This essay uses W. R. Bion’s object-relations theory to argue that the formal experiments in Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable demand a distinctive kind of psychic work from readers. It describes this work in terms of containment, an unconscious mechanism that supports the psyche’s capacity to think. The concept of containment reveals the continuities between the psychological breakdowns that occur in psychosis, trauma, and ordinary development, as well as the relationship between these breakdowns and the emergence of the ability to represent and narrate experience. Analyzing the affective configuration generated by The Unnamable through the prism of containment deepens our understanding of the challenges posed by the text and of the text’s historical situatedness.

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