Beckett and Unheard Sound

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter explores the relationship between language, music, sound and silence in Beckett's work with particular reference to his early novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, his television play Ghost Trio (1976), and a range of his late, short prose texts.

Beckett’s work has often been perceived as pushing towards its own obliteration, ever closer to the silencing of the voice. The language fragments and fissures even as it pours forth; whether truncated and percussive, or accumulative and spieling, the effect is equally one of impending exhaustion – of the voice on the brink of silence. At the same time, Beckett’s work is always alive to the qualities of sound: of voices, but also the buzzings and hummings of apparently insignificant sound – extraneous environmental noise, but also the clamour of the mind’s endless dialogue with itself.
As his work progresses, there emerges a nuanced conception of the relationship between sound, silence and the perceiving self.

Moreover, Beckett’s later conception of sound and silence is implicit in his recourse to music. As an art of sound, music is galvanised and provoked, even threatened and antagonised, by silence. Nevertheless, discussion of Beckett’s work often includes reference to an increasing musicality not simply alongside but as part of the drive towards silence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeckett and Nothing
Subtitle of host publicationTrying to understand Beckett
EditorsDaniela Caselli
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)978-0-7190-8019-7
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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