Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 141–159 | Cite as

The Lacanian What in the Beckettian Where: Samuel Beckett’s What Where and the impossible structure of mastery

  • Arka Chattopadhyay


This article examines the structure of Samuel Beckett’s What Where (1983) from a Lacanian point of view to show how Beckett deploys a logical framework and follows it to its own wreckage with telling political underpinnings. The play’s auto-deconstructive structure locates a point of impossibility for its own operations that I approach through Lacanian discourse theory in which the Real is posited as the impossible qua discursive formalization. As a play on the vicious cycles of torture, What Where inscribes a critique of torture as a master’s discourse. The structural impasse of the Real in What Where leads us to a comment on structural mastery in a discursive context, applicable specifically to Beckett’s text and more generally to Lacan’s discursive machine as advanced in his 17th seminar, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969–1970). As will be seen, the “master’s discourse” in Beckett’s play can only operate by hiding the impossible Real of its inoperativity. Beckett’s unveiling of this occlusive dimension in the master’s discourse highlights a resistant aspect of the Lacanian discursive arrangement.


Beckett lacan impossible discourse the real mastery 


  1. Beckett, S. (1999) The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett Volume IV: The Shorter Plays. Edited by J. Knowlson. New York: Grove and Faber.Google Scholar
  2. Beckett, S. (2003). The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber.Google Scholar
  3. Beckett, S. (2009). How It Is. London: Faber.Google Scholar
  4. Begam, R. (1996). Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Begam, R., Locatelli, C., and Katz, D. (1999). Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Boni, L. (2014). Formalization and context: Some elements of a materialist reading of Lacan’s “four discourses”. In I. Parker and D. Pavón-Cuéllar (eds.), Lacan, Discourse, Event: New Psychoanalytic Approaches to Textual Indeterminacy (pp. 128–139). London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, L. (2016). Beckett, Lacan and the Voice. Stuttgart: ibidem-verlag.Google Scholar
  8. Clemens, J. (2013). Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fehsenfeld, M. D. (1986). “Everything out but the faces”: Beckett’s reshaping of What Where for television. Modern Drama, 29(2): 229–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gardner, C. (2012). Beckett, Deleuze and the Televisual Event: Peephole Art. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gendron, S. (2008). Repetition, Difference and Knowledge in the Work of Samuel Beckett, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  12. Gontarski, S. (1987). What Where II: Revision as re-creation. Review of Contemporary Fiction, 7(2): 120–123.Google Scholar
  13. Herren, G. (2002). Facing the darkness: Interrogations across genre in Samuel Beckett’s What Where. The Midwest Quarterly, 43(3): 322–336.Google Scholar
  14. Klaver, E. (1991). Samuel Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu, Quad and What Where: How it is in the matrix of text and television. Contemporary Literature, 32(3): 366–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lacan, J. (1966/2006) Écrits. Translated by B. Fink, H. Fink, and R. Grigg. London and New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Lacan, J. (1972) On psychoanalytic discourse. Translated by J.W. Stone., Accessed 20 May 2015.
  17. Lacan, J. (1998) Encore. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XX: On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 197273. Edited by J.-A. Miller. Translated by B. Fink. New York, London: Norton.Google Scholar
  18. Lacan, J. (2007) The Seminar Of Jacques Lacan: Book XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis. Edited by J-A. Miller. Translated by R. Grigg. New York, London: Norton.Google Scholar
  19. Locatelli, C. (1990). Unwording the World: Samuel Beckett’s Prose Works after the Nobel Prize. Pennsylvania: University of Philadelphia Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McMullan, A. (1993). Theatre on Trial: Samuel Beckett’s Later Drama. New York, London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Parker, I. (2014). Negotiating text with Lacan: Theory into practice. In I. Parker and D. Pavón-Cuéllar (eds.), Lacan, Discourse, Event: New Psychoanalytic Approaches to Textual Indeterminacy. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 52–64.Google Scholar
  22. Parker, I., and Pavón-Cuéllar, D. (eds.). (2014). Lacan, Discourse, Event: New Psychoanalytic Approaches to Textual Indeterminacy. London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Sheehan, P. (2008). A world without monsters: Beckett and the ethics of cruelty. In R. Smith (ed.), Beckett and Ethics. London, New York: Continuum, pp. 86–101.Google Scholar
  24. Steven, B. (2010). A purgatorial calculus: Beckett’s mathematics in “Quad”. In S. E. Gontarski (ed.), A Companion to Samuel Beckett. West Sussex: Blackwell, pp. 164–181.Google Scholar
  25. Uhlmann, A. (2006). Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KolkataIndia

Personalised recommendations