How can an economic model designed to eliminate waste produce nothing but? The answer, according to Samuel Beckett's Watt, can be found in the system of economic relations presupposed by the Anglo-Irish Big House novels that emerged after the 1800 Acts of Union. These novels, which contrasted the profligacy and neglect of absentee English landlords with the idealized social harmony and economic self-sufficiency of the homegrown Protestant Ascendency, allowed an Anglo-Irish readership to imagine a self-sustaining body politic, invulnerable to an unevenly developed empire's devastating cycles of scarcity and waste. The Big House in Watt is the estate of Mr. Knott, to which apparently “nothing could be added . . . and from it nothing taken away.” As his servant Watt discovers, however, the high quality of life inside the home is ensured by the continual production and export of detritus: human waste, leftover food, and pointless activity. The even-keeled manor house, moreover, lays waste to an ever-expanding network of territory and labor to feed itself. Drawing attention to the novelist's engagement with contemporary Irish economic policy, this essay shows how Beckett exploits the weaknesses of this model of national political economy to dismantle the form of the novel itself: Watt produces its own unassimilable waste in the form of aimless digressions and addenda. Rather than discard the exhausted form, as critical tradition would have it, Beckett releases his Big House novel to explore the exogenous play of wasteful contradictions and to overturn the genre's ideal equilibrium.

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