Corresponding with Samuel Beckett is an edition of critical essays that forms a major intervention in key debates on the use of Nobel prize winning author Samuel Beckett’s correspondence in literary and cultural studies and in the digital humanities.
What does it mean to correspond with Beckett? How does Beckett’s correspondence give us insight into the work? In what ways are critical reading and writing a form of correspondence with an author? The publication of the fourth and final volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett marks an appropriate moment to take stock of the role of autobiography in research, and the importance of the epistolary in literary studies. Corresponding with Samuel Beckett examines issues around the development of the grey archive, the use of digital resources, translation, visual metadata, and the role of corollary correspondence. Given Beckett’s hesitation to render the personal public, the book examines what is at stake in negotiating issues of privacy, permissions, and copyright. The book generates new thinking on the letter as artefact, and the textual and stylistic aspects of the epistolary. It explores the legacy of a correspondence project and how the research that underpins it can be deployed for further research. Using literary correspondence and related materials raises older literary questions on authorial intention and reading methodologies that continue to inform literary analysis. In the age of twitter, snapchat and whatsapp correspondence is primarily digital: the edition will question the longevity of contemporary digital correspondence, and explore strategies for future engagement with the epistolary in literary research.
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.
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.