Queer sexuality in Samuel Beckett's late prose

  • Eleanor Green

Student thesis: Phd


During the 1960s, Samuel Beckett's prose work stopped sniggering about sexuality in his mother's bedroom and began to address it in a bolder way. Although some of Beckett's earlier and even post-war works have been considered in relation to debates in queer theory, the peculiar situation of the 1960s prose requires a more systematic approach to questions of gender and sexuality. Here is not an isolated, jocular nod to deviance or perversion, as hitherto has been the case. Characters change gender and undertake explicit sex acts. This has broadly been glossed over due to the texts' minimalist qualities: the narration's professed drive to lessen creates readings that believe the texts have been successful in what they describe. What results, instead, is a form of queer relationality and counter-intuitively negative accumulation that acts minimally but cannot merely be described as minimalist. This thesis offers an argument for reading queer theory with Beckett's oeuvre to address problems that have long dogged Beckett Studies, such as fragmentation, liminality, and lessening. Reading these through queer debates provides a route away from stultifying binary conceptualisations such as transcendent versus material or normal versus abnormal, and addressing the historical backdrop of the 1960s and Beckett's position therein speaks to debates about desire in sexuality studies. Closely reading minimalisms in the context of these frameworks - especially the debate around negativity intrinsic to the 'antisocial thesis' in the work of Lee Edelman, Lauren Berlant, Jose Munoz and Robyn Wiegman - creates further engagements with psychoanalysis through a preoccupation with an evolution of the 'partial object' of Disjecta, as it appears in the late prose. Critical race theory is also used through a study of whiteness and engagement with the history of visual art and culture, and as a nexus of the antisocial debate. Desire undergirds each of these issues, which is why queer theory - though a broad field in itself - remains central to each one. The pivotal text in which Beckett turned towards sexuality was How It Is. This text was written during what he termed the 'Sade boom', when scholarship reckoned with the Marquis de Sade as an example of a philosophy that pushed the limits of sex and power. Drawing on this context, Chapter One explores how the concept of the limit is reconfigured in this faecal text, and how quantification inflects the possibility of reading sex and gender. Chapters Two and Three examine All Strange Away and Imagination Dead Imagine, two texts that in their minimalism demonstrate a refusal to allow a static definition of gender, instead only permitting a form of placeholding to occur, taking further the ultimately sexual problem that a quest for limit creates. Boredom is a crucial theoretical axis, as the focus on quantification finds these works addressing the extremities of over- and under-stimulation that boredom brings with it. Reading minimalism through this lens highlights the queer conceit of this mode: a 'bitchiness' that enacts a resistance to teleology and direct correspondences. Chapter Four offers a re-reading of Enough in order to demonstrate what is lost in readings of Beckett's work that do not apply to gender the same deconstructive modes that are afforded other aspects of categorisation. This amounts to a reversal of the critical reception of the end of this text, which has been accepted as an unproblematic revelation. There can be no debate over the graphic, sexual content of Beckett's late prose; once read through a queer lens, it is stultifying to assume a heteronormative reading. Turning back to Beckett's queerest work queerly, this thesis argues, can resolve some of the most puzzling lacunae in contemporary scholarship both in Beckett Studies and sexuality studies.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDaniela Caselli (Supervisor) & Jacqueline Stacey (Supervisor)


  • How It Is
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
  • Deconstruction
  • Poststructuralism
  • Deleuze
  • Andy Warhol
  • All Strange Away
  • Avant garde
  • Imagination Dead Imagine
  • Sianne Ngai
  • The Lost Ones
  • Lauren Berlant
  • Boredom
  • Negativity
  • Limit
  • Marquis de Sade
  • Stuplimity
  • Performance
  • Enough
  • Visual art
  • Lee Edelman
  • Prosthesis
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Queer theory
  • Queer
  • Sexuality
  • Desire
  • Gender
  • Leo Bersani
  • Robyn Wiegman
  • Modern art
  • Lacan
  • Whiteness
  • White
  • Antisocial thesis
  • 1960s
  • Minimalism
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Freud
  • Alenka Zupancic

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