Literature and Theatre

An ‘aesthetics of care’ through aural attention
Sylvan Baker and Maggie Inchley

This chapter reflects on an interdisciplinary practice research project, The Verbatim Formula (TVF), based at Queen Mary University of London, consisting of a series of residential workshops with care-experienced young people using verbatim theatre practices. Drawing on feminist care ethicist Nel Noddings’ analogy between aesthetic engagement and the art of caring, the authors reflect on the shared values and aesthetics of acts of care and participatory practices, and how these inhere in the attentiveneness, attunement and receptivity involved in performing and receiving verbatim material using headphone theatre technique. The chapter incorporates testimonies from its care-experienced co-researchers and draws on Joan Tronto’s argument that there is a radical need for an intervention into the dynamics of power in society that ensure that those for whom the structures of care are least effective are heard and attended to. In acknowledging the ‘ugliness’ of caring and the ongoing labour of attunement, listening emerges in TVF both as an aesthetic but also as a care-based participatory and political practice, that aims to empower care-experienced young people to intervene in the structures that represent them and to support adults to honour their experiences and needs.

in Performing care
Elisabeth Dutton

Elisabeth Dutton focuses on how Reformation Protestant writers asserted the historicity of scriptural events. She asks a crucial question: How do the Protestant playwrights manage to create any form of ‘scene’ by which their audiences might be able to situate themselves in these events? Dutton argues that to encourage these audiences, these playwrights – specifically John Bale, John Foxe, and Nicholas Grimald – used the accessible, physical reality of props to thereby overcome the challenges of presenting a Protestant history.

in Enacting the Bible in medieval and early modern drama
Ghosts and the busy nothing in Footfalls
Stephen Thomson

The approach to nothing that is to be produced in performance operates not by the simple removal of things but by their interaction, their 'busy life', even by their addition. This chapter explores these twin headings, of schematic purity that may seem to point towards philosophy, and the clutter of incident and speech that is conventionally the province of literature, and ultimately explains how the two are related in Samuel Beckett's Footfalls. Ruby Cohn refers to the plays of the 1970s as the 'post-death plays'. The text of Footfalls seems to authorise this identification by introducing a thoroughly anecdotal ghost in May's little tale of her 'semblance' Amy. For, as in the example of 'lacrosse', a poise between the glamour of the transcendental, and the derisory materiality of rags and wicker rackets, is what Footfalls cultivates.

in Beckett and nothing
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.

Catherine Laws

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
Derval Tubridy

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
Enoch Brater

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
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Theoretical debates and the critical erasure of Beckett’s cinema
Matthijs Engelberts

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
Jonathan Bignell

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
Daniela Caselli

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