Form Becomes the Preoccupation

Anthony Uhlmann quoted Beckett in Samuel Beckett in Context on language as a barrier to communication, and why, as a consequence ‘form itself becomes a preoccupation,’ so it was good to track down the whole quotation below:

…there will be new form…and this new form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else…That is why the form itself becomes a preoccupation, because it exists as a problem separate from the material it accommodates. To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.

Beckett interview with Tom Driver
Columbia University Forum (1961)

Literature that embraces this challenge is what really thrills me.

7 thoughts on “Form Becomes the Preoccupation

  1. Hi Anthony, I’d be very interested to know which writers embrace this challenge in your opinion. All the best /Mattias

    • Most of the writers I champion here, including, in particular, Beckett, Berger, Bernhard, Carson, Cixous, Coetzee, Duras, Dyer, Handke, Joyce, Kafka, Krasznahorkai, Lispector, Woolf, Kate Zambreno.

    • I’ve been thinking about your question—how to address it—and cannot marshal a response that would embrace all three writers. In all three examples form is inseparable from content. Woolf, I think, juxtaposes contradictory forms and narrative voices as a way of emphasising the chaotic nature of fictional truth. Kafka’s labyrinthine narratives often lack a centre and resist coherence, which comes close to the chaos of actual experience and how life resists any articulable truths. Is that a response? I don’t know. Coetzee acknowledges Kafka’s influence but he seems more drawn to ethics and moral awareness.

      • Thanks for your reply. The question becomes what does one consider by ‘form’ in literature? (and its separation from style and content) For example, I feel closer to what Beckett says here: Samuel Beckett on Kafka
        “I’ve only read Kafka in German – serious reading – except for a few things in French and English – only The Castle in German. I must say it was difficult to get to the end. The Kafka hero has a coherence of purpose. He’s lost but he’s not spiritually precarious, he’s not falling to bits. My people seem to be falling to bits. Another difference. You notice how Kafka’s form is classic, it goes on like a steamroller – almost serene. It seems to be threatened the whole time – but the consternation is in the form. In my work there is consternation behind the form, not in the form.”
        — SAMUEL BECKETT, interviewed by Israel Shenker in the New York Times, 5 May 1956,

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