Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571
While he is best known as a playwright, Samuel Beckett’s devotion to fiction and the novel predates by many years his involvement with the theater and has proceeded in tandem with it, giving to his entire output a unity and continuity which his plays, when taken alone, do not provide. It may be argued that the serious student must confront Beckett’s fiction in order to attain full exposure to the intellectual and aesthetic range and challenge of this twentieth century master.
Evidence of his commitment to fiction is perhaps most impressively provided by the series of works written in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The term “series” is used here merely for descriptive convenience: The author himself does not apply it to his later fiction, for reasons which readers familiar with the Beckett persona will readily understand. Having come to an apparent standstill imaginatively in his fiction with Comment c’est (1961; How It Is, 1964), and having conducted a number of crucial fictional experiments thereafter, notably in Imagination morte imaginez (1965; Imagination Dead Imagine, 1965), Beckett inaugurated the series in question with Pour finir encore et autres foirades (1976; Fizzles, 1976).
Ill Seen Ill Said is typical of the author’s later work in a number of ways, and these ways in turn constitute the critique of fiction which is an underlying preoccupation of these works and which links them to Beckett’s earlier fiction. In terms of locale, for example, the fewer features provided, the truer the text is to its minimalist, terminal spirit. The countryside is unpromising, infertile, and menaced by the ring of stones which surrounds it. Sheep graze, but only in order to underline the insistently antipastoral character of the place. Seasons take their round, but with little discernible effect. Translated into human terms, the protagonist’s cabin is furnished with the bare essentials, though among them is the apparent luxury of curtains, required by the rituals of sighting and perceiving which occupy a large portion of the solitary protagonist’s time.
Just as such traditional fictional expectations as “social milieu” and “material representation” are confounded in Ill Seen Ill Said, so is the concept of action. The protagonist, marked by the restlessness which is characteristic of Beckett’s characters, journeys back and forth to a grave. These irresistible treks, which the gravestone seems to command, are performed without is-sue, without acknowledged purpose, and without end. “She” is in the grip of an action rather than in command of one. The result is that the stone—a stylized outcrop of the terrain—has more power and meaning than anything the protagonist or the reader can create for it. In addition, as though to complete, or to make consistent, the ethos of dearth around which the fiction is structured, the protagonist is prevented from attaining significance for her-self or from attaching it to the territory beyond herself. The subjects ofIll Seen Ill Said, therefore, are ignorance, emptiness, and untranslated sensory experience.
Stylistically, Ill Seen Ill Said is painfully simple and direct, minimally punctuated yet resourceful, and even, on occasion, amusing. The narrative exhibits a superficial sense of continuity, but continuity is of less significance than contiguity, circularity, repetition, and inconclusiveness. Such strategies oblige the reader to come to terms with a text rather than to perform the more familiar exercise of reading a story. The unlikely collaboration between language and nonentity once again is both product and source of a Beckett work.
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