Efforts to unravel the strands of philosophy and literature in Samuel Beckett’s work have marked each phase of its critical reception. While the archival turn in scholarship has shed valuable light on Beckett’s debts to philosophy, it has also exposed the rift between the epistemological assumptions of scholars and Beckett’s philosophy of ignorance. I argue that Beckett’s tragic view of philosophy took literary shape as a species of metaphysical horror, Leszek Kolakowski’s term for the failed quest for the absolute in Western thought. Beckett’s legacy is then viewed in a postsecular context as negative theodicy, the struggle to come to grips with the ethical and anthropological consequences of metaphysical horror.
Metaphysical Horror in Samuel Beckett
Christopher Conti is assistant professor of English at Western Sydney University and member of the Writing and Society Research Centre. He edited “Samuel Beckett and the Afterlife/Samuel Beckett et la vie future,” a special issue of Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui (2021) with Matthijs Engelberts and is the author of Proofs: One Hundred and Four Short Stories (2012). His research interests include the relation of philosophy and literature in the novels of Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, John Barth, and J. M. Coetzee.
Christopher Conti; Metaphysical Horror in Samuel Beckett. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2023; 69 (3): 329–362. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10814839
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