Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Thomas Linehan


Fiction, Literature, Unnamable


Nature abhors nothing; it is the mind which cannot bear to live in a state of suspension, in absence, in a vacuum. The very existence of fiction testifies to man's need for intricate models through which he may fashion and explore his life. In the last eighty years, a great deal of research has been devoted to discovering the ways in which fictions are structured; the ways, that is, in which literature replaces chaos not with content, but with form; with elaborate verbal webs that hold in abeyance the hollow of life without language. Russian formalism, mythcriticism like Northrop Frye's, structuralism, poststructuralism and phenomenological analysis have clearly demonstrated the fact that literature is shaped by unconscious conventions on the levels of genre, plot and character, and in the deployment of multiple pairs of binary oppositions which create a kind of symbolic code within the work. Perhaps most significantly, theorists like Roland Barthes and Jonathan Culler have begun to make explicit the interpretive conventions which readers bring to a work and the ways in which these conventions influence their reading.

Unlike most fictions, however, The Unnamable radically subverts many of these conventions, consequently invalidating the implicit narrative contracts signed between reader and author. Since its publication in 1953, The Unnamable has provoked hundreds of pages of comment; yet few English-speaking critics have thought closely about the specific ways in which the novel undermines narrative and linguistic conventions. Instead, The Unnamable has traditionally been treated either as Beckett's bleak vision of the human condition, or as a reflection of his philosophic thought.