Loughborough University
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Beckett and being: a phenomenological ontology

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posted on 2015-11-20, 14:50 authored by Susan Hennessy
This thesis seeks to re-examine the philosophies of some key French thinkers, as it places these alongside both historical and contemporary theory and criticism, in order to launch a new phenomenological investigation of the theatrical and literary works of Samuel Beckett. The writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and his contemporaries were once applied to the Beckett canon in order that this might be placed firmly in its historical, post-war context, and the so-called French existentialists contributed greatly, though unwittingly, to the birth of that now rather dated conceptual framework which we have come to know as The Theatre of the Absurd. This study, rather than enforcing notions of a theatrical age of nihilism, draws upon the theories of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and peers, not in an attempt to dwell upon the meaning(lessness) of being that is the focus of traditional existentialist analyses, but so that an ontology of the Beckett character can be established. Over the course of the five chapters which comprise this work, I aim to change the focus from that which has been categorised as existential and/or absurd in Beckett s oeuvre, to the phenomenological points of interest that are manifest in that same. I will demonstrate, for instance, that by employing Sartre s lengthy and intricate exposition of being-for-itself as a model for the human consciousness, and using this as something of a touchstone as both complementary and competing philosophies are also considered (including the subjective idealism of Bishop Berkeley and the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida), we can begin to see some of the complexities inherent in the diverse modes of human being that can be discerned in Beckett s works. Existentialism has become, in reality, no more than the once-popular, historically-situated face of phenomenological philosophies which actually deal not so much in the overt pessimism that they (and Beckett) are charged with, but in explicating those facets of existence that we recognise as constitutive of the human experience; our being as both mind and body; our presence in temporality; our religious and/or spiritual being; our sense of self and other ; and our gendered being or, more importantly, the lived, bodily experience of being a woman, the second sex , in a patriarchal society. By exploring the regions of being that are made visible in the Beckettian landscape, this work layers phenomenological philosophy with, amongst others, philosophies of theatre aesthetics, of mind and of gender, and offers forth theories that contribute to the development of research in the fields of Beckett and phenomenology/existentialism and Beckett and women/gender/feminism , whilst adding something both original and tangible to the vast spectrum that encompasses Beckett and philosophy , even theatre/literature and philosophy , as a whole.


Loughborough University, Department of English and Drama



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Susan Hennessy

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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