Beckett and Embodiment

Body, Space and Agency

Amanda M. Dennis

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Reveals how the body in Beckett, embedded in its material environment, exhibits embodied agency

  • Accents the importance of the body in Beckett and provides a new reading of the body in his postwar writing and experimental prose of the 60’s and 80’s
  • The first study of Beckett and Merleau-Ponty as thinkers of space, this book asks how the body’s relation to its surroundings both limits and enables agency
  • Shows how Beckett and Merleau-Ponty inform contemporary debates about post-humanism, ecology and the body’s relation to its material environment
  • Examines Beckett’s ambivalent critique of humanist agency (as will) and draws on phenomenology to reveal in Beckett a version of agency that is more robust than poststructuralist or deconstructionist models

This book argues that the abject, decrepit body in Beckett does not signal the impossibility of agency but demands its reconceptualisation. Analysing the representation of the body in relation to the environment in Beckett’s work, the author interrogates the power to do and act. Separating dynamic interaction from willed intention, Amanda Dennis shows how Beckett’s oeuvre refashions subjectivity in dialogue with a disintegrating environment. The book provides a phenomenological reading of Beckett to argue that sensation and embodiment support our interactions with our material world, enabling possibilities for embodied agency in collaboration with our physical and linguistic surroundings.


Introduction: Embodied Agency: Towards an Ecology of the Subject

1. From Cartesian Ruins: Rocking Chair Phenomenology

2. Short-Circuited Rationalism, or How the Body Means

3. From Dialectics to Infinity: Life Cycles in Molloy, Malone Dies and Endgame

4. Radical Indecision: Aporia and Embodied Agency in The Unnamable

5. Style and the Violence of Passivity: How It Is

6. Compulsive Bodies, Creative Bodies: Quad

7. The Body and Creation: Worstward Ho

8. Conclusion: Embedded in the World: Beckett, Late Modernism, Earth-Body Art


Attending to the "meaning-making potential of the body in space," Amanda Dennis demonstrates the continuing value of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology for an understanding of Beckett’s posthuman ecology. Beckett and Embodiment is a timely and important study written with a keen and critical intelligence.

Professor Jonathan Boulter, Western University
Amanda M. Dennis is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris. She co-edited the recent volume Samuel Beckett and the Nonhuman (Brill, 2020), and her articles have appeared in the Journal of Modern Literature, the Journal of Beckett Studies and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, among other places. She has held fellowships and visiting lectureships in France, the US, the UK and Spain, and she is the author of the novel Her Here (Bellevue Literary Press, 2021).

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