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This article is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

Beckett at Eighty John Pilling


      But cannot I create?
Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forth
Another world, another universe,
To overbear and crumble this to naught?
Where is another chaos? Where?

   (Saturn, Book 1 of Keats's Hyperion)


It was Vico's view, as expressed in his De Constantia Philologiae, that 'anyone who wishes to excel as a poet must unlearn his native language, and return to the pristine beggary of words'. This runs counter to what we might expect of someone meriting the description 'a practical roundheaded Neapolitan', but immediately takes on a different colouring when we reflect that the description in question comes courtesy of Samuel Beckett: from the second paragraph of his first appearance in prìnt, the essay on Joyce's Work in Progress of 1929. More than any other writer of his generation, Beckett has been engaged in subjecting what was 'native' in him to a rigorous scrutiny designed to expose the fundamental properties of his chosen medium. In a letter written after the composition of Endgame Beckett wrote, 'My work is a matter of fundamental sounds made as fully as possible', and assured his correspondent - as perhaps only a whimsical philologist would otherwise have cared to do - that his fundamentalism extended to what he had just committed to paper, and that there was 'no joke intended'. In the circumstances one likes to think that the shade of Vico would have delighted not only in the wit displayed, ...


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