Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 110


National Library
of Canada
Bibliothque nationale
du Canada
Acquisitions and Direction des acquisitions e'
Bibliographie Services Branch des services bibliographiques
395 Wellington Streel 395, rue Wellington
Ottawa. Ontario Otta'....a (Ontario)
The quality of this microform is
heavily dependent upon the
quality of the original thesis
submitted for microfilming.
Every effort. has been made ta
ensure the highest qualityof
reproduction possible.
If pages are missing, contact the
university which granted the
Some pages may have indistinct
print especially if the original
pages were typed with a poor
typewriter ribbon or if the
university sent us an inferior
Reproduction in full or in part of
this microform is governed by
the Canadian Copyright Act,
R.S.C. 1970, c. C-30, and
subsequent amendments.
La qualit de cette microforme
dpend grandement de la qualit
de la thse soumise au
microfilmage. Nous avons tout
fait pour assurer une qualit
suprieure de reproduction.
S'il manque des pages, veuillez
communiquer avec l'universit
qui a confr le grade.
La qualit d'impression de
certaines pages peut laisser .
dsirer, surtout si les pages
originales ont t
dactylographies l'aide d'un
ruban us ou si l'universit nous
a fait parvenir une photocopie de
qualit infrieure.
La reproduction, mme partielle,
de cette m1croforme est soumise
la Loi canadienne sur le droit
d'auteur, SRC 1970, c. C-30, et
ses amendements subsquents.

JUNE 1995
A Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research
in partial fultilment of the requirements
of the degree of
<!lB. Claire Maloney Cahill 1995
National Library
of Canada
Bibliothque nationale
du Canvda
Acquisitions and Direction des acquisitions et
Bibliographie Services Branch des services bibliographiques
395 Wellington Street 395. rue Wellington
Ottawa, Ontario Or.awa (Ontario)
ISBN 0-612-05405-5

Do ma mhathair Maire Nf Oh6nailain agus do Shamuisfn.

Oura mile r!laith agaibh! Mo chara dhflis, murach do chlinamh
tal is cinnte nach bhfadfaf a dhanallih. Oun cuireadh do
chupa thairis le slainte agus sanas. 00 mbimis le chile go
deireadh an dornhain agus ins an sal am le teacht go mbimis
in ann dul le chile ar seachran sfdhe tr biotha SfOL
by Claire Maloney Cahill
By fusing many of the established hypotheses on the source of the grotesque in
Irish literature, fuis study establishes that these writers' impatience with ill.l boundaries
and limitations, physica! or mental, led them to exploit the indeterminacy of the
grotesque to achieve their particular aesthetic and epistemological objectives.
After an initial chapter on the relevant theoretical and national consideratiom;, the
prodigious cloacal visions of Beckett and Joyce are compared, with emphasis Oll their
us of the grotesque to demythologize the creative process. A tourth chapter compares
O'.Brien's and Beckett's exploitation of the grotesque to undermine hegemonic
ph/losophical and epistemological systms.
Like most writers of the grotesque tradition, Joyce and O'Brien assume a degree'
o' moral responsibility by aftirming, explicitly or implicitly, sorne traditional or
utopian values and standards, while Beckett's deliberatio!ls on the complex relationship
between Nature, the mind and the body end in negation, impotence and the hope of

par Claire Maloney Cahill
En fusionnant plusieurs des hypothses tablies sur l'ls sources du grotesque dans
la littrature irlandaise, la prsente tude montre comment l'impatience des auteurs
irlandais de repousser toutes les limites, physiques ou les a conduits
exploiter le caractre indtermin du grotesque afin d'acqurir leur esthtique particul-
ire et d'atteindre leurs objectifs pistmologiques.
Aprs un premier chapitre introductif, le deuxime chapitre traite de considr-
ations thoriques et nationalistes pertinentes, et celui-ci est suivi d'une comparaison
des prodigieuses visions excrmentielles de Beckett et de Joyce. Cette comparaison fait
ressortir comment ces auteurs utilisent le grotesque pour dmythifier le processus
crateur. Le quatrime chapitre compare la manire dont Beckett et 0 'Brien exploitent
le grotesque en vue de saper l'hgmonie des systmes philosophique et
l'instar de la plupart des auteurs de la tradition grotesque, J'yce et O'Brien
assument un certain degr de responsabilit morale en affirmant, explicitement ou
implicitement, certains valeurs et normes traditionnelles ou utopiques, tandis que les
considrations de Beckett quant la complexit des relations entre la Nature, la pense
et le corps aboutissent la ngation, l'impuissance et l'espoir du silence.

1. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Douhtless the greatest purveyor of grotesquerie in our century is Samuel Beckett. ...
No one has heen able, more comically or horrihly, to dig down further into man's
intellectual grotto. Perhaps Beckett takes us as far underground as we can bear to go.
John R. Clark'
Rien n'est plus grotesque que le tragique.
Samuel Becketf
il is with good reason that John R. Clark in The Modern Satiric Grotesque dubs
Samuel Beckett "the greatest purveyor of grotesquerie in our century." ln virtually
every chapter of his recent book, dealing with the many stratagems and themes of the
modern grotesque, mention is made of Beckett's outstanding contribution to each
method or theme, and more often than not, Clark is moved to accord him such
dubious titles as "the most remarkable visionary artist of the entropie",' the creator of
the "most Iwidly depicted", "dismembered antihero[es]'" of this century, and the
"[m]osthlatant and overt'" of ail the "many artists of the lavatory", past or present.'
ln short, "[hjis panoply of novels perhaps best dramatizes modern man's boredom,
claustrophobia, and withdrawal mward--to a barren lunatic terrain. "7 And Clark is by
no means the only critic to acknowledge Beckett's dark artistry. In Philip Thomson's
intluential study, The r o t e s o ~ the unfortunate Lynch family of Watt is chosen to
introduce his subject and to iIlustrate or define the clash between the incompatible
reactions of laughter and horror engendered by the grotesque.
Other critics com-
ment on the "ghoulish hilarity",' the "inchoate scream out of the blackened

mouth",10 and the fact that so many of Beckett's plays and novels are hlli\t arollnd
"socially and sexually", "impotent", Il "crippled, legless, paralyzed heroes"."
Considering the sheer volume of grotesquery produced hy this "hawd and hlas-
phemer from Paris", 13 and Dublin, it is surprising to discover that there is no full
scale study devoted to it. 14 This may he explained, in part, hy the tendency to
consider Beckett a representative of modern existentialist or ahsurdist movcments, a
view that obfuscates his more critical relation to our cultural context, his penchant, in
other words, for addressing many fundamental philosophical precepts in a carnival-
izing fashion. Through saturnalian engagements with the major shapers of our cultural
heritage, Beckett's writings challenge their basic assumptions, including the desire for
totality, unity, or tinal resolution. Sharing Mikhail Bakhtin's criticism of the repres-
sive monologism that characterizes the Western tradition, Beckett uses carnivalized
dialogization to allow consolidating and disseminating forces to contend with one
another, a confrontation that revitalizes the tradition and may weil yield alternative
The paucity of critical analyses of Beckett's grotesquery is even more singular if
we take into accountthe upsurge of interest in the grotesque over the last Iwo decades,
reflected in the proliferation of both theoretical studies and studies of the grotesque
elements in the writings of specifie authors. The former have clearly established a
renewed sense of the signitcance and complexity of this aesthetic category while the
latter have demonstrated the necessity of analyzing the forms of the grotesque peculiar
to individual artists, literary periods or cultural groups. Il is no longer suftcient to
point out that there is much grotesquery in Sterne, or Black American literature: one
must explain what one means by the term and sorne light should be shed on the use,
effect and particular characteristics of the grotesque elements in the work or works in
question. Such an appraisal is evidently pressing in Beckett's case for few literary
figures have employed the grotesque so prolifically, and strikingly as he.

The deeper one delves into the dense semantic thickets that hold such fascination
for grotesque theorists, the easier it is to lose sight of its most essential characteristic,
ahout which, incidentally, there is no disagreement: the grotesque, according to Philip
Thomson's defnition, is the "unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and
response. "1> A reductive process is always involved: a process which asserts as a
structural principle in the work of art the co-existence of reason with tolly, harmony
with disharmony, beauty with ugliness, or of the body with the mind.
This asser-
tion, or vision has ~ roots, as does ail great Iiterature, "among the clay and the
worms".\7 John Millington Synge's earthy metaphor conveys the necessity for the
artist to look beyond the dazzling Iight of the intellect to all those subconscious urges
and faculties that are hinged with the regenerative and degenerative processes of the
body, processes over which the mind holds no sway.
The grotesque/ahsurd frontier is another treacherous mineteld for the unwary, for
here, too, the failure to use precise coordinates has lasting consequences. However
much Martin Esslin later regretted the "absurdist" tag with which he had labelled
Beckett,18 the term stuck and ail his later effOlts to declare Beckett's work "sui
generis", and "unclassitable" went unheeded.
And so too did Beckett's protest-
ations that the essence of his work is, in fact, the "grotesque".20 Of all the critics
who have tried to disentangle the grotesque category from the absurd, none has been
as succinct as Fritz Gysin: "the absurd is an abstract concept; the grotesque is a
concrete one." Furthermore, these concepts do not "correspond": the grotesque can be
used "to express an absurd thought, but this is only one of its possible functions".
Besides, absurd ideas can be adequately expressed in non-grotesque terms.
A major
characteristic of absurd literature, Robert Helbling maintains, is "the conspicuous
absence of a knowable world order", while the grotesque "challenges contemporary
society to examine its values or lack thereof. "22 That said, one man's grotesque is
another's absurdo In the matter of aesthetic categories, the distinctions are very much
in the eye of the beholder.

Living as we do in a nightmarish, hloodsplattered nlury, it is lillie wom:,,:- Ihat

the alt which hest encompasses our situation is that which up a horrific world
where dream and reality are no longer distinguishahle. According to Thomas Mann,
"(t)he art of our day shows a greater aftnity to the grotesque than that of any ollter
epoch." Due to the hreakdown of the distinction hetween tragedy and comedy, "llIhe
gaze turned upon the horrihle is c\ear, livcly, dry-eyed, almost gratitied. "'.1 With its
emphasis upon distortion :!nd exaggeration, the grotesque has hecome such a popular
mode for novelists attempting to suggest the utter complexity of reality 10 an audience
thoroughly ensconced in the material, the practical, and the optimistic, that one critic
has been prompted to conc\ude: "perhaps the grotesque vision !li the modern world
view. ,," ln his study of modern tragicomedy Karl Guthke slrives to distinguish il
t'rom the grotesque: "Tragicomedy remains within the confines of logic and ... of
reality. 11 refuses to distort the world in such a way that we tind it hard to recognize it
as ours. The grotesque ... on the contrary, would be deticient in an essential ingredi-
ent if it did not do precisely this. "25 Though hoth manifest a dissatisfaction with
rational categories, tragicomedy remains within these categories while the grotesque
exposes them and simultaneously transgresses them. Yet another quality (hat distin-
guishes the grotesque t'rom tragicomedy is suggested by Per Dalgard: "In the tragi-
comic the qualities at the two poles of the synthesis are preserved (we know why we
laugh/cry), whereas our reaction to the grotesque is often paradoxical", a reaction that
is engendered by the ambivalence and "estrangement" which characterizes the
The recent discovery of the grotesque is no accident as it has deep aftnities with
many other presuppositions that have emerged t'rom the Postmodern context to
articulate a radical new vision of the world. Chief among the contributors to this new
method of analysis is the emerging science of chaos whieh, in its renunciation of
binary logie and its concomitant interest in the deep structures of order encoded in
chaos, is creating a paradigm shift on a par with those engendered by evolution,
relativity, and quantum mechanies. By their rejection of simple solutions, both chaos

theory an the grotesl\ue moe acknowlege not just hitherto unrecognize phenomena
but an unfairly neglecte set of values, values sorely neee in a worl at sea. Of
c()urse, neither the grotesl\ue vision nor chaotic systems are esoteric or rare but they
were perceive to be so until a paraigm shift occurre to catapult them from the
margins to the centre of inl\uiry. 27
Stuies of the grotesl\ue an relate moes seem to touch own invariably on Irish
soi!. Of the three authors use by Thomson to help define the grotesque, two are
Irish. In Martin Pops' study of scatology, "The Metamorphosis of Shit", no less than
four of Lite twelve greatest proucers of "diarrhoea of pearls" throughout historyare
Irish, namely, Swift, Joyce, Beckett and Sterne." Even as early as 1939, Andr
Breton, in his Anthologie de l'humour noir acknowledged the disproportionate
contribution of Irish writers to black humour, "si l'on voulait l'infermer dans un
talisman, il semble l\ue celui-ci devrait contenir un peu de terre d'Irlande. "29 Given
the conspicuous use of the grotesque in Irish literature, it seems warranted to compare
and contrast Beckett's grotesquery to that of James Joyce and Flann O'Brien, two of
the most famous representatives of the Irish tradition of the modern satiric grotesque.
An important common element among these writers is their use of the grotesque as a
crucial and significant force in their work.

1. John R.Clark, The Modern Satiric Grotesque and Its Traditions (Lexington,-
Ky.: UP of Kentucky, 1991) 24-5.
2. Beckett in a letter to Alfred Simon. Quoted in Alfred Simon, "Tout un
thtre," Magazine littraire 231 (June 1986): 35.
3. Clark 151.
4. Clark 14.
5. Clark 121.
6. Clark 2.
7. Clark 24.
8. Philip Thomson, The r o t ~ q u (London: P.T.Methuen and Co. Lld., 1972)
9. Frederick S. Kiley, "Baedeker For Beckett," Eire-lreland VIA (Winter 1971):
10. Mary Bryden, "Figures of Golgotha: Beckett's Pinioned People," The Ideal
Core of the Onion, eds. John Pilling and Mary Bryden (Bristol: Longdunn Press,
1992) 62.
Il. Peter Hays, The Limping Hero: Grotesques in Literature (New York: New
York UP, 1971) 177.
12. Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961; Middlesex: Penguin Books,
1980) 42-43.
13. John Fletcher, "Modemism and Samuel Beckett," Facets of European
Modernism, ed. Janet Garlon (Norwich: U of East Anglia, 1985) 199.
14. In The Humour of Samuel Beckett (Toronto: Macmillan, 1988), Valerie
Topsfield devotes an entire chapter to the works of Beckett that achieve the "risus

purus", yet pays little attention to the source, function or effect of the grotesque in
these works. An untranslated German study, comparing Beckett and Helier, attempts
to distinguish the absurd from the grotesque category. See Rudolf Fritsch, Absurd
oder Grotesk?: ber Literarische Darstellung von Entfremdung bei Beckett und Helier
(New York: P. Lang, 1990).
15. Philip Thomson, The Grotesque (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1972) 27.
16. Toni O'Brien Johnson, Synge: The Medieval and the Grotesque (Gerrards
Cross, Bucks.: C.Smythe, 1982) 3.
17. John Millington Synge, J.M. Synge: Collected Works, ed. Robin Skelton,
voU (1962-68; Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1982) xxxvi.
18. Martin Esslin, "The Theatre of the Absurd Reconsidered," Reflections: Essays
on Modern Theatre, ed. Martin Esslin (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1969) 183.
19. Martin Esslin, "Beckett's Novels," Mediations: Essays on Brecht. Beckett and
the Media, ed. Martin Esslin (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1980) 109.
20. Simon 35.
21. Fritz Gysin, The Grotesque in American Negro Fiction (Bern: Francke, 1975)
22. Robert E. Helbling, The Power of "Negative" Thinking: The Grotesque in the
Modern World (Salt Lake City, Utah: F.W.Reynolds Association, 1982) 8.
23. Thomas Mann, Past Masters, trans. H.T.Lowe Porter (New York: Alfred
Knopf, 1933) 240-1.
24. Alfred Appel, Jr., A Season of Dreams: The Fiction of Eudora Welty (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1965) 75.
25. Karl S. Guthke, Modern Tragicomedy: An Investigation into the Nature of the
Genre (New York: Random House, 1966) 74.
26. Per Dalgard, The Function of the Grotesque in Vasilij Aksenov, trans. Robert
Porter (Gyssling, Denmark: Arkona Aarhus, 1982) 19.
27. See Katherine Hayles, ed. Chaos and Order: Complex Dyriamics in Literature
and Science (Chicago: The U of Chicago Press, 1991; and Paul Davies and John
Gribbon, eds., The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries That Challenge Our Under-
standing of Physical Reality (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1992).

28. Martin Pops, "The Metamorphosis of Shit," Salmagundi 56 (Spring 1982):
29. Andr Breton, Anthologie de l'humour noir (1939; Paris: Le livre dc pochc,
1966) 211. Robert E. Helb1ing maintains that "the targcts of black humor arc usually
more specitie" than those of the grotesque. See his The Power of "Negativc" Thinkinl:
(Salt Lake City, Utah: F.W.Reynolds Assoc., 1982) 18.

For ail of these writers, as for people everywhere, "the grotesque arises", Bernard
McElroy explains, "from a peculiar attitude or stance of mind toward the fearsome.
But what a particular group of people or what individuals within that group tind
fearsome will vary greatly l'rom culture to culture and individual to individual. "1 Each
nation, in other words, has a unique way of fearing and of responding to that fear.
Such was also the conclusion of Baudelaire in On the Essence of Laughter, where he
aUempts to characterize the comic spirit proper to most major European nations. He
reported that variations between the humour of Germany, ltaly, England, and Spain,
ail nations predisposed to cultivating the "absolute comic", or grotesque, depend on
differences in the intellectual and spiritual climate. Spain makes the grotesque "cruel"
and sombre; Italy endows it with gay insouciance; Germany adjusts it to the weighty,
dreamy and profound, while England's grotesque was replete with "violence" and
"monstrous buffooneries". The great European exception is France, which, as the pre-
eminent representative of lucidity, utility, and "avoidance of the excessive", cultivates
in isolation the "signiticative comic", a variety of humour that caters to common
sense, morality, and social utility, v. tile the "absolute comic", embodying the spirit of
the grotesque, deties the utilitarian common sense and shuns the moralization of
laughter. Even Rabelais, "the great French master of the grotesque", mingles, in
Baudelaire's opinion, "an element of utility and reason in the very midst of his most
prodigious fantasies. ,,' What, we might weil ask, could Baudelaire have said of the
characteristics of the Irish grotesque as it has presented itself in modem times, and of
the conditions that spawned it?

Most recently, another Frenchman has dared to wade into the murky depths of
national comic types. Though it is customary to contrast French and English comedy,
both, according to Patrick Rafroidi, have far more in cornmon with each o t ~ r than
either has with Irish humour. Like ail poor, persecuted minorities, the Irish atlach
greater significance to comedy than do their richer neighhours, winners al\ of the great
historical lotteries. That the comic spirit has long heen omnipresent and of vital
importance in Irish lite is evident from the central roles accorded parody and satire in
the Gaelic tradition and the fact that the vast majority of comic dramatists in the
English language have been Anglo-Irish.' If much of the latter's humour was intended
to curry favour or express their equality with, or superiority over the Englisll, many
of these writers displayed a mad glint, hest detned by Arsne in Beckett's Walt:
The bitter laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethical laugh.
The hollow laugh laughs at that which is not hue, it is the intelleclual
laugh. '" But the mirthless laugh is the dianoetic laugh.... It is the laugh
of laughs, the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh ... in a word
the laugh that laughs--silence please--at that which is unhappy. 4
It is this "risus purus", in the opinion of Rafroidi, that. most. distinguishes Irish
humour from that of England and France. And, as we shall see, Beckett's particular
variety helps set him apart from the other Irish practitioners of this mode.
For anyone seeking to account. for the Irish predilection for comedy and for the
dark streak in particular, there is no shortage of answers. Most scholars seem to agree
that this phenomenon is a sign of an era of turmoil and transition. In The Grotesque in
Art and Literature, Kayser speaks of three such periods in Western history during
which the grotesque has f10urished because "the belief in the preceding ages in a
perfect and protective natural order ceased to exist.
[n a similar vein, Martin Foss
says: "In times of chaos men return to a magic form of art, using the demoniac
aspects of life for their stories and plays: sickness, insanity, death; but they turn them
into grotesque means for laughter, in order to regain their inner balance. "6

The fact that Ireland has had to cope with ail the general changes occurring in the
world and ail the particular changes required of a former hackward colony, no doubt
helps account for the strong role of the grotesque in Irish literature. Other reasons for
the profusion of grotesque elements may be found in precisely those factors which
have contributed to Ireland's uniqueness. That lreland differs from the rest of Europe
geographically, historically, economically, sociologically and culturally, seems to be a
matter of general agreement, even if the opinions of the experts as to the degree and
nature of this divergence may vary a great deal.
. Ambivalence, doubleness, ambiguity, indeterminacy, and schizophrenia are ail
words liberally used by critics seeking to define the Irish of both aboriginal and
ascendency varieties. Moulded by the clashing and clanging of rival mythologies,
"ditTerent assumptive worlds"', the violent polarization between the individual and the
community,8 and the moral ambiguities attendant on such divergent forces, the Irish
needed little persuasion that a "germ of disequilibrium,,' resides at the heart of reality.
ln oUler words, they were weil disposed to what Mikhail Bakhtin termed "the logic of
the grotesque", 10 which contests the very premises of conventinal Jogic by employ-
ing contradiction and indeterminacy to reveal the inadequacy of iraditional categories
and dichotomous distinctions.
Ever since it first surfaced as wall decorations in the Early Roman Empire, the
grotesque has been seen as disquieting for it disrupts the classical perception of
ordered reality by refusing to conform to acceptedsmndards of mimesis and decorum.
Basic to the grotesque is the questioning of two dichotomous relationships identified
by theorists as the ludicrous/fearsome and the familiar/uncanny, with other hotly con-
tested categories deriving from these two. Even a brief perusal of the history of the
grotesque mode reveals that theorists have usually attempted to eliminatethe unsettling
indeterminacy of the grotesque. Il Sorne have reduced the grotesque to either HIe
horrible or the comic. That which could not be accounted for--e.g., the comedy in the
terror, or the terror in the comedy--was eliminated o ~ r e p r e s s e Another group, too

aware of grotesque ambiguity to dismiss it entirely, strove, nevertheless, to dispel the
ambiguity by reconciling its warring elements or revealing its unknowable aspects. ln
short, they replicated the reductionism of the tirst group hy reacting either positively
or negatively to the unstable relationships of the grotesque.
By considering grotesque indeterminacy as either unsettling or joyous, they have,
in fact, restricted il. Kayser, for example, considers grotesque ambivalence as sinister.
In doing so, he resolves the tension produced by the grotesque, limiting it to a source
of terror and destruction. The deformation of conventional logic produces, acconling
to Kayser, a "fear of life". At no time does he link this deformation with a question-
ing of the goal or value of that logic.
Instead, the inner manifestations of violent or
erotic struggles of man, the irrational clements, are nothing more than malevolent
forces. Any laughter produced is bitter, mocking, and essentially satanic. Bakhtin,
hailing from a very different critical perspective, also acknowledges the agonistic
tension of the grotesque. Unlike Kayser, however, he views this tension as ultimately
joyous and regenerative: "Ali that is frightening in ordinary life is turned into amusing
or ludicrous monstrosities. "
By insisting on the liberating and gay aspects of the
medieval and Renaissance grotesque, Bakhtin tends to lose sight of the very indeter-
minacy he considers so essential to the grotesque.
Both Kayser and Bakhtin, in the opinion of McElroy, "commit the same essential
error: mistaking the part for the whole.... The crucial factor separating these two
apprehensions of the grotesque isthe level of play involved in a particular work. "
Drawing on A. P. Rossiter's analysis of medieval grotesques, McElroy concludes that
sophisticated societies, such as our own, use artistic play to liberate "those attitudes
antipathetic to civilization, though by no means banished from il." Against the
reductionism of virtually ail previous definitions, McElroy argues for an understanding
of the grotesque that preserves its full complexity, for only then l'an it retain ~ ability
to disturb and unsettle, and with it the power to provoke a rethinking of fundamental
issues concerning our perceptions of ourselves and our world:

Grotesque art ... synthesises ... magic, animalism, and play fused in the
presence of an intuition of the world as monstrous. The world intuited
hy the grotesque is one in which identity may he wholly or partially lost
through transformation of the individual into something suhhuman, or
in which he is susceptihle to aggression hy magical, irresistible means.
Such an intuition, though essentially primitive, remains perennial and
manifests itself in modern times in nightmare, childhood terror and in
the art of the grotesque. The nature of a particular ... work is governed
hy the halance of its constituent elements, with play being the most
Depending on the artist's motivation, the grotesque work is whimsical or fraught with
"urgency and concem". Though this brief overview of critical reactions to the
grotesque mode is hy no means complete, it does provide us with a fairly adequate
detinition of the grotesque, and it serves to iIlustrate the prevailing confusion among
the critics with regard to this complex aesthetic category.
If attempts to describe the grotesque have resulted in as many contradictory
opinions as there are critics to voice them, the quest for its mealung or function has
led to even more divergent answers. For Kayser, obscurity of meaning is characteristic
of the grotesque; thus the grotesque effect is destroyed by any explanation that goes
beyond indicating the presence of onlinous or chaotic forces in a particular work. Yet
this obscurity of meaning has a special significance: "It ... is primarily the expression
of our failure to orient ourselves in the physical universe. "15 Lee Byron Jennings,
employing psychoanalytical and anthropological theories, is at pains to separate the
grotesque from any conscious intentions, and treats the manifestations of the ludi-
crously demonic as psychological symptoms indicating a disarming mechanism and
revealing anxieties hidden in the subconscious of the artist.
Among the many general functions of the grotesque cited by McElroy are "radical
satire in which the grotesque world is a caricature of the real world " perceived by the
senses; and the grotesque as "heightening device", where the conflict between self and
other, or the self and the perverse self is intensified to a bizarre, magical degree.

Kafka's Gregor transforming into an insect and the androgynous B100lll in Nighttown
are examples of modern protagonists being grotesquely transforllled psychologically
and physically by external or internaI contlicts. Another effective use of the modern
grotesque is the exposure of "the substratum of ten'or which underlies the selllingly
mundane." As in Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea, the deterministic world view is olten
rejected in favour of a "magical intuition of reality", where, in the words of Sartre's
protagonist, "Anything can happen." A fourth function of the modem grotesque, (and
ail its functions can be variously combined), is the Schadenfreude, a "perverse glee"
that is very closely related to the play element in the grotesque. Bypassing our
conventional emotional responses to the horrible, the grim joke starUes us into seeing
the terrible and pathetic in a new lighl. 17
Still another characteristic of the modern grotesque cited by McElroy, is its focus
on the "fears, guilts, fantasies, and aberrations" of the wilderness within in contrast to
earlier grotesque art where the source of the grotesque was generally the invisible
forces, natural or supernatural, of the external realm. Now, we, ourselves, are seen as
the perverse, repugnant authors of all our own infernos--physical and mental. Fighting
for sorne semblance of control over his own identity and actions, the modern gro-
tesque protagonist gives life and substance to all his fantasies, delusions and hallucina-
tions, thereby forcing the grotesque world to acknowledge the reality of his "psychic
di.ssolution" in ail its horrific guises. Abject, despicable and humiliated though it may
be, the self of Joyce's Bloom, Kafka's Gregor or Beckett's Watt will not be ignored
by the hideous world that shaped il. Beset by crippling guilt and self-loathing,
prompted less by crimes of commission than omission, the central tigure of the
modern grotesque acquiesces in his arraignment at the hands of sinister irrational
powers.Unable to prevail over a meaningless, implacable, brutalizing world, the
grotesque protagonist gains a measure of self-respect from persecutillg those unfortu-
nates who fall within his limited sphere of influence. Pom and Bim, Clov and Hamm,
and Pozzo and Lucky are just a few of the many cruel, unequal relationships in
Beckett's oeuvre." Finally, the fiction of the modem grotesque not only negates the

possihility of a reasonahle world hut, without ever forsaking the mIes of rational
argument, hrilliantly suhstitutes a compelling anti-Iogic through which the reader's
conventional values, suppositions and sensibilities are perversely ridiculed.
as in the case of Beckett, the reader is left to conclude that the world correctly
perceived is indeed grotesque, a tangibly real grotesquery in which he, as both victim
and tormentor, is a willing participant.
[n the major works of Irish literary criticism descriptions or detinitions of the
grotesque are extraordinarity vague, inadequate or, more usually, entirely beyond or
beneath critical consideration. Until the 1962 publication of Vivian Mercier's The
Irish Comic TraditiQn, little heed was paid Arland Ussher's observatiQn, in 1949, that
there was a remarkable amount Qf "grQtesquerie"but very "Iittle passion" in Gaelic
mythology.20 Like countless CQmmentators whQ succeeded mm, Ussher attributed this
CQarse grotesquerie to the "deep innate disillusionment and disbelief in life" with
which the Irish mind is imbued.
This idiosyncratic fear and distrust of man and
matter is nQt without its effect on Irish humour: "The Irish dQ nQt make jokes.... It is
life and lQve and the t1esh--and not any mere trit1es--that to the Irishman are ridicu-
lQus." 22 White the world and the prQfessors of the Academy of Lagado continued tQ
promise us a new and imprQved man, capable of releasing and moulding the potential
Qf the best Qf ail possible wQrlds, Irish writers and philosophers, like Swift and
Berkeley in the eighteenth-century, and Beckett, O'Brien and Synge in the twentieth,
still repeated the preposterous challenge of the Bishop of Cloyne: "We Irishmen think
otherwise. ,," Exhibiting a national talent for making the worst Qf both worlds, the
hero of Beckett's Murphy forsakes the "colossal fiasco" of the sensibly-ordered world
for the madness of a lunatic-asylum, and Synge's elderly couple in The Weil of the
SaiI!.ts prefer the kingdom of the sightiess to the ugliness of the world as it is. Such
sober estimates of human potential, issuing from that "peculiarly Irish characteristic",
that "disabused detachment of the individual, that obstinate refusaI tQ be involved","
are, in Ussher's opinion, "qualities of which humanity in this century has most need. ,,"

As one of the few critics of Irish literature who show an interest in the grotesque,
Mercier deserves much credit, even if he virtually ignores comic drama, and offers a
ver:: inadequate interpretation of the grotesque-macabre element in Gaelie and Anglo-
Irish literature. Ils sole motive, according to Mercier, is to "help us to accept death
and belittle Iife", with the macabre functioning as "a defense mechanism against the
fear of death", and the grotesque acting as a defense "against the holy dread wilh
whieh we face the mysteries of reproduction. ,," Though sorne scholars have dis-
agreed with this thesis on historic as weil as Iiterary grounds, most dissent has cenlred
around the inclusion of several authors in the grotesque-macabre tradition for whom
Mercier can cite no actual association with Irish modes of art. As Mercier himself
admits, "Beckett's relationship to the Gaelic tradition seems tangential indecd.... Like
Swift, [he] seems to fit comfortably into the Gaelic tradition yet has no conscious .
awareness of what that tradition is. "27 Mercier's suppositions were greeted wilh
scholarly sceptieism such as that expressed by Conor Cruise O'Brien's contemporary
review: "The idea that there is 'an Irish mind' continuing with its own peculiar quirks,
not shared even by other Europeans, from medieval times to the days of Samuel
Beckett, seems to me implausible. "28 With the appearance of more comprehensive
biographical and bibliographie studies of Beckett, it became obvious that Beckett's
relationship to early and late Irish art and literature was by no means tangential and,
at the very least, it was a rich, accessible tradition of which he was very eonsciously
The international dimension of Mercier's argument, his assertion that a comic
condition persists in world Iiterature as a whole, was confirmed, in 1968, by Bakhtin's
celebration of the grotesque and macabre, viewed by him as the flotsam and jetsam of
subversive carnival, normally subjeet to suppression, but surviving in literature and
the visual arts. Meanwhile, the Irish aspect of Mercier's study was refuted in 1966 by
Thomas Kinsella's argument that the yawning abyss between a Gaelie past and an
Anglo-Irish present left the Irish writer confronting a mutilated tradition: "1 simply
recognize that 1 stand on one side of a great rift, and can feel the discontinuity in

myself. "29 Towards the end of his essay on the predicament of the Irish writer,
Kinsella strikes a positive note, one that links him directly to Bakhtin (and obliquely
to Mercier): "every writer in the modern world--since he can't be in aIl the Iiterary
traditions at once--is the inheritor of a gapped, discontinuous, polyglot tradition." If,
as Kinsella imagines, the major "function of tradition is to Iink us living with the
signilicant past," then a broken tradition may be a more potent force than a whole one
ever couId be: "1 am certain that a great part of the signilicance of my own past ... is
that that past i.s mutilated. "30 Recent Irish cultural studies have also concluded that
the very brokenness of Irish tradition represents a contemporary sense of dispersal,'\
the best soil, as we have seen, for the development of a grotesque perspective on life.
Irish writers are modern and major generators of the grotesque because of their
Irishness, not in spite of it.
Irish history discovers no unity of culture, only a repressive will, (colonial,
nationalist or religious), to force such uniformity upon, to borrow an Irish expression,
"the quaking sod" of an inchoate national consciousness. Repression engenders
rebellion, argues David Krause in The Profane Book of Irish Comedy, and the result
is a "barbarous" variety of "knockabout" comedy," in which the "excessive pieties of
Irish idealism" are deflated or desecrated." Its function is to achieve a "comic
catharsis", a "powerful defense against the forces of repression"" that deprive man of
his unique identity and personal freedom. In this Freudian and Baudelaireian-inspired
reading of "the vulgar tradition of music-hall clowning"" in Irish comedy, Krause
focuses on the major comic dramatists, whom he sees as "emotionally and thematically
linked"" to Oisin, the archetype for ail the "playboys" and "paycocks" of wild Irish
comedy. Though this "uninhibited horseplay" and "slapstick" always affirms our
"Divine Humanity", it is, however, "non-corrective", something, in Krause's opinion,
that sets Irish comedy apart from other comedic traditions.
In a restrictive, right-
eous country where numerous national verities vied, in the words of O'Casey, to get
"us ail by the short hairs", 38 Irish writers of this variety of humour could not bring

themselves to reconcile their recalcitrant clowns or hlighted loyers into a society of
"chassis"" where there was hope of neither truth nOl" justice.
While there may he sorne hasis to Krause's argument that the mainstrt:am of
knockahout or attic Irish comedy is non-cOlTective, the same can not he said of the
dark basement of knockabout--the Irish grotesque tradition. Though ail the m.\ior Irish
grotesque writers share a demythologizing instinct, and use the grotesque to serve (hal
end, the goals they propose or intimate, their ultimate ohjectives, are quite dilTcrenl.
1'0 use an archaeological metaphor, ail the wrilers considered here exploited the
deautomatisation principle'" of the grotesque in order to take full advantage of
Iiterature's epistemological potency to reorganize the rubbish heap of culture, By
emphasizing ambiguity, ambivalence, antiworlds, the irrational, etc., they made the
next stratum conceivable, imaginable, possible. Excavating similar sites with similar
tools, but with very different expectations and views, these writers, inevitahly,
Ul\\ 'arthed artifacts that were as different one from another as the excavators them-
selves. In so doing, they altered their culture's relationship to reality.
It is my hypothesis that Beckett is the sole Irish writer of "bitter carnival "", that
negative and often bitter strand at the core of Satumalia itself. For Bakhtin and his
successors, camival laughter is both a form and a vehicle of popular liberation.
Capable of absorbing every aspect of life into the whorl of its supposedly regenerative
power,42 it abolishes ail normally inflexible distinctions, and, as such, it is the
embodiment of a permanent utopian longing, an opposition "to ail that was ready-
made and completed, to ail pretence at immutability. "43 As will become abundantly
c1ear in the course of this essay, Beckett is far less concemed with the collapse of
hierarchic distinctions than he is with denying his reader any vantage point l'rom
which a value could be affirmed. Far from liberating, this camivalization of values
traps the reader into becoming the principal representative of social norms, the
spokesperson for one conception of values against which the anti-hero's "rage for
chaos"" is aimed. Such a negative entrapment occurs because Beckett, unlike his

predessors and contemporaries, simply can not believe, and does not want his reader
to bclieve, that there are delnable causes or solutions to human mi sery. Existence in
any form is hellish and tinkering with it is more likely to aggravate than to alIeviate
that painful condition. His is an art at war with culture; it is a refusaI to minister to
the complacency of a culture that expects art to bolster its moral and epistemological
authority. Beckett's way of expressing this renunciation of a cultural aesthetic that
requires art to churn out models of mastery over the real, is to exaggerate our
destitute, dispossessed predicament. Free, for an instant, from the c1utches of cultural
authority, the derelict, dissipated self may attain a smalI measure of power and
freedom. Far from merely inverting or reversing the status QUo for the purposes of
indicating that disorder can never be a permanent substitute for order, Beckett's
liminoid phenomena subvert the structural form of society in order to unleash the
dormant alternatives from which novel forms will arise.
The second hypothesis of this study is virtualIy inseparable from the first. By
defining the function of the grotesque as a "defense mechanism" to "help us to accept
death and belittle life", or the "mysteries of reproduction",46 Mercier limits the
grotesque to the role of guard duty on the borders of our physical existence. Other
possible social or spiritual functions are ignored in this definition. Krause's equalIy
admirable study has a similar bafflinglimitation. There, the emphasis is on the role of
the grotesque in the unequal struggle between the individual, and a hostile society
determined to limit individual freedom in the interests of sorne civilizing impulse.
By combining the valuable insights of Mercier and Krause, we can arrive at a more
inclusive detnition of the role of the grotesque in Irish Literature. In the course of
this analysis of the grotesque in Joyce, O'Brien and Beckett, 1 hope to underscore the
unwillingness of alI of these writers to accept boundaries of any kind.
Though the
general source of the grotesque in each of these authors is a refusai to accept bound-
aries, the specific source or aggravating spiritual, social or physical boundary, differs
greatly from one author to another. Unable to take the authoritative ego for granted,
Beckett, for example, treats individual human identity as nothing more than an

instance of, what Leo Bersani calls, a "provisionally stabilized and bounded being. "
The momentary arrestation of t1uidly tlowing forms is not guaranteed, rrompting
Beckett to speculate that the human subject may not, in tact, 12l:, and, more dislurbing
still, the "coming to presence", in Bersani's words, "of any individuating phenom-
enon", human or otherwise,may never take place."
In all grotesque situations and images," there is generally a clash between the
comie and something that is incompatible with il. The characteristically indeterminate
impact of the grotesque is created by the tense relationship between these negative
spheres and the comic. Both sides of this irresolvable dialectic can assume a greal
number of forms especially since the bewildering array of grotesquery in these
authors' works appears in such a wide variety of contexts and functions. lt is,
therefore, imperative to arrive at sorne generalizations that can orient us in the coming
study, generalizations regarding the form the negative dimensions assume across the
wide span of their grotesque. Though we can not hope to exhaust the immense number
of variants present in each of these areas, these initial observations can serve as a
useful frame of reference for our discussion. '1
One general category could, for convenience, be called the "creatural"" a term
employed by Erich Auerbach to denote all that has to do with the moitai or physical
limits of man's existence--ilIness, aging, decay, and death--and the consequences of
these limits. Other aspects of man's physical existence subsumed by this category,
would be all those biological operations the human organism shares with other
members of the animal kingdom, including the acts of eating, defecating, urinating,
breaking wind, copulating, menstruating, and so forth. While many of those somatic
activities carry less negative implications than the various processes of disintegration,
they are, nonetheless, limitations that the reasoning animal would rather ignore. As we
shall see, in the topsy-turvy world of the grotesque, even the more innocuous oper-
ations, such as eating, can easily be given the negative dimensions of defecation. Life
begins in "[t]he place of excrement"" and ends in decay, putrefaction and death.

What occurs in the interim, is subject to the madness of animal appetite and fraught
with blunders of ail kinds.
Related to this general area of negativity is ail the ugliness of mind and body we
intlict on ail who cross our paths, an ugliness that is encoded in our genes long before
we are, in the words of the poet, "Pushed nude into this assignment".54 The varied
phenomena included under this rubric extend from the myriad ways we exhibit our
creatural decadence--cruelty, earthy language, deformity and freakishness--to the many
ways we invent to mask our physical, social, or moral shortcomings. An analysis of
the role of the body in the works of Beckett and the other notable Irish grotesque
writers, is vital to any discussion of the mechanisms or function of the grotesque in
his or Irish literature. As Danielle Jacquin reminds us: "le grotesque ne peut exister
sans cette rfrence. "55
Parallel to these writers' use of grotesque realism of the body to undercut any
transcendent dimension we might wish to attribute to our existence, there is in their
work a use of folly, which conveys the perennial need to degrade the spirit in order
that man should not forget his base origins. This type of grotesqueimage and situation
is concerned with that element in man which aspires to certain ideals, ideals which
urge him to impose order on life and harmonize with his fellows in a social context.
The areas discussed here by no means exhaust the different forms of negativity
with which the comic clashes in these writers' grotesque, but they do provide sorne
idea of the directions their grotesquery will most frequently take. There remains in
their work two other major grotesque categories, incongruity and the comic, which
alone would necessitate lengthy analyses. Much that can be said of the particular hue
and colour with which Beckett, Joyce and O'Brien paint the folly and creatural
dimensions of our existence would also apply to the two remaining branches of the
grotesque. If Joyce and O'Brien are much more attracted than Beckett to the
situational aspect of the comic he proves himself more than equal to

Joyce's challenge in the linguistic arena. But while Joyce's creative deformations of
language are the building blocks of a new reality, the reimp<1sition of a meaning on
the universe, the goal of Beckett's linguistic grotesquery is nothing less than Ihe core
of the eddy, the nothingness at the centre of ail, an objective that may he attained
through the systematic elimination of ail accidentai qualities that attach themselves to
language. By exploiting the comic ambivalence of language he uses it against itself to
reveal its sheer inadequacy as an instrument of communication. Although O'Brien
railed against the misuse of language, there is nevertheless a certain faith and confi-
dence behind the way his characters and personae use language that is lacking in
Beckett's creatures. Finally, the incongruous-grotesque, dealing with the disturbing co-
presence of the bestialldiabolical and the divine in man, exerts a powerful draw on ail
three authors. In the inclusive, compassionate visions of both Joyce and O'Brien, the
deficiencies of the body coexist with a certain grandeur, a kind of inherent human
dignity that is as ineradicable as the brutal base in which it is encased. Here again,
Beckett's emphasis on the degenerative aspect of the body tends to repel and disturb
us, as he either excludes the "nobility" in human nature or depicts it as an inadequate
counterbalance to ail that is ignoble and base in our constitution. Such a bleak
reinstatement of our animal side is in keeping with his sobriquet as "The Termin-
ator"" par excellence of ail the "terminalists"," Irish or otherwise, of the twentieth-
Though the comic and incongruous effects are indeed pervasive, they are every-
where overshadowed in the Irish grotesque tradition by the ludicrous-painful spectacle
of a grotesque body gyrating and contorting to the attic rhythms of a grotesque mind.
Irish writers are not unique, of course, in exploiting these areas as sources of
grotesquery, but the persistence and intensity of their explorations help distinguish
them from other autIJ.ors of the grotesque, as does the special focus they each give

Though literature has never been ideologically homogenous (since hegemony is,
atier ail, foullded on the neutralization and incorporation of contradictions, and not on
a purely monological discourse), it has always, in ail epochs and languages, addressed
itself to an idleal reader that was, in e t l i ~ t the state itself." This situation was
particularly galling to colonized people who were often conscious, at sorne level at
least, of the degree to which literature served a mediating function between the
governing elite and the people they governed. The disproportionate contribution of
former colonies, such as Ireland and Latin America, to twentieth-century literature and
to the grotesque tradition in particular, is accounted for, in part, by the postcolonial
processes of "cultural disalienation and appropriation"" that involved, of necessity,
an expansion and transformation of the dominant forms of literature and a profound
scepticism, to the point of outright rejection, of the distinctions and assumptions on
which it depended for its status and prestige. Intent on extending the dimensions of
their culture's concept of reality, of stretching the boundaries of the possible, t h e ~ e
authors were naturally attracted to the grotesque's unparalleled ability to contain ail
contradictions and ambiguities in a kind of validating, equalizing stew that manages, at
one and the same time, to weigh and debase the merits of both sides of irresolvable
dialectics. Differences aside, all.of these writers saw the grotesque as a powerful
antidote to the ideological stupor blinding their contemporaries to the spiritual and
social rot that engulfed them. "If 1 write about a hill that is rotting," Flannery
O'Connor once said, "it is because 1 despise rot. ,,",

1. Bernard McElroy, Fiction of the Modern Grotesque (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1989) ix.
2. Charles Baudelaire, "On the Essence of Laughter," The Mirror of Art. ed. and
trans., Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 1955) 146-51.
3. Patrick Rafroidi, "Comique et nationalit: l'example irlandais," Eire-Ire\.alli!
XIV.2 (December 1989): 27-8.
4. Samuel Beckett, Watt (New York: Grove Press, 1953) 48.
5. Wolfgang J. Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Ulrich
Weisstein (Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1968) 188.
6. Martin Foss, Symbol and Metaphor in Human Experience (Princeton: Princeton
UP, 1949) 142-3.
7. Mark Patrick Hederman, "Poetry and the Fifth Province," Crane Bag 9.1
(1985): 117.
8. Timothy Kearney, "The Poetry of the North: A Post-Modernist Perspective,"
Crane Bag 3-2 (1979): 465.
9. Louis MacNeice, qtd in Kearney, 466.
10. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (1965;
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984) 107.
Il. Apart from Kayser, Clark, McElroy and Bakhtin, see Arthur Clayborough,
The Grotesque in English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965) 1-69. Francis
Barasch, The Grotesque: a Study in Meanings (The Hague: Mouton,1971); and Lee
Byron Jennings, The Ludicrous Demon (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1963). For a
review of more recent work, see Fritz Gysin, The GrotesQJle in American Negro
Fiction (Bern: Francke, 1975) 21-34; Elsheva Rosen, Sur le grotesque: L'ancien et le
nouveau dans la rflexion esthtique (St-Denis: Press Universitaires de Vincennes,
12. Kayser 185-187.
13. Bakhtin 91.
14. McElroy 15-6.
15. Kayser 185.
16. Jennings 158.
17. McElroy 17-20.
18. McElroy 21-25.
19. McElroy 27.
20. Arland Ussher, The Face and Mind of Ireland (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.,
1950) 91.
21. Ussher 137.
22. Ussher 127.
23. Ussher 132.
24. Ussher 138.
25. Ussher 130.
26. Vivian Mercier, The Irish Comic Tradition (1962; New York: Oxford UP,
1969) 49.
27. Mercier 75-6.
28. Conor Cruise O'Brien, "Our Wits About Us," The New Statesman 65 (Feb.
15, 1963): 237; ln Writers and Politics (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965) 104.
29. Thomas Kinsella, "The Irish Writer," Davis, Mangan, Ferguson? Tradition
and the Irish Writer: Writings by W.B. Yeats and Thomas Kinsella, ed. Roger
McHugh (Dublin: The Dolmen Press, 1970) 59.
30. Kinsella 66.
31. John Wilson Foster, "Irish Modernism," Colonial Consequences: Essays in
Irish Literature and Culture (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1991) 44-59; See also,
Richard Kearney, The Wake of the Imagination (Minneapolis: The U of Minnesota
Press, 1988) and John S.Rickard, Irishness and (post)modernism (Lewisburg, Pa.:
Bucknell UP, 1994.
32. David Krause, The Profane Book of Irish Comedy (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982)
. 12, 270.

33. Krause 269:
34. David Krause, "The Comic Mythulogy of O'Casey," James Joyce Ouartcrly
18.1 (1980): 11-2.
35. Krause, The Profane Book 270.
36. Krause, The Profane Book 10.
37. Krause, The Profane Book 276, 31.
38. Sean O'Casey, Sunset and Evening Star (New York: Macmillan, 1954) 267.
39. Krause, The Protne Book 31.
40. Jurij Lotman, qtd in Per Dalgard, The Function of the Grotesque in Vasilij
Aksenov, trans. Robert Porter (Gyssling, Denmark: Arkona Aarhus, 1982) 22.
41. See Michael Andr Bernstein, Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject
Hero (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992). Though Bernstein does not discuss Beckett, his
argument, which is, in essence, a rethinking of Bakhtin, seems to lit Beckett very
42. Bakhtin 7.
43. Bakhtin Il.
44. This expression was taken from the title of the following book by Morse
Peckham: Man's Rage For Chaos: Biology. Behavior and the Arts (Philadelphia:
Chilton Books, 1965).
45. Victor Turner, From Rimai to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New
York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982) 40.
46. Mercier 49.
47. Krause, The Profane Book 271.
48. 1 was influenced in this idea by Maureen Waters, The Comic Irishman
(Albany: The State of New York Press, 1984), though the focus of her study is not
the grotesque but the "comic or performing Irishman".
49. Leo Bersani, and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of lmpoverishment Beckett Rothko.
Resnais (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993) 8.

50. The satiric grotesque can be viewed through the prism of either the content or
the form or both. Though 1am mindful of Beckett's comments regarding the impossi-
bility of dividing form from content, 1 am here bowing ta the limitations of space by
restricting this study to the grotesque content of these works. See Samuel Beckett,
"Dante ... Bruno. Vico .. Joyce," transition 16-7 (June 1929): 248.
51. While the comic can also be seen to follow certain patterns, these are even
more tricky to catalogue. Besides, many of the studies available on the comic in these
authors deal adequately with this area.
52. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Litera-
t!.!, trans. W.R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953). My use ofthis term olten
varies from his substantially.
53. William Butler Yeats, "Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop," The Norton Anthol-
ogy of Poetry 3rd ed. (New York: W.W.Norton, 1983) 891.
54. Frederick Mortimer Clapp, "Pushed Nude Into This Assignment," A Pocket
Book of Modern Verse, ed. Oscar Williams (New York: Washington Square Press,
1968) 402.
55. Danielle Jacquin, "L'altration a la clef, ou le mode grotesque chez Flann
O'Brien," Etudes Irlandaises 8 (Dec. 1983): 79.
56. Hugh Kenner, AColder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers (Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins UP, 1983) 262.
57. Clark 13.
58. Wlad Godzich and Nicholas Spadaccini, eds., "Popular Culture and Spanish
Literary History," Literature among the Discourses: The Spanish Golden Age (Minn-
eapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 54.
59. John Beverley, Against Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1993) 46.
60. Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, eds. Sally and
Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1969) 31.

L'homme beckettien est volontiers considr comme source d'excrments ct maintenu
au contact de son produit. 2
But in attempting to l'aise feelings of revulsion over matters of bodily need, Swift is
doing no more than expressing a conviction that is widespread in Ireland, that the
arrangements of the Almighty are, in some ways, in very bad taste.'
An lrishman's "Jansenist aversion to his bowels" driveshim, in the words of
Denis Johnston, either "to ignore the existence of any functional needs, or, as in the
case of Swift, to shove our heads down the neast manhole ... and to command us to
unstop our noses. ,,' As was said of George Moore, he not only conducts us to the
toilet, but locks us in. Though both Joyce and Beckett are equally guilty of leading us
down "alleys of the obsessive excremental",' and though there is a definite correlation
between their approaches to the grotesque body and their ideas on human creativity,'
Joyce does not share Beckett's (and Swift's) profound distaste for Iife itself. For
Joyce, all--body, birth, and barnyard functions--are natural and, as such, provide
evocative images for the creative process. Like Shem, he "winged away ... across the
cathartic ocean and made synthetic ink and sensitive paper for his own end out of his
wit's waste. ,,' In fact, as John Henry Raleigh reminds us, turds are "Joyce's comment
on many things, past and present, in the public world of his times." Complex infor-
mation dealing with the stylistic, personal, Iiterary, religious, geographical, cultural,
sociological, sexual, political, and historical levels of his fiction can he conveyed
through these "primary physical symbols".'

For Beckett, too, the "lewd oriface'" has been greatly underestimated. It is, say;
Molloy "the true portal of our being ... the celebrated mouth", and composition is,
like his "arsehole", a "Iink between me and the other excrement" (Molloy 74). Untit
we can get our feet clear "of the great cunt of existence", 10 ail that matters, in the
words of the narrator of Malone Dies, "is to eat and excrete.... these are the poles"
(170). In Beckett, then, birth and bodies are disgusting, and writing, Iike excreting, is
but a painful, necessary link with the other inhabitants of these dessicated "barren
lands" .11 If both writers have a predilection for using creatural images and natural
cycles to represent the creative process, il is, as we shall see, with diametrically
opposed r s u l l ~ By taking a "strict View of the Excrements", as Gulliver weil knew,
we can from "the Colour, the Odour, the Taste, the Consistence, the Crudeness ...
form a Judgment of their Thoughts and Designs. "12
Ever since the publication of Mikhail Bakhtin's excellent study on Rabelais there
has been no doubt about the relationship between the grotesque and the animal
function of the human body:
The grotesque body ... is a body in the act of becoming.... it is contin-
ually buitt, created, and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the
body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world.... This is
why the the essential role belongs to those parts of the grotesque body,
in which it conceives a new body: the bowels and the phallus.... and it
is for this reason that they are predominantly subject to hyperbolizat-
ion.... Eating, drinking, defecation and other elimination as weil as
copulation, pregnancy ... swallowing up by another body--all these acts
are performed on the confines of the body and the outerworld.... In ail
these events the beginning and end of Iife are closely linked and inter-
The celebration of creation, consumption, and elimination, which Bakhtin finds in
Rabelais, abounds in Joyce, and the self-same grotesque imagery is exploited by
Beckett towards very different ends. That said, both used these grotesque images as
metaphors for the order of their respective fictional worlds, and both are attracted to

the camival-grotesque, bitter or otherwise, as it affords them the npportunity tojar
our sensibilities into grasping a startling new outlook on human experience.
For Beckett, creation and mental activity in general, conjure up images, frequently
grotesque of the body and its less savoury activities. Like Nature itself, the body and
ail its liquids and streams, are alwaysin danger of running dry. A possihle clue to
these authors' starkly contrasting metaphurs for creativity may lie in their very
different attitude toward women. The paralysis and constipation in Beckett may he
explained by his fear, bordering on loathing, of women, who, interestingly, are ail
barren in his fiction. The few parental relationships in Beckett are, hy any standards,
more grotesque than 10ving.Molloy, for instance, refers to his mother as "that poor
old uniparous whore" who "jostled" (tried to abort?) him in the first few months,
thereby spoiling "the only endurable period" of his existence (19). Joyce, after
working through Stephen's fear and guilt eventually accepts, even embraces women.
From bis depiction of B\oom, especially, we can deduce that the ideal artist is an
androgynous combination of the artist and mother. 14 It would seem, then, that
MariIyn French's generalization about Joyce's world can protitably be reversed for
Beckett. Joyce defines mankind, she tells us, "not as a political ... but as a feeling,
sexual animal cursed and blessed with intellect.... Feelings and sexuality are prob-
lems, true, but because of the 'unremitting' and 'hommad intellect' .1' For Beckett,
man is an intellectual being cursed with feelings and sexuality (symbolized by
women), and that needy grotesque body must be quelled and controlled in order to
feel himself, as Murphy longed to do, "coming alive in mind, set free to move among
its treasures". 16
Joyce's characters have wholesome, functioning bodies while Beckett's impotent
creatures are thwarted and blocked in countless ways. This should hardly surprise us
in a grotesque upside-down fictional cosmos where, Molloy tells us, people are born
"through the hole in her arse.... " where they get their "tirst taste of the shit" (17).
Molloy, like Bloom, produces a prodigious amount of well-counted f r t ~ but without

issue, as there is no "glohe"17 of art to follow from them. In How It Is, the narrator
retlects, with a grotesque inversion typical of Beckett, that his sentences only amount
to "a fart fraught with meaning issuing through the mouth no sound. "18 The chroni-
caliy constipated Krapp, in Krapp's Last Tape, has renounced love for his altistic
creation, of which he sells a measly 17 copies. Unable to defecate, he devours
bananas, revealing how very ignorant he is of the bodily processes that so obsess him.
Presenting a parodie reversaI of the fecund Molly B\oom, Malone, bedbound and
partially paralyzed, is, typically, simultaneously engaged in creating a monologue and
trying to arrest ail his bodily functions. In the process of experimenting with different
stories and characters, the solitary Malone discusses his own somatic malfunctions,
and concretely illustrates his creative block with dead ends, false starts, and blank
spaces. Conversely, Joyce's HCE, that other famous Iiterary slug-a-bed, creates in the
bosom of his own and the entire human family, a linguistically rich endless narrative.
Malone's dessicated little story never really gets off the ground. Though both authors
have their characters deliberate on the relationship between nature, the mind and the
body, the Beckettian deliberations end in negation and infertility. As Macmann
observes, "my notes have a curious tendency ... to annihilate ail they purport to
record" (238).
Death, for Malone, is far from. being a natural cyclical retum to the earth. In a
grotesque reversai of natural processes, death is a kind of birth as one is expelled
t'rom "the world that parts at last its labia and lets me go" (MD 174). III at ease with
his own "stupid flesh" (MD 171), Sapo, one projection of Malone, feels (Iike ail of
Beckett's characters), disassociated t'rom Nature and her cycles: "He confused the
birds with one another. ... He did not associate the crocus with the spring nor the
chrysanthemum with Michaelmas.... But t'rom his ignorance of them he drew a kind
ofjoy, as t'rom ail that went to swell the murmur, You are a simpleton" (MD 176).
By contrast, the Wake's characters are ail c10sely identified with a natural feature such
as the Liffey, a weil, or a tree, and its entire world is filled with the eternal weather

changes of rain, river, and sea. As in Endgame's "grey" and "zem" envinllll11ent,
Malone's cosmos is changcless and infertile: "Dead world, air1ess, walerless .... Here
and there, in the hed of a crater, the shadow of a withered Ikhen" (MD 185), ln
another grotesque reversai, it is death that offers hope: "The end of a life is always
vivifying" (MD 195), Appropriately, several of Beckett's characters are hinl of prey
tnciers, Sapo loved "the tlight of the hawk ... fascinated hy such exlrel11es of need,
of pride, of patience and solitude" (MD 176). Macmann likens the alter work fun-
seekers to the gull, yet another carrion-eating hird that swoops "ravening ahout the
offal" (MD 211). Everywhere in Beckett, death is a grotesque parody of hirth amI the
"old foetus" (MD 207) in Malone Dies is no exception: "1 am swelling. What if 1
should burst?.... 1 am being given, if 1 may venture the expression, hirth to into
death, such is my impression. The feet are clear already of the great cunt of exist-
ence.... My head will be the last to die" (MD 259-60).
Beckett's willingness to remind us of the horrors of old age puts him in the good
company of most Irish grotesque writers but, here too, he takes us to new heights (or
depths) of the grotesque. While ALP continues, even in old age, to 110w freely and
fruitfully, and HCE and Bloom create their own immortality, Malone conjures up an
image of aging man as "hay left out to dry" (213), or as an evaporating waterdrop,
soon to become "a drop in the ocean" (213), with the clich, (dead language),
capturing the deadness exactly. Time in Malone's world, in contrast to the cyclical
world of the Wake, notably, and of Ulysses also, is "running out", and he even
envisions himself petrified into a grain of sand, "so hard, contracted" he could he
easily "lost in the eye of a needle" (206).
Impotent, Beckett's artist is the plaything of the gods or of a grotesque fcsimile:
"a blind and tired hand", "plunged in me up to the elbow" is "delving feebly in my
particles and letting them trickle between its fingers". For the moment, this avenger,
who wants nothing less than "to scatter me with one sweep", with
fondling, clutching, ransacking and ravaging its hapless victim (MD 206). Lacking the

god-like power of a Joycean anis!, Malone admits that he "gave free rein to my pains,
my impotence" (193). The more he loses a sense of the integrity of his hody, the
sensc that pans of the hody are "intimately and even indissoluhly hound up together"
(MD 219), the less of everything he produces: "Now that 1 have stopped eating 1
produce less waste and so eliminate less.... With practice 1 might produce a groan
he1()re 1die" (MD 231-2). Like Malone, his creator, Macmann is impotent and
without issue: "his semen had never done any harm to anyone" (221). Not certain
"who 1am, nor where 1 am, nor if 1 am" Malone thinks of making "a little creature
... in my image." Sensing he would he hitterly disappointed hy his child's appearance
or its unfortunate resemhlance to himself, he imagines "1 shall eat il" (207). In this
inverse world, the thought of his own "mortality" is something "he couId grovel and
wallow in" until "the end oftime and not have done" (221).
As feet and penis acquire separate bizarre lives of their own Malone's wandering
tngers have a disquieting effect on his prose: "my tngers too write in other latitudes
... so that the subject falls far from the verb and the object lands somewhere in the
void... (215). And it is not only the extremities that recede far from the attention of
the perceiver, but also that most intimate of creations--excretion: "if my arse suddenly
started to shit at the present moment, which God forbid, 1 trmly believe t.he lump
would fall out in Australia" (215). Though he imagines that his penis "must still drip a
little piss from time to time," he has as little feeling in it as in his feet, and these are
now "Ieagues away" (215). Surpassing even Bakhtin's description of the grotesque
body, he now begins to suspect that the body is feeding on itself: "How is il that 1 am
not thirsty. There must be drinking going on inside me, my secretions" (251). Though
Bloom's ruminations at Dignam's graveside on the busy work of worms in coffins are
shot through with grotesque images of the living feeding on the dead, it is, however,
t1ecked with compassion and humour: "The lrishman's house is his coffin" (Ulysses
90). Besides, the gnawing in Ulysses takes place after death while Beckett's bodies
self-cannibalize the living. Life so cIosely resembles death that Beckett's narrator
sometimes wonders if he is not already dead and ail that he perceives as sky, people,

possessions and his "system of nutrition and e1imination" are "perhaps nothing hut my
worms" (202). This emphasis on self-containment foreshadows such self-retlexive
metafictions as Fizzles and The Lost Ones. Near the end of Ma\one Dies a young man
who bears more than a passing resemhlance to Murphy has completcly given up eating
and defecating: "Lemuel had long since ceased to wonder on what this creature fed".
Described as "dead young", he represents an even more dramatic example than
Malone of a closed, impotent system (258).
Alienated as he is from his body and his world, Malone experiences every
imaginable difficulty with the llsual aspects of the nove!. ln keeping with the modern
satiric grotesque stratagem of debunking the traditional elements of fiction,19 Beck-
ett's artist has a cavalier attitude ta characterization, plot and setting: "to hell with ail
this fucking scenery" (254). Many of Beckett's more mordant grotesque images are
reserved for ail that passes for love and sex between humans. If sex and sea corn
mingle in the minds of Joyce's artist-lovers (Bloom, Stephen, ALP, HCE and Molly),
Beckett's characters, inexperienced in this tield, can only manage dry sex in a cold,
dry land. Malone's ignorance of romantic love, an important ingredient in most
narratives, is such that he wonders if a couple (seen from his window), who c1asp
each other "with the energy of despair" are, in tact, "cold that they rub against each
other so.... " Surprised that this "strange ... complicated shape ... that sways and
totters" "have loved each other standing, like dogs," he decides "that must be how it
is done" (218-9).
In great contrast to the creative, youthful ALP or Molly fantasizing about the
many appealing men in their lives, Malone's semen has long since dricd up and his
"remembering" is more like a chore he "had ta resign himself to in the end" (\90).
Apart from the "putrid mucus" of his life, this "hoar and impotent", "old foetus"
(207) derives sorne little consolation from his lovemaking with the "hideous ... Sucky
Mali". Though he originally felt sorne "repugnance" for the old hag, be soon
"warmed ta their work" together:

The spectacle was then offered of Macmann trying to bundle his sex
into his partner's like a pillow into a pillow-slip, folding it in two and
stufling it in with his tngers.... And though both were completely
impotent they finally succeeded, summoning to their aid ail the
resources of the skin, the mucus and the imagination, in striking ITom
their dry and feehle clips a kind of sombre satisfaction. (238-41)
Despite the awkwardness of "all these bones", this "idyll" 1eads Macmann to 'compose
sorne romantic lines on the "Iethal glue" of love. Far from bringing a proverhial glow
to her cheeks, Mo\l's "tireless ardours" were, in fact, the death of her (241).'
Though Malone's pencil is "very short" (192), and even serves more as a nipp1e
which he "lovels] to suck"(204), it has a distinctly disquieting ability of killing off
most of its own creations. In stark contrast to the joyous propagation of Joyce's
phallic pen in the Wake, Malone Dies ends in murder and mayhem as Lemuel/Samuel
performs a bloody hatchet job on his "creatures" (262-3).
Excavation of the true self, the only worthy goal of art or literature, requires
drastic tctional measures as "all this ballsaching poppycock about life and death"
(206) is mere verbal pollution without issue. Ali the "wordshit", the stuff of creation
in Joyce, overwhelms the hero in Texts for Nothing, for, like Malone, he knows that
"Nothing is more real that nothing. ,," With absence and silence as goals, then, the
moribond natural world of Beckett's creatures is matched by a similarly shrinking
linguistic realm. In The Unnamable characters are mere body parts deprived of
movement and action. In a typically grotesque paradox, the main jar-bound
"mannikin" cannot hope to die as he has never been fully bom. Beckett's later voices,
living in either a pre-natal or a post-mortem universe, are even more distanced ITom
bodily processes and the natural y l ~ in general. If sorne of them approach pure
voice, none succeed in falling silent.
In How It Is, Beckett's last vaguely realistic novel, the narrator sojoumsthrough a
terrain that William Hutchings describes as far "more grotesque ... vile and repul-

sive,," than the awful one Bloom feels spewed l'rom in "Lestrygonians". 1mpelled hy
the need "to move on the need 10 shit and vomit and the other great needs ail my cat-
egories of heing" (HII 14), he crawls through a "primeval IlIud impenctrahle dark" of
feces (11),- toward a possibly imaginary meeting that Hutchings rightly considers
"among the most hizarre and tortuous in ail fiction." The central conceit of this novcl,
argues Hutchings, is that "the narrator (and by extension every human heing) is a turd
in the cosmic digestive process of time. "23 Not even Swift can match the overwhclm-
ing inclusiveness of this cloacal vision of the world. For Malone too, ail is shit: "here
1 am back in the shit" (MD 246). Interestingly, it is the head that is the "scat of ail
the shit and misery" (MD 245). This peristaltic journey resemhles Beckett's writing in
that progress through this vile "muckheap" seems impossible (HII 36), but going hack
is out of the question.
Since the muddy chyme in How It Is is both nourishment and decay, hody and
cosmos are identicaL24 This conception is in line with Bakhtin's assertion that the
"grotesque body is cosmic and universaL It stresses elements common to the entire
cosmos: earth, water, fire, air ... sun ... stars.... lt retlects the cosmic hierarchy.... It
can fill the entire universe. ,," Not surprisingly, then, in Beckett's grotesque imagery
ail men, artists included, are worthless turds "crawling and shitting in their shit" (HII
52). Up to his neck in it, as it were, the Beckettian artist is hard put "to shit stories on
them" (The Unnamable 350). Meanwhile, Joyce's Shem is capable of transforming the
fecal matter of existence into the stuff of literature. Viewed through the prism of these
scatologically grotesque clusters of images, it is obvious that existence, fecal for both
Joyce and Beckett, is decidedly positive for the former and negative for the latter.
Surrounded by "the voice quaqua on ail sides" (128), the procession of turds in
the cosmic gut, like ail of Beckett's characters, "must go on", alternately victimizing
and being victimized, and ail the while longing to be "shat into the open air the light
of day the regimen of grace" (124). As kaka and ka (Egyptian for sou1) make, Pops
tells us, "a folk etymological pun", so do "scatology and eschatology".26 ln an image

that is marvelously appropriate for a release from the cosmic digestive tract and the
burdens of speech, the final "movement" of the intestinal odyssey will impel him into
a "Iitt!e chamber ail bone-white" (134). The silence and stillness, so craved by the
Unnamable and the narrator of How lt Is, will be achieved after seemingly intermi-
nable suffering of being; it is, says Hutchings, "the scatological eschatological, so to
speak. "27 Just as Bloom's wanderings in U1ysses are the individual peregrinations of a
modern man and a recapitulation of a mythic archetype, this odyssey has the broadest
possible implications. That his predicament is both ontogenetic and phylogenetic is
signalled earlier with a reference to Haeckel, the formulator of the theory that
ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis.
Thus, in How lt Is, the narrator's passage
through the cosmic digestive tract repeats the entire generic history of mankind, and
his creative output is, indeed, "the voice of us ail as many as we are" (108). Of
course, the compulsion to speak does not necessarily imply an authority or cosmic
monitoring system. lt may weil be that the narrator's voice and those of aIl the other
"mouths innumerable" (134), are mere expressions of frustration, "a fart fraught with
meaning issuing through the mouth no sound in the mud" (26).
After having devoured (and been devoured by) world and time and then been
"shat into ... the regimen of grace" (124), the narrator, representing ail of us, may
attain a direct knowledge of the creator of the cosmic mire. Contary to expectations,
this Unknowable Being is even less caring or creative than ourselves. When he does
lend an ear, ail he hears is "a story of his own devising ill-inspired ill-to\d and so
ancient so forgotten at each telling that ours may seem faithful that we murmur to the
mud to him" (139). In the mud or shit, Iike ourselves, and weary of our "perpetuaI
revictuallings narrations and auditions", God may one day be tempted, the narrator
specuJates, to end our distinctions so that "in reality we are one and ail from the
unthinkable first to the no Jess unthinkable last glued together in a vast imbrication of
tlesh without breach or fissure" (139). In relation to this kind of grotesquery, Bakhtin
states that grotesque imagery constructs a kind of second body "in which the Iife of
one body is born from the death of the preceding, older one. "" The fact that these

bodies are fecal gives this image a certain resonance not found in Bakhtin's R'lhclais.
This marvellously grotesque image captures the aesthetic intent of Beckett, who, like
the God of How It Is, strives for the minimum number of words with the kast
possihle meaniig until, eventually, silence is achieved.
As an account of "how it is" for "allthose here before me and ' come alone in
this wallow or glued together ail ... by the earth undone" (140), How Il Is must rank
as the bleakest statement yet of a scatological metaphor that has a Christian heritage
second to none. For Luther, as for Dante, the individual is a turd in the digestive tract
of the cosmic and worldly systems; for St. Paul, the scatological metaphor is even
more all-encompassing: he had come to "count las) but dung the world and ail things
in it (Phil. 3:8).'0 Though Beckett echoes these sentiments, his novel is, in lact, an
extension of the scatological metaphor to include not only the world itself hut ail of
eternity in a single image of universal excrement: "ifs the same kingdom as hefore ...
the same it always was" (43). Distinctions between the soul's earthly and post-
mortem existences are irrelevant as both realms l'ail under the jurisdiction of the same
unknowable distant being. The soul merely endures as it encounters "one aller another
the same thirsts and life unchanging here as above according to the unchanging needs"
In the interim, we c1aw our way through the dung c1utching our possessions, and
torturing or being tortured by ail the technological gadgetry at our disposaI. In these
circumstances human communication is bound to be either physically or psychological-
ly painful. Just as Dante's slothful bodies torment each other ceaselessly, Beckett's
narrator uses a canopener and a "table of basic stimuli" (69) to hit and slash his
victim, Pim, in order to evoke the desired responses in their grotesque communica-
tion: "one sing nails in armpit two speak blade in arse three stop thump on skull four
louder pestle on kidney" (69). According to the terms of this Beckettian fable,
coercion, torture, is the precondition for being humanized and socialized. As we hear
language, we hear, unconsciously, the injunction to speak. Thesemiotic system

devised by Beckett's tormentor is a metaphor for what Bersani calls, "the self-originat-
ing experience of language as a brutalization of tbe body." Language, in other words,
"tortures the human body into repeating itself as mind, as a conscious self." Such
origins have major social and psychological consequences: since the speech we imitate
involves speaking a self that is absent from the speech imitated, except for the
injunction to repeat it, it would follow, Bersani sensibly argues, that "the newly
spoken self will necessarily resemble that injunction, will have the form of a com-
mand." The experience of victimization empowers us as tormentors, a lesson graphi-
cally taught by Pim's cruel expertise in the latter role. In a sad reversaI that cannot
fail to remind us of the colonial experience, Beckett' s story is a reenactment of the
torture that goads us from, what Bersani terms, "monadic self-containment" to the
"self-identifying speech" that is, perforee, a brutal "project of mastel'ngthe other
through the extortion of a self-exposing speech." And it is this reign of terror, this
profound structure of mutual torment that is the basis of the sociaL To ensure the
continuance of this interminable chain of tormentors/victims is to yield to the most
exalted moral imperative; it is no less than our prayerful dutYto the supreme being
that so ordered our existence.
It is obvious that the linguistic process also describes the literary process. In so far
as literature involves the fairly passive reception, sense-making, and repetition of an
"ancient" story, it imitates, Bersani contends, "something fundamental that does not
depend on literature but that might never have taken place without the literary
repetition of il." Moreover, through the image of the narrator repeating a story of the
witness's "own devising" (HII 139), a story that must, nevertheless, be heard before it
can be transcribed, How Il Is shows, in the opinion of Bersani, that "literature can
also represent the (re)initiating that is its essence." Though we are ail writers, in the
sense that we can not understand an idea or story without first projecting the form of
our listening into the world, from where we can then receive it as information from
and about the world, it is only literature that can provide us with the delicious torment

of "originating a process we perhaps know otherwise only as the repetition of that
which obscures its origins. "32
The ordeal over, one is born, in a grotesque reversaI conunon in medieval
iconography, through the mouth: "one dies in the dark the mud upwards horn upwards
tloating up like the drowned" (70). In How lt Is, Beckett has prodllced what W. H.
Auden described as a de-narcissus-ized, enduring "feces", the "primaI ... revoIt and
repudiation" ," for which publication is the tinal act of defecation. In much the same
way as Joyce's "Oxen of the Sun" episode, with ils "embryonic development" style,
concludes with a birth and the expulsion of the slang-like afterbirth, the intestinal
journey in How It Is culminates in a kind of self-excretion, the ultimate defecatory
act, as the narrator voids or denies his entire narrative. Claiming that the foregoing
narrative was "ail balls yes" (144), the narrator dclares that he is ail alone: "only me
yes alone ... in the mud... " (146). This is a logical simplitication: since everyone on
the chain has interchangeable roles, they can be considered a single person, exact
copies of one another. Il follows, then, that the tormentor-victim sequence is nothing
less than a "simultaneity of being", eternally resisting and obeying the injunction to
speak, to begin again ils own beginnings.
[n a startling image, that is the tinal vari-
ation of the theme of devouring and being devoured, the narrator asserts that he is
alone in the mud with "the arms spread yes like a cross... " (146). Through this
image, which is as far from Luther's scatology as one can get, his body is equated
with Christ's, the comsumption of which enables believers to be, miraculously, "shat
into grace" .
Though Beckett's scatological narrative has not a[ways had such a salutary effect
on ils readers, the connection of tlatus and afflatus, Iightening and enlightening, has
deep roots in the western cultural tradition. Writers from classica[ times to the present
have seen fit to use scatology as a device for moral or satirical ends, but not until
Beckett has it been allowed to encompass both the form and content of the nove!." lt
is arguable, that by making scatology such an encyclopedic metaphor for the human

experience in ail possible realms of existence, Beckett has, in fact, afforded the
scatological tradition a !{)rm of respectability it "had previously lacked. More import-
antly, the human body, long reviled as responsible for virtually every human ill, has,
in l3eckell's "tale of a turd", achieved a kind of equality with soul, mind, God and the
eternal. With "caca", in Artaud's words, the "raw material of the soul"" (Beckett's
"quaqua") it is futile to make distinctions.
From the nugget-like syntax and movement of How It Is Beckett's work enters the
"universal stone"" sterility of metatiction, where nature and, therefore, grotesque
metaphors of bodily processes for artistic creation, virtually disappear from his tiction.
For the narrator of iltseen iII said, in this "unspeakable globe. Unbearable" (57),
there is "Nothing utterable" (16), nothing but "confusion" between "[r]eal and.... The
counter-poison" (40). Here, there is no certainty as perception of the inaccessible is,
at best, defective: "The mind betrays the treacherous eyes and the treacherous word
their treacheries. Haze sole certitude" (48). Increasingly aware of the inadequacy of
words to express a poorly comprehended reality, Beckett's words now fall Iike "bits
and seraps" onto the page (31): "See now how words too. A few drops mishaphazard.
Then strangury. To say the least. Less" (52). Words, then, like urine from a patient
suffering from strangury, are produced painfully and in drops. After a "long noetur-
nal search" (38), the narrator discovers a scrap of paper with two barely legible letters
and a number. It is "Otherwise blank. Otherwise empty" (38). Contrast this with the
excrement-edged letter in the Wake which is the inspiration for literature.
ln a tinal grotesque metaphor that echoes Bakhtin's statement that the grotesque
body "swallows the world" (Bakhtin 317), the narrator wishes in "that perfect dark
foreknell" (59), to put an end to this exsiccated "zone of stones" (10): "Grant only
enough remain to devour ail. Moment by glutton moment. Sky earth the whole kit and
boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left. Lick chops and basta" (59). True "happi-
ness", hOfever, could only be realized one moment later: "Grace to breathe that void.
Know happiness" (59). There will be no exeretion into grace for the injested universe

as this constipated artist-narrator intends to remain so forever. This is the very
antithesis of the burgeoning Joycean universe of Ulysses and Wake though
they both used the grotesque to achieve their aesthetic goals. Even the tides of
Beckett's "reductions reduced"" fictions from Texts for to Worstwanl Ho,
alert us to the graduai diminution of the artistic function and the concomitant "deterio-
ration of outside reality"", and, hence, of the creatural images that so marked his
work to this point.
For Joyce, no less than Beckett, ail functions ret1ect one another and the "Iowest",
Lindsey Tucker tells us, ois a paradigm of the highest"--the creative process.'" As
early as the Portrait, if not before, Joyce fuses grotesque images of decay and dirt,
(ail c10sely related to the grotesque), with the artistic process. Maddened by the
turmoil of his home, Stephen flees down the lane behind his house. As he stumbles
through the "mouldering offal "4\ his anger begins to dissipate and the artistic trans-
formation begins: "his soul was loosed of her miseries" (436). "IA)ssailed" by odours
of "cheerless cellardamp and decay" (438), Stephen "walked on ... among heaps of
dead language" (439). His frequently repeated "sordid tide" and similar phrasing
(349), links his earlier aversion to dirty water to fear of the mother which, in utysses
and Portrait, acts as a barrier between Stephen, his body and his art.
Though the relation Joyce develops between creative output and the creatural is
often positive, it can be mired in sin of a scatological variety. As the young Stephen
confesses his sins of impurity, his words are eliminated like diarrhoea: "His sins ...
trickled in shameful drops from his soul festering and oozing like a sore, a squalid
stream of vice. The last sins oozed forth sluggish, tlthy" (401). Still, much later in
the novel, when the young artist creates his wet dream villanelle, semen and poetic
creation fuse as his soul gets "ail dewy wet" (483): "like waters circumtluent in space
the liquid letters of speech, symbols of the element of mystery nowed forth over his
brain"(491). As Sheldon Brivic argues, Stephen's religious imagery ("O! ln the virgin
womb of the imagination the word was made nesh") reveals that "the main subject of

the dream and the vilanelle is the roselight of the female heart. "42 Thus, artistic
creation is associated with women, sex and bodily t1uids.
While Joyce's depiction of the grotesque body has something of the "revival and
renewal"" that Beckett's lack, it is onen far less celebrative than Bakhtin's account
of Rabelais' grotesque. Reaching the exact opposite conclusion to Kayser on the
signilicance of j'car in his model of the grotesque, Bakhtin maintains that the liberating
laughter of the carnival spirit actually overcomes t'car. Joyce, as we shall see,
frequently taps the grotesque's potential to depict the ambivalent love, fear, guilt,
disgust, and shame various characters feel toward their own bodies.
It is signilicant that both of Stephen's creative moments--the transformation of the
birdgirl on the shore into an artistic muse and the micturition in "Proteus"--take place
by the sea, evocative of ail the psychological, linguistic and metaphorical associations
we have been tracing. Sexuality, for Stephen, functions, among other things, as a
metaphor for adjustment to reality and it is intimately intertwined in his mind with his
horror of the natural cycles and his dread or fear of women, bearing "tides, myriad-
islanded, within her, blood not mine" (Ulysses 40). That this horror is associated with
his dead mother and the guilt related to that is evident in the subsequent grotesque
images: "Bridebed, childbed, bed of death, ghostcandled He cornes, pale vampire,
through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea mouth to her womb" (40).
Though he longs for tender, sensual love, he has repugnance for the "coupler's will"
(32), the beast with two backs. Sexually paralyzed, he is unable, for the moment, to
fullil his creative potential."
Though the presentation of the grotesque can not be said todominate Ulysses, as
it does so much of Beckett, there are many grotesque passages including the "Ciree"
psychodrama that, in the words of McElroy, "is one of the most ehiborate grotesques
in modern literature. "46 Thanks to Stuart Gilbert's scheme of correspondenees" and
Budgen's account of the creation of U1ysses, scholars have long known that Joyce

viewed his book as "among other things ... the epit: of the human hody. ,'" Further.
in his elaborate scheme of multiple correspondences, he assigned a human organ as
emblem to many of the individual chapters. Considering the scandaI that attended the
publication of U1ysses,49 it seems odd, to say the least, that so mueh attention has
been afforded to the mythological, geographical, literary and other crnss-references,
and so little to the relation hetween this book's organization and the grntesljue.
As the theme of Ulysses is "the whole of life",'" the four essential elements of
human life--birth, food, sex, and death--form the ti.JUr great tributaries of that great
river. At least one chapter is devoted to eachtheme, and they are so elahorately
intertwined that they help bring unity to such a vast amount of diverse materia!. Many
of the other themes, such as parental relations with their children, marital partner-
ships, and intdelity derive from the dominant issues of sex and birth. Food, no less
important, forms the centre of seven chapters and ils relation to sex and death is
reinforeed through the grotesque image of Plumtree' s Potted Meat, eaten by the
trysting Molly and Boylan, and mentioned in connection with Paddy Dignam as he is
lowered into the grave. The importanee of the dead in the lives of B!oom and Stephen
is primordial, and in "Circe" many of their number put in disconeertingly "live" appear-
Il is Bakhtin' s opinion that the grotesque invariably disdoses the potential of a
very different world, of another order, another mode of being. It steers man, in other
words, out of the comfortable contnes of unity and stability and into an anarchie,
ehaotie parody of the official perception of reality. 52 Grotesque transformation is
preeisely the business of "Ciree", the transformation, no less. of ail that has gone
before in the nove!. By the end of the episode ail of the major eharaeters and a good
number of the minor ones will have reappeared as grotesque parodies of themselves,
and with ail their follies and foibles earicatured by visual symbols of a partieularly
vicious variety. "Ciree", MeElroy contends, "stands in a similar relation to the rest of
the book as the book stands to the WestenJ world: replay, inventory, eommentary, and

parody. ,," Given the complexity of the transformations Joyce had in mind, it seemed
sensihle to cali into play the most hewildering array of grotesques ever assemhled in
one place. Honourahle mention is no douht due to ail the physically deformed,
mutilated and decomposing wraiths that cross paths with crazy caricatures, ludicrous
whimsicalities, spirits and demons, and every imaginahle comhination of ani-
mal/human, human/inanimate and malelfemale.
It wouId he difticult to overestimate the centrality of "Circe" to Ulysses and to the
Joycean grotesque in particular. By means of the hallucination mode, the most
cxtended, grotesque and complex of ail the novel's techniques, Joyce fulfils simulta-
neously a great numher of significant and divergent purposes. Among the uses dis-
cussed hy C. H. Peake are the following:
Il gives a nightmarish vision of an area of Dublin Iife where ail is chaos
and disorder; it suggests a parallel with Circe's ingle where men were
transformed into beasts; it is a means of presenting the continuous inter-
action of unconscious, consciousness and behaviour; it represents the
culmination and combined results of the psychological stresses which
have troubled Bloom and Stephen aIl day; it provides a symbolic
commentary focusing on sorne of the central developing themes and pat-
terns of the novel; it enacts a ritual of the meeting of extremes; and it is
technically a frenzied climax to the 'dyssey' preparing for the shift to
the quieter tones of the 'NostoS'.54
It is only through the agency of the grotesque that Joyce could have achieved such a
riotous blurring of distinctions between forms and realms, such a horrifie distortion
and excess, and aIl to such purpose and effect. Tempting though it is to delve furtber
into the rich creatural grotesquery of "Circe", the less weIl traversed terrain of the
other episodes more than repay our efforts."
By the middle of "Proteus", Stephen's aversion to water, so remarkable in
Portrait, begins to subside, and with his graduaI submission to nature, he waxes more
poetic. This creative ouiburst coincides with urination and culminates in his best

poetry to date: "In long lassoes from the Cock lake the water I1mved full, covering
greengoldenly lagoons of sand, rising, l1owing.... And, spent, its speech (Cases. Il
tlows purling, widely tlowing, tlllating foampool, l10wer unfurling" (40). To the
unblocked artist, the penis generates a lake and by extension the body is a small
world. Elimination, now just another means of production, is no longer sinful. The
weeds, water and sounds of the above passage, French points out, "evoke a prolilUllll
sense of the eternal reclllTence of nature. ,," At the end of the "Proteus" our young
artist becomes aware of his teeth and the need to take better care of them, and then he
picks his nose--the trst Ictional hero ever to do so.
As Stephen's interest in the natural cycle increases, he begins to imagine the
disintegration and transformation a body undergoes after death. If his emphasis has
shifted !Tom sex to death, the preoccupation with the body as an animalistic source of
revulsion is still with him. Many of his grotesque metaphors echo Bloom's own
musings on this subject: "Bag of corpsegas sopping in foui brine. A quiver of
minnows, fat of a spongy titbit, tlash through the slits of his buttoned trouserlly. God
becomes man becomes tish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain"
(41 ).
In such a grotesque depiction of the body, so reminiscent of Beckett's How It Is,
"the generating, devouring, and defecating body", Bakhtin writes, "is fused with
nature and cosmic phenomena. "51 Forever devouring and being devoured, the body
comprises an inhabited world of its own, a vast, closed, macrocosmic, microcosmic
system. A similar idea is evident in "Lestrygonians" where Bloom imagines the
creative transformations of digestion, from the microbial processes that produce cheese
and wine to the macrocosmic digestive tract l'rom which he feels "as if Ihel had been
eaten and spewed"(135)." Though the "peristaltic" journey recorded in Beckett's
How Il Is is far more grotesque and disgusting than the one from which Bloom is
ejected, both narrators are conscious of the sense of being continually digeste<! and
devoured throughouteternity.

After contrasting Bloom' s and Stephen' s many responses to lower hodily tiJnc-
lions, Lindsey Tucker agrees with Mark Shechner's conclusion that they have two
very different approaches to creativity. Bloom is open with an "eliminative temper"
while Stephen is.closed with a "retentive temper. ,," Bloom thinks of the "gestation"
of a plan as you "'nlever know whose thoughts you're chewing" (140). His creativity
with food images is boundless, as, for example, "Plumtree's potted meat" (127)
hecoming "Dignam's potted meat"; in fact, he imagines the entire universe in terms of
food: "Gas: then solid: then world: then cold: then dead shell drifting arOllild, frozen
rock, like that pincapple rock"(i37).'" Even his literary theory is based on food:" he
imagines that vegetarianism produces "poetical" waves on the brain while "you
couldn't squeeze a line of poetry" out of people who eat Irish stew (136). Not a
surprising supposition after all l'rom an imagination that can go from the big bang
theory to rock candy without mi.,;sing a beat.
Bloom's fascination with creatural ffairs is especially evident in "Calypso", an
episode that begins with ingestion and ends quite naturally with expulsion." Trans-
forming everything he ponders throughout the day--odours, meat, the horror of
existence:;nd death--into the material of life, Bloom never loses sight of the essential
cycles of Nature through which even a barbarie ritual murder ".gives new life" (89).
That said, he shares Stephen's morbid preoccupation with the grotesque physicality of
the human body. His reflections and fantasies linking food, sex and birth in "Lestry-
goneans" and present us with a Bloom who feels impatient and degraded by
the limitations imposed on us by repetitive physical acts that add little dignity to our
lives, and, in of the birth process, entailsgrotesque suffering. Bloom's
funereal depression is a reminder that Joyce's Rabelaisian celebration of the regenerat-
ive grotesque body can, contrary to Patrick Parrinder's view on the topie," just as
easily degenerate into a fairly ambivalent attitude toward human physicality. Still,
there is much merit in Parrinder's contention that the "sambre reason" for Joyce's
choice of the comie form for his major works is "not only the recording of
unsanctified pleasures" but also "the lightening of unavoidable pain." 64 And this is
Bloom, according to Sheldon Brivic, has such positive associations with dung,
something that sets Joyce apart from either Beckett or Swift, that his excremental
vision acquires the power of a religion." He is so ohsessed with excretions, Brivic
tells us, that "[his]literary life hegins with the tact that he likes to eat kidneys partly
because they taste of urine, and ends with him kissing his wife's buttocks""" This
weakness for excrement together with his creative feminine aspects can, in a Jungian
reading, says Tucker, be seen as evidence of his receptivity, and his expressive,
artistic nature.
No discussion of Joyce's grotesque view of creation wouid he complete without
the outhouse scene of Bloom fantasizing about being a crative .writer while I;mgour-
ously and creatively conflating columns of turds into columns of print." As Erhard
S(;hon's woodcut Was Siehst Du? (1538) reveals, shitting has long been the bodily
archetype of spiritual rebirth insofar as it liberates the body from itself. ln Schi)n' s
anamorphosis, as in ail visual anal games of concealment and disclosure, anality is
teasingly acknowledged. Beneath the tiny pious upright Jonah, Pops tells us, is "the
vast hidden underside of man: the one who squats and shits. "69 A special point of
view, one common among Irish writers, is required to keep this hidden man in sight.
Critics and writers have long linked chamberpottery with self-identity, self-creation
and intellectual production. Excretion is "the primaI creative act, " Auden tells us, and
"every child is the mother of his own feces.... "70 Il is no doubt signiticant that scenes
of defecation as literary creation are linked to Bloom, Shem and HCE but not to
Stephen, who has not yet reached the stage where, using Auden's analogy, he can
mother himself.

Through ail this diversity, Joyce never loses track of his goal to set up a correla-
tion between the grotesque body and the half-buried urges that assail il. Joyce, a
collector of odd t t ~ about the borderline between mind and body, where thought is
engendered and informed hy the body, reportedly told Budgen that the body in his
book is "the home of a full human personality.... Ifs ail one. '''1 ln Ulysses, animal
urges are the chief human motivators, but it is the effort to satisfy these cravings that
renders the body grotesque. There are, then, two very distinct grotesque perspectives
vying with each other throughout this nove\. ln the pessimistic view, life is a disgust-
ing, physical passage from the throes of birth "through convulsions of metamorphosis
from infancythrough maturity to decay" (572). Marriage, family, friendship and
citizenship are little more than artificial, untenable relationships offering cold comfort
in the interim between birth and death. Against this is an optimistic, exuberant view
of life, embodied by the warm, flesh-loving presence of Bloom and his eagemess to
enjoy animal pleasures irrespective of 'le shame and guilt attendant upon them.
Thus there is the constant tension, so weil managed by the evocation of the grotesque,
between our (and his own) perception of Bloom as a sympathetic hero, trying against
ail odds to assert his dignity in the face of a perverse, hostile world, and as the
grotesque body, assailed by masochistic and coprophilic tendencies that render his
daims to dignity ludicrous.
And beyond earthly pleasures and indignities are the terrors that form "the basis of
human mentality" (572), "the incertitude of the void" (572), "the cold of interstellar
space" (578), and "the apathy of the stars" (604). Any affirmation or denial of the
value of human life, must be made according to the terms of the grotesque body itself.
As Stephen and Bloom contemplate the insignificance of human life in relation to the
vast, indifferent cosmos, they urinate, in concert, into the very void that ignores their
existence. The grotesque body, ceaselessly creating and eliminating, may be traveling
along a dead-end track, butit is doing so with an animal lan, that is the antithesis,
even an antidote to the void." The "central subject" of bth Ulysses and Finnegans
Wake, Parrinder argues, "is the celebration not of artistic but of ordinary human

fecundity. ,,74 This is the tTiumph over cosmic telTor that the grotesque hody can
realize, a kind of triumph that is entirely ahsent from Beckett' s presentation of the
creatural realm.
Creative and erotic associations with excretion present in Ulysses, are more
explicit in the Wake, a book that manages, through the help of the grotesque, to
counter the nihilism at the centre of our civilization, hy restoring us to a new
"primitivity. ,," Glugg, a manifestion of Shem, mastllrhates while reading Acquinas,
and he is not the only onanist in the Wake." It is John Gordan's view that HCE is
also indulging in self-gratification, and his chosen stimulant is Auhrey Beardsley's
pornographic, illustrated edition of Lysistrata.
lt is even probahle, John Bishop
points out, that HCE's crime involves every imaginahle variety of sexual Indiscretion,
and a few besides, including, homosexuality, exhibitionism, voyeurism, masturhation
and public urination.
If his original sin (and there is no evidence that this sin is
factual) was public defecation, then it too is creative, as his crime, and mankind's fall,
supplies Finnegans Wake with its central plot. Finally, the many associations hetween
reading material and feces culminate in the ali-important letter which was found in the
litter or dunghill.
The discovery of the dung-soiled letter, and the countless other scatological puns,
imply, doubtless, that there is excrement in art, as the process is nothing less than the
artist's composition from the decomposition of the of his own heing. ln other
words, ail the consuming, digesting, transforming, excreting and creating in U1ysses
and the Wake are related to the artistic process and lead us, inexorably, to the ink
Shem manufactures out of his own excrement and uses to write on his own body: "he
shall produce ... from his unheavenly body a no uncertain quantity of ohscene matter
... with this double dye ... through the bowels of his misery ... this Esuan Menchevik
... wrote over every inch of .,. his own body" (Wake 185). This "inkenstink" (127)
is, according to Robert Boyle, derived from experience "imaged defecation, mixed
with artistic insight ... imaged as micturition. "go Thus the flesh and urine, or hodily

water, are made word, and the urine in the ink is related to Bloom's, Stephen's, and
Molly's urination in Ulysses, and the peeing little girls and Issy in the Wake.'\
Just as Beckett's impotent artists equate words with creatural emissions, Joyce's
characters exhibit a similar tendency. 82 His women, ALP and Molly in particular, are
associated with creativity and, in the case of Molly (referred to as "Spinning Earth" in
Joyce's notesheets), use a style, where, French feels "the rhythms tlow Iike water,
which frequently in the novel is associated with sex, eternal recurrence, continu-
ation. "83 ln her tlow of speech, in which she ref"ers to her tlatulence, urination,
sexual urges, menstruation, discharge and reproductive powers, each bodily function is
paralled by her fertile, verbal stream. For Molly, body, sex, sea and nature are
inextricably interwoven. By the end of the monologue, the identification between
women, Nature and creation is complete: "1 was a tlower of the mountain yes so we
are tlowers ail a womans body yes" (643).
Men too are associated with f10wers: Stephen's pool of urine is a "flower unfurl-
ing" (40). Earlier, Joyce has Bloom react to the flower from Martha by creatively
merging nature and artifice, and here, too, the penis is identified with tlowers:
"Language of tlowers.... Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus
if you dont please poor forgetmenot ... ail naughty nightstalk... " (64). This passage
suggests that figures of speech in rhetoric are the flowers of language, the tropes in
"heliotrope"", and are related to the body. According to Brivic's explanation, two of
the meanings of "heliotrope" in context (a word that appears in both Ulysses and the
Wake), are vagina and intercourse." Since ail language is creative, and ail conversa-
tion, or intercourse, is ultimately sexual, it would seem, as Brivic concludes, that
"Joyce portrays intercourse as intercourse. "86
Molly' s frequently repeated yesses to life contrast sharply with ail the noes of
Beckett's characters who, trying desperately to create silence, and voids, are, as he
writes in Texls for Nothing. forever twisting, "No's knife in yes's wound. "87 AIl the

contradictions of Molly's soliloquy renect the duality of the novel in general. Dis-
gusted by the male body, she dwells on it at length. Less than enamoured of her own
female body with ail its painful functions and malfunctions, she is still intent on
beautifying and satisfying il. The final aftrmation is less an aftirmation of life in
general, than of her own gross physicality, her only instrument of self-satisfaction and
fulfillment. For Bloom, Stephen, and Molly, love of the physical dimension of
existence involves aftrming ail those base urges and functions that form the bedrock
of bodily life: "his mad crazy letters ... everything connected with your glorious Body
everything underlined that cornes l'rom it is a thing of beauty and of joy for ever"
(Ulysses 634). Able, as French puts it, to "synthesize ail opposites, obliterate contra-
dictions by her innocent self-interest," Molly is "the opposite of the void", the void of
the man-made world of reason, morality, law, dogma and their opposites." Requir-
ing no reason for being beyond her animal lust for Iife, she is a tller of voids and as
such represents that aspect of us ail that feels as Bloom does in "Hades", that there is
"plenty to see and hear and feel yet" (94). Better by far to opt for "adipose anterior
and posterior ... hemispheres", female or otherwise, than to pawn the only existence
we may be sure of, our "mute immutable mature animality" (604), for the dubious
consolations of a sterile dignity and order.
Though Beckett and Joyce shared Rabelais' idea of the body as an "endlessly
devouring, and endlessly devoured ... inhabited world of its own"" and though both,
as true grotesque writers, fuse this Shiva-like body of creation and destruction with the
forces of nature and cosmic phenomena, the articulations they achieve through the
exploitation of similar grotesque, creatural images are surprisingly disparate. ln ten of
the final seventeen segments of How It ls, the most notorious of Beckett's excremental
visions, as in the final episode of Ulysses, "yes" is the last word, although, ironically,
it sometimes affirms the narrator's present admissions of previous falsehoods: "ail
these caIculations/yes explanations/yes the whole story t'rom beginning to end/ yes
completely l'aise yes" (HII 144). In the Wake, itself a fantastic elaboration of a letter
found in a dunghill, the artist Shem is abundantly creative with excremental ink.

Conversely, one of Beckett's costive artists "farted out" Fizzles, a word he detined
himself as "the action of breaking wind quietly.... A failure or a tiasco. "90
The contra:;ting forms of the bodily grotesque found in Beckett and Joyce tlow
primarily l'rom their very different artistic methods and ultimately, from their oppos-
ing approaches to the world. In a celebrated account of Joyce's method, Beckett
described himself as a non-can-er "working with ignorance, impotence" while "ITlhe
more Joyce knew, the more he could.... "'1 Joyce, the synthesizing artist, builds
through the superabundance of linguistic echoes a new reality, a fictional cosmos
capable of subsuming all language into a mighty river that somewhere and everywhere
tlows into a sea. Beckett, ever the blocked analyzer, explores with words shorn of
nuance the nature of reality itself. By eliminating and discarding layer after layer of
accidentaI qualities, Beckett hopes to reach the innermost core of the eddy, the nullity
at the centre of being.

1. Jonathan Swift, "Letter of Advice to a Young Poet," The Prose Works of
Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis, vol. ix (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1948) 342; and
James Joyee, Finnegans Wake (New York: The Viking Press, 1958) 211.
2. Jean-Jacques Mayoux, "Le thtre de Samuel Beckett," Etudes anglaises X
(octobre-deembre 1957): 362.
3. Denis Johnston, "Swift of Dublin," Eire-Ireland Il\-iii (Autumn, 1968): 48.
4. Johnston 48-9.
5. Tom Maclntyre, "In Search of Three Swifts," Books Ireland lOI (March
1986): 37.
6. Thrghout this chapter 1 am indebted to Lindsey Tucker's excellent compari-
son of Bloom's and Stephen's attitudes to bodily functions, and to hers and Mark
Shechner's conclusion that there is a critical link between the creatural images
associated with these characters and their ideas on the artistic proeess. See Lindsey
Tucker, Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the Creative
Proeess in James Joyee's U1ysses (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1984); Mark
Shechner, Joyee in Nighttown: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry into Ulysses (Berkeley: U of
California Press, 1974) 133-35.
7. Joyce, Wake 163. Ali future references to Finnegans Wake will be made
parenthetically in the text.
8. John Henry Raleigh, "On the Way Home to Ithaca: The Functions of the
'Emaeus' Section in U1ysses," Irish Renaissanee AnnuaJ, ed. Zach Bowen (Newark:
U of Delaware Press, 1981) 58-9.
9. Samuel Beckett, The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies lIlliI The
Unnamable (1950-2; London: Picador, 1979) 73. Ali future referenees to these novels
will be made parenthetically in the text.

10. Beckett, Malon.e Dies 260. This novel will henceforth he parenthetically
rel'erence as MD.
II. Beckett, Watt 250. Ail future references to this work will he made parentheti-
cally in the hody of the essay.
12. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Rohelt A. Greenherg (New York:
W.W.Norton, 1961) 162-3.
13. Bakhtin 317.
14. Randolph Splitter, "Water Words: Language, Sexuality, and Motherhood in
Joyce's Fiction," ELH 49 (Spring 1982): 202.
15. Marilyn French, The Book as World: James Joyce's Ulysses (1976; New
York: Paragon House, 1993) 53.
16. Samuel Beckett, Mm:phy (1938; London: Picador, 1973) 15. From this point
onwards, ail references to this novel will be made parenthetically in the text.
17. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922; London: Penguin Books, 1986) 543. Future
references to this novel will occur parenthetically in the text.
18. Samuel Beckett, How It Is (1961; New York: Grove Press, 1964) 26. From
this point onwards, this novel will be referred to as HU in the text.
19. See Clark Part Il.
20. There is \ittle critical consensus regarding the emotional impact of this scene.
Many hold that Beckett views sex as a grotesque act that affords little or no pleasure.
Others, like Sighle Kennedy, find this scene "extremely touching". See her "Spirals of
Need: Irish Prototypes in Samuel Beckett's Fiction," Yeats Joyce and Beckett: New
Light on Three Modem Irish Writers, eds. Kathleen McGrory and John Unterecker
(London: Associated UP, 1976) 162.
21. Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing, Collected Shorter Prose: 1945-1980
(London: John Calder, 1986) 177. This novella will from this point on be referred to
as TN.
22. William Hutchings, '''Shat into Grace' Or, A Tale of a Turd: Why It Is How
Il ls in Samuel Beckett's How It Is," Papers on Language and Literature 21.1 (Winter
1985): 65.
23. Hutchings 65.
24. Hutchings 73.

25. Bakhtin 318.
26. Pops 58.
27. Hutchings 75.
28. 1am indehted to Hutchings trthis idea; see Hutchings 76.
29. Bakhtin 318.
30. Hutchings 78-79.
31. Bersani 62-3.
32. Bersani 61-2.
33. W. H. Auden, "Greatness Finding Itself," Forewords and Afterwonls, ed.
Edward Mendelson (New York: Random House, 1973) 86.
34. Bersani 59.
35. Hutchings 86. For an excellent overview of the history of scatology, see Jae
Num Lee, Swift and Scatological Satire (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico Press,
1971) and the article by Pops already mentioned.
36. Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, trans. Helen Weaver, ed. Susan Sontag
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976) 453.
37. Samuel Beckett, iII seen ill said (New York: Grove Press, 1981) 51. Future
references to this work will appear in the text as isis.
38. Shira Wolosky, "Samuel Beckett's Figurai Evasions," Language of!:.!:J
Unsayahle: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theo[y, eds. Sanford
Bidick and Wolfgang Iser (New York: Columbia UP, 1989) 165.
39. Rubin Rabinovitz, "The Deterioration of Outside Reality in Samuel Beckett's
Fiction," McGrory 167.
40. Tucker 2.
41. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Portable James
Joyce, ed. Harry Levin (New York: The Viking Press, 1947) 436. Ali further
references to this work will be made parenthetieally in the text.
42. Sheldon Bnvie, Joyce Between Freud and Jung (Port Washington, N. Y.:
Kennikat Press, 1980) 70.

43. Bakhtin 7.
44. Bakhtin 90-1.
45. French 69.
46. McElroy 70. For studies of the grotesque in Ulysses, see: Eliot Gose, The
Transtilrmation Proeess in Joyce's Ulysses (Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1980), and
Patrick Parrinder, James Joyee (Camhridge: Camhridge UP, 1984) 1-13.
47. Stuart Gilhert, James Joyee's Ulysses (1930; New York: Alfred Knopf, 1952)
48. Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (1934; B1oomington:
Indiana UP, 1960) 21.
49. Bruee Arnold, The Scandai of U1ysses: The Sensational Life of a Twentieth-
Centu!:y Mastemieee (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991).
50. Budgen 171.
51. McElroy 71.
52. Bakhtin 48.
53. McElroy 77.
54. C.H.Peake, James Joyee: The Citizen and the Artist (London: Edward
Arnold, 1977) 276.
55. Considerations of spaee preclude an adequate discussion of the multiple
layered 180 page psychodrama that is "Ciree". For studies of the grotesque in this
episode, see McEiroy, Peake, Gose and this reeently published book by Andrew
Gibson, ed., Reading Joyee's "Ciree" (Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1994).
56. French 80.
57. Bakhtin 425.
58. See Gilbert 199, regarding the "peristaltic" style of this episode.
59. See Tucker 3 and Shechner 133-35.
60. See Tucker 67 and 50.
61. Tucker 62.

62. Tucker 47.

63. Parrinder 9.
64. Parrinder 7.
65. Brivic 158.
66. Brivic 139.
67. Tucker 5.
68. Pops 27.
69. Pops 27-29.
70. Auden 86.
71. Budgen 106 and 21 respectively.
72. This is precisely the perspective of Gose, though, inexplicahly, he does not
use Bakhtin to substantiate his comic view. Parrinder also shares this perspective, hut
he seems to downplay the extent of Joyce's ambivalence toward physicality.
73. McElroy 91-3.
74. Parrinder 13.
75. Joseph Stephen O'Leary, "Joyce and the Myth of the FaB," Crane Bag 2.1-2
(1978): 169-70.
76. Brivie 204. He may also he on the point of, or just after an act of creative
77. Gordan 16-7. For a analysis of the psychoanalytic, feminist,mythie, and
anthropologieal dimensions of late nineteenth-century grotesque, with a special focus
on Aubrey Beardsley, see Ewa Kuryluc, Salome and Judas in the Cave of Sex: The
Grotesque: Origins, Iconography. Techniques (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1987).
78. John Bishop, JQyce's Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake (Madison, Wis.:
The U of Wisconsin Press, 1986) 167.
79. See Bis}Ip 134-5 on the subject of the many meanings of dunghill.
80. Robert Boyle, S.J., "Finnegans Wake, Page 185: An Explication," J.ilJ:nl:li
Joyce Ouarterly 4 (FaB 1966): 3-4.

81. Bishop 248-51, and 259-60.
82. Splitter 199.
83. French 245.
84. Margot Norris, "Joyce's Heliotrope," Coping With Joyce, eds. Morris Beja
and Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State UP,1989) 3.
85. Brivic 203.
86. Brivic 126.
87. Beckett, Texts For Nothing 115.
88. French 245.
89. Bakhtin 425.
90. Samuel Beckett, letter to Patrick McGee, 15 Dec. 1975, Deirdre Bair,
Samuel Beckett: A Biography (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978) 639.
91. Israel Shenker, "Moody Man of Letters," New York Times 6 May 1956: sec.
2: 1,3; rpt in Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage, eds. Lawrence Graver and
Raymond Federman (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979) 148.

He gave the little wealth he had
To huild a house for fools and mad;
And showed hy one saliric touch,
No nation wanted it so much
Jonathan Swift'
folly seeing ail this this here --
toUy for to need to seem to glimpse
afaint atr away over there what --
Samuel Beckett'
One can imagine Jonathan Swift reacting with perverse glee to the news that his
legacy to St. Patrick's Mental Asylum, or "Swift's Hospital", has helped make Ireland
the European leader in mental health care (if in little else). With the highest rate of
schizophrenia and the highest percentage of hospitalized mental patients in the world,
Ireland comes by her expertise honestly. Considering that Swift's name has heen so
c10sely linked to madness in Dublin l'rom the eighteenth-century onwards, it is tittle
wonder that Beckett viewed Swift as a model for the retreat within, from what
Richard Pearce termed, "the world as madhouse. ,,' As a friend of Joseph M. Hone,
one of Swift's biographers, Beckett must have read with interest his account of Swift's
"dementia with aphasia", a condition that left him sane but hideously trapped in an
interior world without any memory of words or the possibility of human intercourse

that only wonJs can hring.' Many elements in Beckett's work, in the opinion of
Francis Doherty, "resonate" with this and similar diagnoses of Switi's condition "from
that mockery of 'divine apathia, divine athamhia divine aphasia' of Lucky's speech, to
the catalogue of Beckettian tigures whose aphasic condition is central to their
heing.... "6 Since hoth Beckett and Flann O'Brien are concerned with the prohlem of
ll!y and the implications of an insane perspective of the world, it is necessary to
examine hrietly the relationship hetween madness and the grotesque hefore going on to
compare their analyses of what happened when, in W.H.Auden's words, "one of the
animais went completely off its head. "7
Bakhtin's unshakahle faith in the indestructihility of the "carnival spirit" compels
him to tind it preserved, even if in an interiorized and psychological form, in the post-
Renaissance literary tradition, and Swift is one of the authors credited withhaving
sustained the suhversive possibilities of a saturnalian laughter. 8 Still, even the optim-
istic Bakhtin had to admit that, in addition to the locus of action, much has changed in
both the nature and effects of that laughter. Chief among these differences, according
to Bakhtin, is a new sense of "terror" issuing from the heart of the post-Renaissance
carnival grotesque: "The world of Romantic grotesque is to a certain extent a terrif'y-
ing world, alien to man.... Somethingfrightening is revealed in that which was
habituai and secure." Directly linked to this burden of terror, of laughter as a response
to dread rather than eXberance, is a change in the literary function of madness:
The theme of madness is inherent to all grotesque forms, because
madness makes men look at the world with different eyes, not dimmed
by 'normal,' that is by commonplace ideas and judgments. In folk
grotesque, madness is a gay parody of official reason, of the narrow
seriousness ofofficial 'truth'. If is a "festive" madness. ln Romantic
grotesque, on the other hand, madness acquires a sombre, tragic aspect
of individual isolation.' .'
Poets of that period, ignoring or rejectifig', what Lillian Feder calls "the prevalent
mechanistic treatment of mental aberration", use creativity as a means of "reconstitut-

ing the self in dissociation and isolation." Such aesthetic and psychoiogical goals arc
renounced in late and post-Romantic literature. In this Beckett was in line with what
Feder reters to as a ma,jor "ironic reversai in contemporary Western civilization: the
quest for personal and artistic fultlrnent, for social and political freedom, through
psychic dissolution. "10
Though the solipsistic pleasus and pains of Beckett's personac might have ted
Bakhtin to situate Beckett among those who perpetuate the "Romantic" deformation of
the folk carnival, this tendency is countered by parody and self-directed irony.
Furthermore, as Debevec Henning remarks, Beckett's padded cel\s and derelict digs
are themselves "transformed into a carnival agora" as characters and their "provoca-
tive doubles" confront each other both intra- and intertextually.lI Such "carnivalized
dialogization",12 to use Bakhtin's term, sets al\ the unifying, monologic tendencies in
the artistic, scientific, philosophical and linguistic perspectives against the backdrop of
ail those Jisseminating tendencies in language and culture that clamour t()r inclusion
or, at least, the recognition of the oftcial structures. 'While drawing our attention to
the limitations of canonical views, dialogized parody, through the agency of saturna-
lian laughter, simultaneously affirms and denies al\ the phenomena within heteroglos-
sia, including the mockery and the mocker himself." Working in opposition to the
nihilistic despair in Beckett's work, the result, partly, of an overdetermined existence,
his carnivalized investigation ridicules the contorted attempts of the established order
to repress and exclude such problematic aspects of existence as the insane perspective,
which, if considered in heteroglossia, may wel\ yield the kind of alternative formula-
tions and evaluations needed to revitalize the Western intel\ectual tradition.
Insanity and the grotesque are closely aligned in that fol\y, in its extreme manifes-
tation, deprives the individual of al\ the attributes normal\y associated with human
dignity and identity. Little wonder, then, that madness and animalism havelngbeen
twined in the human mind. Speaking of the seventeenth-century mind; Michel ',i
Foucault points out: "Madness borrowed its face from the mask of the beast. ... For

Classicism, madness in its ultimate form is man in relation to his animality, without
other reference, without any recourse. ,," With its capacity to suggest our t>estial
nature and its ability, in the words of McElroy, to "simulate the primitive rage below
the patina of civilisation," madness has the power to fascinate, frighten and even
enlighten us. The madman can not only see, but also force us to see much that we are
normally obliged to ignore or deny. In "the avatar of the lunatic", McElroy suggests,
"modern man confronts his primitive self" and "such :ilien knowledge is essentially
magical." As with magic, we are simultaneously fascinated and repulsed and l':ver
mindful that the ravings of madmen may contain a kernel 01' truth l'rom the world
beyond reason and reality. Such is the draw of madness, a response that is similar if
not identical to our response to the grotesque.
ln the tiction of Beckett and F1ann O'Brien, madness is often Iinked to physical
abnormalities, or generally aberrant behaviour, appearance or dress. Both writers
present us with fictional worlds where bicycles, pigs, cripples, outsiders, and random-
ly violent artists/sluggards mingle and migrate fairly interchangeably from one text to
the next. Not only do these images remind OHe of their shared cultural background,
but, more importantly,they underscore these writers' profound scepticism of human
epistemological endeavoufs. The great Irish writers, Kenner maintains, "have always
been able to regard the human dilemma as essentially an epistemoIogicaI, not an
ethical, comedy. "17 For Beckett and O'Brien, neither the Joycean "epiphany", Vir-
ginia Woolfs. "moments of being", nor any other mode of inquiry, including art,
,-, ..._-
philosophy and sexuality, can afford any special access to reality or the truth. Given
these writers' grave concerns regarding the limitations of epistemology, we can expect
to tind them exploiting the indeterminacy of the grotesque mode in order to heighten
our a....,areness of the folly of ail systems that promise to transport us to sorne transcen-
dent realm.
Beckett's avowed disinterest in intellctual matters
' has done little to deter the
critical community's eager excavations for phlJosophical nuggets in his works that

could then be used to pry him out of one philosophieal eamp and into its rival. Still,
in most of his writing, and Mm:p...hy. is no exception, Beckett ean he said to engage
various philosophical systems in his effort to prove hy rational analysis the folly llf ail
our religious and metaphysical systems and the inability of twentieth-century man to
free himself of the tendency to sec in the universe some of the order that sueh
bankrupt beliefs seemed to lend il. Thus, far from illustrating partieular philosophieal
prineiples, MU!:phy, in the opinion of Debevec Henning, should be read within the
carnivalizing tradition of Menippean satire, beeause it satirizes "what is perhaps the
dominant strain of the Western tradition: a general faith in the reality, or possihility,
of ultimate identity or tota!ity. "19 Whatever its manit"tstation, this desire suppresses,
according to Beckett, "the reluctant and unsociable nature of the different into the
same," and it is this unwieldy difference that contributes tG what he ealls the "mes:,
invading our experience at every moment." ln his view, the greatest cha!!!:ngc facing
the artist in any medium is "to find a form that accommodates the mess. "20
Carnivalizing satire offers a possible solution, as its structure gentates an ambiva-
lent interplay between opposing, incompatible elements of traditional logic. Among
the paradoxes that fascinated Beckett are the following: light/dark, words/silence,
Iife/deat.h; body/mind, subject/object, cause/effect, and rational numbers/surds.
Ignoring ail barriers and hierarchies (including those between genres and styles),
carnivalization melds high and low, sacred and profane in one ungodly brew. By
allcwing a secker, such as Murphy, to use a philosophical principle to govern his life,
the "truth" of a particular idea can be challenged and the opposed l m n t ~ or
rejected excrescences, are ultimately shown to be intricately intertwined with their
polar opposites to the point where no one pole can be said to have identity or integrity
without the other. Fred Miller Robinson has observed that the "world of Beekett's
comic fiction and drama takes place in an aporia between these poles, in which
oppositions are not resolved but are suspended in pardox. "21

Bcckelt's description of Murphy's mind helps us understand the important
connection hetween the irrational and the grotesque-laced "aporetical style"" he was
lo adopl to accommodate the "mess". This "mental experience.... was made up of
lighl fading into dark, of above and beneath, but not of good and bad" (Murpby
64)." Not motivated by any ethical imperatives, its only operative principle is
constant changing from its "zones" of light and half Iight and dark. The tirst zone
represents an empiricai abstraction from the "dog's life" of physical experience (65).
1n the zone of rational intuition or half Iight, mental experience is no longer parallel
with physical experience. This is the speculative c1imate, familial' to most of Beckett's
protagonists, in which physical expf:rience is objectively contemplated. For this zone
to be satisfactory, in Murphy's opinion, an unacceptable degree of intellectual effort
and wilful choice are required. The state that is of greatest int;;rest to us here, the
third zone, is beyond al! dualism, change, will, or the distracting light of reason:
"Here there was nothing but commotion and the pure forms of commotion" (Murphy
66). This "neo-Newtonian", "matrix of surds" with "neither elements nor states,
nothing but forms becoming and crumbling into the fragments of a new becoming" is
none other than the irrational zone, the centre of chaos (Murphy 65).
Apart from the "superfine chaos" of gas (142) that soothes Murphy te) a final
sleep, the only glimpse he ever gets of this "absolute freedom" (65) is through the
brief "vicarious autology" (107) he enjoys with the insane Ml'. Endon of the Magdel-
ena Mental Mercyseat asylum. The longer Murphy spent with the psychiatric inmates
the more he loathed the psychiatric attitude, "the complacent scientific conceptualism
that made contact with outer reality the index of mental well-being" (lOI). The
function of treatment, consisting of a "pitiless therapeutic was
"to bridge the gulf, translate the sufferer from his own pernicious little private
dungheap to the glorious world of discrete particles." Having regained the "colossal
fiasco", the hapless victim could rejoin others "in the same predicament" to "love,
hate, desire, rejoice and howl in a reasonable balanced manner" (lOI). Repulsed by
the psychiatric attitude, Murphy opts for the psychotic solution. After having once

heheld the "heatitic idols" of the "little world" (10\), Murphy's loyaltks lay with
what he supposed were ail those "lives immured in mind" (102).
or death hold the only keys to the darkness of surds of the third zone. 1f
Mm:phy dahhles in tolly, while mounting a relentless assault on the limitations of ail
modes of thoughtc-compared elsewhere to the "frivolous and meaningless" dances of
the hees (Molloy 156)--Watt is far more daring in that we are plunged headtirst intll
the maelstrom of a lunatic mind that has torsaken the solid, literaI worl of surface,
and events. Gone are many of the tootholds, guys and laders of the novelistic
tradition,24 and in their places are the limitless possihilities and improbahilities of
chaos, of the dark.
From the outset, the reader is confronted hy many of Beckett's central concerns.
In this experimentaI narrative, the limitations of reason, logic, and language are
exploited to reveal the inadequacy of tiction as a means of apprehending any reality or
truth about the world. Even in the very tirst scene of the novel, the modern intellec-
tuai and aesthetic methods are under attack. Here, the hunchhack MI'. Hackett
introduces us to the uselessness, inevitahility, and repetitiveness of motion, a major
subject of the novel, through his own minor dilemma of whether "he should go on, or
... turn back" on discovering that "hi,s seat" at the tram-stop was occupied. Though
"space was open on his right hand, and on his left hand," he knew that he "would
never take advantage of this," nor could he long "remain motionless" due to the "state
of his health" (Watt 7). That mis dilemma has something to do with historical
progression, and the appropriation of the language and things of others, (in Hackett's
case, a public bench), or of returning "home" to sorne primeval or prenatal darkness,
is underscored by the presence in this scene of a pregnant passer-by and the grotesque-
ly explicit conversation about giving birth that this occasions. Thoughhe has always
wondered "what it feels like to have the string eut," Hackett begs the woman to "ltlell
me no more ... it is useless" on hearing that she "severed the cor(Ywith her teeth" and
that the birth experience was "one of riddance" (14-5). /

Immediately after this reaction, Hackett declares that he "fell off the ladder" as a
child (15), acquiring, presumahly, his present deformity. In her seminal discussion of
YillJ1, Jacqueline Hoefer offered a useful elucidation of the signiticance of Beckett's
ladder, tirst mentioned in Murphy." She proposes that Beckett's references to ladders
and, especially, Arsne's comment in Watt, "'wjhat has changed was existence off the
ladder. Do not come down the ladder, Ifor, 1 haf taken it away" (44), are ail allusions
to the conclusion of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, where the ladder is used as a symhol of
the process of logical reasoning. In order to construct the principles of an "ideal
language," with which to understand reality, Wittgenstein is ohliged to make meta-
physical propositions, but these can be jettisoned once the ladder of logic has been
c1imbed, once, in other words, the system has been mastered." The ladder, then, is a
symbol of the process of "going on," of moving through incremental, rational steps
toward the light. Having tllen off the ladder, motion is as much a problem for
Hackett as it is tor Watt, both of whom are "solitary figure[s]" (16), regarded as
similarly strange by others(l9). This fairly innocuous passage acts as a prelude to a
colilically futile, rational analysis and speculation, on the part of Hackett and the
Goffs, regarding the irr'ltional and trivial behaviour of Watt, who, inexplicably,
alights from the tram one stop before his desired destination, to which he then
proceeds on foot. Their efforts to comprehend the irrational (and inconsequential) by
means of the rational are a,':n, grotesque perverSi(lfi of a human faculty: "Then his
going on towards the station proves nothing, said Mrs Nixon" (20).
The motives tor Watt's decisions and indecisions are, on the face of it, beyond
resolution and should be, therefore, beneath consideration. However, by using Hackett
as an intermediary between the outer world of the Nixons and the inner world of
Watt, Beckett ensures that this mysterious "parcel" (16) is as intriguing to us as he is
to Hackett. By the end of this scene, the enigmas have ail been satisfactorily resolved
in the minds of the Nixons "who do not like the sun to go down on the least hint of
an estrangement" (23). For Hackett, though, the horizon he so wanted to see is now
"quite dark". In the "receding light" (16) of Beckett's world, everything--directions,

questions, intentions, reasons an speculations--faes into a futile, illlperlllanenl dark,
where inveterate seekers like Mr. Haekett, and the reaer, perhaps. are lert "erying.
in the night" (24).
ln view of Beekett's keen awareness of the inadequaey of language. so evident in
the trst scene of Watt, an the t'olly of any system men might invent to Clllllprehellli
the universe, it is little woner that he wouId supplement his ongoing attaek on the
validity of Cartesianism with a satirie romp through the fertile grounds of logieal
positivism. Using logic to defeat logic, Beckett impresses on us the teium of the
patterns of rational thinking an the disconrse created by the normal functioning of
words, to the point where we, unlike Mr. Nixon, become inereasingly estranged l'rom
both the outer world of habituai thinking, behaviour and language, and l'rom the pure
darkness to which we can no longer return.
Our estrangement is ensured by the shifting sands of the narrative situation, which
goes l'rom third-person detached, seemingly reliable narrative persona, to trst-person,
involved, extremely unreliable, possibly insane narrator. After declaring that sorne
"things" were omitted from his story of Watt, and "other things" were "foisted in",
that were "never told" (126), the narrator, Sam, tinally cornes c1ean in Part III with
news that he was an inmate with Watt in an.institution, very likely an asylum, where
Watt used grotesque inversions of language to impart his story to Sam. This means,
one supposes, that neither Watt nor Sam was present at the beginning of the novel, a
conclusion that leads us to wonder if Sam is, in fact, Beckett. This is the stratagem of
"debunking the author" by intruding into the tiction in propria persona, which, Clark
tells us, is greatly favoured by modem grotesque satirists in the i n t r s t ~ of pricking
the bloated egos of self-styled inspired r t i s t ~ and of the scholarly, cerebral heings
who presume to explicate their texts.
Part of Beckett's burlesque of epistemology is achieved through this narrative
quagmire we are not intended to circumvent. Intent on methodically dismantling the

form of the novel, Beckett shatters one hopelessly inadequate, staid convention after
another, therehy frustrating and dislocating standard expectations. Thus, hy handing
over the creative reins to one of his mentally deranged creations, Beckett is extending
his tctitious realm heyond the limits of traditional realism, as t ~ r are no limits to
the irrationality, ahsurdity or grotesquery that can he unleashed hy a narrator-hero
who has kicked the traces of reality and realism. ln this way, Beckett ensures that the
disorder of Watt's form corresponds to the mental breakdown Watt undergoes as he
tries to fathom the mystery of the Knott world, the enigma of fiction. As we shall
soon see, in the process of elucidating his predicament, of sifting through tacts about
the amhiguous world he inhahits, Watt amasses words that drain themselves of their
esse",,1 meaning. In Watt, Beckett is still concerned with the Iimits of expression and
meaning. Later, in the trilogy, where the protagonists are no longer required to think
logically, Molloy is ahle to say: "to know you are heyond knowing anything, that is
when peace enters in, to the soul of the incurious seeker" (Molloy 59). Watt, how-
ever, is still caught in the logical bind and it is the irrationality of this quest that
engenders the incoherence and grotesqucry of the nove\. Through ail the footnotes,
addenda, intrusions, fragments and incidents, of "indeterminable purport" (74) and
provenance, the reader perseveres, fascinated by this twice removed schizoid descrip-
tion of a lunatic world from which there is no respite, for either Watt, Sam or the
reader. The more we try to make sense of Watt' s efforts to name and categorize his
world, the more we, unwittingly, emulate the folly of that diseased mind and world.
And that seems to be the whole point of the exercise.
Another stratagem of modern grotesque authors is what Clark calls "gaming with
the plot." Responding to our sense of isolation from literary tradition, mooern artists
cultivate "themes of exhaustion, decadence, and ennui, and ... by generally playing
games. "29 This game-playing has much to do with modern artists' sense of literary art
"as pretence, as pose and posturing, as melodramatic excess, as nearly demoniclunacy
and nonsense. "30 One aspect of this "gaming with the plot" is the notoriously frag-
mented chronology of Watt, further complicated by Sam's unhelpful explanation at the

heginning of Section IV: "Two, one, four, tlu'ce, that was the order in which Watt
told his story" (215). Though this may weil he Sam's sequence and no, Watt's, Part
III would seem to he crucial to any analysis, not least hecause it indicates a c1ear
distinction hetween the narrative as chronologically sequential story and the narrative
as story told, whieh is achronologieal and decidedly unclear. Furthermore, this
particularly grotesque section, involving the scene where Sam and Watt converse,
greatly colours our understanding of ail that has gone hefore.
It is usual in the critieism of Watt to view the hizarre setting of III as a mental
asylum, and there are many institutional overtones to support that view. Through this
hostile landscape with its "pale aspens" and "yews ever dark" rising from "the wild
pl\thless grass" Sam and Watt "walked much in shade, heavy, tremhling, fierce, tem-
pestuous" (154). Apart from the "thickets" of "impenelrable density" and the "tower-
ing masses of brambles" (155), the most remarkable physical featie of this institution
was the labyrinth of barbed-wire fences that surrounded the various gardens and
intersected in such an unpredictable way that "a reasonahle mind" was hound to douht
"the sanity of the person responsible for the lay-out" (159). Here, as in Mr. Knotl's
house, Sam finds himseif driven "like a mad creature" (158) to investigate senseless
little oddities through the tiresome elimination of logical possibilities. One such puzzle
involves the two identical holes Sam discovers in two parallel fences, leading him to
wonder if a boar, bull, sow or cow, or several combinations thereof, might have
crashed through these fences to or from something fearful or desirable, or both.
Meanwhile, Watt lies prone, bloodied and unattended, sorne "ten or fifteen paces"
(160) from the preoccupied Sam, as the latter agonizes over ail the possible permu-
tations and combinations of the puzzling tence.
Sam has little time or sympathy for the other inhabitants of his world: "No truck
with the other scum, c1uttering up the passageways ... grossly u ~ ... this sniggering
muck ... " (153). As one cornes to expect in Beckett's world, there is much pain,
ugliness, and physical grotesquery. Any pleasure we derive from hearing that there are

"hirds of every kind" in this harren place is undermined immediately: "these it was
our delight to p u r ~ u with stones and clods of earth" (155). Destroying hirds nests
"with peculiar satisfaction" an feeding the young of various species to their "particu-
lar friends," the rats, were the chief amusements of Sam and Watt. Often, "a plump
young rat," rendered trusting hy ail the handfeeding, would he seized and fed "to its
mother, or its father, or its brother, or its sister. ... It was on these occasions, we
agreed, that we came nearest to God" (156). The fact that such horrific events are
narrated in an emotionally neutral manner highlights the cruelty of the deeds, the
cruelty and sadism of God, and the irrationality, and possible schizophrenia of the
humans whose emotions are so severed from the actions they perform.
While it is not necessary to diagnose with any accuracy the mental aberrations of
Sam or Watt, the symptoms of schizophrenia are evident throughout the novel,
symptoms which would be of particular usefulness to an author exploring the bleakest
limits of insanity, the little known wilderness of psychic dissolution and isolation.
According to Silvano Arieti's description of schizophrenia, as the patient becomes
increasingly divorced from reality, he or she acquires idiosyncratic thought processes,
behaviour, speech and movement to the point where there is a complete loss of the
sense of self." Writing many years after Watt's publication, R.D.Laing postulated
that the, Western world is, in fact, based on schizophrenia and that certain varieties 01
schizophrenia can be viewed as the inevitr,bie responses of the besieged, humiliated
self to the brutalizing pressures of modern experience.
As we read of Sam' s conversations with Watt, we realize that Beckett is making a
distinction between Watt's experience and the record we receive of it. In his essay on
Watt, Rohinson stresses the extent to which Beckett is at pains to underscore the point
that reason "is the product, not only of individual sensibiIity, but of words themselves,
of the whoIe idea of telling a story. ,," In an analysis of Watt's "personaI system",
John Mood proves that his anti-Iogic : _repIete with internai inconsistencies and errors.
He, therefore, concludes that an inner, private cognitive system, founded on reason, is

as "hopelessly tlawed"" an endeavour as "the quest for the reality of meaning of

whatever structure or signitcance ... is out tbere. ,," Through the use of gl"lltesque
anti-Iogic, Beckett demonstrates that one of the great dangers of reason is that it
creates the comflJrting illusion of order.
Watt's experiences in Mr. Knott's house have reduced him to insanity. His
sojoum there represents, in the opinion of Federman, "a paradoxieat epistemological
and fictional quest which results in ignorance and confusion. ":\1 This is due to Watt's
insistence on using the conventional intellectual paraphemalia of reason, logie and
language to bring order to an irrational, unrealistic universe. Furthermore, Fcderman
reminds us that Watt's quest is also "a metaphorical journey into creative eonseious-
ness--a search for the hidden creator on the part of a tctitious being," and as such he
represents the first Beckett hero to "advance beyond rationality ... to penetrate
fictional absurdity and immortality. "38 Unable to fOl'ego the use of logic in a world
that resists ail explanations, to formulate in language that whieh cannot he known,
Watt's mind disintegrates into insanity, astate that prevents him l'rom giving any
order to his recollections and experiences to date.
Throughout Beckett's writing, failure is the ultimate end of ail artistic and
intellectual endeavours. In Watt, this familiar failure extends to the realm of com-
munication. Conventional language, useful in the material world, l'ails Watt in the
ambivalent world of Mr. Knott: "he desired words to be applied ... to the conditions
of being in which he found himself. For Watt now found himself in the midst of
things which, if they consented to be named, did so as it were with reluctance" (81).
In astate so resistant to formulation, it is futile to attempt to match words with things:
"Looking at a pot '" it was in vain that Watt said, Pot, pot" (81). [n fact, the more
he seekstriame his world, to come to terms logically with it, the more he destroys
any meanilg his language or world may have had: "the more he looked ... retlected,
the more he felt sure ... that il was not a pot at ail" (81). Turning the same analytical
process on himself, this obsessed seeker even negates his own identity and existence:

As for himself, though he could no longer cali it a man ... yet he could
not imagine what else to cali it, if not a man.... So he continued to
think of himself as a man.... But for ail the relief that this afforded
him, he might just as weil have thought of himself as a box, or an urn.
Watt's obsession with the whatness of things blinds him to the nothingness of his
environment, of his own merely tctional identity. Even the names, Watt and Knott,
point to the futility of the rational quest, of this novel, and of the whole creative
process. The grotesque question and answer of the book can, Federman contends, be
paraphrased in this manner: "WHAT is this KNOTT which in the process of being
disentangled leads to NOTHING. "39
As Watt waits in the railway-station, on his outward-bound journey from Mf.
Knott's house, his sense of utter aloneness triggers an hallucination of a solitary
"creature" which advances towards him without ever actually drawing near him. The
description of' the c10thes and gait of this figure suggests that it is indeed Watt himself
as he travelled towards the house of Mf. Knott (227-8). Watt's inability to reach or
even identify himself represents the outer limits of estrangement and loneliess.
"Loneliness," Arieti writes, "means fear of losing oneself partially or totally." Having
divested himself of common social symbols, Watt, not unlike advanced schizophren-
ics, suffers from a high degree of "mental impoverishment", revealing, according to
Arieti "how much of man is actually made of social Iife. ,,'"
This, then, is the Catch-22 of our existence: though our conventional, rational
activities are grossly inadequate as a means of acquiring absolute knowledge, and
though the novel form is doomed to fail in its attempt to apprehend reality, we are
obliged, in the end, to bow to the necessity of using these mental furnishings and
tools, without which we lose ail, including our sense of ourselves. Man stripped of
common symbols, Arieti tells us, "remains an insignitcant residue of what he used to
be. "41 Having severed ail personal, linguistic and cognitive links between himself and

the world he inhahits, Watt is hut a "residue" of the little he once was. Afler ail his
"pursuit of meaning" (75), Watt, as the disordered chnmology suggests, has no option
hut to retrace his mental, linguistic, and physical steps towards sorne kind of rehirth in
the harsh, cruel, inane, vital physical world of time, goats, sun-drenched hills ami the
likes of Mr. Gorman declaring, with "a gesture of worship": "Ali the same ... life
isn't such a had old hugger. ... When ail is said and done" (245-6). Like the scientist
who reluctantly concedes that the dissection of an eye will destroy the very sight that
so fascinates him, Watt must know that the rational tools of analysis and synthesis are
antithetieal to the curious, irrational, enigma that is life.
If Flann O'Brien's htes noires were usually more local and tangihle tlJan Beck-
ett's, he was equally sceptical of the ahility of epistemological enquit} to arrive al any
worthwhile, life-giving conclusions regarding the questions it poses.
As in The Poor
Mouth, the main object of his satirie grotesque in At Swim-Two-Birds
is the failure
of art to rescue us l'rom our limitations and its concomitant tendency to condition us to
become inured to unreasonable levels of physical or intellectual impoverishment. ln
the repetitious structure of AS2B an endless series of protag0r;sts (ranging l'rom
modem Dubliners to the mad King Sweeny of legend), move, uncomprehendingly,
from one nested story to another exhibiting ail the violence, eloquence and imaginative
squalor one can expect l'rom a culture locked in a deadly embrace with an indigestihle
pasto In such a state of unreason, so reminiscent of Watt's world, any effort to
synthesize the fragments of heroic poetry, the scraps of 'modem science, or the
richness of Dublin slang is at best deluded and possibly even destructive. Besides, the
ambition of the artists/protagonists to control and shape the world derives less l'rom
sorne noble vocation and more l'rom the unsavoury realms of envy and unreason.
Towards the end, they are revealed tob\"distUl,hingly similar to lunaties who, like
Watt, spend their lives in pursuit of a kfn({oforder: "Weil known ... is the case of
the poor German ... who made each aspect of his life a thing of triads. He went home
one evening ... cut his jugular .. ' three times and scrawled with a dying hand on a
picture of his wife goodbye, goodbye, goodbye" (AS2B 316). Faced withsuch

relentless folly, one can expect tittle l'rom mankind and far less l'rom art than we have
heen led to helieve. ln a world where the misuse of reasonmay he our truest and most
limiting trait and where the nohlest gestures corne to naught, the writer who presumes
to re-create his world, ta rescue us manfully from our limitations, may he the greatest
fool of ail.
The literary method of AS2B hears more tha.n a passing resemblance ta the
narrator's theory of the art of fiction: "... a sati,factory novel should be a self-evident
sham to which the rader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity" (33). The
resulting chaos is indeed non-credible and the characters, sorne of whom are recycled
from the imaginative tradition, are even more autonomous, if not anarchie, than the
manifesta recommended. Determined ta write a "salutary book" (47) on the pitfalls of
vice and evil, Trellis, the character/writer of the book within the book, conjures up
the legendary Finn MacCool who, as both ancient hero and bard, provides a unifying
device to the novel by recountng the saga of the mad King Sweeny, thereby fur-
nishing us with a privileged perspective on the dubious contribution of art to the
titanic clash between the legendary/imaginary and the realistic in the Irish conscious-
Virtually ignored by the other characters, in contrast to the respect shown him by
the ancient heroic world, Finn laments his present fate at the hands of a novelist, who
"would dishonour the God-big Finn for the sake of a gap-wnrded story" (24). Indeed,
it was none other than the poets who "put a terrible madness on the head of Sweeney
for the slaughter of a single Lent-gaunt cleric" (25), causing him to run amok, naked
and alone, across the length and breath of Ireland. After a truly grotesque description
of Sweeny's sufferings, Finn concludes that "there has been ill-usage to the men of
Erin from the book-poets of the world" and, of course, "dishonour to Finn" (25). In
one particularly farcical scene, where the grotes9ue stratagem of "gaming with the
plot" is put to good use, the gun-slinging Dublin ccwboys, the Pooka, the Good Fairy
and the "Poet orthe Pick" himself, lem Casey, come to the aid of the naked, ever-

sutlring mad Sweeny who, undaunted hy me or place, is still spouting lays ahout
his heroic trihulations to all who will Iisten and even to those who threaten 10 silence
his infernal ravings with a hullet to the heaJ (! 76-83). Escapist modern Irdand
responds with violence to "the real old stutf of the native land.... the stuff that put our
country where she stands to-day" (105-6).
This incongruous group, emhlematic, as is much e!se in this nove!, of all the
irreconcilahle aspects of the Irish consciousness, decide to mould the young Orlick
Trellis to exact vengeance on their creator, Dermot Trellis, hy cOl1lposing yet another
story in which the latter is humiliated and, ultil1lately, destroyed. Many critics have
pointed out the relevance of Huxley's famous image of intinite regression to O'Brien's
novels," though Joyce's Portrait and Beckett's trilogy also utiliz.e this satiric gro-
tesque technique of debunking the author by questioning his integrity or sanity,
thereby focusing our attention on the formaI devices and different perspectives of
fiction. Malne is not only the author of such earlier Beckett characters as Molloy and
Moran in Molloy, but is also the creator of his own "characters" in Malone Dies, and
the Unnamable is very possibly the progenitor of all of Beckett's characters to date.
As Jorge Luis Borges explains, such a potentially infinite regression has profound
ontological and epistemological consequences: if the characters of a fictional work can
be creators, or readers, like ourselves, then "we, its readers ... can be lictitious. ,,"
To combat the lassitude of the reader further, O'Brien confuses the confusedhy
reversing in AS2B the normal nesting sequence: Trellis' characters suggest that his
offspring, Orlick, "compose a story on the subject of Trellis" as a "ltting punish-
ment" for his iIl-treatment of them (236). With that image of the limitations of the
artist, a potentially infinite regression of narratives is sent off in every direction tn the
great perplexity of the rcader who would presume to decipher one level of narration
from another. A simiiar effect occurs in The Unnamahle, where the narrator is not
quite sure whether he is the originator or offspring of Worm and Mahood, or whether,
in fact, they are hil1l, or a variety of other Beckett characters. Showing that there are

no lo his deep ontological uncertainty, the Unnamahle has this to say of his
surroundings: "1 like to think 1 occupy the centre, hut nothing is less certain" (The
!J.nnamahle 270).
Such intinite nesting leads, in the opinion of M. Keith Booker, to "radical
epistemological unceltainty" where ail scientific or philosophical investigation into the
Truth is suhject to grave douht. It may weil he, Booker suggests, that the fascination
of Beckett and 0' Brien "with of infinite regression ... show their shared Irish
cultural hackgrounds. ".. In relation to Joyce's Portrait, Kenner suggests that the self-
portrait motif "hoids the mirror up to a mirror," a not dissimilar ret1exive situation to
Swift's Tale of a Tuh, Beckett's Milone Dies and Yeats's "The Phases of the Moon".
That this theme has heen for so long "an inescapahle mode of the Irish literary
imagination" has something to do, Kenner thinks, with the Irish penchant for subsum-
ing "ethical notions into an epistemological comedy. "47
At Swim-Two-Birds may be a sustained parody of realistic and many other kinds
of literature but it is above ail else, as Anne Clissmann notes, "a discussion of the
relative importance of reality and imagination, mimesis and myth." In the course of
the work the merits and limits of both are examined, and their "interrelationship" is an
essential part of the comparison between literary forms and the different realities they
present, ail of which "is implied by the parodic and digressive nature of At Swim. "48
ln the end, and here Beckett and O'Brien concur, both imagination and reality are
undercut, and their limitations are hung out to dry for ail to see. The sufferings of
Finn, Trellis and Sweeny are imposed on them by the power of the imagination, or,
more specifically, by imagination run amok. Everywhere, imagination goes unheeded;
Shanahan and Lamont see fit to interrupt Finn and Orlick with their mindless chatter;
and Sweeny is ail but killed for his relentIess recitatibn. U1timately, it is the juxtaposi-
tion of the heroic world of fantasy with the tawdry world of social customs that, in the
opinion of Clissmann, "had led to the degradation of the postulates of both worlds. In
fact, ail of O'Brien'5 heroes in At Swim are fallen And 50 they are. Having

fallen from God-like hero to the hahhling "Mr. Storyhook", deni;!.en of a Duhlin
rooming house, Finn functions, writes Clissmann, as a "paradigm of the fate of the
Celtie imagination". 49 The destinies of Sweeny, the horseless cowhoys, and the now
powerless Pooka are just as ignohle in a world where even the characters in hooks
r ~ i t the wide-open vistas of the unencumhered imagination for the yoke of 111ct ami
manicured logical conclusions.
Just as Joyee represents, for good or ill, arfs putative access to truth, Descartes
oecupies a similar position in philosophy. Cartesian dualism informs the work of hoth
Beckett and O'Brien, with the 1engthy dialogue hetween the narrator of The Third
Policeman and his soul, "Joe", heing the most salient instance of a split self in the
latter's work. Virtually ail of Beckett's characters suffer from sorne degree of s l l ~
estrangement nmging from the narrator of "The Expelled", "whose soul writhed l'rom
moming to night, in the mere quest of itself" ,'" to the narrator of Texts for Nothing
who so tires of the wrangling hetween mind and hody that he denies them hoth: "1
should tum away from it ail ... let them work it out between them, let (hem
cease.... "'1 ln The Third Policeman, Joe and the narrator arc so independent of each
other, tbt they may, in fact, inhabit separate bodies. Ali Ihis !cads to another
wonderfully grotesque intnite regression, that, in Booker' s view, undermines the
Cartesian hope of using the stable self as the bedrock from which epistemologieal
inquiry can arise." Here the narrator is perplexed by Joe's reaction to the suggestion
that he has a body:
What if he had a body? A body with another body inside it in turn,
thousands of such bodies within eaeh other like the skins of an onion,
reeeding to sorne unimaginable ultimum? Was 1 in tllrn merely a link in
a vast sequence of imponderable beings, the world (. knew merely the
interior of the being whose inner voice 1 myself wa!;'! Who or what was
the core and what monster in what world was the final uncontained
colossus? God? Nothing?"

His sense of "intermediate dependence" and "catenal unintegrity" (TP 103) recalls the
speculation of the narrator of How It Is that "in reality we are one and ail l'rom the
unthinkahle Irst to the no less unthinkahle last glued together in a vast imbrication of
!lesh without hreach or tissure" (HI!, 140).
The chief ohjective of Beckett and O'Brien in their with Cartesian
epistemology is to negate the hierarchical priority of masculine mind over feminine
hody. Using overt sexual imagery to satirize Irish sexual repression, O'Brien embodies
this interpretation of Cartesian dualism in his presentation of hicycles. In The Third
Policeman, the female hicycle "moved heneath" the wooden-Iegged narrator with such
"agile sympathy" (150), that the narrator is moved to rhapsodize for several pages
about the "completeness" of his "union" with the bicycle (150), whose "docility" and
pelfection are unparalleled in his experience (148). The sexual imagery is so explicit
in this rider/bicycle encounter that one wonders if O'Br:en is not suggesting that male
sexual motivation may account for the tenacity of Cartesian dualism in the Western
imagination. 54 The fact that the above amorous encounter is the only ideal or suc-
cessful one in ail of O'Brien's fiction strongly suggests that he was loathe to join the
ranks of writers Iike D.H. Lawrence who gave epistemological precedence to the body
and suggested that sexuality offered direct access to truth. Sexual desire in O'Brien
can lead to rape or pregnancy, but never to any kind of transcendence." Any elev-
ation of the physical over the spiritual would be folly to him.
Neither bicycles nor women succeed in fulfilling male fantasies, sexual or other-
wise, in Beckett's writi"ng. His graphic descriptions of sexual activity are among the
most grotesque and least sensuous in ail of literature. T\>ere is not the faintest hint of
transcendence in Molloy's depiction of his "sole experience of intercourse with a semi-
crippled, "old hag" (Mollny 55), who, for ail he knew, might weil have been a man:
She had a hole between her legs, oh not the bunghole 1 had always
imagined, bOIt a slit, and in this ... she put, my so-called virile membr,

not without diftculty, and 1 toiled and moiled until 1 discharged or gave
up trying or was begged by her to stop. A mug's game in my opinion
and tiring on top of that, in the long run. Dut 1 lent myself tll it wilh a
good enough grace, knowing it was love.... Pl'Thaps after ail she put
me in her rectum. A matter of complete indiffence to me.... But is it
true love, in the rectum? That's what b;'thers me sometimes. (53)
Here, as in Malone Dies, the only issue of this bungled, degrading, ambiguous alTair
is the early death of the female partner. In contrast to O'Brien, Beckett's women are
neithcr physically nor spiritually idealized. As in Molloy, they are ail grotesques ami
interchangeably so: "1 am tempted ta think of them as one and the same old hag,
tlattened and crazed by life.... to tell you the horrible truth, my mother's image
sometimes mingles with theirs, which is literally unendurable, like being cruciled"
(Molloy 55).
Though Beckett and O'Brien exhibit a marked tendency ta exploit very similar
im:l.ges and techniques in their exploration of the question of sexual transcendence,
Beckett confronts the issues more directly and his analysis of the ramilcations of
related issues is more thorough-going and frequently more savage. Here, as in ail the
other categories discu:;sed under the rubIic of folly, Beckett is more radical in his
exploitation of the irrational, while O'Brien aims his satiric barbs at the sure targets he
hopes to transform. If both authors delighted in the boundless creativity of the human
imagination, they were aware that it needed ta be reined in by sober reminders of
human folly in every age and domain of human experience.

l. Samuel Beckett, Mal vu mal dit (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1981) 24. This is
an excerpt l'rom Beckett's English translation of the line: "In the madhouse of the
skull and nowhere else."
2. Jonathan Swift, "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," The Norton Anthology of
English Literature, 4th ed., vol.1 (New York: W.W.Norton, 1979) 1949.
3. Samuel Beckett, "What ls the Word," As the St01:Y Was Told (London: John
Calder, 1990) 133-4.
4. Richard Pearce, Stages of the Clown: Perspectives Qn Modern Fiction. From
Dostoyevsky to Beckett (CarbQndale: SQuthern Illinois University Press, 1970) 117.
5. 1 am indebted fQr this idea tQ Francis DQherty, "Watt in an Irish Frame," Irish
University Review 21.2 (Autumn\Winter 1991): 191-5.
6. Doherty 193.
7. W.H. Auden, introductiQn, The Star Thrower, by LQren Eiseley (New York:
Times BQoks, 1978) xv.
8. Bakhtin 33-4.
9. Bakhtin 38-9. See alsQ Kayser 184.
10. Lillian Feder, Madness in Literature (PrincetQn: PrincetQn UP, 1980) 9.
Il. Sylvie Debevec Henning, Beckett's Critical Complicity: Carnival.
Contestation, and Tradition (LexingtQn, Ky.: The UP Qf Kentucky, 1988) 2.
12. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Caryl EmersQn and
IMichael HQ!quist (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1980) 276.
13. Debevec Henning, 2-3. FQr a definitiQn Qf "heteroglossia", see The DialQgic
Imagination 276.
14. Richard CQe is one of many critics who views Beckett's humQur in these
essentially negative terms. See Samuel Beckett (New YQrk: Grove Press, 1964).
Others, such as Ruby CQhn, in Samuel Beckett: The CQmic Gamut (New Brunswick,

NJ.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1962), construe it in terms of scepticism. Most agrcc with
Hugh Kenner, in Flauhert Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians (Boston: Beacon
Press, 1962) or Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study (1961; Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 1968), that irony and parody are the comic correlatives of melaphysical
15. Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the
of Reason, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Pantheon, 1965) 72-4.
16. McElroy 95-6.
17. Kenner 37.
18. See his interview with Gahriel d'Auharde, "Waiting for Beckett," trans.
Christopher Waters, Trace 42 (Summer 1961): 157, rpt. in Samuel Beckett: The
Critical Heritage 215-17.
19. Debevec Henning 29.
20. Samuel Beckett, qtd. in Tom Driver, "Beckett hy the Madeleine," Columhia
University Forum.lV (Summer 1961): 21-5; rpt. in Samuel Beckett: The Critical
Heritage, 219.
21. Fred MilIer Robinson, "Samuel Beckett: Watt," Samuel Beckett: Modern
Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publications, 1985)
22. Robinson 149.
23. While Murphy admits that there is sorne sort of "partial congruence" hctween
the mind and body, "due to sorne process of supernatural determination," mental
activity occurring in the "c1osed system" of the mind is entirely and
free of the "vicissitudes of the b()dy." Mm:phy, 64.
24. For a discussion of the degree to which Beckett respected the novelistic
tradition in Murphy see Raymond Federman, Journey to Chaos: Samuel Beckett's
Early Fiction (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1965) 94.
25. In reference to the ladder that leads to his garret and couId he drawn up after
him, Murphy has this to say: "Do not come down the ladder, they have taken it
away" (Murphy, 106).
26. Jacqueline Hoefer, "Watt," Perspective XI.3 (Autumn 1959): 180-1.
27. Clark 37-50,77.

28. Feerman maintains that hy assigning the narration to a "Iunatic", Beckett
may he suggesting "that fiction emerges from a state of insanity, and whatever
illusions or elusions are present in the eranged minds of Watt and Sam can serve to
reereate an image of reality, or ereate a new reality, hut one that eonstantly falls into
chaos and uncertainty" (Feerman 97).
29. Clark 66.
30. For the reasons Clark avances for this attitude see Clark 68.
31. For a discussion of the prevalence of schizophrenie hehaviour in Beekett's
oeuvre an the reasons for his familiarity with this disease, see G. C. Barnard, Samuel
Beckett: A New Approach (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1970).
32. Silvano Arieti, Interpretation of Schizophrenia (New York: Basic Books,
1974) 264. To shed sorne light on Watt's backward walking, and private speech
involving the inversion of words, letters and sentences etc., see, R.D. Laing, The
Oivied Self (New York: Pantheon, 1960) 175.
33. Laing 27-8.
34. Rohinson 184.
35. John Mood, "The Personal System--Samuel Beckett's Watt," PMLA 86
(1971): 265.
36. Mood 256.
37. Feerman 107. The outcome of this quest is not unlike that of The Third
Policeman, and for similar reasons.
38. Feerman 107-8.
39. Federman 119.
40. Arieti 349.
41. Arieti 349.
42. Space precludes a detailed analysis of O'Brien's sustained campaign against,
as he wrote himself, "decency and reason", but l would like to point out that Cruisk-
een Lawn utilizes the grotesque to expose the limitations of bores, pedants, inane
politicians, self-important public figures and semi-literates who overuse hackneyed
expressions to the detriment of thought and language. Above all, the Myles persona is
minful of the drawbacks to every ideology that a limited, tlawed reason might dream
up, and of the very folly of presuming to judge the follies of humanity. Human folly

is again the target of his grotesquery in The Poor Mouth, hut this time it is the
indestructihle Irish past, and most particularly the art of the past, thal draws his fire.
Not only does il fail to rescue us from our limitations huI it, in facl, saps the inhahit-
ants of their will to escape the insanely masochistic gwoves so calculatingly laid down
for them hy poets, priests, and politicians in every generation.
43. Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds, (1939; London: MacGihhon and Kee,
196\). All suhsequent refererlces are to this edition and will he cited parenthe'-ically in
the text as AS2B.
44. Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point (New York: Harper and Row, 1965),
302. For a discussion of this image, see Anne C\issmann, Flann O'Brien: A Critical
Introduction (Duhlin: Gill and MacMillan, \ 975) 95.
45. Jorge Luis Borges, Lahyrinths, eds. Donald A. Yates and James E.lrhy (New
York: New Directions, 1964) 196.
46. M.Keith Booker, "The Bicycle and Descartes: Epistemology in the Fiction of
Beckett and O'Brien," Eire-Ireland (Spring 1991): 85.
47. Hugh Kenner, "The Cubist Portrait," Approaches to Joyce's Portrait, eds.
Thomas F.Staley and Bernard Benstock (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1976) 172.
48. Clissmann 89.
49. Clissmann 148.
50. Samuel Beckett, "The Expelled," Collected Shorter Prose, 23.
51. Beckett, Texts for Nothing 71. Il goes without saying that Beckett's chamcters
have their own unique non-Cartesian problems in that they are also waging internai,
mental wars between various selves.
52. Booker 86. He makes the point that the "mise en ahme" motif is a "perfect
critique" of Cartesianism as it disproves the theory that all knowledge emanates from
sorne stahle source. Knowledge, this motif s u g g s t ~ is the hard won product of
relentless inquiry. See Booker 85-6.
53. Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman (1967; Pan Books, 1976) 102-3.
Subsequent quotations are indicated by page reference to TP in the text.
54. Booker 92.
55. In AS2B, Sheila is raped by Dermot Trellis, and there is a pregnancy in hoth
The Dalkey Archive, and The Poor Mouth.

Within grotesque fiction it is possible t.o make a distinction between that which is
disruptive (Le., lacking a specitic, positive, moral or philosophic direction), and that
which is directed (i.e., points to amoral or philosophic framework).\ ln cont.rast to
the more directed grotesque of his peers, Beckett's vision is decidedly disruptive. ln a
world devoid of intrinsic values there is, as Max Schultz wrote in a slightly different
context, "a shift in perspective from the self and its ability to create a moral ambi-
ence, to emphasis on ail the moving forces of lifc which converge collectively upon
the individua1." Confronted by a bewildering set of equally meaningless choices, the
self becomes "chimerical", cause and effect disintegrate, as does the meaning of
relationship and the successiveness of history. Deprived of any individual release or
social reconciliation, man, Schultz goes on to say in regard to this bleak perspective,
is condemned to a purposeless joumey with death as the only possible destination.'
While most writers of the grotesque, and Jo) and O'Brien are no exceptions, have
one or more of their characters aftirm traditional or utopian values and assume moral
responsibilities, Beckett's comic charact.ers are, on the face of it, relatively indifferent.
to their fate in the meaningless circuit of mechanical action, where any one decision
or route is as limited, senseless and tcdious as any ot.her. ln a world of boundless
boundaries, ail routes are issueless and ail issues mere conduits t.o further boundaries.
That. Beckett's constrieted altistic process has stylistie consequences and a very
i -_.'-,
diffrent philosophie impetus from that of Joyce is evident throughout his entire
oeuvre. From Murphy strapped to his ehair contemplating sterile "surds" to the later

of dense intertextuality and self-referentiality, Beckett has heen plolling a
world circumscrihed hy intellection, the gropings of the mind to analyze its predica-
ment and to imagine the Ailing, disintegrating, constipated creatures
whose efforts to create characters and coherent stories are stymied hy grave douhts
ahout the relationship between mind and hody, the nature of self (or selves) and the
adequacy of language to comprehend and communicate any worthwhile knowledge,
are, not surprisingly, very unlikely '0 share the more Joycean preoccupation with
integrating bodily, natural and transcendent forces. According to Bakhtin, one function
of the raucous laughter provoked by the grotesque body is triumph overcosmic terror,
terror of the immeasurable vastness and power inherent in nature, of the kinds of
upheavals and catastrophies cited in "lthaca" as making terror the hasis of human
mentality. If Rabelais' folk laughter is not heard in Joyce, there is a triumph of sorts,
expressed through the hilarious contrasts between the momentous and the mundane,
the heroic and the ludicrous, the nightmarish and the camaI. The play dimension, so
vital to the more positive, directive version of the carnival-grotesque, is evident in the
riotous treatment of language, form, character and episode. And it is with a hoisterous
spirit of purifying, creative, play that the entiTe Joycean oeuvre addresses a tinal,
memorable "yes" to the anarchic, gross, ludicrous, grotesque animality of our physical
In Beckett, the play element of the grotesque, often diftcult to discern, is grim,
arid, and self-mocking. Dut despite the perpetuaI presence of irrational, arhitrary,
overwhelming, consicting existence, Beckett's beings use punning, paradox, repeti-
tion, self-cancelation and, especially, grotesque imagery to provide us witl: the hest
articulation yet of an epic of the mind, of what Molloy describes as "that inner space
one never sees, the bTain and heart and other cavems, where thought and. feeling
danse their sabbath" (Molloy II). Because of this emphasis on the artist's and reader's
imaginings of inner reality, the-world behind "the veil of Maya", the image for
Beckett is paramount and discourse is only a point of reference for what Linda Den-
Zvi calls "the schismatic self. "3 Just as Rabelais rethought ail that was sacred and

exalte in his ay on the level of the material, hoily stratum, Beckett, perhaps more
than any other novelist, lapS the potential of the grotes4ue hoy to provie metaphors
li>r the various aspects of the hizarre, ehaotic mental terrain explorers sueh as Molloy
must traverse:
1 listen an the voice is of a worl collapsing enlessly, a frozen worl,
uner a faint untrouhle sky.... And 1hear it murmur that all and
yiels as if loaded down, hut here there are no loas.... only these
leaning things, forever lapsing and crumbling away heneath a sky
without memory of morning or hope of night (Molloy 38).
"Encompassed", as Melville wrote in Mohy Dick, "by all the horrors of the
known life, "4 an sickene by the many gargantuan hOlTors of the twentieth century,
Beckett was well motivate to plunder the treasure trove of the grotesque in order to
epict the last frontier--the wilderness within. Like Kafka, that other great explorer of
the grotesque mode, he felt that a book "must be the axe for the frozen sea inside
Though both Beckett and Flann O'Brien employa similar battery of grotesque
techniques to disabuse the reader of ail iliusions regarding the efficacy of any method
of investigation that purports to deliver the truth, their ohjectives, and hence the
conclusions at which they arrive, are quite different. O'Brien may well be, as
Clissmann claims, "a secret moralist'" eager to debunk human pretensions to knowl-
edge in favour of a simple faith in the watchful eye of a Supreme Being in whom ail
is explained or explanations are supertluous.' ln Beckett, by contrast, the manic
seeker "Iacerated with curiosity" (Watt 227), must forever sniff out and hound down
sorne kind of explanation--no matter how negative or inadequate--and irrespective of
the cost exacted by this quest. Since there is no final arbitrator, no Ood, there is no
order, no truth or totality, and therefore, no possibility of it, or even an
epiphanic suggestion of it, with any human faculty however astute. Despite these
differences, and the obvious disparity in the degree of intensity or savagery of the

satiric grotesque in their writings, their explorations of the limitations of art, philos-
ophy and sexuality suggest that both WllUld agree with Arsene's alh'ise to Wall
regarding the inaccessibility of genuine knowledge: the only kind of knowledge worth
having helongs exclusively to the realm of the "unullerable or inelblc ... so Ihat any
attempt to utter or eff it is doomed to fuil, doomed, doomed to l'ail" (Watt (2).
If questions are generally more important than answers in both Beckett's and
O'Brien's epistemological deserts, the value of such a lovely tl)lIy as literalure is
grudgingly asserted by O'Brien, and more ohliquely still hy Beckett. Though the
assumptions of imaginative literature in a drah, orderly, modern world are indeed
degraded, and chastised in AS2B and elsewhere in his oeuvre, literature still manages
to console, transform, and entertain while asking the only questions that matter, thosc
that address the nature of our being and the role of such a complex bundle of folly in
an incomprehensible universe. In O'Brien's tinal unifying image of At Swim-Two-
Birds, while the eyes of the isolated, suffering, despairing Sweeney are "upturncd,
whiter eyehalls in a white face, upturned in fear and supplication", it is, ironically, a
harking dog .that "punctuates and gives majesty to the seriaI enigma of the dark"
(AS2B 314). Still, by transcending his own loneliness and despair through a close,
loving evocation of the world around him, by transmuting, in other words, his
persona! hell into a g!orious literary achievement, Sweeney embodies the medieval
attitude of mind towards literary creation, where the poetic imagination supersedes
life, providing us with a measure of consolation for the terrors of living in "a huddle
between the earth and heaven" (AS2B 314).
Despite the pervasiveness of the argument for the epistemologically or morally
superior, edifying nature of art, a perspective which reached a high point in Modern-
ism with Joyce's Ulysses, Beckett has consistently served an aesthetic of failure, using
a wide spectrum of grotesque stratagems toexpose, among other things, the various
disguises that form the basis of ail narrativity. Art's cultural prestige as a "repository
of wisdom" or of vital knowledge of the real probably depends, in the opinion of Leo

Bersani, "on the use of narrative art as the mode! for such claims and on the
repression of other, nonrepresentational contacts, or frictions, hetween consciousness
and the world. ,,' Believing that such an argument is dismissive of lmth life and art,
reducing the latter to some grandiose patching compound in the service of those
materials to which it imparts value, Beckett, in ail of his writing, resists the cultural
usefulness or domestication such repression engenders. The fact that narrativity serves
the function of moderating and hierarchizing the suhject's authority over reality
prompted Beckett's "punctuation of dehiscence", !lis uttempt, in the words of Dream
of Fair to Middling Women, to "disintegrate" or to "disaggregate" such constructed
orders. This "corrosive ground-swell of Art", this "blizzard" of discontinuous units,
destroys occasions and, therefore, expressive relations,' leaving the way clear for
what Bersani cails "an art of solipsistic intensities. "10
Though critics have failed to reach a consensus on the cultural usefulness of the
defiantly unrelated, stubbornly personal art engendered by such an aesthetic of l'ai lure,
Beckett, or, at least, the narrator of Dream of Fair to Middling Women, was quite
c1ear as to the goal of such liminoid phenomena: "The only perspective worth stating
is the site of the unknotting that could be, landscape of a dream of integration,
prospective '" into which it is pleasant to believe he may, gladly or sadly, no :natter,
recede, from which he has not necessarily emerged. "II If the works of both Joyce
and O'Brien often assemble the factors of culture in grotesque, startling, experimental
combinations, they usually do so in the interests of reversing the follies, stupidities,
blind spots or abuses of the status quo, and their criterion of judgment is, what Victor
Turner has termed, "the normative structural frame of officially promulgated values."
The "ritual of reversaI" present in their writings, indicates that saturnalian disorder,
fun though it may be, is no substitute for order or cosmos. 12 By contrast, in the
margin Of limen of Beckett's works, when the accumulated cultural wisdom is
momentarily negated, arrested or rescinded and the future is but a dream of becoming,
there is a firefly-like instant of pristine potentiality when ail is possible, and ail
possible beginnings a simultaneous homage and a mockery of ail that has been, or will

he. In a laudatory note of 1954, Harold Pinter commended Beckett for leaving "no
stone unturned and no maggot lonely. "13 Fitting encomium for an author who felt
that the "only possihle spiritual development is in the sense of depth", and
consequently, the "only fertile research is excavatory, immersive, a contraction of the
spirit, a descent. "14 Not that Beckett ever expected to find "under the next upturned
civilization/Paradise crawling", l' hut the exhumation, the loosening up of the cultural
compost is, at worst, a pleasant distraction.
And such is the achievement of aIl great art--the provision, when contingencies in
th" normative system require it, of a set, or, in Beckett's case, a palette, of templates
or paradigms which are, at one level, at least, the redassification of reality, of Man's
relation to socIety, nature, and culture. By probing the unsavoury regions beneath the
surface of life, grotesque artists seek to engender the kind of reordering of perceptions
that might civilize man back into the awesome otherness of nature, the stardust from
which we have emerged. Securely ensconced in the great web of n", and no longer
an outlaw to ourselves and creation, we may again thrive in the civilization of
wildness so dreamed of everywhere and nowhere found. Should men ever agree upon
the nature of reality, ever decipher the hieroglyphs of existence, the grotesque, messy,
ghoulish compost of new growth that it is, would quickly and quietly lapse into
disuse. For though its province is death, decay and destruction, it is always, for aIl
grotesque artists, "an attempt to describe what we have yet to build" -- a definition
that is as apt for the grotesque mode as it is for the Irish tradition Seamus Deane was
seeking to describe.
This explosion of chaos into cosmos, the dredging up of
antistructure laden with potential alternatives, is no less than the harbinger of innova-
tive forms, the source of our 'culture, the source of life.

1. Clayhorough 76-111.
2. Max Schultz, Black Humor Fiction of The Sixties (Ohio: Ohio UP, 1973) 7-8.
3. Linda Ben-Zvi, "The Schismatic Self in 'A Piece of Monologue'," Journal of
Beckett Studies 7 (1982): 7-17.
4. Herman Melvilk, Mohy Dick (\851), Quoted in Daniel J,Boorstin, The
Creators (New York: Vintage Books, 1993) 641.
5, Quoted in Boorstin 673.
6. Clissmann 344.
7. Clissmann 319.
8. Bersani 89.
9. Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women (New York: Arcade
Puhlishing, 1993) 139.
10. Bersani 89.
Il. Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women 13.
12. Turner 40.
13. Harold Pinter, "Beckett," Beckett at 60: A Festschrift, ed. John Calder
(London: Calder and Boyars, 1967) 86.
14. Samuel Beckett, and Georges Duthuit, Proust: Three Dialogues (London: J.
Calder, 1965) 64, 65-6.
15. Clair Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, (pseudomym of the author of this thesis), "This
Then is the Way," Black Holes and Cosmic Titters (unpuhlished) 26.
16. Seamus Deane, quoted in John Montague, The Figure in the Cave (Syracuse:
Syracuse UP, 1989) 40.

Beckett, Samuel. Col!ecle ShOlter Prose: 1945-1980. Lonon: John Caler, 1986.
Company. New York: Grove Press, 1980.
"Danle... Bruno. Vico. Joyce. " Our Exagmination Roun His Factitcation for
Incamin;;tion of "Work in Progress. " Paris: Shakespeare and Co., 1929. 3-22.
Dream of Fair 10 Middling Women. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1993.
For to End Yet Again and Other Fizzles. London: Calder and Boyars, 1978.
How It Is. 1961. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
III Seen 111 Said. London: J. Calder, 1982.
Mal vu mal dit. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1981.
Murphy. 1938. London: Picador, 1973.
---, and Georges Duthuit. Proust: Three Dialogues. London: J. Calder, 1965.
Rockaby and Other Short Pieces. New York: Grove Press, 1981.
The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamab1e. 1950-2.
London: Picador, 1979.
The Col!ecled Work,'of Samuel Beckett. 16 vols. New York: Grave Press,
Watt. New York: Grove Press, 1953.
"What is the Word." As the::Story Was Told. London: John Calder, 1990.
Joyce, James. Ulysses: the Corrected Text. Eds. Hans Walter GabIer and Claus
Melchior. 1922. London: Penguin Books, 1986.
---. Finnegans Wake. New York: The Viking Press, 1958.

_U. A POf1l,t of the Artist as a Young Man. The Portahle James Joyce. Ed. Harry
Levin. New York: The Viking r e s ~ 1947.
O'Brien, Flann. The Third Policeman. 1967. London: Pan BO(lks, 1976.
__o. At Swim-Two-Birds. 1939. London: MacGihbon & Kee, 1961.
Piper, William Bowman, and Rohert A. Greenberg, eds. The Writings of Jpnathan
Swift:. New 'York: W. W. NOIton, 1973.
Swift:, Jonathan. "Letter of Advice to a Young Poet." The Prose Works of Jonathan
Swift:. Vol. 9. Ed. Herbert Davis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1948. 325-45.
Gul1iver's Travels. Ed. Rubert A. Grcenberg. New York: W.W.Norton, 1961.
"Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift." The Nortrn Anthology ,lf English Litera-
ture. 4th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W.Norton, 1979. 1938-49.
Synge, J.M. J.M. Synge: Collected Works. 1962-68. Ed. Robin Skelton. Gerrards
Cross: Colin Smythe, 1982.
Abbott, H. Porter. The Fiction of Samuel Beckett: Form and Effect. BerkeJ.ey:
U of California P, 1973.
Admussen, Richard L. The Samuel Beckett Manuscripts: A Study. Boston: G.K.
Hall and Co., 1979.
Andonian, Cathleen Culotta. Samuel Beckett: a Reference Guide. Boston:,G'. K.
Hall, 1989.
Appel, Alfred, Jr. A Season of Dreams: The Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State UP, 1965.
Arieti, Silvano. Interpretation of Schizophrenia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
Arnold, Bruce. The Scandai of Ulysses: The Sensational Lite of a Twentieth-Cntury
Masterpiece. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Armstrong, Gordon S. Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeat5 and Jack Yeats: Images and
Words. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1990.

Artaud, Antonin. Selected Writings. Ed. Susan Sontag. Trans. Helen Weaver. New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
d'Auoarde, Gaoriel. "Waiting for Beckett." Trans. Christopher Waters. Trace
42 (Summer 1961): 157. Rpt. in Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage. Ed.
Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1979. 146-9.
Auden, W. H. "Greatness Fillding Itself." Forewords and Afterwords. Ed. Edward
Mendelson. New York: Random House, 1973. 79-87.
Introduction. The Star Thrower. By Loren Eiseley. New York: Times Books,
1978. xiii-xxi.
Auerbach, Erich. Memesis: The Representation of Reality in Westera Literature.
Trans. W.R.Trask. Princeton UP, 1953.
Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. New York: HarcoUlt, Brace, Jovano-
vich, 1978.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. 1965.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.
---. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist.
Austin: U of Texas Press, 1980.
Baltrusatis, Jurgis. Aberrations: An Essay on the Legend of Porms. Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1989.
Barasch, Prances K. The GrotesQue: A Study in Meanings. The Hague: Mouton,
Barnard, G.C. Beckett: A New New York: Dodd, Mead and
Co., 1970.
Barnard, Mary E. The Myth of Apollo and Daphne from Ovid te,Ouevedo: Love.
Agon and the Grotesque. Durham: Duke UP, 1987.
Baudelaire, Charles. "On the Essence of Laughter." The Mirror of Art. Ed. and
Trans. Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon Press, 1955. 133-153.
Bell, Robert H. Jocoserious Joyce: The Pate of Folly in Ulysses. Ithaca: Cornell
UP, 1991.

Ben-Zvi, Linda. "The Schismatic Self in 'A Piece of Monologue'." JOllrllilL.ill
Beckett Stlldies 7 (1982): 7-\7.
Bergson, Henri. Laughter. London: Macmillan, 1911.
Bernstein, Michael Andr. Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Ahject Hero.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.
Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. Arts of lmpoverishment: Beckett. Rothko, Resnais.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993.
Beverley, John, Against Litel'ature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
Bishop, John, Joyce's BQok of the Dark: Finnegans Wake. Madison, Wis.: The LI of
WiscQnsin Press, 1986,
BQoker, M.Keith. "The Bicycle and Descaltes: EpistemQlogy in the FictiQn of
Beckett and O'Brien," Eire-Ireland (Spring 1991): 76-94.
BQrges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. Eds. DQnald A. Yates and James E. Irby, New
y Qrk: New DirectiQns, 1964,
BOQrstin, Daniel J. The Creators. New YQrk: Vintage Books, 1993.
Bowen, Zach, Ulysses as a Comic NQveL Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse UP, 1989.
BQyle, RQbert SJ. "Finnegans Wake, Page 185: AI! ExplicatiQn." James Joyce
Ouarterly 4 (FaU 1966): 3-16.
Brater, EnQch, and Ruby CQhn, eds. Around the Ahsurd: Essays on Modern and
PostmQdern Drama. Ann ArbQr: The University Qf Michigan Press, 1990.
BretQn, Andr. AnthQlogie de l'humQur noir. 1939. Paris: Le livre de pQche, 1966.
Brivic, SheldQn. JQYce Between Freud and Jung. PQrt Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat
Press, 1980.
Bryden, Mary. "Figures Qf GQlgQtha: Beckett's PiniQned PeQple." The Ideal Core
Qf the Onion. Ed. JQhn Pilling and Mary Bryden, Bristol: LQngdunn Press,
1992. 45-62.
Bryer, JacksQn R" R. J, Davis, and Peter C. HQY. Calepins de hihliQgraphie-
Samuel Beckett. Paris: Minard, 1971.

Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. 1934. Bloomington:
Indiana UP, 1960.
Burwick, Frederick. The Haunted Eye: Perception of the Grotesque in English and
German Romanticism. Heidelhurg: C. Winter, 1987.
Clapp, Frederick Mortimer. "Pushed Nude Into This Assignment." The Norton
Anthology of Poetry. 3rd ed. New York: W.W.Norton, 1983. 891.
Clark, John R. The Modern Satiric Grotesque and Ils Traditions. Lexington, Ky.:
University Press of Kentucky, 1991.
C1ayhorough, Arthur. The Grotesque in English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP,
Clissmann, Anne. Flann O'Brien: A Critical Introduction. Dublin: Gill and Mac
MiIlan, 1975.
Coe, Richard. Samuel Beckett. New York: Grave Press, 1964.
Cohn, Ruby. Back to Beckett. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1973.
ed. Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Criticism. New York: McGraw-HilI, 1975.
"The Comedy of Samuel Beckett: Something Old, Something New." Yale
French Studies 23 (Summer 1959): 1\-17.
---. Samuel Beckett. The Comic Gamut. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1962.
Dalgard, Per. The Function of the Grotesque in Vasilij Aksenov. Trans. Robert
Porter. Gyssling, Denmark: Arkona Aarhus, 1<)82.
Davies, Paul, and John Gribbon, ed. The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries That
Challenge Our Understanding of Physical Reality. New York: Simon and
Shuster, 1992.
Davis, Robin JOhl1. Samuel Beckett: Checklist and Index of his Published Works.
1967-76. London: R.J. Davis, 1979.
Dearlove, J.E. Accommodating the Chaos: Samuel Beckett's Nonrelational Art.
Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1982.
Debevec Henning, Sylvie. Beckett's Critical Complicity: Camival CQ'lltestation.
and Tradition. Lexington, Ky.: The UP of Kentucky, 1988.
Doherty, Francis. "Watt in an Irish Frame." Irish University Review 21.2 (Autumn\

Winter 1991): 187-203.
Driver, Tom F. "Beckett by the l\lladeleine." Columhia University Forum IV (Sum-
mer 1961): 21-5. Rpt. in Graver 217-223.
Esslin, Martin, ed. Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewoo(\
Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-hall, 1965.
---. "Beckett's Novels." Mediations: Essays on Brecht. Beckett and the Mdia.
Ed. Martin Esslin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1980. 93-110.
The Theater of the Ahsurd. 1961. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980.
"The Theatre of the Absurd Rec,msidered." Retlections: Essays on Modrn
Theatre. Ed. Martin Esslin. Garden City, NJ.: Doubleday and Co. Inc., 1969.
Feder, Lillian. Madness in Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.
Federman, Raymond. Journey to Chaos: Samuel Beckett's Early Fiction. Berkeley:
U of California P, 1965.
Fletcher, John. The Novels of Samuel Beckett. London: Chatto and Windus, 1964.
Samuel Beckett's Art. London: Chatto and Windus, 1967.
"Modernism and Samuel Beckett." Facets of European Modernism. Ed. Janet
Garton. Norwich: U of East Anglia, 1985. 199-217.
Foss, Martin. Symhol and Metaphor in Human Experience. Princeton: Princeton
UP, 1949.
Foster, John Wilson. "Irish Modernism." Colonial Consequences: Essays in Irish
Literature and Culture. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1991. 44-59.
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age pf
Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Pantheon, 1965.
French, Marilyn. The Book as World: James Joyce's Ulysses. 1976. New York:
Paragon Honse, 1993.
Fritsch, Rudolf. Ahsurd oder Grotesk?: her Literarische Darstellung von Entfrem-
dung hei Beckett und Helier. New York: P. Lang, 1990.
Gibson, Andrew, ed. Reading JQYce's "Circe. " Atlanta, Ga: Rodopi, 1994.
Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce's Ulysses. 1934. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1952.

Godzich, Wlad, and Nicholas Spadaccini, eds. "Popular Culture and Spanish Literary
History." Literature Among the Discourses: The Spanish Golden Age. Minnea-
polis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Gose, Eliot. The Transfrmation Process in Joyce's Ulysses. Toronto: U of Toronto
Press, 1980.
Graver, Lawrence, and Raymond Federman, eds. Samuel Beckett: The Critical
Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
Gresset, MicheL "Cration et cruaut chez Beckett." Tel Quel 15 (Autumn 1963):
Gurewitch, Morton. "Beckett and the Comedy of Decomposition." Chicago Review
33.2 (1982): 93-99.
Guthke, Karl S. Modern Tragicomedy: An Investigation into the Nature of the
Genre. New York: Random House, 1966.
Gysin, Fritz. The Grotesque in American Negro Fiction. Bern: Francke, 1975.
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. Qn the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and
Literature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1982.
Harrington, John P. The Irish Beckett. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse UP, 1991.
Hayles, Katherine, ed. Chaos and Qrder: Complex Dynamics in Literature and
Science. Chicago: The U of Chicago Press, 1991.
Hays, Peter. The Limping Hero: Grotesques in Literature. New York: New York
UP, 1971.
Hayman, David. "Joyce ---> Beckett/Joyce." The Seventh of Joyce. Ed. Bernard
Benstock. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. 37-43.
Hederman, Mark Patrick. "Poetry and the Fifth Province." Crane Bag 9.1 (1985):
Helbling, Robert. The Power of "Negative" Thinking: the Grotesque in the Modern
World. Salt Lake City, Utah: F.W.Reynolds Association, 1982.
Hesla, David. The Shape of Chaos: An Interpretation of the Art of Samuel Beckett.
Minneapolis: The U of Minnesota Press, 1971.
Hoefer, Jacqueline. "Watt." Perspective XL3 (Autunin 1959): 166-182.

Huber, Werner. "Flann O'Brien and the Language of the GroteSljlIe." Anglp-Irish
and Irish Literature: Aspects of Language and Culture. Ed. Birgit Bramshack
and Martin Croghan. Uppsala: Uppsala UP, 1988.
Hutchings, William. '''Shat into Grace' Or, A Tale of a Turd: Why Il Is How Il Is
in Samuel Beckett's How Il Is." Papers on Language and l.iterature 21.1
(Winter 1985): 64-87.
Huxley, Aldous. Point Counter Point. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.
Jacquin, Danielle. "L'altration a la clef, ou le mode grotesljue chez Flann O'Brien."
Etudes irlandaises 8 (Dec 1983): 79-89.
Jennings, Lee Byron. The Ludicrous Demon: Aspects of the Grotesque in German
Post-Romantic Prose. Berkeley: U of California P, 1963.
Johnson, Toni O'Brien. Synge, the Medieval and the Grotesque. Gerrard's
Cross, Bucks.: C. Smythe, 1982.
Johnston, Denis. "Swift of Dublin." Eire-Ireland 3.3 (Autumn, 1(68): 38-50.
Kayser, Wolfgang Johannes. The Grotesque in Art and Literature. Trans. Ulrich
Weisstein. Gloucester, Mass.: P.Smith, 1968.
Kearney, Richard. Transitions. Dublin: Wolthound Press, 1988.
---. ed. The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions. Dublin: Wolthound
Press, 1985.
---. The Wake of the Imagination. Minneapolb: The U of Minnesota Press, 1988.
Kearney, Timothy. "The Poetry of the North: A Post-Modernist Perspective."
Bag 3-2 (1979): 465-473.
Kennedy, S. "Spirals of Need: Irish Prototypes in Samuel Beckett's Fiction."
YeaK Joyce and Beckett: New Light on Three Modern Irish Writers. Eds.
Kathleen McGrory and John Unterecker. London: Associated UP, 1976. 153-
Kenner, Hugh. A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers. Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins UP, 1989.
---. "The Cubist Portrait." Approaches to Joyce's Portrait. Eds. Thomas

F.Staley and Bernard Benstoek. Pittshurgh: U of Pittshurgh Press, 1976. 171-
Flauherl, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962.
Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. 1961. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1968.
Kiley, Frederick S. "Baedeker For Beckett." Eire-Ireland VIA (Winter 1971): 104-
Kinsella, Thomas. "The Irish Writer." Davis. Mangan, Ferguson'I Tradition and ~
Irish Writer: Writings hy W.B.Yeats and Thomas Kinsella. Ed. Roger McHugh.
Duhlin: The Dolmen Press, 1970. 57-66.
Krause, David. "The Comic Mythology of O'Casey." James Joyce Quarterly 18.1
(1980): 11-22.
---. The Profane Book of Irish Comedy. lthaca: Cornell UP, 1982.
Kuryluc, Ewa. Salome and Judas in the Cave of Sex: The Grotesque: Origins.
Iconography, Techniques. Evanston: Northwestern, UP, 1987.
Laing, R.D. The Divided Self. New York: Pantheon, 1960.
Lee, G. FalTell. "Grotesque and the Demonism of Silence: Beckett's Endgame."
NDEJ 14.1 (Winter 1981): 59-70.
Lee, Jae Num. Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico Press,
Le Monstrueux dans la littrature et la pense anglaises: actes de colloque. Aix-en-
Provence, 19-20 avril 1985. Aix-en-Provence: Universit de Provence, 1985.
Maclntyre, Tom. "In Search of Three Swifts." Books Ireland 101 (March 1986): 36-
Mann, Thomas. Past Masters. Trans. H.T.Lowe Porter. New York: Alfred Knopf,
Mayoux, Jean-Jacques. "Le thtre de Samuel Beckett." Etudes anglaises X (oct-
obre-dcembre 1957): 350-366.
McElroy, Bernard. Fiction of the Modern Grotesque. New York: St. Martin's Press,

McGrory, Kathleen, and John Unterecker. eds. Yeats, Joyce and
on Three MOdern Irish Writers. London: Associated UP, 1976.
Mercier, Vivian. The Irish Comic Tradition. 1962. London: Oxford UP, 19(,9.
---. BeckettlBeckett. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.
Mhaoldomhnaigh Ni, Clair. "This Then is the Way." Black Hoks illldl.:Wi1lli.-:
Titters. Unpuhlished.
Milner, Andrew, ed. Postmodern Conditions. New York: Berg, 1990.
Montague, John. The Figure in the Cave, Syracuse: Syracuse Ul', 1989.
Mood, John. "The Personal System--Samuel Beckett's Watt." pMLA 86 (197 l):
NOITis, Margot. "Joyce's Heliotrope." Copin),! With Joyce. Eds. Morris Ikja and
Shari Benstock. Columhus: Ohio UP, 1989. 3-24.
O'Brien, Conor Cruise. "Our Wits Ahout Us." The New Statesman 65 (l'eh 15.
1963): 237, Rpt. in Writers and Politics, New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
O'Casey, Sean. Sunset and Evening Star. New York: Macmillan, 1954.
O'Connor, Flannery, Myste!)' and Manners: Occasional Prose. Eds. Sally and
Rohert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1969,
O'Dushlaine, Tadhg. "Beckett ag Borradh Anios: Lirmheas ar Stiall Fhial Feola."
Irisleabhar Mha Nuad (1982): 63-73.
O'Leary, Joseph Stephen. "Joyce and the Myth of the l'ail." Crane Bag 2.1-2
(1978): 168-171.
O'Tuama, Sean, "Samuel Beckett: Eireannach." Scriohh 3 (1978): 37-41.
Parrinder, Patrick. James Joyce. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.
Peake, C.H, James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist. London: Edward Arnold,
Pearce, Richard. Stages of the Clown: Perspectives on Modern Fiction. From
Dostoyevesky to Beckett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1970.
Peckham, Morse. Man's Rage For Chaos: Biology Behavior and the Arts. Phila-
delphia: Chilton Books, 1965,

Pilling, John. Samuel Beckett. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976.
Pinter, Harold. "Beckett." Beckett al 60: A Festschrift. Ed. John Calder. London:
Calder, 1967.
Pops, Martin. "The Metamorphosis of Shit." Salmagundi 56 (Spring 1982): 26-61.
Rahinovitz, Ruhin. "The Deterioration of Outside Reality in Samuel Beckett's
Fiction." McGrory 167-171.
Ralroidi, Patrick. "Comique et nationalit: l'example irlandais." Eire-Ireland
XIV.2 (Decemher 1989): 23-30.
Raleigh, John Henry. "On the Way Home to lthaca: The Functions of the 'Eumaeus'
Section in Ulysses." Irish Renaissance Annual. Ed. Zach Bowen. Newark: U of
Delaware Press, 1981. \3-114.
Rickard, John S, ed. Irishness and (post)modernism. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell UP,
Ricks, Christopher. Beckett's Dying Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
Rohinson, Fred Miller. "Samuel Beckett: Watt." Samuel Beckett: Modern Critical
Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publications, 1985. 147-
Robinson, Marian. "Funny Funereels: Single Combat in Finnegans Wake and the
Tain Bo Cuailnge." Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 26.3 (FaU 1991): 96-
Rose, Marilyn G. "Decadence and Modernism: Defining by Default." MSLC
4 (1982): 195-206.
Rosen, Steven. Samuel Beckett and tlle Pessimistic Tradition. New Brunswick, N.J.:
Rutgers UP, 1976.
Rosen, Elisheva. Sur le grotesque: L'ancien et le nouveau dans la rflexion esthti-
que. St-Denis: Press Universitaires de Vincennes, 1991.
Schultz, Max. Black HumaI' Fiction of the Sixties. Ohio: Ohio UP, 1973.
Shechner, Mark. Joyce in Nighttown: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry into Ulysses.
Berkeley: U of California Press, 1974.

Shenker, Israel. "Moody Man of Letters." New York Times 6 May 1956: sec.
2: 1,3. Rpt. in Graver 146-149.
Simon, Alfred. "Tout un thtre." Magazine littraire 231 (June 1986): 32-35.
Splitter, Randolph. "Water Words: Language, Sexuality, and Motherhood in Joycc's
Fiction." ELH 49 (Spring 1982): 190-213.
Steig, Michael. "Detning the Grotesque: An Attempt at Synthesis." Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Critieism (Summer 1970): 223-260.
Styan, J.L. The Dark Comedy: The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968.
Thomson, Philip. The Grotesque. London: Methuen and Co. Ud., 1972.
Topsteld, Valerie. The Humour of Samuel Beckett. Toronto: Macmillan, 1988.
Tucker, Lindsey. Stephen and Bloom at Lifes Feast: Alimentary Symbolism and the
Creative Process in James Joyce's Ulysses. Columbus: Ohio State University,
Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New
York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982.
Ussher, Arland. The Face and Mind of Ireland. London: Victor Gollancz Ud.,
Waters, Maureen. The Comic Irishman. Albany, N.Y.: State U of New York Press,
Wolosky, Shira. "Samuel Beckett's Figurai Evasions." Language of theUnsayahle:
The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary TheQry. Eds. SanfQrd Bidick
and WQlfgang Iser. New YQrk: CQlumbia UP, 1989. 165-189.
Yeats, William Butler. "Crazy Jane Talks tQ the Bishop." The NortQn Anthology of
QI' Poetry. 3rd ed. New YQrk: W.W.NQrtQn, 1983. 891.