— Primo Levi, If This Is a Man
“A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.”
“I’m always looking for something new. I don’t like to repeat myself. I want always to find something which is fresh.”
Polish composer and conductor
“In 1983, the publisher Einaudi asked [Primo] Levi to translate Kafka’s The Trial. Infinite interpretations of The Trial have been offered; some underline the novel’s prophetic political character (modern bureaucracy as absolute evil) or its theological dimension (the court as the unknown God) or its biographical meaning (condemnation as the illness from which Kafka believed himself to suffer). It has been rarely noted that this book, in which law appears solely in the form of trial, contains a profound insight into the nature of law, which, contrary to common belief, is not so much rule as it is judgment and, therefore, trial. But if the essence of the law – of every law – is the trial, if all right (and morality that is contaminated by it) is only tribunal right, then execution and transgression, innocence and guilt, obedience and disobedience all become indistinct and lose their importance. “The court wants nothing from you. It welcomes you when you come; it releases you when you go.” The ultimate end of the juridical regulation is to produce judgment; but judgment aims neither to punish not to extol, nether to establish justice nor to prove the truth. Judgment is in itself the end and this, it has been said, constitutes its mystery, the mystery of the trial.”
— Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive.
“In countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither; discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph.”
— Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your research interests?
My research revolves around modernism and post-1945 literature, and the essays and books that I have published on Beckett’s work explore its relation to politics, its historical dimensions, and its Irish and European influences. I have been working in the Department of English at the University of York for over ten years.
How did you first encounter Samuel Beckett’s writing?
I must have been about fifteen, I think, when I first heard about Beckett. A friend of mine told me about a play that she had seen in which two actors were trapped in rubbish bins, and I was intrigued! Soon after I came across copies of the early absurdist plays, in the lovely Editions de Minuit versions. I was particularly struck by Oh les beaux jours, with its memorable cover featuring Madeleine Renaud stoically holding her umbrella.
It seemed to me remarkable that a whole play could be made to unfold from that situation, from that image. The author was of no concern to me then, but from that first reading I recall being convinced that the work dealt with colonialism and with colonial wars, and I remember seeing a very literal political dimension within it. The French texts have a peculiar texture; they refract much of what is unsaid about colonial history, and much of what is culturally unsayable about historical injustice, and I was sensitive to that. These were powerful impressions, which stayed with me thereafter. When I began to study Beckett’s work properly, many years later, I did so in light of its Irish literary and historical contexts, and my first monograph was a reappraisal of Beckett’s relation to Ireland. For me, the work is never abstract: it is inseparable from war memory and from the long colonial histories that it invokes. In a sense, this new book was a return to my first impressions: when I started researching, I worked on what is now the final chapter on Beckett and the Algerian War of Independence. (more…)
“The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, an organization devoted to project-based study of visual technologies, issued a call for submissions for critical essays and artist projects related to the work of W.G. Sebald. The overwhelming response to this call precipitated the development of this ambitious anthology [Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald, ed. Lise Patt].
With 632 densely populated pages, this volume presented challenges of scale, organization, and cohesion. Within four thematic sections, 38 contributors present illustrated arguments and diverse visual explorations. These are separated with editorial ‘intermezzos.’ A framing introduction with extensive illustrated footnotes establishes the complexity of this multifaceted dialogue.”
On 2 February, the ICA is hosting the third symposium of Maladies of the Book, focussing specifically on the work of the post-war French writer and literary critic Maurice Blanchot:
“Starting from his late reflections on passivity in The Writing of the Disaster, we turn to the work of Maurice Blanchot to develop our ongoing exploration of writing as impossibility and madness, and extend it to a consideration of the image. Beginning with a workshop on passages from Writing the Disaster, and Blanchot’s texts ‘Reading’ and ‘The Narrative Voice’, we will explore ideas of a radical passivity, reading situated before comprehension, the neutral, and the image as cadaver.”
For more information, or to book a place, visit the Event page on the Goldsmiths, University of London website.
Christopher John Müller has translated Christian Dries‘s short online biography of modern philosopher, Günther Anders. Müller, who has been interviewed on this site, is becoming one of the most prominent scholars and translators focussing on Anders’s life and legacy. The biography opens with the following brief summary:
“Günther Anders once noted that he did not actually have a biography, merely biographies: segments of life that are connected to one another to various degrees. The First World War, Hitler, Exile in Paris and in America, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Vietnam War and Chernobyl were the decisive incisions in Anders’s extraordinary life, which spanned the 20th Century.”