Impulse and Impediment: Communication in the Radio Plays of Samuel Beckett

Boyce, Brynhildur. 2012. Impulse and Impediment: Communication in the Radio Plays of Samuel Beckett. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This PhD thesis deals with the four completed plays and two sketches written by Samuel Beckett for radio, and is rooted in an analysis of their analogical engagement with the structural and technological features of the medium, such as the relation between transmitter and receiver, interference and the act of tuning in. Through close readings of the plays, this thesis brings to the fore such radiophonic features and argues that they shape the plays’ exploration of related issues of communication.

As a faulty medium of communication, analogue radio presented Beckett with a framework within which to address the problems of linguistic communication. To be precise, the dichotomy between the structural compulsion of radio to transmit and the hazardous uncertainty of that transmission is shown, in this thesis, to frame the plays’ articulation of the impulses and impediments of communication. Successful communication is seen to be underpinned by a shared understanding of linguistic usage, which involves a continual process of adjustment, compensation and negotiation, and a pragmatic acceptance of the approximate understanding achieved. While the inherent disjunction of communicants is indicated in the plays, the emphasis is firmly on the sustained attempts of these potential dialogic partners to bridge the gap between them. In this way, the thesis challenges long-standing critical assumptions concerning Beckett’s understanding of communication.

The issues identified in the plays are, finally, discussed in the light of a certain philosophical movement concerned with the workings of ordinary language, the fundamental function of which is communication. Represented, in this thesis, by the views of Mauthner, Wittgenstein, Austin and Davidson – and epitomised by Wittgenstein’s assertion that ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’ – this understanding of the site-specific, modulated and evolving activity of linguistic communication resonates productively with Beckett’s work for radio.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


samuel beckett; radio; radio drama; linguistic communication; language philosophy; linguistic turn

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


20 January 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Apr 2013 14:03

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:05


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