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The essay examines Samuel Beckett's shift from specific to abstract settings, and the notion that stripping away identifiable settings helped Beckett to focus on a "universal" human condition, in the context of shifting definitions of cosmopolitanism in critical approaches to global democracy. Focusing on the trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, it argues that physical and social setting in these novels - always vague, but also always materially relevant, resistant to the narrators' efforts to situate them geographically, and potentially Irish -- speak less to an idealistic post-statehood cosmopolitanism than to a postponement of national belonging that is experienced within, and in transit from, the ideologically contested, unsettled terrain of a decolonizing 'homeland'. The narrators of the trilogy encounter paradoxes of subjectivity not by separation from a formerly coherent or internalized national episteme, but in the midst of traversing a region that they cannot connect with a national abstract. As contemporary debates about cosmopolitanism help us to understand, the narrators' more broadly human and ontological predicaments therefore arise at the same time as their attempt to comprehend themselves relative to politically disputed ground. The fact that the potentially Irish settings of the trilogy are not national but local (the Protestant enclaves of the Kingstown and Dalkey line, which were a testament to the unresolved statehood and contested space of mid-century Ireland) further substantiates this interpretation.


Copyright 2010 Irish University Review, Edinburgh University Press.

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Irish University Review

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Pearson, Nels. “Beckett’s Cosmopolitan Ground.” Irish University Review. 40:2 (2010): 20-41.

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