Although Beckett claims to have written his plays solely as diversions and only when he found himself blocked in the writing of the novels he contends are far more important, his dramatic pieces form an integral rather than subordinate part of his aesthetic achievement. This was already clear to others at least as early as 1969, the year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for having produced a “body of work that, in new forms of fiction and the theatre, has transmuted the destitution of modern man into his exultation.” The indisputable originality of Beckett’s plays and fictions involves his willingness to explore and perfect the formal means by which the “destitution” that he has placed at the very center of his art can be depicted. As he wrote in his 1931 study of Proust, “The artistic tendency is not expansive, but a contraction. . . . And art is the apotheosis of solitude. There is no communication because there are no vehicles of communication.” Beckett has progressively narrowed and intensified his focus in a steadily contractive movement toward a static, nonrational discourse, toward a single permuted image, toward a distilled or attenuated form barren of content—thus, the typically Beckettian movement toward brevity, indeed toward the ultimate diminishment that is “nothing” itself. From the relative fullness of his earliest plays, Beckett turned to other, less conventional means, especially radio. All That Fall, his...
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