Wilfred bion & beckett

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Outselves: Beckett, Bion and Beyond
Luke Thurston
Aberystwyth University, UK

'Ihe article explores Beckett's encounter with psychoanalysis, which it links to the properly "modernist" dimension of his work, its creative resistance to historicist interpretation. It first engages with biographical accouîits ofBeckett-and-psychoanalysis, emphasizing the problem posed by the conceptof^transference^for an empirieist historiography and pausing over Beckett's remark that his analysis involved "intrauterine memories. " The article then posits a triangular structure linking Beckett i analysis with Bion to his relations with jam^s Joyce and Lucia Joyce, a structure in which Jung occupied a position of false mastery. Ihe Beckettianphrases "never heen properly born"andéxrc manque are shown toderive from this triangle, and are drawn into a phonemic cluster, centred on a mark oJ'linguistic and ontological failure associated with Beckett's mother, which is traced throughout his work. Ihe article addresses Beckett's movement between languages, his refiection on translation and his sense ofthe relation between singular utterance and collective identity.

Keywords: psychoanalysis /encounter / biography / identification / translation

Creating is not communication, but resistance.



ould it still be possible today to link Beckett's encounter with psychoanalysis to questions of Modernist writing? There are two distinct, though related, contemporary arguments against any such attempt. The lirst would contest the continuedvalidity ofthe term "Modernism," referring back ro Raymond Williams's warning tbat by using such a targe and loosely-defined concept, the critic risks failing to account for a rich variety of actual artistic positions and practices over the twentieth century (Williams 65-7). For Williams, it is clear that we should begin our theoretical reflections by concentrating on specific literary histories,witbout seeking to shoe-horn them into any pre-glven theoretical framework. This should be even more the case, we might perhaps tbink, when it comes to dealing with a "belated" modernist like Samuel Beckett, whose very relation to Modernism was always precarious, even questionable.


Journal of Modem Literature Volume 32, Number 3

The second kind of argument against thinking of Beckett'srelation to psycho analysis in terms of Modernism takes a step beyond Williams's materialist skepticism into a full-blown historicism. Here, the reference to archival documents and biographical data purports to do without the need for any theoretical framework at all. From this perspective, what matters is the singular history of Beckett's actual experience of psychoanalysis in the mid-1930s—visiblenot only in accounts of his therapy with Wilfred Bion, but in his contemporary reading, note-taking and correspondence. The truth ofthat history can only be obscured, indeed culpably mythologized, if we think of it as a momentous "encounter," following literary theorists who had either no access to or no interest in that history. Now, it is undoubtedly true that the archival resources that haveonly quite recently become available to Beckett scholarship do add much to the account ot his intellectual development, some of it perhaps surprising and some supposedh' confirming ideas ventured long ago by critics.^ What those new resources do not do is provide clear answers to a set of crucial questions still posed to criticism by Beckett's writing, in particular concerning its ambiguousresponse to psychoanalysis. And it is those questions that emerge from the gap between actuality and potentiality, from the non-coincidence of the empirical and the imaginary, that still very much characterize Beckett's work as Modernist. This is the case so long as we designate by that term not some group aesthetic or vague Zeitgeist, but rather something irreducible to any collective identity: namely...
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