By Shane Weller (auth.)
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Additional resources for Beckett, Literature, and the Ethics of Alterity
While, for Levinas, it is precisely the ethical relation with the Other that constitutes an escape from the horror of the il y a, in Beckett the il y a certainly appears to be irreducible and inescapable in a way that it is not for Levinas, blocking the path to the ethical. In the Texts for Nothing, for instance, this persistence that is not an event of being is figured as a 'voice murmuring a trace' which appears to resist all efforts to silence it with 'no's knife' (Beckett 1995a, 154). The Beckettian il y a appears, then, to be the most radical form of unmasterable alterity.
Through a series of readings of works by Beckett and others, my aim will be to suggest that the attempt to establish an ethics of alterity, even an ethics of alterity thought, as it is by Derrida, aporetically, in its 'im-possibility', 10 in relation to these three elements cannot necessarily depend upon Beckett - or at least upon all of Beckett - for support. More generally, I hope to reopen the question of the relation between literature and ethics, a question that, despite the considerable attention paid to it in recent years, has in fact remained closed, which is to say already decided in literature's favour.
However, this is not because they have reached the limits of the possible in translation, but rather because they continue to think translation in ethical terms, and indeed by way of an ethics of alterity, even (and especially) when they invoke a certain nihilism in translation. It is as though the very defence of alterity in its value were one more way, not necessarily more or less naive than any other, of attempting to dispatch the other (in this case, Benjamin) for good. (4) Although they do not take any account of Benjamin's own practice of translation, to which his essay on 'The Task of the Translator' constitutes a foreword, his translation of Baudelaire's 'Tableaux parisiens' from the 1868 edition of Les Fleurs du mal - or at least his translation of the sonnet 'Les Aveugles'- radically qualifies his own theory of literal translation, calling into question not just the identifiability of both the literal and the alterior in the original, but also the very distinguishability of the ethical and the unethical in translation.