap that eventually undoes Watt. For we demand clear statements, precise narration expressed by well-defined narrators, concise situations in an artificial literary sense. Yet none exist in that fashion because none exist in real life. By thus approaching Watt we deny the ur-instinct which had been so suppressed in Watt that it had ceased to operate (p. 102).
By parodying critical methods and highlighting their inadequacies, DiPierro attempts to restore to Beckett scholarship an instinctive and intuitive appreciation of Watts artistry and humor. He attempts to save us from that portion of ourselves that resembles Watt, that humorless, ‘half-baked scholar-clerk with his compulsions and illusions who often goes mad or becomes merely ‘neurotic’ (p. 101).
No doubt many readers will find Structures in Beckett’s ‘Watt’ witty, others will see it as parasitic; many will be delighted by its games, others offended by them; and many, such as myself, will find the work too depressingly close to the errors we daily confront in our students and in ourselves. As DiPierro observes, ‘There are many Watts among us’ (pp. 19 and 93).