Imperfect Mastery: The Failure of Grammar in Beckett’s “L’Innommable

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    Samuel Beckett, in his famous letter to Axel Kaun, denounced grammar as "irrelevant", yet the third novel of the Trilogy, L'Innommable, is characterized by a style that frequently mimics the forms and formulations of the grammar drill. This article examines the function of such grammatical formalism in the context of the speaker's sense of imprisonment within an alien and alienating language and argues that Beckett here makes use of the discourse of language learning for subversive intent. The ostensible function of grammar is to prevent confusion, to ensure clarity; in L'Innommable, however, repetition and rote learning tend to empty words of meaning, and the grammar drill is as much a source of confusion as of clarity. Indeed, as this article demonstrates, Beckett in this novel might be seen to be subverting grammatical form, not only to undermine language, but in order to work towards his aim "[t]o find a form that accommodates the mess."
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)163-179
    JournalJournal of Modern Literature
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • Samuel Beckett
    • L'Innommable
    • The Unnamable
    • Language learning
    • Grammar


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