The On-tology of Beckett’s Nohow On


“Not ‘trilogy,’ I beseech you” was Samuel Beckett response when the idea of giving his three post-war novels the title of trilogy was first floated by his editor John Calder (Ackerley and Gontarski, 586). Editorial pressure prevailed, however, and the word trilogy was subsequently accepted by the public, scholars and, albeit grudgingly, by Beckett himself. The publication of Beckett’s late-career narratives, Company, Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho gave rise to a similar controversy. When John Calder first published the three prose texts in Britain under the single title Nohow On, John Banville from the Irish Times objected that creating in this way a de facto trilogy goes against the spirit in which the texts were produced. Again, the publishers persisted in their designs, leading once more to a general consensus regarding the term “second trilogy,” sometimes appearing as “micro-trilogy.” As insignificant as it appears, the tale of the two trilogies mimics one of the central dilemmas of Beckett’s works, namely the chronic difficulty of identifying a thing with its name. It points, in other words, to the fact of “ill-saying” that gives Beckett’s prose its aesthetic principle while at the same time presenting it with its greatest creative challenge. It is perhaps to the “ill-named” trilogies that Beckett unsuspectingly refers when he writes, in Ill Seen Ill Said: “The mind betrays the treacherous eyes and the treacherous word their treacheries. Haze sole certitude” (78).

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