Samuel Beckett | Samuel Beckett | James Joyce

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Kerim Can Yazgünoğlu Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aytül Özüm IED 684 Contemporary Novel (Till 50s) 26. 05. 2011 An Interpretation of the Meaninglessness: The Ontological and Epistemological Decrepitude of M-alone Regarded as “a modernist, a late modernist, the last modernist, and the first postmodernist” (Abbott “Samuel Beckett” 306), Samuel Beckett is “the leading practitioner of literature of the absurd in 20th-century fiction in English” (Gaydosik 278). Beckett wrote prose and poetry, and wrote in English and French, “publishing over 100 titles in all” (Oppenheim 1). It can be considered that the works of Beckett are “a challenge to any and all labelling” (Abbot 306). Beckett illustrates the effects of the vicissitudes from which people suffer after the cataclysm of the Second World War by bringing nihilist and existential anxieties into focus in his writings. Therefore, he is “celebrated as the truest voice of a ravaged post-war world” (McDonald 2). What is striking is that “in his novels and plays, the sometimes physically mutilated people reflect (unintentionally) his mutilated philosophy of life: [...] there is disease, paralysis, deformation. The final message is that life is boring, dirty, and ends in death” (Coombes 265). What the inquiry in this study offers is that Malone Dies (1958), which is the second novel, written in French under the title Malone Meurt (1951), in the trilogy of novels, will be scrutinised in terms of its themes, structure and its poetics of narrative by taking the Beckettian philosophy of life into account in accordance with varied perspectives.

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First of all, before delving deeply into the text of Malone Dies, it is necessary to look at Beckett’s life. Beckett was born in 1906 “on the outskirts of Dublin into an upper middle class Protestant family, part of the settler population of an island that was invaded by the Vikings and the Anglo-Normans and was planted by the English and Scottish in the Elizabethan and Tudor ages” (McMullan 89). What is significant is that Beckett “lived through extraordinary times from the start. His childhood and teenage years saw the rise of militant Irish nationalism and the subsequent War of Independence and Civil War. He was in Germany during the thirties and the consolidation of Nazi power, and in Paris during the occupation, where he joined the Resistance” (McDonald 8). Beckett left Ireland for Paris so as to work as a teacher of English at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Significantly, Beckett made two friendships which were of great influence on his life. It is noted that the “first was with the English lecteur whom he was to replace at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Thomas M[a]cGreevy” (Bair “Samuel Beckett”), who is the Irish poet and art critic. Then, MacGreevy introduced “the young Beckett to literary society in the French Capital, most importantly to James Joyce and his circle, including Eugene Jolas, the editor of the avant-garde, modernist magazine transition” (McDonald 9). As is figured out, Beckett “occasionally helped the older man [James Joyce], whose sight was ailing, in his writing of ‘Work in Progress’ (known on its full publication as Finnegans Wake (1939))” (McDonald 10). Conspicuously, James Joyce “became for Beckett both a surrogate father and a model of artistic integrity” (Bair). Beckett is the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1969, as well. He lived with Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, and died in Paris in 1989. It is worth pointing out that the trilogy of novels entails many of the characteristics concerning “Modernist stylistics and preoccupations: a solipsistic mental landscape, an unreliable narrator, psychological and linguistic repetition, an obsession with language, a quest(ioning) towards ‘reality,’ uncertainty in a Godless universe, the constraints of

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convention against the drives of passion and black humour” (Childs 6). Obviously, Beckett philosophises about ontological and epistemological anxieties of humankind by calling into question the issue of birth/death, that is to say, womb/tomb. As Paul Sheehan remarks in Modernism, Narrative and Humanism,
[d]oubt [...] is the mastertheme that organises the Beckettian topoi. It ravels and unravels the late 1940s fictions, the trilogy of novels produced by the legendary, prodigious “siege in the room.” Starting with the comedy of uncertainty, it wends its way first through the virtualisation of birth and death, then through the snares and binds of aporia, to alight, finally at a paradoxical form of apostasy. (152-3)

What can be deduced from the quotation is that the Beckettian man is preoccupied with his sceptical, obsessive and repetitive acts of writing, behaviour and habits by paying attention the decomposition of both the body and the mind which are of the very significant place in displaying the Beckettian thought of the Cartesian dualism. It is throughout the trilogy that “resonant themes of the nature of the self and subjectivity, of the urge or the imperative to tell stories, of the relationship between language and the world, of the nature of suffering and of experience, of the ramifications of human solitude, are explored in a controlled prose of tremendous grace and formal eloquence” (McDonald 88). These themes can be exemplified in Malone Dies in the light of the philosophical and critical inquiry into the Beckettian man, world and narration. Furthermore, Malone Dies was “originally titled ‘L’Absent,’ giving an indication of the narrator’s isolation from the world, a theme that is reinforced by the pun inherent in his name: Malone (M, alone)” (Garforth “Samuel Beckett”). What is salient is that the title reflects the theme of solitude, that is, the progressive debilitation, finally the death of Malone. The progressive decrepitude of physical body of Malone or Sapo-Macmann provides an insightful inquiry into the predicament of humankind in general. Malone is confined to bed

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adjacent to a window in a bare room with a cupboard: “It is not a room in a hospital, or in a madhouse, I can feel that” (Beckett MD 168). Malone is preoccupied with writing stories. “While waiting I shall tell myself stories, if I can” (Beckett MD 65) since “I look forward to their giving me great satisfaction, some satisfaction” (Beckett MD 66). These stories are written in an exercise-book by Malone. He intends to write four stories: “One about a man, another about a woman, a third about a thing and finally one about an animal, a bird probably” (Beckett MD 166). It is clear that Malone is both protagonist and story-teller. He creates two characters, young Saposcat and old Macmann, but Malone himself is created by the author. These two characters function as the alter-egos of Malone in the narration. These characters are re-reflections of Malone. How the Beckettian man seems is described as follows: “The vicissitudes of the flesh shortcircuit the mind’s hunger for self-scrutiny that characterises Beckettian man; a hunger that has ramifications in terms of Beckett’s conception of the human” (Sheehan 152). Malone constantly gazes his body which is impotent. It is important to note that one of the main themes is the impotence of the body and the mind: “My body is what is called, unadvisedly perhaps, impotent. There is virtually nothing it can do” (Beckett MD 171) and “[i]f I had the use of my body I would throw it out of window. But perhaps it is the knowledge of my impotence that emboldens me to that thought. All hangs together, I am in chains” (Beckett MD 201). As is indicated, “[w]hat characterises Beckettian man then, in a second humanist transvaluation, is really two types of infirmity: physical decay, most obviously, but also intellectual atrophy” (Sheehan 160). These characteristics can be observed in the Beckettian men such as Molloy, Moran, Malone and Sapo-Macmann. The corporeal decay and the intellectual atrophy of Malone, then, are the harbinger of death which seems to be opposite to birth in the novel. When we look at the beginning of the novel, Malone explains: “I shall soon be quite dead at last in spite of all” (Beckett MD 165). Malone is obsessed with his dying process. The ontological anxiety comes to surface when

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Malone speaks: “They rise up out of the pit and know no rest until they drag you down into its dark” (Beckett MD 177). Here the pit turns out to be a metaphor for the tomb/grave. As is remarked,
Beckett’s writing reveals a compulsive absorption with the processes of birth and death. Both take place on cusps, at either end of ‘life;’ Beckett divests both of their surety. Death is made ambiguous and indistinct, and part of the mode of its virtuality is that birth, too, assumes an indeterminacy. (One cannot die without first being properly born.) This is Beckett’s most disquieting uncertainty, implanted at the deepest ontological level. (Sheehan 161)

It is from these lines that what we can deduce is that for Beckett, birth seems to be inseparable from death in a way that they merge together in the novel. That is to say, death and birth are not at all opposites, but they are “simultaneous occurrences, separated only by what Schopenhauer called ‘the momentary intermezzo of an ephemeral existence’ [...], in which ‘everything lingers only for a moment, and hurries on to death’” (Sheehan 162). One of the most quoted sentences in the novel can exemplify this situation: “I am being given, if I may venture the expression, birth to into death, such is my impression” (Beckett MD 260). Conspicuously, what is significant in this contention is that birth and death are vague as in Malone’s words: “It’s vague, life and death” (Beckett MD 206). It may be also argued that death is rendered as a kind of birth or rebirth or salvation. What is clear for Malone is that the “end of a life is always vivifying” (Beckett MD 195). It can be seen as a return to womb which is of great importance in understanding the issue of womb/tomb in the novel. Malone feels like as follows: “Yes, an old foetus, that’s what I am now, hoar and impotent, mother is done for, I’ve rotted her, she’ll drop me with the help of gangrene, perhaps papa is at the party too [...]” (Beckett MD 207). It is said that “[t]o be human, in Beckett’s world, means to undergo slow suffocation in the amniotic fluid of being, an unwitting and unwilling accessory in a process that resembles a prolonged miscarriage” (Sheehan 164). This miscarriage might

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destroy m/other. Like Molloy, Malone seems to yearn for a/n m/other space, which might signify Malone’s returning to wombtomb. What is more is that Malone’s “old” habit to suck is significant in terms of the relations between womb and tomb. John Fletcher remarks that the “womb is everywhere seen as a place of protective calm” (59). He continues to contend that:
Nostalgia for the womb; ambiguous attitude, one compounded of love (cf. “I suck,” [199]) and detestation, for the mother who ejected the hero form the womb; and dread and loathing felt for the father, who is obscurely felt to have been ultimately responsible for the expulsion [...]: these are the dominant sentiments of Beckettian man. They enable us to understand Malone’s attitude to death. (60)

As in Fletcher’s argument, the duality of womb/tomb is transgressed by the narrative of Malone. That is, Malone sees the womb of his mother as “putrid mucus” (Beckett MD 207). Here womb turns out to be tomb/grave replete with decaying animals/human beings. When we philosophise about Malone’s universe or other Beckettian men, the interrelations between metaphysics and the mind are of great significance in that Beckett both interrogates and challenges the commonly-accepted norms of life or ontology and epistemology. When we look at the Fig. 1. And Fig. 2., the philosophical and scientific questionings of Beckett come to surface. In the essay entitled “Samuel Beckett and Science,” C. J. Ackerley elaborates on Beckettian world, arguing that “[s]cience, for Samuel Beckett, is inseparable from its shadow, religion” (143). When we begin to read the charts, apperception is seen as “the active process of the mind’s reflecting upon itself, the consciousness of being conscious” (Ackerley 153). Malone is aware of the fact that “I tried to live without knowing what I was trying to” (Beckett MD 179). The structure of Beckettian world or the trilogy is described by Ackerley as such:
[T]he mind [is] pictured as a hermetic (monadic) sphere with three zones: the light, the half-light, and the dark. In the first, “forms with

Yazgünoğlu 7 parallel” are perceived by the consciousness, and their configuration (in Proustian terms) is voluntary. In the second, “forms without parallel” indicate that consciousness is relaxed, its activity involuntary. In the third or dark zone, the mind experiences total freedom; this is the atomist void, the Freudian unconsciousness, Schopenhauer’s will-lessness, and/or the world of quanta and nonNewtonian motion, often imaged as the embryonic state of primal pleasure. (156)

Obviously, this model is valid for the trilogy of novels. The first zone exemplifies the situation of Molloy; the second signifies Malone’s involuntary telling of stories and the final indicates the dark zone of the jar in The Unnamable. In both charts, metaphysics and geology stand for consciousness and death. There is “the atomist conviction of the dissolution of the ‘soul’ with that of the body; life is imaged as a process of slow crucifixion, and he [Beckett] is deeply sceptical of the facile optimism that would seek consolation beyond the grave” (Ackerley 158). This is obvious in Malone’s thoughts. It is noted that “[a] wry jest informs very reference to nature (Malone when he is dead will be ‘natural’ at last), for death is the natural order of things” (Ackerley 158). Geology also reflects the inertia or impotence of the corporeality of Malone. What is significant is that geology and psychology symbolise tomb and womb. As we have argued above, “frequent images of the embryo testify to Beckett’s desire to return to the womb” (Ackerley 159). This signifies the pre-oedipal desire which is in relation to the m/other. In addition, psychology and mathematics represent rational and irrational. As in Molloy, there is an ongoing debate on the rationalist tradition in Malone Dies. As is indicated, the three novels “interrogate the cogito as the frustrum of thought” (Ackerley 159). By telling stories about Sapo-Macmann, Malone tries to create “the ideal real” which turns out to be irrational. The issues of birth/death and womb/tomb are recurrent through the narrative of Malone. For instance, in the story of Sapo-Macmann, old Lambert buries the dead mule: “His body was in the hole or pit he had dug for his mule, which had died during the night” (Beckett MD 194). Pits, holes, vaults and ditches serve as graves or tombs in the trilogy

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of novels: “Perhaps after all I am in a kind of vault and this space which I take to be the street in reality no more than a wide trench or ditch with other vaults opening upon it” (Beckett MD 201). The images of trench or ditch are reminiscent of the malicious war, that is, death. It is obvious that birth is inseparable from death and womb from tomb. Moreover, the possessions of Malone and objects are significant in that they have some connotations with respect to the issues of birth/death and womb/tomb. These are stick, pencil, exercise-book, boot, hat, bowl, pot, chair and umbrella. Malone remarks: “How great is my debt to sticks!” (Beckett MD 170). Stick becomes the part of Malone. As Yoshiki Tajiri points out in Samuel Beckett and the Prosthetic Body,
[j]ust like Molloy’s bicycle and crutches, the stick is more than an ordinary prosthesis. Apart from his writing, which he performs with his pencil and exercise-book, most of Malone’s physical action rests on this stick. Moreover, it can serve as a substitute hand [...] [T]he stick seems to be incorporated into the body and function like a sentient hand – a better hand, actually. (44-45)

This contention paves the way for the concept of becoming prosthetic body in the novel. Malone becomes a kind of prosthetic body whose boundaries are fluid, mechanical, indeterminate and heterogeneous. This prosthetic body suffers from physical deterioration as Sapo-Macmann does in the novel. Stick can be also seen as the “phallus” in both Freudian and Lacanian sense. Since Malone is impotent, he fantasies about his penis: “I mean the tube itself, and in particular the nozzle, from which when I was yet a virgin clouts and gouts of sperm came streaming and splashing up into my face.” (Beckett MD 215). It clearly illustrates Malone’s masturbatory habits. In “Beckett and Homoeroticism,” Peter Boxall interrogates the idea that “it is Malone’s straightness that leads him to privilege the phallus as a biological site of pleasure, and the joy taken in the ejaculating penis is located, by default, in a heterosexual matrix” (115-6). As Susan Mooney suggests in “Malone Dies: Postmodernist Masculinity,”

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“[a]s a postmodern Bildungsroman (that is, a novel that undoes the novel of becoming and its achieving heroic masculine protagonist), Malone Dies rewrites masculinity as both possibility and failure, as a subjectivity oscillating between dominance and submission” (276). In addition to stick, pencil is one of the most crucial items which determine Malone’s life or narration: “My pencil. It is a little Venus, still green no doubt, with five or six facets, pointed at both ends and so short there is just room, between them, for my thumb are the two adjacent fingers, gathered together in a little vice. I use the two points turn and turn about, sucking them frequently, I love to suck” (Beckett MD 204). Pencil functions as the nipple of mother, which illustrates the pre-oedipal relationship with mother. When pencil is lost, Malone searches for it for two days. It is important for Malone to continue to write stories, perhaps Malone Dies, for he is both the creator and the created protagonist. What is another significant item for Malone is pot: “What matters is to eat and excrete. Dish and pot, dish and pot, these are the poles” (Beckett MD 170). Pot seems to be reminiscent of tomb. From the feminist perspective, dish can be related to “mouth.” As Elin Diamond remarks in “Feminist Readings of Beckett,” “[m]outh is the female body’s metonymic reduction, both organ of speech and organ of sex/birth/reproduction” (49). Therefore, “mouth” can be interrelated in the narration in terms of Malone’s search for the maternal or pre-oedipal space and his attempt to tell the stories. Also, the exercise-book is important in that Malone points out that “[t]his exercisebook is my life, this big child’s exercise-book, it has taken me a long time to resign myself to that” (252). It is obvious to point to the idea that Malone’s possessions are of great value in terms of their different connotations in relation to the predicament of Malone, who is absolutely isolated from the society. What is more is that the ontological anxiety of Malone thematically draws attention to suffering and boredom. The phrases such as “What tedium” are recurrent in the novel in that Malone is fed up with the world as he sees the world as a shambles. He also suffers from both

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his habits and the vicissitudes of life. In his essay on Marcel Proust, Beckett remarks that “[t]he periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations [...] represent the perilous zones in the life the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being” (452). This best exemplifies Malone’s predicament. Beckett comments upon boredom and suffering by arguing:
The fundamental duty of Habit, about which it describes the futile and stupefying arabesques of its supererogations, consists in a perpetual adjustment and readjustment of our organic sensibility to the conditions of its worlds. Suffering represents the omission of that duty, whether through negligence or inefficiency, and boredom its adequate performance. The pendulum oscillates between two terms: Suffering – that opens a window on the real and is the main condition of the artistic experience, and Boredom – with its host of top –hatted and hygienic ministers, Boredom that must be considered as the most tolerable because the most durable of human evils. (453)

As is seen in Beckett’s contention, Malone chooses the boredom so as to alleviate his “[g]randiose suffering” (Beckett MD 259) and pains: “I should not speak of my sufferings. Cowering deep down among them I feel nothing” (Beckett MD 171). The suffering makes Malone speculate on his being and nihilist thoughts. Being and nothingnessvoid/absence/emptiness/naught -are interrogated throughout the novel in terms of the ontological anxiety which Malone feels: “Nothing is more real than nothing” (emphasis in original, Beckett MD 177). This oxymoron reflects “the absolute of nothing that comes with death” (Abbott “Narrative” 7). As H. Porter Abbott underlines, “not any thing” is more real than “the condition of ‘nothingness’” (7). Malone remarks that “[w]hat I sought, when I struggled out of my hole [wombtomb], then aloft through the stinging air towards an inaccessible boon, was the rapture of vertigo, the letting go, the fall, the gulf, the relapse to darkness, to nothingness, to earnestness, to home [...]” (Beckett MD 179). This issue might be elaborated in relation to the philosophical inquiry in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and

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Nothingness. As a result, Malone gains salvation through boredom and suffering, but he becomes nothing since he is dead as Beckett puts it: “Death is dead because Time is dead” (“Proust” 454). The poetics of narrative and the structure of narration in Malone Dies are of great concern in the sense that Malone creates “a fictional narrative” (Bode 24), and he becomes both protagonist and creator. The duality of creator and creation is transgressed through the stories of Sapo-Macmann and other protagonists: “Then it will be all over with the Murphys, Merciers, Molloys, Morans and Malones, unless it goes on beyond grave. [...] How many have I killed, hitting them on the head or setting fire to them? Off-hand I can only think of four, all unknowns, I never knew anyone” (Beckett MD 217). As J. D. O’Hara suggests in “About Structure in Malone Dies,” “[a]poria ... explains the structural duality of the novel. Shunted from storyteller to story, from creator to creature, from one world to another, we are kept from settling on either one as the ‘reality’ of the novel, and we can make no resolution of the two” (67-8). However, in The Unnamable, the voice declares: “all these Murphys,

Molloys and Malones do not fool me” (Beckett 278). This paradox is recurrent in the trilogy of novels. When we look at the style of the novel, it is pointed out that “[q]uestions, asides, exclamations, single words, interruptions, and blanks marking air-pockets – often dramatic ones – all signifiying here a speech that is always uttered, devised, with uncertain prospects. Malone speaks, but he dies” (Janvier 88). It is worth remarking that the first person narration makes it solipsistic. When we look at the typological circle (Fig. 3.), the limited point of view and reflector-character can be seen in Malone Dies. The internal perspective also makes the narrator unreliable. In Fig. 4., the narration of Malone Dies is rendered as “homodiegetic,” and focalization is internal. In “Narrative,” Abbot contends that there is “egregious narrative gap, which is a kind of narrative blank” (7) in Malone Dies. The first gap takes place between the stories of Saposcat and Macmann. In this egregious gap, Saposcat turns into Macmann of

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sixty years of age. As Abbot remarks, “Malone does exercise control over his material, making it do his bidding. Yet here is cause for genuine puzzlement, for Malone, in effect, gives life to what has life, creates the already created, writes what writes itself. This is the kind of mystery that sears the mind. The answer to it, if answer there be, lies somewhere in the gap between Sapo and Macmann” (17). These gaps are regarded as “representations of nothing” (Abbot 25). The narratological inquiry provides valuable perspective for understanding the poetics of narrative in Malone Dies. To conclude, what emerges from this examination is that Malone Dies is of great significance in offering different perspectives for intellectualising on life, birth, death, suffering, boredom, impotence, nothingness, void, intellectual deterioration and corporeal decrepitude which thematically enrich the content of the novel. What is significant is that this inquiry draws attention to nothingness of a being and meaninglessness of life.

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Works Cited Primary Source: Beckett, Samuel. Malone Dies of The Beckett Trilogy. London: Picador, 1980. Secondary Sources: Abbott, H. Porter. “Samuel Beckett: Murphy.” A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture. Eds. David Bradshaw and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. ----. “Narrative.” Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies. Ed. Lois Oppenheim. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Ackerley, C. J. “Samuel Beckett and Science.” A Companion to Samuel Beckett. Ed. S. E. Gontarski. Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Bair, Deirdre. "Samuel (Barclay) Beckett." British Dramatists Since World War II. Ed. Stanley Weintraub. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. Beckett, Samuel. “Proust.” Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. Eds. Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman and Olga Taxidou. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007. Bode, Christoph. The Novel: An Introduction. Trans. James Vigus. Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Boxall, Peter. “Beckett and Homoeroticism.” Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies.

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Ed. Lois Oppenheim. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Childs, Peter. Modernism. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Coombes, H. English Literature: Made Simple. London: W. H. Allen, 1977. Diamond, Elin. “Feminist Readings of Beckett.” Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies. Ed. Lois Oppenheim. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Fletcher, John. “Malone ‘Given Birth To Into Death’.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Molloy, Malone Dies and the Unnamable. Ed. J. D. O’Hara. London: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Garforth, Julian A. "Samuel Beckett." Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 1. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Gaydosik, Victoria. “Malone Dies.” The Facts On File Companion to The British Novel. Vol.2. New York: Facts On File, 2006. Janvier, Ludovic. “Style in the Trilogy.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Molloy, Malone Dies and the Unnamable. Ed. J. D. O’Hara. London: Prentice-Hall, 1970. McDonald, Ronan. The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. McMullan, Anna. “Irish/Postcolonial Beckett.” Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies. Ed. Lois Oppenheim. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Mooney, Susan. “Malone Dies: Postmodernist Masculinity.” A Companion to Samuel

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Beckett. Ed. S. E. Gontarski. Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. O’Hara, J. D. “About Structure in Malone Dies.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Molloy, Malone Dies and the Unnamable. Ed. J. D. O’Hara. London: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Oppenheim, Lois. “Introduction.” Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies. Ed. Lois Oppenheim. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Sheehan, Paul. Modernism, Narrative and Humanism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Tajiri, Yoshiki. Samuel Beckett and the Prosthetic Body: The Organs and Senses in Modernism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

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