The Avant-Garde Characteristics of Samuel Beckett's Play

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A Discussion of the Avant-Garde Characteristics of Samuel Beckett's Play

The term 'avant-garde' means literally in French the 'fore guard,' the part of the military that goes before the main force. (Calinescu, 1987) In this 'going before,' the avant-garde of a military force not only exposes itself to greater risks from enemy positions (which may or may not be known), but it also can avail itself of greater strategic and tactical opportunities if it finds the enemy unprepared. As a term of art to describe what Calinescu calls "a self-consciously advanced position in politics, literature and art, religion, etc.," (p. 97) the avant-garde is both analogous to its military sense and contrary – while the avant-garde of literature and art may resemble in some ways a forward position in a military maneuver, it also has associated with it something of the breakdown of all manners of characterization whatsoever, seeking to obliterate all positions by effacing or blurring the lines that define them. Samuel Beckett's Play is an excellent example of both the military and the anarchic senses of the term 'avant-garde' as it applies to literature, particularly theatrical drama. A work of utmost minimalism, the play follows the interconnected monologues of three characters in urns, two women and one man, who describe, from their own perspective, the unfaithfulness that pervaded their lives and that they must now live out for all eternity after death. Beckett's play is avant-garde in its use of stage direction and blocking, its characterization of the players as autonomic and lacking in the bourgeois ideal of freedom, and its style of stream of consciousness narration and monologue rather than interactive dialogue between characters. Of course, the ultimate intention of avant-garde works like Play is to elude such genre classifications. This perhaps demonstrates that the avant-garde has already left Beckett's play behind and is moving on to new ground. Nevertheless, it would...
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