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Samuel Beckett's How It Is

Philosophy in Translation

Anthony Cordingley

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The first sustained exegesis of a neglected masterpiece of twentieth-century literature, Samuel Beckett’s How It Is

This book maps out the novel’s complex network of intertexts, sources and echoes, interprets its highly experimental writing and explains the work’s great significance for twentieth-century literature. It offers a clear pathway into this remarkable bilingual novel, identifying Beckett’s use of previously unknown sources in the history of Western philosophy, from the ancient and modern periods, and challenging critical orthodoxies. Through careful archival scholarship and attention to the dynamics of self-translation, the book traces Beckett’s transformation of his narrator’s ‘ancient voice’, his intellectual heritage, into a mode of aesthetic representation that offers the means to think beyond intractable paradoxes of philosophy. This shift in the work’s relation to tradition marks a hiatus in literary modernism, a watershed moment whose deep and enduring significance may now be appreciated.

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List of Illustrations
Series Editor’s Preface
List of Abbreviations
1. A Poetics of Translation: Dante, Gœthe and the Paideia
2. Pythagorean Mysticism / Democritean Wisdom
3. The Physical Cosmos: Aristotelian Dialectics
4. A Comedy of Ethics: From Plato to Christian Asceticism (Via Rembrandt)
5. Mystic Paths, Inward Turns
6. Pascal’s Miraculous Tongue
7. Spinoza, Leibniz, or a World “Less Exquisitely Organized”

About the Author

Anthony Cordingley is ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of English, University of Sydney, on secondment from the Université Paris 8 – Vincennes-Saint-Denis, where he is Associate Professor in English and Translation Studies.


This is the first guide to Beckett’s darkest and most impenetrable novel. This wonderfully informed commentary based on first-hand knowledge of unpublished manuscripts details the numerous philosophical references contained in How It Is. Cordingley makes us grasp how the strength and the beauty of Beckett’s unforgettable sentences derive from countless hidden references, all the while sketching a new theory of Beckett’s use of philosophy.

- Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania

There are few critical studies that one can identify as outstanding. This is one of the few.

- Professor Chris Ackerley, University of Otago

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