John P. Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991).

For all the good that frequent departures out of Ireland had done him, he might as well have just stayed there. [from Watt]

Harrington, ed. of Irish Traveller in Ireland, and anthology of Modern Irish Drama.

Intro: [The critics’ theme of] Beckett’s transcending humanism and his cleverly indirect optimism … has remained the thrust of most criticism of Beckett’s work from 1969 to 1889. [3] … this fairly uniform approach to what is, now at least, generally appreciated as a rather varied body of work. [3] … Platonizing him out of existence [4]

My intention is to supplement the ways in which Beckett has been read by paying greater attention to Irish contexts than to humanistic traditions [4] … I treat Beckett’s works as an oeuvre chose consistency emerges most clearly by consideration of texts marginalised by an impression of Beckett’s work derived from its shape in the 1960s. [4]

nationality as defined by Cruise O’Brien: ‘the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being mauled by it.’ (states of Ireland, p. 99) [5]

Beckett’s ridicule and denunciation of Ireland puts him in good company [5]

Situates argument in relation of Foucault’s questioning of the ‘author-and-his-work’ complex, which H considers marked by its own historical moment.

Clifford Geertz: ‘local knowledge’

Beckett’s humanism is a rather well-charted problem, while his Irishness is a rather uncharted one. [6]

Harrington locates his essay in and to some extent against the new Irish, and currently ‘institutionalised’ revisionism: establishment of the local contexts of B’s world in these chapers likely upsets the respective compartmentalisations of B by revivalists and revisionists. [7] He continues this theme with the assertion that the current literary antipatriotism has not yet summoned up a diastolic return to patriotism. The weakness here is in assuming that the two periods are of the same order: the current revisionism is not the turning away of intellectuals from the extreme restrictiveness of the Free State ethos, but the groundswell of the whole national population shifting away from a self image that now seems rudimentary and paranoid, and feels uncomfortable and outmoded. He takes up again with Louis Cullen’s 1969 reassessment of Daniel Corkery’s Hidden Ireland, an essay republished in 1989 as ‘a classic of revisionism’.

Beckett’s self-portrait in The European Caravan (1931): ‘the most interesting of the younger Irish writers … adapted the Joyce method to his poetry with original results’ [8]

transcending Irishness as an inherited liability [9]

Adorno, trying to make sense of Endgame: In the act of omission, that which is omitted survives through its exclusion, as consonance survives in atonal harmony.’

MacGreevy … is generally accredited with introducing Beckett to Joyce. MacGreevy later repatriated himself and became director of the National Gallery; he wrote a book about the national importance of Jack Yeats that Beckett found difficult ot praise, but, out of obligation, tried to do so. [11]

Harrington quotes Mays’ reading of MacGreevy’s depreciation of Yeats and the Revival, together with O’Faolain’s derogation of the stay-at-home Irish writers, and adds: ‘By the 1980s, the centrality of that position for an Irish writer, that depreciation of Yeats and appreciation of Europeanization, came around again in a general program of revisionism of local literary and cultural history. [13]

Far from being solely transition’s offspring, Beckett’s earliest criticism, poetry, and obiter dicta are profoundly entangled in Irish literary issues, including both literary precedence and consequent literary agenda. [14]

Harrington reads ‘Dante .,. Bruno … Vico … Joyce’ as a careful rescuing of Joyce from those contexts: “The danger is in the neatness of identifications … The conception of Philosophy and Philology as a pair of nigger minstrels out of the Teatro dei Piccoli is soothing, like the contemplation of a carefully folded ham-sandwich … This social and historical classification is clearly adapted by Mr. Joyce as a structural convenience—or inconvenience. His position is in no way a philosophical one.” [16] … the worlds Portadownians [17]

Swift’s tower in More Pricks than Kicks or Sheppard’s statue of Cuchulain in Murphy. But subsequent Beckett works move ... towards the general: canal, or hill, or place on a road. ... never completely frees itself from the type names. Connolly’s Stores in Company, for example, or Croker’s Acres in Not I. But his work quite gradually and quite studiously does complicate the pride of place fundamental to the project of establishing a national identity in the Irish literary revival. That complication is gradual enough and studious enough to suggest revision of previous ideals. … one might as well say that Beckett’s own movement from particular to general in the use of specifically irish place-names or type names could be construed as fulfilling Joyce’s own surmise in FW that may or may not constitute literal reference to Beckett: Sam knows miles bettern me how to work the miracle. … He’ll prisckly soon hand tune your Erin’s ear for you. [FW467]” [18]

Moves creakily, but covers all the points on the course. He does the work, but writes creakily.

Beckett’s attacks on Irish Censorship, particularily as regards contraception, [21-23. … severely critical of the Irish Free State, especially in its intention to be culturally unified and culturally remote from the modern world. [23]

Quotes Beckett’s second piece on contraception, ‘The Possessed’; also a reply in National Student (UCD), and remarks: … these early pieces by Beckett did not separate him from literary aspirants in Dublin at this time; they placed him in an active faction of Free State literary reorientation. [25]

Quotes fully Beckett on Habit (Proust): Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptions (because by no expedient of macabre transubstantiation can the grave sheets serve as swaddling clothes) represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. [26]

Shadwell, and of Irish extraction (i.e., Richard Flecknoe) [27]

Harington uses Beckett’s Recent Irish Poetry to demonstrate that he was aware in some detail of the background of the revival in Gaelic literature, and aware too of matters such as Ussher’s trans. of Merriman. [30] it all sounds unfortunately like Mary Flannery who argues that Yeats, though a Protestant, may have heard about the Divine Logos from his Catholic neighbours.

By attacking antiquarianism, B did not relinquish his own involvement in local culture. Instead, he joined a dissenting faction of impeccable credentials that has been an important feature of modern Irish literature in all but its crudest revival forms or most exigent aims. [33] … the immediate obselescence of the antiquarian goods and endorsement of awareness of modernity is embedded in discussions of the irish literary revival contemporary with it.

Beckett’s rather studied cri de coeur in ‘Censorship and the Saorstat’ was no forlorn cry of a lonely protester but articulation of the intellectuals’ concensus and a form of application to Dublin’s literary company. [37]

conspicuous absence of Beckett’s name from litany of Irish writers [instanced by passage from Malcolm Brown [Harrington, 39]

.. aloofness from Ireland constructed in relation to a particular sense of Irishness and not wholly apart from it.

insular for insulating [41] Such an application of Beckett’s anticlarity generalization may seen [sic] reductive and relentless (and clear), but there is adequate evidence to substantiate the limited but significant local import of Beckett’s most general statements. [41]

In Beckett’s criticism, references to the details of Irish literary controversies—which means, chiefly, the Censorship Act—became increasingly tacit (or ‘implicit’). [42]

the effacement of contest and association [43] Harrington is trying to trace a process by which Beckett began ‘fresh from Ireland’ with a more or less insistent habit of making reference to Ireland and Irish literary matters, until later he begins consciously to eliminate the Irish reference aiming—as he said Joyce aimed—towards greater generality.

Nice quotation from Hanly’s novel, In Guilt and Glory (44).

Lengthy discussion of Daniel Corkery’s Hidden Ireland, and reactions thereto, on the slight pretext that it exemplifies the nationalist ethos at the time when de Valera was consolidating Catholic Gaelic Ireland. The quotations from O’Faolain and Louis Cullen suggest that Corkery’s vision is based on limited information. Harrington goes on: ‘Even these dissenters to the argument admit, however, that Corkery’s Irish Ireland campaign occurred at an opportune time when Irish nationalism needed revitalization [...] More Pricks than Kicks would dissent too, to a narrow view of Irish identity, it does not endorse Cullen’s equation of complexity and richness. That is an early indication that incorporation by revisionism of Beckett into the national literary canon may require a reading as selective as the reading that once excluded Beckett from it. [50].

The relevance of Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature to Beckett, and in particular to More Pricks than Kicks, is not that Beckett refutes Corkery; it is, rather, that Corkery and his own formidable opponents together consitute a cultural impasse that is the social milieu of More Pricks than Kicks and its case study of modern Irish indolence, Belacqua. [52]

Pricks … its satire directed more at erudite imposture than at stolid common sense. [54]

In reworking Dream of Fair to Middling Women as Pricks, Beckett focussed the material in Dublin and its environs … transformed the expatriate into an expatriot manqué … [54] the representation of Dublin in the 1930s in Pricks is of characters and cronies languishing in a plethora of literary and customary ‘trur sayings’. [55]

Indolence, inertia, and of course waiting … the socal context of Pricks [is] less than metaphysical … Pricks counterpoises cosmopolitanism with the insular and exclusionist cultural nationalism of Dublin in th 1930s, and the stories qualify both forms of action with enough irony and staire to effect stasis and inaction. The opposition of cosmopolitanism and insularity is a fundamental dialectic in modern Irish culture, and Beckett’s representation of the opposition as intractable is important evidence in that cultural history. [57]

Guided by F. S Lyons, Terence Brown, Peter Costello, and others, in the highways and bye-ways of cultural history. [e.g. 59] When he drags in Terence de Vere White as witness, one begins to feel that his time frame is wrong, and that he assigns equal value to different sorts of witnessing.

landscape of More Pricks than Kicks, Dublin, Fingal, (Portrane), etc., c. 60. See Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fingal’ and Irish Tradition, Mary Power, in Journal of Modern Lit., (1981-82)

Form is a [excessive] preoccupation of most criticism of Beckett’s work. Th amterial it accomodates, however separate, is no less worthy a problem. [62] problem? This is very much the air of the book.

Beckett’s parodies of Joyce: ‘the rain fell in a uniform untroubled manner. It fell upon the bay, the littoral, the mountains and the plains, and notably upon the Central Bog it fell with a rather desolate uniformity.’ (Pricks, 83) [66]. The comment is inept: though Joyce may have inscribed a fairly permanent definition of Irish experience in fiction, that definition could be satirized. etc. [67]

IDIOCY: In More Pricks Than Kicks, Joyce’s prognosis for Irish experience has not changed, but it certainly has worsened. [67] In an increment to Joyce’s representations of paralysis and limited possibilities in the post-Parnell era, Beckett’s representation of indolence and futility in the Freee State era pronounces cultural potential dead with greater finality than does ‘The Dead’.

retr[o-]active illumination of Yeats and Joyce in Beckett.

Trying to work out Beckett’s social position in Ireland; cites Watson on teh insexurity of the Anglo-Irish. Harrington choses the passage in whcih Belacqua seeks to define his identity, in ‘Yellow’, just before death in surgery. ‘An indolent bourgeois poltroon, very talented up to a point, but not fitted for private life in the best and brightest sense … [75]

‘the last ditch’, a phrase attributed to William of Orange, is used by Beckett to describe Belacqua’s mind. [76]

Quotes Pricks in summary: ‘It is true that he did not care for these black and white alternatives as such. Indeed he even went so far as to hazard a little paradox on his own account, to the effect that between contraries, no alteration is possible.’ The little paradox is of course adapted from Bruno. That is to say, the balanced antagonisms of Catholic and Protestant cultural fixations in Ireland preclude any other position. [77]

Harrington’s interpretation of the Sinclair libel trial is that, far from being driven for the country, Beckett was participating in the cultural life of Ireland in a vivid and equitable way, since Gogarty provided the source of various of his motifs in Murphy, and also since the pronounciation of Prowst was something that he had already committed to print in jest.

John Hutchinson, The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism: The Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation (1987). ‘[…] the expansion of the state tends to stimulate group conflicts about which norms and practices should form the official culture of the nation, and about the allocation of resources. … the new state, by defining nationality increasingly in terms of an allegiance to sets of routinised practices rather than as a living faith that inspires individuals in all that they do, fails to realise the initial revivalist dreams of inner transformation. the heroic impulse has been subordinated to the task of constructing a stable order of citizens.’

In Beckett … one finds those alienating effects’ as distinct from the complete alienation normally ascribed to him. … Murphy is not intent on deflating the ambition of revival terms, it is focused instead on the deflating the effect of those idealism less ambitious inheroitors of them. [88]

TYPOS: basphemer; Radio Erin; also twice on p. 144-45; Sara Curren [169]; haitus [171]

Harrington sees Yeatsian antinomies in the controlling contradictions of Murphy, and in Murphy’s own character - ‘the ethical yo-yo.’ [95] All of this is normally related to The Cartesian and Geulincxian backgrounds of Beckett’s eccentric philosophical reading; but Harrington insists, in Yeats, on a more proximate Irish context. Granted, the formal resemblance is there; granted, also, Beckett shows himself closely familiary with Yeats (and surprisingly familiar with much else of Celtic Twilightry and Gaelic bardry); but the specific track of allusions remains undocumented, and the case falls. Or does it: at the end he says, ‘This entire episode [the death of Murphy] is quite explicit in its reference to Yeats’s conception in ‘Vacillation’ of life between two extremities when ‘a flaming breath/Comes to destroy/All those antinomies.’ [97]

.. no … allusion is as fundamental or developed in Murphy as the paradigm of Yeatsian antinomies, and no extranational framework of iconology is proportionate to the attention to Irish iconology in Murphy. [97]

Oliver Sheppard’s Cuchulain, in Yeats, and in Murphy. [100-102]

static, unresolved antinomies of dream and reality; Yeatsian antinomies reflected in Irish writers from Beckett to Flann O’Brien and Paddy Kavanagh.

Galls and Gaels in Beckett and O’Brien: here the conjunction is to faciel, given the different characters of the men.. There is a sense of a computer churn out verbal resemblances, as much a thematic one’s, in response to some sort of search. This is the criticism of the database.

KEY PASSAGE: In [the] debate over adherence to tradition in relaion to rejection of it. Beckett is not summoned by revisionist as symptomatic of the limits of revivalism (like Flann O’Brien or Kavanagh) but as exemplary modernist for protracted interrogation of the idea of identity and unequivocal rejection of inherited certainties. In this last, however, Beckett does not totally support the program of revisionism. [...] Beckett’s address to symbols of national identity [was] much more qualified and ambivalent [...] nor can Murphy be called an equivocal rejection of Yeats and his revival assocations [... E]ven the Sinclair libel trial cannot be reduced to simple alienation [...] It is, rather, an indication of [John Hutchinson’s] alienating effects [...] Murphy is an illustration of alienating effects in its dissatisfaction with national terms of identity and collateral inability or unwillingness to depart from them or to reject them absolutely. [107]

Takes Kearney’s ‘The Demythologising Intellect’ to task. The problematics of language … does not eliminate the problematics of history. [108]

Watt: compared to Yeats’s story, ‘The Legend of Knockgrafton’, in Fairy Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888). [118] Beckett’s introduction of a folkloric element from Yeats into Watt … extracts random coincidence from a preceding cautionary tale. [119]

Allusion to the Cad with A Pipe in Watt, identified by David Hayman. Arsene recalls meeting Mr. Ash on Westminister Bridge on a day when ‘it was blowing heavily’ Mr. Ash loosens layers of heavy-weather gear, consults his ‘gunmetal half-hunter’ and offers without being asked the time of ‘seventeen minutes past five exactly, as God is my witness’ [120] cf. Joyce: ‘the wind billowing across the wide expanse’ and ‘clad in layers of antiquated and vaguely military gear.’ (Hayman, A Meeting in the Park, JJQ, 8, 1971).) Quoted Harrington, The Irish Beckett, p. 117]

Beckett’s Watt and the Irish Big House novel, 122-27.

Exhaustive consideration of what the Galls [in Watt] might have meant in the light of the Big House background of Watt [127ff]

Contra Kearney and the revisionist view of Beckett: ‘Granted that Beckett’s work may offer a plurality of discourses, my reading of Beckett’s work (Watt in particular) differs from that of Kearney in finding instead an intractable dialectic and an endlesss renovation of the same problem of precedence and liberation from it. [137] Contra Deane: ‘in my study, examination of Beckett’s work suggests instead a persistence of antecedents rather than a blush of newness. [138]

Thomas Flanagan argued for an essentialist approach, and regards Deane and Kearney as overstepping the bounds of probability. [138]

The dialectic of place [151] at home and away from home [151] memorial to Noel Lemass, a Civil War Republican, whose body wsa discovered in the Wicklow Mountains, in Mercier et Camier [153]

the place of Beckett’s works in Irish literary tradition is most evident in his plays, while the place of Ireland in Beckett’s works is most evident in his novels [156]

The dual narraotrs of Molloy adumbrate a dialectic of place that is fundamental to modern Irish literature and to literary representations of colonialism and postcolonialism. [ 158]

When Malone contemplates loss of appetite he refers to none other than Terence MacSwiney [165]

Malone ‘.. I can say, Up the Republic!, for example, or Sweetheart! for example, without having to wonder if I should not rather have cut my tongue out ..’ [165]

for the Unnamable, a euphemism for death is ‘[going] to Killarney’ [167]

I who am far’ refers to Moore’s ‘She is Far from the Land’

Endgame … affinity with Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well (backcloth by Dulac) and Synge’s Well of the Saints.

In Ireland, Beckett’s work has the pertinence of participating in a debate of local cultural dillemma in the first half of this century and in the recurrence of the deate in the second half. [190]

Beckett’s work elaborates a paradigm of orientation and disorientation, of place and individual, and of context and imagination that is analagous to, among other things, the particular historical complex of modern Ireland and other comparable compleses of affiliation and self-determination in personal and collective terms. [191]

[For misattribution of quotation cited in this work, see J. P. Mahaffy.]

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