"Like a sweat of things": Familiarity, intertextuality and Beckett's Bibles

Iain Bailey

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Samuel Beckett's work is persistently concerned with language coming from somewhere else, and among the most sustained critical discourses around it are those that take an interest in its sources, influences, and appropriations. This essay aims to show that a notion of familiarity is either tacitly or explicitly fundamental to many of these discourses, and argues that familiarity is a crucial problem for any critical practice wanting to negotiate ideas of intertextuality. Familiarity is a problem insofar as it runs between demonstrability and non-demonstrability, and between a more-or-less undifferentiated abstract totality and discrete units of language. These are oppositions that Beckett's writing dramatises in its relation to other texts, both in the published work and in the archives. They are also brought out especially clearly in the case of the Bible, which has tended to be regarded as the most familiar of quantities for Beckett. Centred on Malone Dies, the essay offers a reading of the ways in which language and possession are worked over as mutual problems in Beckett's writing, while at the same time looking to account for the sense in which it displays – according to a note by Adorno on The Unnamable – ‘something like sound common sense’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-160
Number of pages19
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number1
Early online date5 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Samuel Beckett
  • Bible
  • Intertextuality
  • Recognition
  • Influence
  • Allusion


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