Fissures, fragments and the prospect of silence in the work of Samuel Beckett

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The work of Samuel Beckett 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.

Silence is usually defined only negatively, as an absence, and particularly in Western culture specifically as an absence of or abstention from language. Beckett’s early writing rehearses this, with silence mostly conceived in intentional terms, articulated by the cessation of sound. However, as his work progresses a more nuanced conception emerges, destabilising the coupling of language and representation and suggesting a more complex relationship between sound, silence and the perceiving self.

Moreover, Beckett’s later conception of sound and silence is implicit in his recourse to music. The critical reading of his work as gradually extinguishing the voice is often accompanied by a related yet contradictory one: increasing musicalisation. These two narratives would seem incompatible; how can an impulse towards silence parallel or encompass an aspiration towards a state of music? As an art of sound, music is galvanised and provoked by silence. Nevertheless, discussion of Beckett’s work often includes reference to an increasing musicality as part of the drive towards silence.

This paper 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, and a selection of his late, short prose texts.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2013
EventSilence, Absence and Ellipsis in Words and Music (International Association for Word and Music Studies Conference) - University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Aug 201310 Aug 2013


ConferenceSilence, Absence and Ellipsis in Words and Music (International Association for Word and Music Studies Conference)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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