Jianxi LIE

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Prof. Barry ASKER

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael INGHAM


No other writer has explored so metaphysically the problem of human existence as Samuel Beckett, the Irish writer who first gained world renown in 1953 with the formal radicalism and existential angst of Waiting for Godot. In the bleakest forms, Beckett has denied human experience the most fundamental of all certainties – subjectivity and self-consciousness – and exposed conventional realism’s inability to convey the ungovernable flux of the world and the individual’s unfixed, subjective response.

Taking Beckett’s manipulation of pronominal, spatial and temporal deixis as an entry point, this thesis captures the late works in its central dilemma of Beckettian poetics: the inability to end. For Beckett, ending, or silence, is at the same time the premise and also the vanishing point. In the literary arts the withdrawal into an inner space beyond speech, where the subject is absent, can never be completely successful: silence, ending in the absolute sense, remains an imaginary limit. Beckett strikes his vital poetic sparks off this aporia, in as much as his method of writing is characterized by attempts towards a self-conscious paradox. Consequently he aims to turn the impossibility (after a critical creative impasse after the Trilogy of novels) – and the inevitability – of a linguistic constitution of meaning back into linguistic form. A ‘solution’ to the problem is, of course, unthinkable. The literary object/subject is thus condemned to a permanent oscillation between the rooted-ness of the art form in language, and the disavowal of that rooted-ness.

Instead of viewing his work as motivated by ambitions in the philosophy of language, the present thesis approaches it as an attempt to shore up a language whose progressive extinction had been the constant companion of Beckett’s life as a writer. Relating his late work to his early aesthetic views, the thesis seeks to show, on the one hand, that Beckett’s late work does not constitute a break from his early writings as they seem at first sight. Instead, they as whole witness the maturation of the writer’s aesthetics. On the other hand, drawing on a variety of performance, language and psychoanalytic theories, the thesis argues that subjectivity in late Beckett exists only as the experience of language, as the marks that the movement of language has left on the text or on us, in us, the reader, as we turn our attention towards the indecisive stirrings of language.

Recommended Citation

Lie, J. (2006). Samuel Beckett's late aesthetics of subjectivation (Doctor's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from