Svetlana Alexievich
Svetlana Alexievich

“What can art accomplish? The purpose of art is to accumulate the human within the human being.”

— Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Banquet, December 2015

Gyorgy Kurtag Endgame Piano.jpg

“In the fall of 1956, the Soviet Union crushed an uprising in Hungary, swiftly ending an attempt to escape the superpower’s grip on the Eastern bloc. The Soviet tanks that rolled through Budapest also brought an end to the belief of many intellectuals and artists here in the ideals of Communism.

The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag, then 30, felt his whole world collapse that year. “Not just the outside world, but my inner universe, too,” he once said in an interview.

Mr. Kurtag spent the next two years in Paris, seeking new meaning for his life and work under the guidance of a psychoanalyst. He studied with the composer Olivier Messiaen, and heard the music of Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg at concerts given by Pierre Boulez. From the isolation of Communist Hungary, he had emerged into the West’s center of musical modernism.

It was in Paris during this period that Mr. Kurtag first saw Samuel Beckett’s play “Endgame.” The encounter set him on a lifelong journey, studying Beckett’s works and creating music inspired by them. Six decades later, on Nov. 15, this odyssey — and the career of one of the last living giants of 20th-century music — will culminate in Mr. Kurtag’s long-awaited, long-delayed first opera, based on “Endgame,” at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.”

The New York Times

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…)