World without setting: Beckett’s The Lost Ones

Among the tasks that fiction writers usually set for themselves is to craft some depiction of place. There are, for example, the settings for stories: along with character, theme, and plot, one among the standard list of particulars that readers expect writers to provide. However, a fictional place need not be a setting. That is, a setting is always a setting for. It’s made up of the location or locations where the story takes place. As such, it’s given the lower billing. It functions as the stage on which the main attraction—usually some drama of human affairs—unfolds. Of course, writers often take great care constructing their settings. However, the same is true of set designers for films and plays. Such efforts, magnificent as their fruits might be, don’t detract from the point. Fictional places, when they take the form of settings, are containers: vessels for delivering the heart of the fiction to the reader.

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The Infinitude of Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake is a book about anything and everything. Of course, the phrase “anything and everything” is usually used hyperbolically. However, I mean it quite literally. Whereas most literary works are only about some things, the Wake is about anything and everything: its world is absolutely unbounded, and this unboundedness is one of its central preoccupations. In the book, Joyce took up a cosmic impulse characteristic of great religious texts and metaphysical treatises, and found a way to give it distinctive literary expression.

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