Bulimic Beckett: food for thought and the archive of analysis
Critics have noted a mode in Samuel Beckett's writing that can be characterised as the urge to purge. Obsessed with figuring language as both vomit and shit in the guts of an oral/anal textual system, many of his texts are constructed by an oscillation between force-feeding and the compulsive evacuations of emetic and enema. This article suggests that Beckett's persistent textual questioning of what it means to take in and process material from outside the self can usefully be understood in relation to psychoanalytic interpretations of eating disorders; it also suggests that it can be read alongside Beckett's desperate turn to psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the 1930s. Plagued by difficulties with ingestion and digestion (among other symptoms), Beckett sought treatment from Wilfred Bion – the man who would later become one of the most famous British psychoanalysts. Beckett spat out and abandoned the therapy relatively quickly; nevertheless, after his time with Bion there is a sense that the textual evacuations enacted in an uncontrolled fashion in the earlier writing could now be ruminated on, raised to the level of form, and consequently contained. Perhaps coincidentally, the later Bion insisted that what analysis offered, in the face of the patient's frantic desire to ingest and master the world by splitting off and evacuating parts of themselves, was a container – a container for thinking. He insisted that this capacity for thinking should be understood as a form of ‘digestion’ that might bear external material long enough for it to be used rather than purged. Quite properly, Bion never gave details of his therapeutic work with Beckett and there is no accessible archive of clinical material on Beckett's case. This article suggests, however, that an archive of Beckett's analysis can be found in his corpus – in the words and writing he used as food for thought.
This is the accepted version of the following article: Salisbury, L. (2011), Bulimic Beckett: food for thought and the archive of analysis. Critical Quarterly, 53(3): 60–80., which has been published in final form at doi:10.1111/j.1467-8705.2011.02005.x
© 2011, Wiley-Blackwell
Vol. 53, Issue 3, pp. 60-80.