Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Though separated by nearly a century and by two different cultures, Herman Melville and Samuel Beckett complement each other's concept of man and his world. This concept is the concept of pessimism, which each man adopted and expanded throughout his works.
Both authors lament the concept that man must struggle to attempt unachievable goals, yet both also insist that the only way to maintain a type of balance is to "go on."
The Beckettian-Melvillian hero, consequently, is a "thought-diver." As he strips layers from the Self, he simultaneously strips layers from the cosmos. Thus, the stripping of the Self and the fusing of the Self with the universe become a central theme in these two authors' works. Man, in his descent through the layers of the Self, conceives of a tragic vision; he becomes sorrowful, but paradoxically acquires a "heart," a richness of spirit which could not be attained in any other manner.
The hero is also an orphan in search of the true parentage. He seeks to return to the womb/tomb. It is in the warm, dark, quiet places where he creates his fictions in order to "go on." He must, however, leave the darkness from time to time in order to attempt his quests.
The characters of both authors seek to escape Time, to make an end so that the Self can be reunited with the Whole. All their elaborate fictions are attempts to utter a name which will cause a silence, bring an end.
Both authors owe a literary debt to William Shakespeare, particularly in regard to the concept of nothingness. Both agree that any attempt to impose meaning into the world could only result in destruction.
The characters of both Melville and Beckett journey a treacherous path bordered on both sides by chasms of suicide and insanity. They must proceed on a solitary quest which will render no final answers. The journey will lead them, each one a unique Ulysses, far across uncharted seas to an Ithaca that does not exist. That these seas are primarily those of the Self is evident.
Time and time again, both authors, through their characters, admit to and lament over a paradox: language is an extremely inadequate and deceptive tool which one ought to avoid, yet it is the only tool available to link the Self with external reality. One may cry about it, berate it, but in the end one will equip oneself with this frail instrument and "go on." The language must continue, the fictions must be formed, and the man must endure the "waiting" as he goes on, ever onward, in "the long sonata of the dead," to the grave.
Bahnke, Jeanette Elaine, "Melville and Beckett: A Legacy of Pessimism" (1978). Masters Theses. 3229.
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