Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936-1937 reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement

By | June 15, 2012

Samuel Beckett's German Diaries 1936 – 1937 by Mark Nixon is one of our flagship Beckett publications, launching the publication of our Historicizing Modernism series last year.

I am delighted to report that it has had a rave review in the Times Literary Supplement. Normally at this point I would quote a line or 2, but the entire review is so brilliant and generally Beckett-fascinating that I have typed quite a bit up for you to read below.

'In his later novels Samuel Beckett sought a “statement” of the self so honest that the best method seemed total ignorance; only then would the writing contain nothing other than the relation between self and language. With such a writer, any addition to the pool of biographical is an addition to the work, or at least a permissible infringement. Mark Nixon’s critical commentary on Beckett’s German diaries – a set of six notebooks documenting his travels through Germany from October 1936 to March 1937 – is one such addition. The diaries, written largely in English, though bearing the marks of Beckett’s multi-lingual teething, remain unpublished (Nixon is currently preparing a bi-lingual edition). They have thus largely escaped critical attention… Nixon makes up for lost time, offering a comprehensive account that stresses the importance of the diaries in Beckett’s artistic development, placing them in relation to his thinking on psychoanalysis and art; and suggesting that the experience of diary writing  became important in Beckett’s later attempt to create an “authentic” – and ignorant – “inscription of the self”.

Something of an obstacle for Nixon is that 1936-7 represents a fallow period in Beckett’s writing, coinciding with a confessed lack of “emotional  vitality” on his part. Nixon’s answer is that the diaries bear witness to this personal struggle and become part of its solution.  He suggests that they formed an “extension” to the psychoanalysis that Beckett underwent from 1933-35, becoming a “written ‘talking cure’”. They thus offer a change to “eavesdrop on Beckett speaking, or rather, writing to himself”…

One of the great strengths of Nixon’s book is his recourse to manuscript materials in the navigation of densely theoretical problems; the use of historicist methods in tackling questions of form and genre proves a formidable  critical combination.'

You can read a sample number of pages from Samuel Beckett's German Diaries 1936 – 1937 by clicking on the preview button

Jenny Tighe

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