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Radical Sensibility in 'The End'

Smith, Russell

Description

This paper offers a historically contextualized reading of what is perhaps the most explicit engagement with radical politics in Beckett's work, the encounter in The End (1946), Beckett's first piece of postwar fiction, between the narrator, a homeless beggar, and a Marxist orator who abuses him as a ‘leftover’ and denounces the charity of the passers-by as a ‘crime’. With reference to Beckett's later rejection of existentialist interpretations of his work with the words ‘I'm no intellectual....[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorSmith, Russell
dc.date.accessioned2021-09-08T05:42:48Z
dc.identifier.issn0309-5207
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/247689
dc.description.abstractThis paper offers a historically contextualized reading of what is perhaps the most explicit engagement with radical politics in Beckett's work, the encounter in The End (1946), Beckett's first piece of postwar fiction, between the narrator, a homeless beggar, and a Marxist orator who abuses him as a ‘leftover’ and denounces the charity of the passers-by as a ‘crime’. With reference to Beckett's later rejection of existentialist interpretations of his work with the words ‘I'm no intellectual. All I am is feeling (sensibilité)’, and Theodor Adorno's contemporaneous diagnosis in Minima Moralia (1944–1947) of the ‘barbarism’ of cultural criticism's relentless demand to unmask the material relations enfolded in the notion of sensibility, this paper reads this scene as a parody of the callously unsentimental rhetoric of the Parti Communiste Français and the Sartrean existentialist humanism that was the official philosophy of de Gaulle's Fourth Republic. In particular, the orator's castigation of the protagonist as a leftover (un déchet) can be read as part of a long tradition of Marxist excoriations of the lumpenproletariat—the amorphous class of ne'er-do-wells to which so many of Beckett's postwar protagonists belong—that has a precise historical origin in Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire and its denunciation of the role of la bohème, the ‘scum, offal, refuse of all classes’, in the 1851 counter-revolutionary coup d’état of Louis-Bonaparte. Before 1851, however, the amorphous mass of the destitute and homeless was capable of serving as a figure of revolutionary potential, as Walter Benjamin's study of Baudelaire shows, where it was the ragpicker's ‘obscure state of revolt against society’ rather than the optimism of utopian theorists that inspired Baudelaire to fight on the barricades in the failed uprising of 1848. In its presentation of a confrontation between the callous optimism of political futurity and the contemporary extremes of human suffering, The End stakes an allegiance with the war's ‘leftovers’ that is out of step with the official radical politics of the time.
dc.format.mimetypeapplication/pdf
dc.language.isoen_AU
dc.publisherFlorida State University
dc.rights© Journal of Beckett Studies
dc.sourceJournal of Beckett Studies
dc.subjectThe End
dc.subjectpolitics
dc.subjectMarxism
dc.subjectexistentialism
dc.subjectfeeling
dc.subjectAdorno
dc.titleRadical Sensibility in 'The End'
dc.typeJournal article
local.description.notesImported from ARIES
local.identifier.citationvolume26
dc.date.issued2017
local.identifier.absfor200503 - British and Irish Literature
local.identifier.ariespublicationu9803255xPUB1880
local.publisher.urlhttp://www.euppublishing.com/
local.type.statusPublished Version
local.contributor.affiliationSmith, Russell, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU
local.description.embargo2099-12-31
local.bibliographicCitation.issue1
local.bibliographicCitation.startpage69
local.bibliographicCitation.lastpage86
local.identifier.doi10.3366/jobs.2017.0188
local.identifier.absseo950203 - Languages and Literature
local.identifier.absseo970120 - Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture
dc.date.updated2020-11-23T11:00:29Z
local.identifier.scopusID2-s2.0-85020548097
local.identifier.thomsonID000403473100007
CollectionsANU Research Publications

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