“‘Change all the names’: Revision and Narrative Structure in Samuel Beckett’s Watt,” Storytelling in Literature, Language and Culture, AULLA 36, University of Auckland, 7-9 February 2011

Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt is uniquely positioned in his oeuvre: composed in exile in 1941-45 and first published in 1953, it forecasts the transition from English to French as his preferred language of composition, and signifies a shift from the expansive comic mode of the early Beckett so influenced by Joyce to the linguistically austere and ontologically-minded later Beckett. The precarious mode of the text’s composition also sees a profound meditation on the purpose and structure of literary expression, abundantly evident in the six manuscript notebooks and partial typescript. This work engages with a profound rethinking of narrative, discarding any sense of compositional telos from drafts to finished, published work. Instead, a reticulated, imbricated series of narrative episodes trace paths across the surface of the published text, and deep into the archive. By force of circumstance and by force of will, Beckett thought his compositional practices into a radical zone of narrative deformation that was to have a lasting effect on his writing, and upon literary aesthetics in the latter half of the twentieth century.

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About msbyron27

Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British and American Literature, Department of English, University of Sydney
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