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ABSTRACTS

Aygyung Noh (Pusan National University, South Korea)
Against Collectivity: Beckett's Individualism and Modernist Politics

    In his life Beckett showed support for the individuals victimized by tyrannizing state politics. Joining French Resistance during the war and helping such a political dissident as Vaclav Havel are well known political gestures he made, even though he typically denied any political intent on his part. My goal in this presentation is to argue such a political side of the writer, who has been claimed otherwise as mostly apolitical, was prompted by his constant interest in the individual opposed to, and victimized by, the operation of social collectivity. I furthermore propose this interest of his originates in the politics of modernism which regarded an artist as a unique individual fighting against the conventions and norms of a collective order. Beckett began his major writing career in the 1930s and that as an assistant to the great modernist James Joyce. He moved to Paris, a modernist Mecca, to join the emigrant culture which was popular among the modernists. And one can imagine in the restless and rootless cultural atmosphere created by modernist emigrants he cultivated a certain anarchic tendency, which David Weir in his Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism (U of Massachusetts P, 1997) considers the political aspect of the individualistic and fragmentary culture of modernism. Beckett may have easily accepted the anarchic ideal of modernist politics, since he, James Knowlson writes in his biography, never forgot the cynicism of his college mentor Rudmose-Brown whose definition of the best government was the one "that charges you the least blackmail for leaving you alone." (Damned to Fame 64) Viewing Beckett as individualistic and anarchic modernist, I argue that it is not partisan politics which was at stake when he defended Havel against the communist regime of Czech or Fernando Arrabal against the Franco government but his eagerness to resist any oppressive measures over individuals taken by a state or any collective system.

    As for the texts, I will discuss five Beckett's works, including Murphy, Eleuthéria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Catastrophe. These texts imply to different extents the discontent and hostility of the individuals to the operation of a collective system. The individuals are often forced to compromise their solipsistic drive with social obligations(Murphy, Eleuthéria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame) and tortured by a tyrant who shears a human being of dignity and freedom for the good of his own system(Catastrophe). By reading these works I will illustrate how Beckett couches in them a certain indignation over the way the collective imperatives enslave the individual. . About the methodology, I will rely on his biographies for some facts from his life, and on Raymond Williams' The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists (Verso, 1989) and David Weir's Anarchy and Culture to discuss the modernist politics. Also helpful are the writings by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom Beckett called "a champion of the right to be alone" (Knowlson 660) and who was a true hermit skeptical of the miserable slavery that being part of a social collective can bring to the lives of individuals. Rousseau seems to have nourished Beckett's negative vision of social collectivity. I hope what I attempt in this presentation may balance the current Beckett criticism's lack of interest in his political side and illuminate it.



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