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.

4 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.


  2. 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.


    • That’s wonderful! I’ve not seen that interview. I’m just a reader, far from theory, so though there is (much) more to a definition of form, as distinct from style and content, to me it is merely how a writer chooses to communicate a sequence of signs, symbols, and mental representations in a way that is integral to the literary qualities of a work. I accept that this attempt at brief definition is highly equivocal but form itself is a metaphor and has only a notional existence.


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