Speaking the Same Language: Samuel Beckett, Jacques Derrida and Vice Versa

Citation metadata

Editor: Joseph Palmisano
Date: 2005
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 74)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,884 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date 1993) In the following essay, Noble underscores the common characteristics of the language in Beckett's short stories and Derrida's language theory, contending that "the texts of Derrida and Beckett speak the same ideological and theoretical language."]

The title page of an English edition of a work by Samuel Beckett or Jacques Derrida is likely to include a translation credit because these writers originally wrote in French. But French is not the only common characteristic of the language of these two writers; the texts of Derrida and Beckett speak the same ideological and theoretical language.

Derrida, as a reader of his own writings and those of Beckett, describes such a theoretical language when he answers a question posed to him in an interview by Derik Attridge. Attridge asks Derrida why he does not write about Beckett, and Derrida replies that he does not feel enough distance from Beckett to write about him:

This is a writer to whom I feel very close, or to whom I would like to feel myself very close; but also too close. Precisely because of this proximity, it is too hard for me. ... I have perhaps avoided him a bit because of this identification. Too hard ... because he writes--in my language, in a language which is his up to a point, mine up to a point (for both of us it is a "differently" foreign language)--texts which are both too close to me and too distant for me even to be able to "respond" to them.(Acts 60)

Derrida recognizes a shared language with Beckett. If "language" may be broadly defined as a means of representation, what Derrida suggests is that his own texts and those of Beckett represent in similar ways. In addition to explaining the close proximity of their systems of representation, Derrida goes on to explain a simultaneous distance, a "differently foreign" language. It is this paradox that makes it impossible for Derrida to "respond" to Beckett; to do so would be, at once, redundant because of the similarity of the two modes of representation and unworkable because of the distance that necessarily divides the two. Derrida cannot escape his own language to comment on Beckett, and because he sees his language as so similar to Beckett's, it is impossible for him to "respond." What then is this "differently foreign" language? Can we write about such a language without speaking it ourselves?

Translating the "differently foreign" language of Beckett and Derrida reveals a language both foreign in different ways and different from foreign (or the same). It is this language's difference from other modes of representation that allows it to be defined; however, it is not simply the manifestation of difference itself which connects the texts of the two writers. More significantly, these texts represent differently in the same ways. In the interview with Derrida already mentioned, Attridge goes on to suggest why Derrida might find it difficult to write about Beckett. Attridge asks, "Is there a sense in...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420059973