The titles of Samuel Beckett’s two early novels show a taste for salaciousness and provocation that did not disappear in later years, and led to his being expelled from the family home and censored in Ireland. If obscenity became more subdued afterwards, and if sexuality tended to disappear from an increasingly abstract universe, sex, of an often crude kind, is a recurring feature of the Beckettian text. As for sexuality, in its normative version, it is systematically thwarted by the powerlessness and horror of procreation displayed by Beckett’s male characters, whose sexual behaviour “deviates” from the heterosexual paradigm (anality, onanism).
Sex questions the relationship to the other, as a sexual partner and in its gendered dimension. But this relationship is not a straightforward one in Beckett. Before the trilogy, female characters are essentially derealized (either through idealization or belittling, see Mercier, Bryden, Ben-Zvi, McMullan), while male characters are devirilized (Bjørnerud). Moreover, the question of connection and autonomy, central to the fiction and even more to the theatre, is experienced in sexual encounters with particular acuteness. The promise of a union, or even of fusion with the other, stumbles against an impossibility that feeds the melancholy of many characters. Considering that the sexual act is both material and spiritual, it can be traumatic but is also a source of humour and comedy.
This volume aims to study Samuel Beckett’s style in the mirror of his letters. Since 2009, four volumes of his letters have been published by Cambridge University Press: Volume I, 1929-1940 (2009); Volume II, 1941-1956 (2011); Volume III, 1957-1965 (2014) and Volume IV, 1966-1989 (2016). They have also been translated into French and published by Gallimard between 2014 and 2018. In spite of an originally imposing corpus, only a selection of around 2 500 (L1, xx) have been reproduced, but these letters give an idea of the evolution of the epistolary style of the author of Godotand Molloy, from the 1930s through to the 1980s. Written in English, French and, to a lesser degree, in German, the letters are addressed to numerous correspondents: friends (Tom MacGreevy, Ethna MacCarthy) and collaborators (Jérôme Lindon, Robert Pinget); close relations (Barbara Bray) or occasional correspondents, like David Hayman or Matti Megged.
We are delighted to announce a two-conference series on the topic: Beckett & Italy: “old chestnuts”, new occasions. The first conference will take place at the University of Reading from 7-8 November 2019, and the second will take place at “Sapienza” Università di Roma in May 2020. The following is a call for papers for the upcoming conference at the University of Reading…
Phenomenology, from its classical roots in Husserl to its more contemporary intersections with ecology, re-imagines relations between the human and its surroundings. How might phenomenology, then, inspire innovative readings of Beckett’s work around ecological crisis, climate change, and environmental instability? We are envisioning an informal, collegial gathering of scholars of literature and philosophy on 21 June, at The American University of Paris, where we will approach this question from a variety of angles, anchored in reading three Beckett texts and one article on eco-phenomenology. We are eager to bring together scholars thinking with the phenomenological tradition expansively, from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty to Henry, and to include scholars with a variety of approaches to literary texts, from political to comparative to philosophical to psychoanalytic. We are not aiming for the workshop to produce a “product,” but we do hope to explore whether there may be ways for the discussions to continue in future years. We imagine pre-circulating Beckett texts in French and English, with discussion itself taking place primarily in English, and with a couple workshop participants kicking off discussion of each text with informal opening reflections. The workshop is convened by Amanda Dennis and Vincent Lloyd.
We announce the upcoming Samuel Beckett Society conference, to be held in Spain from 9-11 May 2019; Catherine Fahy contributes an essay/review of György Kurtág’s operatic adaptation of Endgame; James Brophy reviews the recent Beckett and the Nonhuman/Beckett et le Non-Humain conference in Brussels, while Eleanor Green reflects on the most recent Samuel Beckett Society annual conference. José Francisco Fernández reviews Anthony Cordingly’s recent volume, Samuel Beckett’s How It Is: Philosophy in Translation; Amanda Dennis takes a look at Jean-Michel Rabaté’s Think Pig!; and Michael Coffey assesses James McNaughton’s recent monograph, Samuel Beckett and the Politics of Aftermath.
There are tributes to George Craig, who died in March of this year. His colleagues on the editorial team of The Letters of Samuel Beckett reflect on the loss of a dear friend and colleague, while Gabriel Josipovici shares the eulogy that was delivered at Craig’s funeral service.
Finally, this issue shares a rich number of theatre reviews from across the world.
“Samuel Beckett came into the world on 13 April 1906. Not only was it an ill-fated Friday the 13th, it was also a Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, on which the Christian Church commemorates the Crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary. To the superstitiously-minded, any life begun under such ill-fated stars would seem destined for disaster. Throughout his career, Beckett kept thinking back to the unfortunate circumstances of his nativity and the future it seemed to hold. When Judith Schmidt – assistant to American publisher Barney Rosset of Grove Press, New York – wished him many happy returns on 13 April 1962, joking about it being a Friday, he wrote: ‘Very touched by your card and remembrance. I was born on Good Friday 13th, so can’t share your high opinion of the conjunction. And yet when I have the courage to take a quick look back I can see that the miracles haven’t been wanting and that but for them it’s in the better place I’d be for this long time’.” — Dirk Van Hulle and Pim Verhulst
An announcement from the University of Reading: “We are delighted to announce the Mary Bryden Studentship in Beckett Studies at the University of Reading. Supported by an endowment from our colleague Professor Mary Bryden’s Estate, the Ph. D. studentship offers an annual subsistence stipend of £10,000 for 3 years full-time study, or part-time equivalent. The scholarship will also cover full UK/EU tutorial fees, or will make a contribution to overseas fees.”
The Samuel Beckett Society seeks panelists engaging with these three different aspects of the question of ‘being human’ in Beckett: 1) The politics of humanism; 2) The human and technology; and 3) The human and the non-human.
The fourth annual festival celebrating the life and work of Samuel Beckett will be held in the author’s home parish church of Tullow in Foxrock, County Dublin, with what promises to be a very atmospheric performance of All That Fall.