Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



My dissertation, “Gathering Thinglessness”: Samuel Beckett’s Essayistic Approach to Nothing, responds to the dominant strand in Beckett criticism that figures the writer as a philosopher of “nothing” whether of Democritean, existentialist, or deconstructionist voids. In contrast, I argue that Beckett’s literary texts approximate philosophy in their essayistic style, characterized by the incorporation of multiple, contradictory sources in a fragmented form. While philosophical analyses are often designed to demonstrate that the literary texts are the equivalent of philosophical discourse, in the first chapter I argue that they actually serve to re-subordinate literature to philosophy since they depend on the pre-existing philosophical text to explain the literary one. In the second chapter, I review twentieth-century theory on the relationship between the fields to substantiate the point that the border between literature and philosophy remains unresolved since many of Plato’s original characterizations of poetry persist in varied forms. Since the question of the relationship between literature and philosophy is such a broad one, I then take a turn to examine “nothing,” a concept/image that is shared by both fields of thought to understand where Beckett’s use of the term fits on a continuum between the two fields. In chapter three, I argue that, contrary to a longstanding argument that Beckett proffers a consistent position on the nature of being as nothing, Beckett’s actually incorporates multiple, inconsistent philosophical positions on “nothing” into his work. In chapter four, I focus on Beckett’s aesthetic influences to demonstrate that his primary contribution to intellectual history was not to make an original argument about nothing, but to alter the formal properties that are conventionally associated with the word. In the final chapter, I conclude that Beckett’s aggregation of inconsistent philosophical and aesthetic sources and his adoption of a fragmented structure mirror the form of the Montaignian essay in the sense that it reflects the movements of an ever-shifting mind. In that way, Beckett’s writing falls on a continuum next to philosophy since his work adopts the style of the essay but also remains distinct from systematic thought.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Demastes, William