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Samuel Beckett and the Terror of Literature

Christopher Langlois

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Provides a sustained comparative reading of the relation between Beckett and Blanchot through its novel conception of the language and phenomenon of terror

Samuel Beckett and the Terror of Literature addresses the relevance of terror to understanding the violence, the suffering, and the pain experienced by the narrative voices of Beckett’s major post-1945 works in prose: The Unnamable, Texts for Nothing, How It Is, Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, and Worstward Ho. Through a sustained dialogue with the theoretical work of Maurice Blanchot, it accomplishes a systematic interrogation of what happens in the space of literature when writing, and first of all Beckett’s, encounters the language of terror, thereby giving new significance – ethical, ontological, and political – to what speaks in Beckett’s texts.

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Introduction: Terror in Philosophy, Politics, and Literature
1. The Terror of Thinking in The Unnamable
2. The Beginning (Again) and Ending (Again) of Terror in Texts for Nothing
3. The Writing of How It Is in the Paratactic Delay of Terror
4. The Terror of Passivity in Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, and Worstward Ho
Coda: Literature at the Turning Point of Terror.

About the Author

Christopher Langlois teaches in the Department of English at Dawson College, Montréal, Canada. He has published articles in such journals as Twentieth-Century Literature, College Literature, Mosaic, Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd'hui, and the Faulkner Journal, and he is the editor of Understanding Blanchot, Understanding Modernism (Bloomsbury 2018).


Langlois’s book is a rigorous study of literary terror in theoretical and aesthetic modernism in Europe. It is not only a welcome addition to literature on Blanchot and Beckett, but also an important contribution towards understanding terror as a historical affect with onto-epistemological qualities. In our world, where terrorism has become perhaps the most important global problem, the book conceptually investigates this important notion of terror and even resignifies it in the process. It raises serious questions about any simplistic construction of a literary ethic by reminding us how the literary is itself the ontological hotbed of terror.

- Arka Chattopadhyay, Modernism/modernity

"I only think," Beckett’s Unnamable confides, "once a certain degree of terror has been exceeded." How Beckett thought through Terror entails going back to Sade, Hegel, Paulhan and Blanchot, moving from the French Revolution to the aftermath of the Holocaust. Langlois shows with extraordinary power why Beckett felt the obligation to invent a language by keeping on writing after literature had become impossible.

- Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania

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