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Shoshana Benjamin (Ben-Gurion University - Israel)
Back to the Future: A Direction for Beckett Criticism

Of the possible directions that Beckett criticism might take in the foreseeable future, one that holds special promise involves a paradoxical breaking ahead by moving backwards. A return to the past with a difference may well be in the cards, first, to a classical ideal of literary study, specifically, the derivation of hidden meaning, and second, to the early beginnings of Beckett criticism when readers sought to determine the meaning of individual works, or parts thereof, freely and unselfconsciously. Contemporary Beckett studies tend to shun this type of practice, largely owing to the shifts that have taken place in literary theory and critical priorities (e.g., the new agenda entailed by postmodernist developments), combined with a sense of fatigue and a certain letdown with the results yielded by decades of interpretation. A case in point is Raymond Federman, a once avid seeker who renounced the pursuit of meaning, on the grounds that there is nothing to pursue.

The central purpose of my paper is to validate the classical quest for hidden meaning, most notably and emphatically in the novel Watt. Building on a case made elsewhere for defining Watt as a cryptic text1. I focus on one particular item, the making of Mr Knott's food, an apt candidate for the classic question: what does it mean? This simple question, which a nave reader might spontaneously ask, is by no means an innocent question as it carries the implication that we are dealing not with plain and literal matters of nutrition but, quite possibly, with an extended metaphor that has a determinable and specifiable meaning. I propose to test that possibility against the background of the larger structure of meaning in Watt. I conclude with some general observations concerning the difference between the methodology of cryptic interpretation employed here, and the means used in past efforts to discover hidden meaning in Beckett's work.

1 Benjamin, Shoshana. "What's Watt," Poetics Today (Fall 1997)

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