The Art Of Samuel Beckett
King's College London
Area of Study
English, Literature, Theater
Taught In English
Course Level Recommendations
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Recommended U.S. Semester Credits4
Recommended U.S. Quarter Units6
Hours & Credits
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was one of the most important European writers of the twentieth century. The friend and sometime secretary of James Joyce, over the course of a writing career that spanned almost 60 years he developed an austere minimalist style that was the antithesis of Joyce?s. Beckett?s biographer James Knowlson has rightly said that Beckett ?changed the entire face of post-war theatre and that he also inspired many modern painters and video or installation artists?. His prose writings stand as monuments of Modernist style. If they eschew the complex architectonic of Joyce, Mann and Proust, they embrace and thereby continue those writers? belief in, and commitment to, l?art pour l?art. Like Joyce, Beckett drew upon the whole range of European literature: Dante, Dr Johnson, Kleist as well as Joyce, Proust and Appollinaire. Most of the works that feature on this course were originally written in French and many of them contain puns on French, Italian and German words - although we will be reading and watching Beckett?s works in English. Beckett also learned from artists working in other media. He was a keen amateur musician and the aesthetic of some of his later dramatic works has been compared with the music of Pierre Boulez and Edgard Varèse. He was also interested in painting and he said that friendships with Jack Yeats, Bram Van Velde and Avigdor Arikha had a determining influence on his art. He is sometimes wrongly described as an absurdist or a nihilist. These labels do not do justice to Beckett?s rich, dark humour or to the compassion that animates so much of his work.
The structure of the course is chronological. Accordingly it begins by looking at the High Modernist works of apprenticeship that he wrote in his youth in Ireland and France under the influence of Joyce and Proust. We then move to London where he wrote his first masterpiece, Murphy (1937). We will look at his early novel Watt (1943) in the context of his life in France during the Second World War before turning to his great prose trilogy of the early fifties. These were the works in which he detached himself definitively from Joyce?s influence. Henceforth he would abandon the self-conscious literary allusiveness of his earlier style in favour of what has been called an aesthetic of ?lessness? (a Beckett coinage). Impotence, ignorance and failure became central to the experience Beckett was concerned to impart, but his ear for humour and for the beauty of language remained as acute as ever. The final part of the course examines some of his great late works in which this minimalist aesthetic is carried on to new extremes and considers his influence.
This course would combine well with Prof Kirkland?s courses on Ulysses and on Irish Literature.
Study abroad entry requirement: None
Credit level: 6
Credit value: 15
Teaching pattern: One lecture and seminar weekly
Study abroad assessment: 1 x 4,000 word essay (100%)
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