The global trauma of the nuclear age
The global trauma of the nuclear age in
Beckett’s post-war plays
Mariko Hori Tanaka
The Holocaust and the development of nuclear weapons changed
the world at the end of the Second World War. These two horrific events still weigh heavily on our lives. As Theodor Adorno
warned, ‘Today something worse than death is to be feared’
(2001: 106). Both events proved that human beings can be infinitely savage and that we can potentially even destroy our species.
Referring to his own famous words, ‘After Auschwitz one could
Rachel Sykes, Jennifer Daly, and Anna Maguire Elliot
, Robinson became an influential figure at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and secured a reputation for nonfiction through publication of two diverse and controversial volumes that she often refers to as her most important works: Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989) and The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998). Since Gilead , the rate at which Robinson has published fiction has been astonishing, with a fourth Gilead novel released in 2020, as Rachel Sykes discusses in the Epilogue to this collection
-produced violence in the form of environmental
and human-rights violations, and the consequences of such violence on the
protagonists’ physical, psychological, and emotional lives. Eventually, Fire and Water
are revealed to be eco-terrorists, whose aim is to destroy the centre where Dr Singh works as
a revenge against Nevada’s nuclear testing history.
It would be a mistake, however, to consider The Secret
History of Las Vegas merely as a noir in the traditional understanding of the
genre. The novel in fact shares with most
Samuel Beckett and trauma is a collection of essays that opens new approaches to Beckett’s literary and theoretical work through the lens of trauma studies. Beginning with biographical and intertextual readings of instances of trauma in Beckett’s works, the essays take up performance studies, philosophical and cultural understanding of post-traumatic subjectivity, and provide new perspectives that will expand and alter current trauma studies. Chapter 1 deals with a whole range of traumatic symptoms in Beckett’s personal experiences which find their ways into a number of his works. Chapter 2 investigates traumatic symptoms experienced by actors on stage. Chapter 3 examines the problem of unspeakability by focusing on the face which illuminates the interface between Beckett’s work and trauma theory. Chapter 4 explores the relationship between trauma and skin – a psychic skin that reveals the ‘force and truth’ of trauma, a force that disrupts the apparatus of representation. Chapter 5 considers trauma caused by a bodily defect such as tinnitus. Chapter 6 focuses on the historically specific psychological structure in which a wounded subject is compelled to stick to ordinary life in the aftermath of some traumatic calamity. Chapter 7 provides a new way of looking at birth trauma by using the term as ‘creaturely life’ that is seen in the recent biopolitical discourses. Chapter 8 speculates on how Beckett’s post-war plays, responding to the nuclear age’s global trauma, resonate with ethical and philosophical thoughts of today’s post-Cold War era.
landscape of Sheffield’s steel industry, of extractive industries in Cumbria
and the Port of Liverpool. I then undertook three major bodies of work
exploring global nuclear history, including visits to Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and to nuclear sites in
My methodology throughout this period remained essentially
unchanged. I would travel, by whatever means required, to a given
location, and I would then walk, explore and evaluate what it meant
to me, looking for objects or scenarios that resonated with me in terms
self-condemnation. The mapping of the words of the tree in the field of the will and testament
Here’s the paradox of recognising the absurdity of a fear of
contamination and yet trying to articulate the impossibility of contamination merely existing
as abstraction. In part, that’s why Derrida fails in his
exposé of nuclear weapons 6 by not
confronting the nuclear empowering of the French energy industry. That’s why irony and
contamination, metaphor and brute reality of the mass noun with the figurative
Angeles and Las Vegas in The Virgin of Flames and The Secret History of Las
Vegas respectively. These settings are extremely ‘located’, as in
GraceLand , a novel informed by the typical features of Lagosian
literature; or as in The Secret History of Las Vegas , in which
Abani reconstructs the modern history of the city, from the creation of the Strip to the
nuclear tests during the Cold War. Yet Abani’s storylines always contain fully open
perspectives, which project the reflections of a planet into the locality of his
Marilynne Robinson’s essays and the crisis of mainline Protestantism
of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self . Yale University Press , 2010 .
—— The Death of Adam . Picador, 1998; Houghton Mifflin , 1998 .
—— The Givenness of Things: Essays . Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2015 .
—— Housekeeping . Faber , 1980 ; reprinted 2005.
—— Mother Country: Britain, The Nuclear State, and Nuclear Pollution . Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 1989 .
—— “ Onward, Christian Liberals: Faith Is Not about Piety or Personal Salvation, but
thought about my face as a worn-in leather armchair.
Sit here a while. ( F, 85)
Sons, fathers, and the postcolony (youth)
Abani’s work familiarises us with a
postcolonial context in which the Western idea of the nuclear, patriarchal family as the
organising social principle has impacted heavily on traditional family patterns. Therefore
the focus on the father–child relation should also be seen in connection with an
epistemological framework that has in part incorporated and
Euro-American orphans, the bildungsroman, and kinship building
Maria Holmgren Troy, Elizabeth Kella, and Helena Wahlström
’s Ellen Foster (1987) and The Life All Around Me by Ellen
Foster (2006). These novels question widespread assumptions about
the benefits of the nuclear family through their orphan protagonists’ explorations of alternative kinship constellations. Because they
are orphans, Irving’s and Gibbons’s protagonists are outsiders, but
because they are white they may still lay claim to the dominant formulation of American identity; and the challenge they launch against the
nuclear family ideal may be effectual precisely because they occupy a
position of racial privilege.