Publication details

Beckett’s Closed Spaces


LITTLE James Joseph

Year of publication 2017
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description In the compositional notebook which gave rise to Imagination Dead Imagine and All Strange Away, Beckett copied Theseus’ statement on poetic imagination from Act V, Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: and as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes + gives to airy nothing A local habitation + a name. Nothing would seem further from the received idea of Beckett as a writer who shuns the specific by undoing location, particularly in the so-called ‘closed space’ prose pieces of the 1960s and 70s. My paper challenges this reading by showing that Beckett’s aesthetic is intrinsically tied up with the specifics of his restricted habitations. Through analysing the development of the space of All Strange Away, from the ‘kind of closet or cupboard’ of the manuscripts to the ‘rotunda’ of the published text, I will argue that Beckett’s stripping away of particulars gives greater weight to those details which inevitably remain. Central to the vain effort of imagining a world ‘[w]ithout saying usual war–peace, social […] injustice + conquests etc’ is the spatial restriction of the protagonists, whose confinement prevents their habitation ever becoming, in Marc Augé’s terminology, an atopological ‘non-place’. In the very attempt to keep extraneous detail out of his closed spaces, confinement becomes a highly productive imaginative force in Beckett’s work. Such confinement, I will further argue, changes function in Beckett’s oeuvre, from an institutional space in which specific forms of social alienation are encountered in his early prose to forming part of a spatial aesthetic which retains the political valence carried by a body bounded in a closed space.