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Beckett Beyond the Normal$
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Seán Kennedy

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474460460

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474460460.001.0001

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Beckett’s Safe Words: Normalising Torture in How It Is

Beckett’s Safe Words: Normalising Torture in How It Is

(p.117) Chapter 8 Beckett’s Safe Words: Normalising Torture in How It Is
Beckett Beyond the Normal

Dominic Walker

Edinburgh University Press

Samuel Beckett excused himself from his affair with Pamela Mitchell with a syntactically evocative phrase: ‘It is I the hurter of the two’. The definite article is telling: How it is (1964 [1961]) universalises one cruel, asymmetric, pseudo-amorous relationship, deducing from it ‘billions’ of similarly helpless, prostrate, mud-bound ‘creatures’, exchanging roles as torturers and victims in a leniently egalitarian distribution of suffering. Titled ‘Pim’ from 1958 until its publication, Beckett’s last, long, prose-like work happened to coincide with the Algerian War of Independence, during which the French authorities tortured captured revolutionary fighters with scant concern for the European Convention on Human Rights. Their pretext was semantic: a novel legal category was invented, ‘pris les armes à la main’, or PAM—a likely homophone both of How it is’s protagonist and of Beckett’s recent ex. Using contemporaneous news reports and recent feminist historical scholarship, ‘Safe Words’ argues that the author’s biographic reminiscences have been transposed onto documented examples of state-sanctioned torture of Algerian women in particular. The essay tentatively concludes that everyday, prosaic acts of gendered domination might not be quite as qualitatively different from official violence as certain readers would wish to believe.

Keywords:   Beckett, Algeria, How it is, Torture, Feminism, De Beauvoir, Mitchel

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