Whether or not it features seven (or more) types of ambiguity, Christopher Ricks’s Beckett’s Dying Words displays at least three types of opacity: the opacity that comes from extreme compression, the opacity that derives from constant allusion and word play, and the opacity caused by a basic indifference to the reader’s comfort. I am a great admirer of Professor Ricks’s wit, erudition, and ability to make everything connect—whether by conjunction or mere disjunctive juxtaposition, to say as it were, “How revealingly different this is from that”—but I do not think that a commentary should be harder going than what it comments on. Especially if the text is Beckett’s oeuvre, which needs no further obscurity, however ingenious, shed upon it.

The very title offers fair warning. Beckett’s “dying words” can be (a) his last words, his legacy to the world; (b) his...


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