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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 13 - Beckett’s Bilingual Explorations

from III - New Hermeneutic Codes


In its original French, “le besoin d’être mal armé” [“the need to be ill equipped”] exemplifies the linguistic playfulness with which Beckett was accustomed to answer any inquiries concerning his literary choices. In “mal armé,” one indeed also hears Mallarmé, the name of the major symbolist poet whose radical exploration of the limits of language anticipated Beckett’s own literary enterprise of linguistic defacement. The pun does not thus simply fulfill a ludic function; it also reveals an aesthetic posture and suggests a literary affiliation. Although the details of his initial linguistic shift from English to French seem to elude him, Beckett could recall its “urgent” necessity – an urgency that, as we know, led him to shed the stylistic nimiety of his native language and its sociocultural habitus.