Emilie Morin’s recent book sheds light on Beckett’s engagement with cultural and political issues
Emilie Morin, Beckett’s Political Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
Emilie Morin, Beckett’s Political Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

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.

livre_galerie_2707300551-Oh les beaux jours-beckett-happy daysIt 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…)

As The Story Was Told (1996), a two-part documentary featuring interviews with authorised biographer James Knowlson, publishers John Calder and Barney Rosset, actress Billie Whitelaw, nephew Edward Beckett, and others. The documentary is notable, in part, for its glimpses of Beckett’s home in Paris and his country retreat in Ussy-sur-Marne.

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Today marks 112 years since the birth of Irish writer, playwright, and Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett. To celebrate, the Samuel Beckett Society have assembled a collection of links to celebrate his life, work, and legacy. You can see their collection for yourself at the Samuel Beckett Society’s official website.

Marc Farrant on the major international conference that sparked new ways of thinking about the South African Nobel laureate
Coetzee, John 2010 (Photo by Marsha Miller)
J. M. Coetzee

How did you first encounter J. M. Coetzee, and what was it that sparked the idea for co-organising a conference on Coetzee & the Archive?

Like many Coetzee readers my first encounter was with the novel Disgrace. I was studying for a Masters at UCL and Disgrace was a core text on the year-long module covering modern English literature from the late nineteenth-century. It was immediately obvious why the novel was the on course, not least from the mixed reactions it provoked. Indeed, it was the only text we covered that year to garner opprobrium from some students in class. It’s a difficult read, the opening scenes that feature a licentious older man preying on one of his students, followed by the rape of his own daughter, test a reader’s mettle. But, it seemed to me at the time and still does, the open hostility the novel received required that one either ignore or abnegate a great deal of the responsibility the text places on the reader: the demand to respond to the ethical issues posed in the work beyond the staid and inherited conventions of moral outrage; to respond to the subtlety of a complex narrative voice that constitutes one of the best ever representations of complicity in the literary tradition, of the complicity of a liberal and educated conscience in crisis. Disgrace broaches the difficult terrain between both redemption and salvation, neither of which will fully serve since both partake of a certain violence or act of exclusion that would appear to tarnish the self-righteous anger of the oppressed as much as the villainy of the oppressor. If readers nevertheless insist that the novel is irresponsible it is therefore irresponsible, I would add, in the sense of informing us that it is perhaps never possible to be responsible enough, that responsibility is always lacking. Given its slender size the above, plus the intricate folds of literary and theological allusions, and the critique of the rationalizing project of secular modernity, makes for quite a novel! (more…)

Originally published in French as Malone meurt in 1951 and later translated into English by the author himself, Malone Dies is the second novel of Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy. The Making of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Malone Dies’/’Malone meurt’ is a comprehensive reference guide to the history of the text. Read the Bloomsbury press release over at the Samuel Beckett Society website.

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Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard‘s final work, Spy of the First Person, has been published this week by Knopf. In an early review for USA TodayJocelyn McClurg describes it as “an autobiographical work of fiction” with a “fragmentary, disjointed narrative”. McClurg goes on to offer a pithy summary suggesting a debt to the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, calling Shepard’s novel “Waiting for Godot in the desert.” (more…)

Buster Keaton on the set of Samuel Beckett's Film
Buster Keaton on the set of Samuel Beckett’s Film

Editors Paul Stewart and David Pattie are seeking contributions to Pop Beckett, a new collection of essays to be published by Ibidem Press:

“The subsequent presence of Beckett in popular culture – both the works and the figure of the man himself – covers a wide array of fields that, as Emilie Morin has suggested, might lead us to re-think Beckett’s continuing position in neoliberal capitalism. Moreover, the boundaries of popular and ‘high’ culture are open to contestation.”

— Source: The Samuel Beckett Society
Abstracts for possible submissions are requested by 20 December 2017, and, upon acceptance, the deadline for full-length essays is set at 30 May 2018. For more information about the projected book, visit the announcement on the Samuel Beckett Society website.

The author of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has been confirmed as the University of Reading’s first Beckett Creative Fellow. The Samuel Beckett Society website has more:

“A multi-award-winning author will set out to create a new piece of creative work inspired by Samuel Beckett after being confirmed as the University of Reading’s first Beckett Creative Fellow.

Eimear McBride, whose novel The Lesser Bohemians won a James Tait Black Prize earlier this year, will have unique access to the University’s internationally-recognised Beckett Archive and be able to draw on academic expertise with in-depth knowledge of the Irish novelist, poet, and playwright.”

Samuel Beckett Society