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Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp)
‘My life last state last version’: genetic variants in Beckett’s late works

In Beckett’s first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, Belacqua ‘shrank always from the mot juste.’ More than half a century later, Beckett wrote What Is the Word, which can be read as a failed attempt to find the right word and to write one single sentence. The result is a succession of variants, constantly interrupted whenever the author arrives at a dead end in the composition process. The notion of ‘variants’ is not an exclusivity of textual criticism and scholarly editing. In his last text, Beckett presents the product as production, indicating how crucial the notion of variants can be in the interpretation of his works. In Proust Beckett had already pointed out that ‘the individual is a succession of individuals’ and that ‘the periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations […] represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile.’ This idea finds its textual equivalent in composition and translation variants. In the case of Comment c’est, for instance, the phrase ‘ma vie dernier état’ became longer in the translation How It Is, because of an interesting variant: ‘my life last state last version’. By means of this variant, Beckett presents the last state of the protagonist’s life as a version. This has both editorial implications (involving a search for adequate electronic tools to represent the succession of versions) and interpretive consequences. The paper will examine this textual/existential tension in the ‘last state’ of Beckett’s life, more specifically the last version of his last work, as well as its preceding versions and the periods of transition between consecutive adaptations, focusing on the ‘perilous zones’ in the life of the text.

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