The Enright Files on Irish Literature and Samuel Beckett

The Irish may just be the most literary of peoples. Only a few million people live in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but that island has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Enright Files explores Irish writers with a focus on the author and playwright, Samuel Beckett.

Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature

For many Irish writers and readers, there are none greater than Samuel Beckett. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

Few writers seem to embody literary Ireland more than Yeats or Joyce. But for many Irish writers and readers, there are none greater than Samuel Beckett.
Beckett did embody an Irish temperament — self-deprecating humour, sensitivity to language, a preoccupation with death, a sense of being a prisoner in his own home.

And yet his leitmotif was failure. His artistic triumphs took failure to be an inescapable part — the essence of the human condition.

But considering he was the poet laureate of failure, futility and the absurd, Beckett did all right for himself. 

He revolutionized theatre and fiction. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. And he became one of those rare figures of the avant-garde, who is a mainstay of popular culture. 

I can't go on, I'll go on.- Samuel Becket from  his novel, The Unnamable

Beckett's, Waiting for Godot was first performed in Paris in 1953. It's arguably the most important and influential play of the 20th Century, and certainly the defining moment of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Two sad-sack old men, Vladimir and Estragon, pace back and forth and wander in circles across a barren set, bickering and getting lost in circular conversations — downtrodden tramps waiting for as long as they can remember for the mysterious Godot. 

Godot gave Beckett a forbidding reputation for bleakness, absurdity and austerity. Confronted by the lack of plot, action or sense, a lot of people encountering Beckett come away as baffled, bored and frustrated as Vladimir and Estragon themselves.

The plays that followed became increasingly spare and difficult. Meanwhile, Beckett's fiction confounded the very nature of plot and character — even of sentences and paragraphs.

But Beckett's writing contains many more dimensions than despair and meaninglessness. It's full of humour, defiance, an exuberant love of language and humanity.

On this month's edition of The Enright Files, guests explore Irish literature with a special focus on Samuel Beckett.

Guests in this episode:

  • Declan Kiberd, cultural historian and author of After Ireland: Writing the Nation from Beckett to the Present
  • John Banville, Man Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist and essayist
  • Lisa Dwan, Irish actor and specialist in Beckett's drama

** The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou.


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