Russell Smith
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It’s nothing
Beckett and anxiety

In August 1936, Samuel Beckett wrote in his notebook that it is better to be afraid of something than of nothing. The fact that Beckett wrote in German is significant because it is in part a linguistic exercise. Additionally, it articulates with admirable lucidity an insight that was clearly important to Beckett, coming as it does during a renewal of his anxiety attacks in the wake of an apparently failed course of psychoanalysis. This chapter examines the figuration of anxiety in Beckett's work, using as a primary example a passage from the opening of Molloy. It provides information on two broader questions: the role of 'feeling' in Beckett's writing, particularly in the postwar period, and Beckett's aesthetic preoccupation with the evocation of an unfathomable 'nothingness'. The 'nothingness' of anxiety is the anchor-point of the oscillation, and the movement itself a means of disclosing a central absence.

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Beckett and nothing

Trying to understand Beckett



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