The Samuel Beckett Society has details of an upcoming conference exploring the role that technology plays in the writer’s work:

“In April 1981, having devoted considerable time to resolving the technicalities that surrounded his TV play Quad, Samuel Beckett confessed to Ruby Cohn: ‘Not long back from Stuttgart. Unsatisfactory. Television is beyond me.’ Frustrating as it may have been at times, technology held its fascination for Beckett and often became enmeshed with his work. It remained central for him, as it continues to be for researchers and practitioners engaging with his work today.”

The deadline for the call for papers is 15 January 2018. The conference will take place between 13-15 September 2018 at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague.

The London Beckett Seminar at the Institute of English Studies will bring together national and international scholars, researchers and postgraduates to discuss issues arising from the prose, theatre and poetry of Samuel Beckett that pertain to aspects of literary, philosophical and historical analysis with particular attention to translation studies, performance and practice, digital humanities and visual cultures. Inherently interdisciplinary in approach, the seminar will establish a vibrant research network for postgraduate students, early-career researchers, and established academics on a national and international level. (more…)

sam-shepard-patti-smith

“In the winter of 2012, we met up in Dublin, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Trinity College. He was often embarrassed by accolades but embraced this one, coming from the same institution where Samuel Beckett walked and studied. He loved Beckett, and had a few pieces of writing, in Beckett’s own hand, framed in the kitchen, along with pictures of his kids. That day, we saw the typewriter of John Millington Synge and James Joyce’s spectacles, and, in the night, we joined musicians at Sam’s favorite local pub, the Cobblestone, on the other side of the river. As we playfully staggered across the bridge, he recited reams of Beckett off the top of his head”

— Source: My Buddy: Patti Smith Remembers Sam Shepard | The New Yorker

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The letters allow readers to glimpse over the shoulder of one of twentieth-century drama’s most distinguished playwrights as he corresponds with actors, directors, and loved ones
The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2016)
The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989 (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

A philosopher in the ancient Greek city of Miletus posed a question. If somebody adds one grain of sand to another, and repeats the process, at what point do the grains of sand become a heap? The conundrum, known as the Sorites paradox, opens Samuel Beckett’s Endgame as part of Clov’s speech to the auditorium: ‘Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished. [Pause] Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap’. The paradox asks us to confront the ambiguities of rational thinking and empirical observation, and in Endgame it frames the ‘impossible’ problem of being in the world, of what constitutes a life lived.

I was reminded of the Sorites paradox in 2016, when Cambridge University Press published the fourth and final volume of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence. On the instruction of Beckett himself, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld led an editorial team to assemble, transcribe and translate thousands of letters, telegrams, and postcards held in archives and private collections around the world. These traces of Beckett’s personal and artistic life have been ordered chronologically, and fully annotated with cultural and historical notes that are accessible to the scholar and layman alike. Surmounting this seemingly impossible task, The Letters of Samuel Beckett brings these documents together in one place for the first time to form a masterwork of academic scholarship and rigour — allowing readers to glimpse over the shoulder of one of twentieth-century drama’s most distinguished playwrights as he corresponds with actors, directors, and loved ones.

This is an excerpt from a review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989, edited by George Craig et al.,  (Cambridge University Press, 2016), published in Studies in Theatre and Performance (July, 2017).

Angela Moorjani on co-editing a new collection which recounts Samuel Beckett’s meetings with scholars, translators, and theatre practitioners
Beckett in Conversation, "yet again" / Recontres avec Beckett, "encore" • Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd 'Hui, 28:1 (2016)
Beckett in Conversation, “yet again” / Recontres avec Beckett, “encore” • Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd ‘Hui, 28:1 (2016)

To begin, could you say a little bit about Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui?

SBT/A is a refereed academic journal that publishes essays in English and French on Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre.

When first launched in 1992 by the late Marius Buning and the present coeditor in chief Sjef Houppermans, it took the form of a bilingual annual review publishing selections from international meetings or solicited essays on special topics, but also featuring a section of submitted articles. By 2016, the year SBT/A morphed into a semiannual journal under a different academic publisher (Brill), twenty-seven handsome hardcover volumes had appeared under the Rodopi imprint. My association with SBT/A goes back twenty years with an essay in the “Crossroads and Borderlines” volume of 1997, further intensifying with my coediting the volume based on the “Beckett in Berlin 2000” symposium, after which I was invited to join the editorial board. I served as coeditor in chief from 2008 to 2016. (more…)

Liam Harrison has written a piece on the role that art plays in the work of Samuel Beckett, with a particular focus on his friendship with the Irish painter Jack B. Yeats:

“In 1936 Yeats offered to sell Beckett one of his paintings, A Morning. The young Beckett was skint and the asking price was an intimidating £30. At the time Beckett was rebelling against the career path laid out for him as an academic. He had quit his teaching post at Trinity College Dublin to pursue the financially precarious life of an artist.”

Source: Honest Ulsterman

Anthony Uhlmann on co-editing a new essay collection exploring Coetzee’s recent novel, The Childhood of Jesus
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)

How did you first encounter J.M. Coetzee’s writing?

In 2002 I was working on the preparation for a major conference on Samuel Beckett that was to take place in Sydney in 2003 and I was looking for keynotes. There was a major public lecture at the Sydney Town Hall which is a reasonably grand space. We invited a number of people including Herbert Blau and Luce Irigaray (via videolink). Someone suggested I ask J. M. Coetzee who was on the board of one of the research groups related to Samuel Beckett. I then went and read a few of his novels, including Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, and The Master of Petersburg and was blown away by the quality of the works. I told him when I finally met him that he had renewed my faith in contemporary fiction. He agreed to act as a keynote and read the ‘At The Gate’ Lesson from Elizabeth Costello which had not yet been published when he read it January 2003. He spoke briefly of having mostly gained an understanding of rhythm, and the structure of sentences, from reading and studying Beckett. After that I read all of his novels and have been working towards writing about him. (more…)

Samuel Beckett with Alberto Giacometti
Samuel Beckett with Alberto Giacometti

Judith Wilkinson has written an interesting account of Samuel Beckett‘s friendship with the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. In a recent piece published on the Tate website, she describes how they came to know one another:

“At the time of Giacometti and Beckett’s first meeting, Beckett was living at a modest artists’ hotel in Paris called Hôtel Libéria. Located down a narrow alleyway, Giacometti’s studio (and home) was a mere twenty-minute walk from Beckett’s accommodation. The two would meet late at night, when they had finished work, in one of the Parisian cafés, such as Café Flore, Le Dôme or La Coupole, to drink and socialise. The cafés were the central hub of French cultural and intellectual life during the period, and other notable artists and thinkers, such as philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, as well as painters Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joan Mitchell and Bram van Velde also visited these establishments.

The pair would often leave the cafés in the early hours of the morning to embark on long walks around the city together. During their nocturnal rambles they frequently discussed each other’s work, although Giacometti is believed to have dominated these conversations with his anxieties concerning his artworks. Beckett and Giacometti’s nights routinely concluded with a visit to a brothel – the favourite being the legendary Sphinx located behind Montparnasse train station.”

Wilkinson will be giving a Tate Modern Tour that explores the links between Beckett and Giacometti on 24 July and 31 July 2017, respectively. For more information, take a look at the event page on the Tate website.

If you are feeling anxious about the Trump administration, perhaps it’s time to start reading Samuel Beckett. In a piece for The New Yorker published earlier this month, Jon Michaud revisits a novel penned by Beckett during the Second World War. This idiosyncratic text, published as Watt, is described by Michaud as possibly “the least loved and least read of Beckett’s major prose works”. But that is no reason to dismiss it. He praises its bleakness and its humour, while singling out its “uncompromising […] indifference to such readerly comforts as plot and accessibility”. (more…)

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Samuel Beckett, ca.1920s.

Just revisited a letter sent by Samuel Beckett to Morris Sinclair, dated 4 March 1934. The young writer greets the inevitable turning of the season with great anticipation:

“The strange, gentle pleasures that I feel at the approach of spring are impossible of expression, and if that is a sentence inviting ridicule, so much the worse for me. I have positively never watched it coming with so much impatience and so much relief. And I think of it as a victory over darkness, nightmares, swears, panic and madness, and of the crocuses and daffodils as the promise of a life at least bearable, once enjoyed but in a past so remote that all trace, even remembrance of it, had been almost lost.”

Excerpted from Cambridge University Press’ The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Spring is here, though on this morning the morose Cardiff sky begs to differ. I have finished reading Thomas Merton‘s memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, and would highly recommend it. I have now picked up Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead, a first-person narrative that takes the form of a letter from an ageing Idaho Reverend to his young son. The novel is beautifully understated and really quite moving.

I recently interviewed the academic David Lloyd about his book on Samuel Beckett and art, entitled Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press). Lloyd shares his passion for Beckett’s writing, and traces the writer’s abiding fascination with painting (while also acknowledging his abiding friendships with a number of twentieth-century European artists). Among other things, Lloyd mentions Beckett’s visual memory: “Beckett had an amateur’s (in the best sense) deep knowledge of the Old Masters, from Flemish and German painters to Italian painters of the high Renaissance. […] He had remarkable visual recall: to give just one example, there is a St Sebastian by Antonello da Messina that he saw in Dresden in 1937 that he describes with astonishing accuracy and detail in a letter to Duthuit in 1948.”

Finally, I see that my friend Scott Eric Hamilton is guest-editing a forthcoming issue of The Parish Review, a journal celebrating the work of Flann O’Brien. It’s lovely to see that he is currently accepting submissions.

David Lloyd talks about Beckett’s friendships with twentieth-century painters and his enduring interest in the visual arts
David Lloyd, Beckett's Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
David Lloyd, Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

What draws you to the work of Samuel Beckett?

I’ve been reading Beckett’s work since I was a teenager and writing on him since my undergraduate days at Cambridge in the 70s. I dare say part of my initial attraction to Beckett lay in the kinds of philosophical conundra his work posed, in its hilarious comedy and in its ascetic reductionism. In a letter to Georges Duthuit, in which he comments on his desire for “a theatre reduced to its own means”, he goes on: “That is Protestantism if you like, we are what we are.” It may be that there was also something about the South Dublin Protestant background that I shared with Beckett that felt like grounds for affinity: certainly there was something familiar as much in the ethos as in the local landscapes secreted in the works. But above all, it was the uncompromising aesthetic ethic, the commitment to a work determined to “reduce itself to its own means”, that corresponded to the refusal of extraneous resources like the resonances of identity or signifiers of cultural belonging. That offered a quite different set of possibilities, intellectually and aesthetically, than Irish culture at the time generally made available. (more…)

Rachele Dini discusses how the work of J.G. Ballard, Don DeLillo, and Samuel Beckett engages with one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)

What motivated you to write Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction?

Well, I’ve been attracted to remnants of different kinds since I was very little, and was obsessed with cutting up magazines as a teenager—but intellectually, the turning point for me was during my MA at King’s College London. I noticed almost immediately that the texts on the modules I was taking were unusually concerned with fragments and fragmentation. Dickens, Zola, Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Ballard, Calvino, and of course Walter Benjamin and Adorno: physical and metaphorical waste proliferates in all of these authors’ work. In hindsight, this was to be expected since the course focused on the seismic effects of capitalist modernity, and waste is certainly one of these. But that focus on residual matter reproaching you for throwing it away, or on things not working and stuff falling apart, especially compelled me at the time, since it was the opposite in every way from the focus of my day job in market research. Market research is an industry essentially devoted to promoting the very things that leftist theory denounces: its modus operandi is to find ways of selling more. So the first spark for the PhD project that ultimately turned into this book was the conflict between the rhetoric of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ (to quote Daft Punk) I was accustomed to in my working life, and all of the countercultural—or simply denunciatory—writing I discovered through my studies, which called that rhetoric into question. (more…)

Q&A with the new President of the Samuel Beckett Society
Daniela Caselli
Daniela Caselli

I recently caught up with Daniela Caselli to chat about her new role as President of the Samuel Beckett Society, an international organization of scholars, students, directors, actors and others who share an interest in the writer’s work. I asked how she first encountered Beckett’s writing, and what she sees as the next step for the Society moving forward:

“My entire career has been shaped by Beckett’s work. As a first year student I took an amazing course on modernism, with a focus on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, taught by Carla Locatelli. It was a revelation, and I never looked back.”

When asked about her plans for the Society going forward, she replied: ‘I aim to develop a Society that is as inclusive as possible, and to develop themes and priorities that reflect the great diversity of the Beckett community.’

You can read our exchange in full at samuelbeckettsociety.org.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Spent yesterday evening reading Thomas Merton‘s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Still a young man, he has lost his mother and his father to illness. With no fixed home, he moved from his birthplace in France to America, then back to France, then to England, and now to America. His attention to detail is wonderful, whether describing middle-class English life or American cinemagoers enjoying Charlie Chaplin‘s Modern Times. He is becoming increasingly disillusioned with his literary career, and there are early signs that he will consider monastic life. I’m looking forward to returning to the book as soon as I can: rich in everyday details, it’s a remarkable document of early-twentieth-century life.

I am becoming increasingly fascinated with life writing for its potential to blend historical record, philosophical observation, and literary style. I’m thinking here not only of Merton, but figures like St AugustineHenri Amiel, and one of my all-time favourites, Jules Renard. Samuel Beckett‘s poignant and dryly humorous letters have a similar quality.

In a recent interview with Neil Badmington, I was reminded of the profound power and solace that that life writing can provide. Badmington reveals that ‘The Mourning Diary is the posthumous text by Barthes to which I return more than any other. Every time I revisit it, I’m struck by the desperate, impossible tension in its brief sighs of sorrow’.