Samuel Beckett and the Politics of Aftermath, by James McNaughton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 240 pages.
Beckett's Political Imagination, by Emilie Morin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 276 pages.
The publication of James McNaughton's superb Samuel Beckett and the Politics of Aftermath hard on the heels of Emile Morin's equally impressive Beckett's Political Imagination suggests the delayed confirmation of a political turn (to join so many other "turns"--from the linguistic to the historical and ethical) in Beckett studies. On the one hand, the books could be said to represent an outcome that the field has been waiting for since the mid-1990s and the publication of James Knowlson's and Anthony Cronin's major biographies, which helped to better position the life and career of one of the twentieth century's most important and enigmatic authors in relation to the many upheavals that characterized his times. McNaughton's and Morin's recent investigations have also been spurred along by the publication of Beckett's letters in four volumes beginning a decade ago, as well as Mark Nixon's work on Beckett's German diaries, which chronicle the writer's encounters with the Nazi regime in late 1936 and early 1937. On the other hand, the present studies could also be said to represent a fruition of the broader political turn in the study of modernist writing, which has finally brought this kind of inquiry to an author who has long been considered outside or beyond politics, somehow impervious to the kinds of questions that have defined so much of the New Modernist Studies. To be sure, although Beckett was in some sense the heir, or at least the successor, to Yeats and the literary revivalists in Ireland and a contemporary of engage intellectuals such as Sartre and Camus in France, his career generally confounds the categories of national literature and "committed" writing. Nonetheless, as McNaughton's and Morin's studies demonstrate, to ignore the political implications of his writing is to miss much of what makes it so exceptional and, indeed, continues to make it relevant as both a reckoning with the tumult of the last century and a means of coming to terms with the present, as he is reread and restaged in the context of more recent upheavals.
These studies, despite their differences, approach the question of Beckett and politics in ways that are neatly complementary, forming a useful pairing for anyone seeking to better grasp the significance of the question. Morin's meticulously researched study seeks to provide something akin to a political biography, placing the writer squarely in his historical milieu, at the intersection of innumerable national movements, institutional affiliations, professional commitments, and, perhaps most crucially, personal associations: we are reminded, for instance, of Beckett's friendship with the memoirist and former IRA commander Ernie O'Malley; his relationship with George Pelorson, a pupil at the Ecole normale superieure who would later head the Ministry of Youth's propaganda unit in occupied France; and his support of Jerome Lindon as the Parisian publisher coordinated protests against French aggression in Algeria. By...