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Eric Prieto (University of California- Santa Barbara)
Replacing Beckett

    Over the course of his career, Beckett gradually abandoned the conventional depiction of concrete settings and clearly identifiable places in favor of increasingly abstract, artificial, or otherwise non-localizable spaces. Despite this progressive delocalization of representation, there has been in recent years a concerted critical effort to re-place Beckett's work, to re-read it, that is, with an emphasis on the author's Irish roots, education, social relations, wartime activities, literary influences, and so forth. The goal of such studies is to draw the work down from the ethereal, unlocalizable realm of metaphysics and philosophical speculation that dominated a previous generation of Beckett studies and reinsert it into the historical world of political, social, and identitarian concerns emphasized by contemporary movements like cultural, postcolonial, and gender studies.

    This renewed effort to re-place Beckett, while understandable and indeed desirable, faces some formidable hurdles, not least of which is that it seems to contradict Beckett's own artistic intentions. After all, his delocalization of representation seems specifically designed to frustrate speculation about such worldly concerns. And it is clear that those seeking transparent autobiographical revelations or overt political messages, especially in the later works, will be disappointed. Still, I believe that it is possible to re-place them meaningfully by asking how the delocalization of representation reflects the specific historical challenges he sought to address in his writing. To this end, my paper uses the question of place as a way to re-read some of the least localizable (and most enigmatic) of Beckett's works: the nebulous voids of L'innommable and Company and the highly artificial, geometrically constructed "refuges" of The Lost Ones, Imagination Dead Imagine, and Ghost Trio.

    Subject to the postmodern loss of epistemological and ideological stability that shaped the major thinkers of his generation, but maintaining a classical insistence on ethical responsibility and shared values, Beckett sought a language capable of reconciling the subjective categories of personal experience with universal principles of logic, truth, and goodness--and to do so without relying on metaphysical appeals to a higher authority. It is no doubt his postmodern suspicion of grand meta-narratives that led to his deconstruction of place. But by emphasizing his dogged search for a new set of foundational values, I argue, it is possible to find clues that point us back to the place world in verifiable and interesting ways.

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