Beckett's Words

Beckett's Words : The Promise of Happiness in a Time of Mourning

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At stake in this book is a struggle with language in a time when our old faith in the redeeming of the word-and the word's power to redeem-has almost been destroyed. Drawing on Benjamin's political theology, his interpretation of the German Baroque mourning play, and Adorno's critical aesthetic theory, but also on the thought of poets and many other philosophers, especially Hegel's phenomenology of spirit, Nietzsche's analysis of nihilism, and Derrida's writings on language, Kleinberg-Levin shows how, because of its communicative and revelatory powers, language bears the utopian "promise of happiness," the idea of a secular redemption of humanity, at the very heart of which must be the achievement of universal justice. In an original reading of Beckett's plays, novels and short stories, Kleinberg-Levin shows how, despite inheriting a language damaged, corrupted and commodified, Beckett redeems dead or dying words and wrests from this language new possibilities for the expression of meaning. Without denying Beckett's nihilism, his picture of a radically disenchanted world, Kleinberg-Levin calls attention to moments when his words suddenly ignite and break free of their despair and pain, taking shape in the beauty of an austere yet joyous lyricism, suggesting that, after all, meaning is still possible.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 328 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 20.32mm | 563g
  • Bloomsbury Academic
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1474216838
  • 9781474216838
  • 2,822,052

Table of contents

Prologue: Nothing . . . But Words: Words and Tears

PART ONE No Theodicy: A Chance of Happiness?
1 Negative Dialectics
2 In the Secret of Guilt: Punishment as Meaning
3 Political Theology: Old Dictations, Old Knots
4 Ending the Endings: The Endgame of Theodicy

PART TWO The Utopian Idea: Remembering the Future in the Past
1 Paradise: Nowhere-But Here!
2 Tales for Children: Retrieving the Enchantment
3 Hope and Despair in a Time of Mourning
4 Waiting: In the Meantime
5 In the Event of a New Word

PART THREE After Hegel, Beckett's How It Is: Approaching Justice with Infinite Slowness
1 Swamp: Justice in the State of Nature
2 The Struggle for Acknowledgement and Recognition
3 Cruelty and Kindness: Humanity in Question
4 The Human Voice: Of Promises and Solaces
5 Redeeming Words
6 Where in the World is Justice?

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Review quote

By multiplying astute and original links between Beckett's texts and a philosophical tradition moving from Kierkegaard to Adorno, from Kant to Derrida, and from Hegel to Agamben, Beckett's Words demonstrates not so much that "nothing is funnier than unhappiness," as Nell quips in Endgame, but rather that happiness remains a serious task for literature. If Beckett's pointless waiting offers the paradigm of a paradoxical hope without hope, then Beckett's words will never be "dying words." Words of endless survival, they keep the promise for a beauty and a justice still to come. * Jean-Michel Rabate, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, USA. President of the American Samuel Beckett Studies Association * To link Samuel Beckett and happiness in the same sentence without an intervening "not" is tantamount to heresy, the call of an apostate; yet the received wisdom of Beckett Studies is ripe for challenge, and Kleinberg-Levin obliges. From its opening pages, Beckett's Words is marked by a freshness and erudition from a scholar who actively "does" philosophy. It is a welcome addition to the ongoing rethinking of Samuel Beckett's work, especially of his philosophical inclinations and complexities. I would put Kleinberg-Levin's work up against any of the critiques of Beckett and philosophy. * S. E. Gontarski, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English, Florida State University, USA. Co-Editor, Journal of Beckett Studies * Sets out to enrich our understanding of Beckett's philosophical relation to language from the perspectives of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno ... One of the work's signal achievements is Levin's attention to philosophical energies less frequently discusses in Beckett studies. * The Year's Work in English Studies *
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About David Kleinberg-Levin

David Kleinberg-Levin is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Northwestern University, USA. His books include Gestures of Ethical Life: Reading Hoelderlin's Question of Measure After Heidegger (2005); Redeeming Words and the Promise of Happiness: A Critical Theory Approach to Wallace Stevens and Vladimir Nabokov (2012); and Redeeming Words: Language and the Promise of Happiness in the Stories of Doeblin and Sebald (2013).
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