Rudrum, David (2008) From sublime to ordinary: Stanley Cavell's Beckett. In: Literature and Philosophy/Philosophy and Literature Inaugural Conference, 12th - 14th June 2008, University of Sussex. (Unpublished)

The writings of Samuel Beckett have attracted a great deal of philosophical attention over the years. The likes of Adorno, Blanchot, Bataille, Deleuze, and Badiou have all commented on his works, and much recent Beckett criticism has addressed itself towards these philosophical readings. However, comparatively little has been said about Beckett's place in Anglo-American philosophy, despite studies of his works by both Martha Nussbaum and Stanley Cavell. My aim in this paper will be to assess the claims of Cavell's reading of Beckett, especially in relation to what James Noggle has called the 'Wittgensteinian sublime'. Cavell's reading of Beckett draws attention to features of Beckett's language that he describes as surprisingly 'ordinary' and 'literal'. And yet the suggestion that Beckett's plays mean just what they say is undercut by their repeated gestures towards (and beyond) the limits of ordinary language games. Such experiences of linguistic finitude have been described by James Noggle as analogous to the sublime. In his reading of Wittgenstein, the void of meaninglessness that lies beyond everyday language games is a disjunctive moment beyond comprehension, and hence like the experience of the sublime. By applying this argument to the play Endgame, I expand upon and evaluate Cavell's intriguing interpretation of Beckett.

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