Benjamin Kunkel in The New Yorker:

060807mast_4_r15259_p198_1We’re not beginning to . . . to . . . mean something?” one character asks another in Samuel Beckett’s 1958 play “Endgame.” It turns out to be a well-warranted concern. Beckett’s writings constitute probably the most significant body of work produced by a twentieth-century author, in that they’re taken to signify the greatest number of things. “You might call Beckett the ultimate realist,” one eminent critic says, while the title of Anthony Cronin’s fine 1997 biography calls him “the last modernist,” and, equally, thanks to his spiralling self-referentiality, he’s often accounted the first postmodernist. Emptying his books of plot, descriptions, scene, and character, Beckett is said to have killed off the novel—or else, by showing how it could thrive on self-sabotage, insured its future. A contemporary playwright suggests that Beckett will remain relevant “as long as people still die.” Introducing Beckett’s later novels in a new Grove edition of the writer’s work issued to mark his centenary this year, Salman Rushdie takes the opposite—or, life being what it is, perhaps the identical—view: “These books, whose ostensible subject is death, are in fact books about life.” One of the most purposely obscure writers of the last century has become all things to all people.

More here.