Freedom and Negativity in the works of Samuel Beckett and Theodor Adorno

Natalie Leeder

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis argues that Beckett’s corpus is concerned with the fragile possibility of freedom as articulated by Adorno. As Chapter 1 demonstrates, this concern begins with an overt thematisation of freedom in Murphy and Eleutheria that ultimately leads to an impasse. In line with Adorno’s claim that ‘[f]reedom can be defined in negation only’, Chapters 2 to 5 proceed to illuminate the deeply negative expressions of freedom that pervade Beckett’s post-war corpus.
Chapter 2 explores the question of aesthetic freedom⎯a key preoccupation of Adorno’s⎯in relation to Beckett’s Novellas: if art is wholly determined by its socio-political context then it makes no sense to talk about freedom in relation to Beckett’s work. This chapter considers the paradox whereby art simultaneously embodies the illusion of freedom and the freedom of illusion. Chapter 3 traces the connection between freedom and evil in The Lost Ones and Endgame, analysing the systematic network of social unfreedom revealed in the cylindrical world of the former, and through the oppressive weight of history in the latter.
Recognizing the significance of the philosopher’s critique of the Culture Industry, Chapter 4 takes some of Adorno’s more nuanced texts as the basis for an exploration of Beckett’s late media plays. It argues that the aesthetic incorporation of technology heralds liberatory possibilities in its radical reimagining of the role of technology as a mediator between subject and world. Finally, Chapter 5 considers the significance of Adorno’s reconceptualisation of metaphysics in Beckett’s late short prose, arguing that, while All Strange Away and Imagination Dead Imagine manifest the horror of absolute immanence, Company registers the transcending impulse of thought to free itself from the existing world. So, in Beckett’s resolutely negative art as a whole, a provisional and ephemeral possibility of freedom is kept alive by his abstaining from any affirmation of the existent.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gibson, Andrew, Supervisor
  • Bowie, Andrew, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jan 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - Aug 2016


  • Beckett
  • Adorno
  • Freedom
  • Philosophy
  • Literature
  • Modernism

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