"The trouble with tragedy is the fuss it makes": Reading Beckett's Not I as the (non)End of Tragedy


  • Carla Locatelli




tragedy, ontology, catharsis, action/narration, alienation, agency, universality/particularity, consciousness, logocentrism


Beckett challenges received notions of ‘classical’ tragedy in all of his works. In particular, in Not I the very possibility of tragedy is at stake in relation to the construction of subjectivity and agency. The play points to a state of human infirmity, and to a series of “tupenny aches over life and death” which seem to ridicule the notion of tragedy while representing it. Is it a (non)tragedy that life and death are “tupenny aches”? Can the being of being find a tragic representation in the theatre? Can a linguistically determined subject acknowledge and inscribe his/her being with his/her suffering? If we define postmodernism as the age of the end of “master narratives” (Lyotard 1979), we might be limited to the illustration of particular examples of experience, so that the archetypal value of a human condition becomes a problematic issue. But, can there be tragedy without some form of ‘universality’? How can the individual subject be representative of a general human condition? These are the issues raised and developed in this essay, which discusses narrative possibilities, linguistic economy and dialogical performance also in relation to an Aristotelean dramatic tradition.