Beckett References and Influences
Beckett's hardened minimalism, his sometimes staggered prose, and his biting humour are often and badly mimicked, but those who merely imitate will not be permitted to gather dust here. Instead, we offer a brief catalogue of certain talents and luminaries who more or less explicitly respond to Beckett in their writings, and to whom they owe a distinctive debt.
Suggestions for others who could be added to this company are always welcome. Note that books written specifically about Beckett and his work may be found on the Criticism Page and that music and films inspired by Beckett's life and work are dealt with on the Music and Film Pages, respectively.
John Banville (b. 1945)
The Wexford-born author of Mefisto (1986) and The Untouchable (1998) has repeatedly paid homage to Beckett and has underlined his influence. His trilogy of haunting novels, comprised of The Book of Evidence (1989), Ghosts (1993), and Athena (1995), is frequently compared to Beckett's Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable.
Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989)
Strangely enough, this Austrian writer of what one reviewer has called "breathless, repetitive, spiralling sentences" died in the same year as Beckett. Among his novels are such extraordinary works as Gargoyles (1967), Correction (1975), Concrete (1982), The Loser (1983), and Extinction (1986), and reading even a few pages from any of these dark books (and these are of course titles of English translation from German originals) reveals the degree to which Bernhard has been affected by the example of a work like The Unnamable.
Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003)
Although best known as a formidable literary and cultural critic (see such works as L'Espace littéraire (1955; translated as The Space of Literature) and L'Entretien infini (1969; translated as The Infinite Conversation), Blanchot's harrowing thought can also be felt in a fiction like L'Arrêt de Mort (1948; translated as Death Sentence). John Updike remarked of this book that it gives the impression of "carrying meanings so fragile they might crumble in transit" a shrewd assessment, especially from a writer who once foolishly aped Beckett in scorn. When a reader reaches to the limits of literature, Beckett and Blanchot are there waiting.
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)
The author of Naked Lunch (1959), Exterminator! (1960), and The Place of Dead Roads (1983) professed a deep admiration for Beckett. His fictional world is, like Beckett's, haunted by the fact of its own existence, with all the discomfiting desires and vague moments of peace that accompany it.
J. M. Coetzee (b. 1940)
The award-winning South African novelist has written careful and edifying essays on Beckett, besides incorporating and addressing Beckett's forms of estrangement in his own fictions, such as Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), The Life & Times of Michael K (1983), Foe (1986), and Disgrace (1999).
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Derrida, prolific and influential French critic and de facto founder of the Deconstructionist school of criticism, has said that Beckett's works "make the limits of our language tremble," and himself feels the effects of these tremors in his own attempts to write in French: "How could I write, sign, countersign performatively texts which 'respond' to Beckett? ... Given that Beckett writes in a particular French, it would be necessary, in order to 'respond' to his oeuvre, to attempt writing performances that are impossible for me..." Beckett's works, Derrida suggests, may resist external deconstruction because they self-deconstruct.
James Kelman (b. 1946)
Scottish novelist and short story writer. His 1994 Booker Prize winning novel, How Late It Was, How Late has more than a whiff of Beckett to it, featuring as it does a grotesque account of life as a relentless stumbling from one grimly comic inconvenience to another. Though he has a more pronounced socialist-documentary program to his work, Kelman shares with Beckett both experimental approaches to the notion of "voice" and hard-eyed sympathies for those who barely survive. Kelman's other books include Not Not While the Giro (1983), A Disaffection (1989), The Good Times (1998), and Translated Accounts (2001).
David Mamet (b. 1947)
The debt of this well-known and prolific American playwright and screenwriter to the works of Samuel Beckett is manifest in his dialogue, in which rhythm is perhaps the most important structural consideration. His plays and films include American Buffalo (1976), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), and Oleanna (1994).
Paul Muldoon (b. 1951)
A unique experimenter with rhyme and one of the UK's most prominent and prolific poets, Muldoon displays a constant awareness of the presence of fellow Irish writers present and past. His poem "Incantata" contains many casual references to Irish cultural artifacts and events, and many of those are to the works of Beckett (from Watt to Endgame). His books include Quoof (1983), Madoc (1990), and Hay (1998).
Edna O'Brien (b. 1930? 1932? 1936?)
The author of The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue (1989) and Time and Tide (1990), besides many other novels, has expressed both scorn for the "enclosed, fervid and bigoted" elements of parochial Ireland as well as admiration for fellow Irish writers Joyce and Beckett, who rose above such elements.
Harold Pinter (b. 1930)
Pinter, arguably the most famous and perhaps even greatest living British playwright, was a personal friend of Beckett, whom he once described as "the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him." Pinter's dramas are characterized by apparently slight dialogue and situations filled with potential meaning, punctuated by what has been called "the Pinter pause." The Birthday Party (1958) The Caretaker (1960), and The Homecoming (1965) are among his best-known plays.