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3.3.09

Slavoj Žižek on Samuel Beckett

Cultural theorist analyses the work of the experimental Irish writer
Slavoj Žižek
'If there ever was a kenotic writer, the writer of the utter self-emptying of subjectivity, of its reduction to a minimal difference, it is Beckett.'

Slavoj Žižek, 'Beckett with Lacan'
Lacan.com is currently featuring two parts of an article by Slavoj Žižek on Samuel Beckett's work in relation to psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan. Simply entitled 'Beckett with Lacan', it begins by classifying the Irish writer's artistic relation to James Joyce, reformulating the stylistic and aesthetic move from intellectual excess to impoverishment via a Lacanian psychoanalytic framework:
'[...] the “true” Becket [sic.] constituted himself through a true ethical act, a CUT, a rejection of the Joycean wealth of enjoy-meant, and the ascetic turn towards a “minimal difference,” towards a minimalization, “subtraction,” of the narrative content and of language itself [...]'

Slavoj Žižek, 'Beckett with Lacan'
I often have the impression that Žižek writes his academic papers and journal articles in much the same way that many of us write (or read!) blog postings: in-between busy work commitments, and sometimes in a haphazard and rushed manner. He misspells, misquotes and makes a hash of some of the simplest of names - even Beckett's on one occasion. His style is often sloppy and slapdash. But the momentum of his writing still has the ability to hold a reader's attention, and it isn't long before Žižek is back on track exploring Beckett's work in the context of contemporary philosopher Alain Badiou. (I say 'exploring', but perhaps 'lightly skimming the surface' is closer to the truth.)

Žižek perceives Beckett's Texts for Nothing as a kind of postscript to the Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable), whilst simultaneously breaking free from the influence of their somewhat self-contained literary project; while he raises some interesting points, it is not a particularly original idea. Žižek asks 'what do Texts for Nothing register, a possibility or a contingency? A possibility, definitely – a possibility to “cease writing,” to betray fidelity, to cease going on,' and concludes they 'are an optimistic work – their message is that one cannot but “go on” as an immortal bodiless drive, as a subject without subjectivity'.

The article touches upon issues of the subject existing without subjectivity, draws on the critical approaches of Jonathan Boulter, before lunging into an analysis of Beckett's Not I read through Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytical work. It's not recommended over a morning cup of coffee, but it certainly has its moments - and although hectic and chaotic, Slavoj Žižek certainly has a gift for adapting critical theoretical texts to popular culture in a generally accessible way. (It's not surprising, for instance, that he manages to weave a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds into part 2.)

You can read both parts of the text at Lacan.com, or find them directly by selecting the links below.