Radical Sensibility in 'The End'
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.description.abstract||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. 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.publisher||Florida State University|
|dc.rights||© Journal of Beckett Studies|
|dc.source||Journal of Beckett Studies|
|dc.title||Radical Sensibility in 'The End'|
|local.description.notes||Imported from ARIES|
|local.identifier.absfor||200503 - British and Irish Literature|
|local.contributor.affiliation||Smith, Russell, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU|
|local.identifier.absseo||950203 - Languages and Literature|
|local.identifier.absseo||970120 - Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture|
|Collections||ANU Research Publications|
|01_Smith_Radical_Sensibility_in_%27The_2017.pdf||172.44 kB||Adobe PDF||Request a copy|
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