"Extraordinary Debilities": Disability in the works of Samuel Beckett, 1928-45
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This thesis considers the importance of Samuel Beckett’s representations of disability in the first half of the twentieth-century. It suggests that the innovations of form that Beckett brings to modernism are inextricably connected and yet resistant to contemporary eugenic theories and articulations of degeneracy. Borrowing from current disability theory to examine prose, I propose that Beckett undermines the perceived category of disability. In his innovations of form, Beckett uses impairment as a route to new meaning. Such a reading takes this important Irish modernist and suggests that disability is also highly significant for our understandings of modernist literature. I introduce the study with an outlining of some crucial theoretical terms in current disability studies and by comparing different models of disability as they might be understood in aesthetic and narratological terms. Chapter One reads examines the legacy and importance of disability for Irish literature. It continues by reading Beckett’s criticism of modern and modernist projects alike. Chapters Three, Four, Five and Six read, in chronological order of appearance, the major works of Samuel Beckett prior to the end of the Second World War. In these chapter, I argue that Beckett’s formal approach to literature is characterisable in terms of disability and demonstrate the degree to which his reading of contemporaneous discourses of impairment significantly impact his work in the English language. In looking to his works of fiction, as well as to the translations he produced in the early 1930s, I trace the emergence of Beckett’s aesthetic and argue that in these earliest works, we already see the sensitivity to difference and empathy for which his later writings are highly prized. The dissertation concludes with a brief look to Beckett’s legacy in terms of contemporary literature and suggests a number of ways in which to elaborate the insights of this thesis in future research.
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