"Language as calculus" in Beckett's writing: A new perspective on Beckett's conception of language

Irit Degani-Raz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The issue of the conception of language in Beckett's works has given rise to many studies. The conceptual schemes that scholars have used to explicate Beckett's view on language range from modern language theories to post-structuralist ones, and have contributed to locating Beckett on the twentieth-century's cultural horizon. In this study I suggest a new perspective on Beckett's conception of language by employing a perspective on the historical genesis of possible-worlds semantics, suggested by the philosopher Jaakko Hintikka. The historical background of possible worlds semantics is tightly connected, according to Hintikka, to a gradual switch from one overall way of looking at language and its logic to a competing view. He calls the former the conception of "language as the universal medium" and the latter the conception of "language as calculus." I contend that although in his writings Beckett seems to subscribe to some version of the first position of language, various aspects of his dramatic works also appear implicitly to reflect some intuitive version of the competing idea. It is his conception of language as calculus - I argue - that offered Beckett the possibility of elaborating strategies by which to escape the "trap" of language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-101
Number of pages17
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • "language as calculus"
  • "language as the universal medium"
  • Beckett
  • Not I
  • Possible worlds
  • Realism


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