Open Access (free)
Trying to understand Beckett
Editor: Daniela Caselli

Nothing' has been at the centre of Samuel Beckett's reception and scholarship from its inception. This book explains how the Beckett oeuvre, through its paradoxical fidelity to nothing, produces critical approaches which aspire to putting an end to interpretation: in this instance, the issues of authority, intertextuality and context, which this book tackles via 'nothing'. By retracing the history of Beckett studies through 'nothing', it theorises a future for the study of Beckett's legacies and is interested in the constant problem of value in the oeuvre. Through the relation between Beckett and nothing, the relation between voice and stone in Jean-Paul Sartre and Beckett, we are reminded precisely of the importance of the history of an idea, even the ideas of context, influence, and history. The book looks at something that has remained a 'nothing' within the Beckett canon so far: his doodles as they appear in the Human Wishes manuscript. It also looks at the material history of televisual production and places the aesthetic concerns of Beckett's television plays. The book then discusses the nexus between nothing and silence in order to analyse the specific relations between music, sound, and hearing. It talks about the history of materiality through that of neurology and brings the two into a dialogue sustained by Beckett texts, letters and notebooks. The book investigates the role of nothing through three works called neither and Neither: Beckett's short text, Morton Feldman's opera, and Doris Salcedo's sculptural installation.

As Carla Locatelli perceives, silence becomes integral to Samuel Beckett's radical interrogation of language. His voices move beyond the Western cultural and philosophical positing of silence only as a lack, breaking through 'this farrago of silence and words of silence that is not silence'. In Beckett's early positing of Beethoven's ruptured music as a possible model for his own work, silence is composed in, defined still in terms of the cessation of sound, objectified for cognition, and evoked only by the act of listening for it. In some of Beckett's later texts, the picking away at the relationship between sound and silence leads to an alternative proposition: unheard sound. In late Beckett texts, silence is neither produced or banished intentionally; 'no sound' is not necessarily indicative of silence and meaninglessness, and the relationship between the presence of sound and its perception is uncertain.

in Beckett and nothing

This chapter situates its enquiry between the poles of negation, exploring the interstices between both by way of neither. Drawing together prose, music and sculpture, it investigates the role of nothing through three works called neither and Neither: Samuel Beckett's short text, Morton Feldman's opera, and Doris Salcedo's sculptural installation. Beckett, Feldman, Salcedo are each concerned with our response to silence, and the ways in which we can make audible, or visible that which cannot be expressed. Feldman's and Salcedo's formal responses to Beckett's text, each work echoing and reiterating the gridlike structure of his prose, provide a way to think about the negation inherent in these works. Through two works called Neither, each of them poised between alternatives about which a negative statement is made, Feldman and Salcedo respond to the challenge of a Beckettian aesthetic that situates itself between Malrauxian estrangement and Geulincxian negation.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
The no-thing that knows no name and the Beckett envelope, blissfully reconsidered

With so many parallels to Dada composition, echoes of James Joyce, and resonances to the 'midget grammar' of Gertrude Stein, it has always been difficult to know where to place Samuel Beckett on the great modernist/postmodernist divide. Somewhere beyond minimalism, his work explores the vast terrain that separates nothing from nothingness, and both from the far more intriguing nothing in particular. Richard Begam describes how Beckett's fiction anticipates many of the defining themes and ideas of Barthes, Foucault and Derrida in moving us toward 'the end of modernity'. In the early 1970s 'The empty can' proposed looking elsewhere, outside of literature perhaps, for the appropriate artistic climate of spontaneity that seemed so central to Beckett's relentless 'work-inregress'. The void never looked quite so promising before, especially so for a young scholar who was beginning to find his way through so much 'mental thuggee'.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
Theoretical debates and the critical erasure of Beckett’s cinema

Samuel Beckett's Film was written and filmed at what is often considered to be the tail end of the modernist period, yet it draws on the idea of cinema as an art that is not verbal. This chapter shows that its fate has been largely determined by the strained relations between film and literature. It examines the way in which cinema critics approached Film in newspapers and magazines, particularly by Cahiers du Cinéma during the 1965 Venice film festival. In the world of cinema, Film is referred to primarily as the work of its scriptwriter: the man with a pen. As of the end of 2008, a search of the most widely used bibliographic databases yielded a total of around fifty articles dealing specifically with the script of Film or on the film itself in at least one of its two versions.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
Beckett’s television plays and the idea of broadcasting

In the context of a tradition of critical discussion that characterises Samuel Beckett's plays for television as attempts to engage with nothingness, absence and death, this chapter argues that the television plays are critical explorations of the problematics of presence and absence inherent in the conceptions and histories of broadcasting. Television as a medium and a physical apparatus sets up spatial and temporal relationships between programmes and their viewers, relationships with which Beckett's television plays are in dialogue. The conceptions of medium and audience that Beckett's television plays suggest can be understood in terms of the contrasting implications of broadcasting as dissemination. Broadcasting is dissemination in good faith, despite its haunting by the prospect that some of what is broadcast will turn out to be a dead letter sent into the void.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
Beckett and nothing: trying to understand Beckett

On 21 April 1958 Samuel Beckett writes to Thomas MacGreevy about having written a short stage dialogue to accompany the London production of Endgame. A fragment of a dramatic dialogue, paradoxically entitled Last Soliloquy, has been identified as being the play in question. It is tempting to read Last Soliloquy as such a caricature, as if Beckett were following his own suggestions for the staging of a 'text for nothing', doomed, for reasons different from those of Joseph Chaikin, to be in turn rejected and jettisoned. The all-controlling eye of the invisible author, able to tell the difference between 'what not' and 'not what' in the soliloquy even if nobody else can, is both a comic and a serious staging of one of the main paradoxes of the Beckett canon. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
Beckett and anxiety

In August 1936, Samuel Beckett wrote in his notebook that it is better to be afraid of something than of nothing. The fact that Beckett wrote in German is significant because it is in part a linguistic exercise. Additionally, it articulates with admirable lucidity an insight that was clearly important to Beckett, coming as it does during a renewal of his anxiety attacks in the wake of an apparently failed course of psychoanalysis. This chapter examines the figuration of anxiety in Beckett's work, using as a primary example a passage from the opening of Molloy. It provides information on two broader questions: the role of 'feeling' in Beckett's writing, particularly in the postwar period, and Beckett's aesthetic preoccupation with the evocation of an unfathomable 'nothingness'. The 'nothingness' of anxiety is the anchor-point of the oscillation, and the movement itself a means of disclosing a central absence.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)

This chapter addresses the argument: following Samuel Beckett's way would actually come much closer to the bone of Jacques Lacan's teaching. The least - unnullable least? - one could say is: nothing has changed. The double meaning of this sentence invokes on the one hand the claustrophobic and static setting of Beckett's writing, a site where nothing could ever change. Beckett's art, as opposed to James Joyce's, is the art of (n-1). The words have to be deprived of their magic, hollowed, their meaning has to be subtracted from them so that they become scarce and empty. Language itself is a veil, that was Beckett's insight already in the late 1930s, not the locus of expression, a veil to be pierced, not expanded, not a canvas to paint upon to conjure a new infinite universe. Rather, the veil is there only to get behind it, to what seemingly lies beyond.

in Beckett and nothing
Open Access (free)
Reading Beckett’s negativity

This chapter focuses on some of the ways in which Samuel Beckett's own gaze has been reflected in work by J. M. Coetzee and W. G. Sebald. The way in which Beckett's nothingness is accorded value can be seen as an index to the critical mode in which he is approached. The emptiness that inhabits Beckett's writing suggests and provokes an affinity with the reader, allows the reader to find his or her self reflected in Beckett's work, as reader and listener reflect each other in Ohio Impromptu, as Murphy is reflected in Mr Endon. This emptiness allows for and provokes such affinity, but it is also just this negativity that is eradicated as affinity gives way to stifling proximity, to a becoming one.

in Beckett and nothing