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"I hear nothing, I say nothing" : constructions of impotence and ignorance in the work of Samuel Beckett

Alo, Mamo


Mamo Alo


Cliff, 1953 Forshaw

David, 1970 Wheatley


This thesis examines the themes of impotence and ignorance across four novels by Samuel Beckett: Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. Continuities and discontinuities are discussed, along with the relationship of impotence and ignorance to Beckett's project of indicating a type of existence beyond meaningful language and conventional reality. The thesis suggests that Beckett's work is unusually open to multiple interpretations due to its lack of tellability, which is a result of the epistemological collapse of its protagonists. Impotence and ignorance figure as elements in a critique of the three orders of Cartesian rationalism, empirical knowledge, and religious belief, all of which find their limits in the doubts and failures of Beckett's characters. Impotence and ignorance are sometimes chosen states, and sometimes the result of an unchosen process of becoming-other, or a situation in which the protagonist finds himself. Impotence is often figured in terms of physical incapacity, old age, and an asymptotic decay towards death, while ignorance is associated with the gap between real objects and beings, and their representation in language. Beckett's characters undergo a collapse of representational categorisation which is the source of their impotence and ignorance, and which is often connected to a desire to retreat to the inner life. This process also causes the collapse of subjectivity and the ability to narrate, yet it coexists with an inexplicable compulsion to “go on” (speaking, writing, or living) which keeps Beckett's characters always on the edge of death, silence, or disappearance. This process of near-disappearance is of a variety which creates a type of textual production which frustrates any possible interpretation, pointing as it does to a domain beyond language, which is variously figured as chaos, becoming, darkness, and death.


Alo, M. (2015). "I hear nothing, I say nothing" : constructions of impotence and ignorance in the work of Samuel Beckett. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jan 18, 2017
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords English
Public URL
Additional Information Department of English, The University of Hull
Award Date Oct 1, 2015


Thesis (986 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© 2015 Alo, Mamo. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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