Creative Accounting: Beckett and the re-imagining of musical authority

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Music is often positioned by Beckett as the (often ideal) ‘other’ of language. This is, of course, a fairly typical modernist strategy. Numerous twentieth-century writers venerated music’s apparent vagueness of meaning yet fullness of expression, perceiving in this a means to rejuvenate their language. However, archival study is helping to clarify how Beckett thinks through music, philosophically and materially, and how this engenders his particular envisioning of the relationship between sound, perception, and the self. I argue that the intertwining of ideas of rupture and chaos within the evocation of music in Beckett’s early prose, often expressed in terms borrowed from early twentieth-century cosmology, unravels the apparent opposition of language and music and informs his exploration of creative authority.

Instabillty and multiplicity are figured through musical analogy, firstly in relation to Pythagorean models of tuning, by way of Schopenhauer and Louis Laloy, and secondly through references to Beethoven, mediated by (sometimes obscure and often dubious) nineteenth- and early twentieth-century representations of the man and his music. Beckett invokes the creative authority of Beethoven, the tormented musical visionary and supreme heroic modern subject, while subtly reinscribing that power and blurring the distinction between the composer’s creative authority and Beckett’s own. His contrasting use of Schubert draws on this composer’s entirely different articulation of subjectivity and creative agency. Thus Beckett’s complex relationship to the antecedents of musical modernity is intimately bound up with an understanding of what, in each case, the music might mean or ‘do’ culturally.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - Jun 2011
EventConference “Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive”, University of York - York, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jun 201126 Jun 2011


ConferenceConference “Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive”, University of York
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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