Beckett’s Art of Mismaking

Leland de la Durantaye publishes a new book on Samuel Beckett’s writing

A press release from Harvard University Press:

Samuel Beckett

Readers have long responded to Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays with wonder or bafflement. They portray blind, lame, maimed creatures cracking whips and wielding can openers who are funny when they should be chilling, cruel when they should be tender, warm when most wounded. His works seem less to conclude than to stop dead. And so readers quite naturally ask: what might all this be meant to mean?

In a lively and enlivening study of a singular creative nature, Leland de la Durantaye helps us better understand Beckett’s strangeness and the notorious difficulties it presents. He argues that Beckett’s lifelong campaign was to mismake on purpose—not to denigrate himself, or his audience, nor even to reconnect with the child or the savage within, but because he believed that such mismaking is in the interest of art and will shape its future. Whether called “creative willed mismaking,” “logoclasm,” or “word-storming in the name of beauty,” Beckett meant by these terms an art that attacks language and reason, unity and continuity, art and life, with wit and venom.

Beckett’s Art of Mismaking explains Beckett’s views on language, the relation between work and world, and the interactions between stage and page, as well as the motives guiding his sixty-year-long career—his strange decision to adopt French as his literary language, swerve from the complex novels to the minimalist plays, determination to “fail better,” and principled refusal to follow any easy path to originality.


In this lean study, de la Durantaye combines exegesis, biography, and deeply informed critical theorizing to speculate on the meaning and methodology of Samuel Beckett’s famously demanding oeuvre. De la Durantaye’s central thesis is that Beckett’s ‘logoclasm,’ or ‘ruptured writing,’ dismantled the traditional aims of literature in order to uncover what, if anything, lay beneath the language. In dense but artful chapters, de la Durantaye explores how and why this logoclasm manifested in Beckett’s preoccupation with landscapes that evoke estrangement, his Oedipal flight from friend and mentor James Joyce’s style, and the psychopathology of his ‘gallery of moribunds.’ In interpreting Beckett’s aesthetic pessimism in terms of these categories of ‘willed creative mismaking,’ de la Durantaye goes some way toward distinguishing his book from the wealth of available studies on the modernist master. [A] brief but substantial contribution.Publishers Weekly

A fascinating account, both intelligent and irreverent—in the best sense of these words—of Samuel Beckett’s creative chaos, his mismaking ‘by design.’—Chris Ackerley, University of Otago

This book feels so different from almost every other book on Beckett. There are many insights, quick excursions, surprising allusions. The reader is a companion, part of a conversation, and the effect is very exciting, a sort of collaborative critical project. An intellectual adventure.—Michael Wood, Princeton University

Find out more at the Harvard University Press website.

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