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Forthcoming Publication: ‘Transdisciplinary Beckett’ by Lucy Jeffery

We are delighted to announce that Transdisciplinary Beckett: Visual Arts, Music, and the Creative Process will be published by ibidem-Verlag in November 2021. In this monograph, Lucy Jeffery, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Samuel Beckett Research Centre at the University of Reading, analyses Beckett’s use of the visual arts, music, and broadcasting media through a transdisciplinary approach. This book will be the eighth monograph of the ‘Samuel Beckett in Company’ series edited by Paul Stewart.

In this crucial and timely publication, Jeffery makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the relation between Beckett, music, and the visual arts. To do so, Jeffery analyses specific instances where Beckett’s writing adopts musical and/or visual structures. The book is divided into four chapters: ‘Watt’s “wild and unintelligible” painting’, ‘Radio waves of “encircling gloo-oom”’, ‘Watching Beethoven and Schubert’ and ‘Paint it blue: “The vision at last”’. In each chapter, Jeffery draws on musicology and art history, on philosophy and literary theory in order to unpick the significance of Beckett’s own recourse to the arts. In this in-depth study, Jeffery evaluates Beckett’s stylistic shifts in relation to the cultural context, particularly the technological advancements and artistic movements, during Beckett wrote his texts. Jeffery positions Beckett as a key figure in the fields of visual arts, music, and broadcasting media. She foregrounds his transdisciplinary approach to writing by referring to new examples of work in progress from the Beckett Collection at the University of Reading.

In addition to this forthcoming monograph, Jeffery has also published extensively on Beckett in the Journal of Beckett Studies, Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, and the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. Her forthcoming publications on Beckett can be found here. Jeffery’s interdisciplinary research has seen her publish on a range of other authors, including Harold Pinter, Ezra Pound, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Magda Szabó.

Transdisciplinary Beckett: Visual Arts, Music, and the Creative Process can be pre-ordered in the US and Canada here or worldwide here.

Recently Published: An Interview the editors of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Philosophy Notes’ 

In a recently published interview in The Modernist Review, Jonathan McAllister, of the University of Cambridge, discusses the recent publication of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Philosophy Notes’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020) with books editors Steven Matthews and Matthew Feldman.

This fascinating interview is a reflection on Beckett’s relationship to philosophical writing by two scholars who have spent much of their career reading and thinking about Beckett’s oeuvre. Steven Matthew, for example, dispels the idea of Beckett as a kind of anti-Enlightenment writer, an anti-Enlightenment person, stating that:

[…] some of the most incredible sections of the notes are actually those on Kantian and the post-Kantian philosophies. It appears Beckett really knew his enemy: he wrote out page after page after page about the thing-in-itself, etc., etc., using the most abstruse authority figures amongst the philosophers. It is not the case, therefore, that Beckett was simply instinctually against the idea of homo mensura – ‘man is the measure of everything’ – that man is incapable of some kind of illumination, enlightenment. In fact, he had gone through many, presumably quite tedious, hours of working on this stuff to make sure that he had every single detail.

Read the whole interview in The Modernist Review here.

Review: Beckett Brunch 2021 by Emma Keanie

Emma Keanie, a postgraduate researcher in the Department of English at the University of Reading, reviews the Beckett Brunch 2021 that took place last month on the 24th April.

Following its pandemic-induced postponement last year, the 2021 Beckett Brunch, usually held in Paris, took place on Saturday 24th April in that indeterminate Zoom space with Beckett’s own alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, as its base. The bi-lingual event’s theme – ‘Cross-Border Beckett / Beckett par-delà les frontiers’ – having been determined prior to what is now widely recognised as this new era of virtual engagement and remote learning, was a curiously apt topic on which to focus given the new, or at the very least more felt, borders, particularly those arising from the past year’s societal separation, which we must negotiate.

The Brunch was composed of four sessions, each revolving around the concept of borders. Its opening address was a testament to how the writer’s relationship with France and his adoption of Paris as his permanent domicile in 1937 has fostered an equally enduring and convivial relationship between France and Ireland. For we had the pleasure of hearing Patricia O’Brien, Ambassador of Ireland to France, and Vincent Guérend, French Ambassador to Ireland, broadcasting live from their embassies for the especial purpose of opening our following few hours of Beckettian brunching. In this time of distance and separation it was warming to hear Ambassador O’Brien reflect on how Beckett’s legacy has filtered through time as she spoke of how many Irish people, some knowingly and some not, continue to trace his footsteps and settle in Paris, embracing both their own language and culture and that of their adopted home.

Webinar I centred on ‘Beckett Across Research’, comprising the opening address, a stimulating conversation on the notion of borders in Beckett’s oeuvre with William Davies, Trish McTighe, Feargal Whelan and Kathryn White, and Hélène Lecossois’s and Alicia Byrne Keane’s intriguing papers, respectively entitled ‘Samuel Beckett et la politique de l’intérieur’ and ‘The Value of Vagueness: Samuel Beckett, Haruki Murakami and “Universal” References’. White’s invocation of ‘my way is in the sand flowing’ to open the conversation, a pertinent point of reference which elucidates the writer’s own fixation with thresholds, spoke to the event’s focus on the shifting nature of borders, the fact that they are never quite fixed and often show signs of seepage or overlap, and on that unknown, intermedial space which, in ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Beckett referred to as the ‘space that intervenes’, prefiguring the ‘nomansland’ in his German Diaries. The conversation continued in this vein, expanding on the variant borders at work in Beckett and the world, such as the physical, topographical, social, political, and psychological, this latter element bringing Coleridge’s ‘mental space’ to mind. Davies spoke of Beckett crossing the French border at the advent of, and not forgetting during, the Second World War, and how borders can be imposed and enforced, causing one to confront or question one’s own identity. Even names can delineate borders, as Davies recalled how Beckett’s forename posed a challenge to his identity: ‘how can you not be Jewish?’. He went on to unfold the idea of genre space and how Beckett’s writing crosses genre thresholds, and it was this thought on the borders between different types of writing which resounded throughout the remainder of our rendezvous which is not, of course, dissimilar to the Joycean notion of a ‘poseproem’. Whelan elaborated on the concept of stability as one which does not exist when it comes to transitioning these numerous types of borders, drawing on Beckett’s formative experience of the Easter Rising in 1916, being shipped off to Portora at the age of ten by his worried father, only for a political – not to mention physical – border to be erected on the partitioning of Ireland whilst he was at school, resulting in his living in a different country from his parents. McTighe drew on her (and White’s) fascinating work on ‘festivalisation’ in Northern Ireland to re-channel the genre issue, showing how, for instance, Seán Doran’s ‘Happy Days: Enniskillen International Beckett Festival’ explores the idea of border-hopping Beckett, staging as it does unique productions of his work at once in the north and south of the island. These first four participants engaged in a diverse discussion of how the writer’s sense of place was directly impacted by borders, providing fruit for thought in abundance. Lecossois and Byrne Keane’s papers complemented the conversation, speaking intuitively to notions of borders in the domestic and gender spheres; it is much to my dismay that my fizzling broadband connection could not wait until the interval to begin its experimentation with my patience.

Dúnlaith Bird, founder of the Beckett Brunch, who is to be commended on the creation of such a wonderful and necessary event, opened the second webinar session which focused on ‘Beckett Across Education’ with her paper entitled ‘Étudier Beckett en génie mécanique’. Nicholas Johnson, Gareth Young and Ann Devitt then discussed the topic ‘Teaching Beckett with Virtual Reality’, an insightful exchange of ideas and works in progress which revealed where this past year of remote working and learning has encouraged researchers to go when contemplating what was referred to as a ‘new phase of education’: a frightening concept or not? Both, perhaps. The participants considered the concept of teaching in a ‘v-sense’, discussing how virtual tools create possibilities in education as well as the potential of virtual reality in cultural arenas and the performing arts, and posed the apposite question: why is Beckett considered as opposed to other writers in this intangible space? Well, aside from it being the Beckett Brunch, we must remember that Beckett is, as Johnson put it, an intermedial writer, one whose work itself travelled through media and endured a range of experimentation even before the digital age. This was an illuminating conversation about technological advances, particularly within education, and how the remote experience could become more immersive through advances in the role of embodiment, the presence of the student becoming more real, as it were, within the mise-en-scène of the virtual classroom, a thrilling concept given my own current status as a ‘by distance’ researcher. The speakers explored how we can suspend disbelief about what reality is and what it is not, broaching methods such as visuality, aurality and haptics to enable students to feel the virtual environment in the way they would a ‘normal’ classroom or lecture theatre. Devitt asked the question that surely defines the current, collective preoccupation: what can make us feel like we are here together? Thus the future of learning was explored through concepts which extended beyond blended and responsive learning to considerations of metacognitive functioning and the creation of a smooth interface between reality and virtual reality. These researchers are looking at an experience which infuses a little more viscerality than traditional virtual learning, and Beckett’s mediating function in their discussion reveals a rich, interdisciplinary research field which crosses the borders between literature and technology.

Megane Mazé and Céline Thobois ended Webinar II with a talk on ‘Lectures bilingues de Beckett au-delà de la classe’, during which they spoke about their experience running the Samuel Beckett Reading Group at Trinity College Dublin and the challenges they faced when such groups were forced to move to the virtual space. They reminded us how, as Beckett himself put it in Ohio Impromptu, when working ‘alone together so much [is] shared’, and it was certainly this sense of being together yet fundamentally alone – which Beckett recognised in, for instance, Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, ‘Two Men Observing the Moon’ – which informed their following discussion in the context of the reading group and which also spoke to the larger movement behind the event; how we can be and feel as alone as we possibly ever have been, and how we strive to ‘keep on keeping on’ together. Both described how the reading group brings a diversity of scholarly perspectives to bear on Beckett’s texts, whilst their focus on translation prompted new thought which chimed with the previous panel’s discussion about virtual reality in education and cultural heritage. Thobois astutely observed how we are no longer simply concerned with translation in the sense of the conversion of one language into another, or even of the notion of a work being translated from the page to the stage, as there is now the broader concept of translating a piece of art – like a classroom environment – from, for example, the theatre into a virtual reality. The future mass medium of virtual content was certainly a key theme underpinning the Brunch, and Mazé and Thobois’s discussion of Stimmung or atmosphere contemplated how we could move or adapt a text across the borders of the tangible into the virtual.

Next, we found ourselves in the midst of an at once Beckettian and virtual pause, suspended in the silence of zoom-waiting (for Godot?) before crossing that ineffable threshold into virtual communication. For we encountered some technical difficulty before Clara Simpson’s remarkable performance of Pas Moi / Not I. The organisers negotiated such Beckettian territory with professional ease and good humour, whilst the pause itself allowed us to experience the intervening space between virtual borders, at once evoking and encouraging a new take on Beckett’s assertion that it is the experience and the silence between the phrases which matters. Indeed, in this liminal, static space one could still sense all the numberless goings on which ultimately prevents that unattainable goal described by the Unnamable as ‘the real silence at last’. And then we were transported by Simpson’s sensational embodiment of mouth. In seeking the words to convey the brilliance of her contribution to the event, I was reminded of language’s capacity not to name, for there seems to be no praise high enough. It was fascinating to see Pas Moi / Not I in this on-screen form, as we were not presented with an illumined mouth on a stage but rather with the actress herself. The emotional involvement required for such a successful performance was visible on her face. The mouth, ever the vehicle of emission, was humanised, which is not to say that this text often (or ever) feels to be far from the human experience, it is more that the visual vocabulary of the stage was transformed in the virtual environment. Infrequent sound malfunctions contributed to the overall effect, as the words blurred briefly, morphing for seconds at a time into a series of moans, which only served to complement Mouth’s angst. An ‘Artistic Roundtable’ featuring Simpson, Lynne Parker and Sarah Jane Scaife concluded this third and final webinar centring on ‘Beckett Across Performance’, and these three excellent panellists offered transformative insights into both acting and directing Beckett’s work, the challenges posed by the past year and their perspectives on virtual possibilities in theatre.

Given the focus on the current limitations of virtual engagement, it is significant that the organisers did not fail to create an interactive, if not immersive, experience through their innovative use of tools such as Padlet and video clips. Participants and attendees were able to upload and share their favourite brunch recipes prior to the event, whilst we could also highlight our presence on a virtual map. One need only glance at the map to see how Beckett has crossed cultural and continental borders, touching the lives of many across the globe. We could also upload one-minute video clips, a selection of which were shown at the beginning of Webinars II and III, which ranged from unique research insights and glimpses of an unpublished Beckett letter to gripping experiments in virtual performance. A ‘Borderless Conversation’ with all participants concluded the event, a thoughtful wrap-up technique which enabled a stronger sense of presence and togetherness. Céline Thobois, Megane Mazé, Dúnlaith Bird and Nicholas Johnson’s organisation and execution of the 2021 Beckett Brunch was undoubtedly a great success, setting a standard for future events and igniting interest in research advances between Beckett studies and technology and the future ease of international engagement.

Beckett & Italy, 24-26 May 2021

We are delighted to share with you the brilliant programme of the second Beckett & Italy conference which will be held ‘virtually’ in Rome on 24-26 May 2021. The full list of speakers and events at the Beckett & Italy conference can be found here.

Keynote speakers at this year’s conference include: Enoch Brater (University of Michigan), Annamaria Cascetta (Università Cattolica di Milano), Carla Locatelli (Università di Trento & University of Pennsylvania), John McCourt (Università di Macerata), Manfred Pfister (Freie Universität Berlin) and Dirk Van Hulle (University of Oxford).

The conference also includes the special event ‘An Evening with Beckett: Two Short Films’ by S.E. Gontarski.

Registration is now open here: https://forms.gle/SkWj9k8B1ZDQWbYV8

Samuel Beckett’s 115th Birthday

This week, on the 13th April 2021, would have marked the 115th birthday of Samuel Beckett. The writer was notoriously reluctant to celebrate the annual event, evident in the many letters he responded to throughout the years, such as in 1961 when Beckett wrote to Mary Hutchinson: “I shall not be in Paris for my birthday, nor at Ussy, perhaps at Etretat, or simply on the road with car. Please don’t give me anything, help me to forget the day.”

Beckett’s birthday was celebrated this year by the Journal of Beckett Studies who released a special issue on Beckett in the Contemporary Political Moment, edited by the Samuel Beckett Research Centre’s William Davies.

This special issue, (Volume 30, Issue 1) includes contributions by Rodney Sharkey, Hannah Simpson, Rina Kim, Ken Alba, Jonathan Heron, Will Davies and Trish McTigue. As well as a virtual roundtable on ‘Beckett, Celebrity and Crisis’ with Scott Hamilton, Rosaleen Maprayil, Jonathan McAllister, Matt McFrederick, Rodney Sharkey and Zoë Tweed.

You can read the issue here: https://www.euppublishing.com/toc/jobs/30/1

 

Recordings with Eimear McBride

To celebrate the recent publication of Eimear McBride’s Mouthpieces by Faber & Faber, we are taking a look back on McBride’s journey as the Samuel Beckett Research Centre’s Inaugural Creative Fellow.

On a special episode of RTÉ Radio 1’s ‘The Book Show’, McBride visited The Samuel Beckett Collection in University of Reading. There she gained a rare glimpse at the original manuscripts of Beckett’s first publish novel Murphy and his last published prose work Stirrings Still. This episode features contributions from the Head of Archive Services Guy Baxter, Director of the Beckett International Foundation Dr Mark Nixon, Chair of the Samuel Beckett Research Centre Steven Matthews, Beckett’s biographer and friend James Knowlson, actors Lisa Dwan and Olwen Fouéré. Listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/thebookshow/tbs-s5-2-eimear-mcbride-on-samuel-beckett

Mouthpieces, which divides into three short texts, was composed during McBride’s time as Inaugural Creative Fellow at the Samuel Beckett Research Centre in 2017-2018 with unique access to the Beckett Archives at the University of Reading. In March 2019, Mouthpieces was performed by Eimear McBride and Aoife Duffin on RTÉ Radio 1’s ‘Drama on One’. This recording is an exciting opportunity to experience the musicality and orality of the author’s vivid, original and sharp-witted style. The performance can be listened to here: https://www.rte.ie/drama/radio/plays/2019/0324/1038351-mouthpieces-by-eimear-mcbride/

Mouthpieces by Eimear McBride is published by Faber & Faber and is available now (ISBN 9780571365814). More information on McBride’s time as Inaugural Creative Fellow can be found here.

Symposia Series: How It Is by Samuel Beckett Symposium

Gare St. Lazare Ireland (GSLI) and The Samuel Beckett Centre at University of Reading teamed up to present a third How It Is Symposium on the 5th March 2021. The symposium, which took place entirely online, welcomed colleagues from around the world, including speakers from New Zealand, Spain, France, Mexico and the UK. The digital format of this symposium embraced the international reach of Samuel Beckett’s work with GSLI stating that “in some respects it is fitting that it is taking place, not at any one place, but in every place that can connect digitally. As we strive for a global participation, we have also worked to hear the voices of scholars, artists, writers and practitioners” (GSLI 2021).

These symposia are organised to encourage discussion of Beckett’s How It Is and to make it known to a wider public. The novel, first published in French as Comment c’est in 1961, and later translated as How It Is published in 1964, seems to resists any simple description. With the absence of punctuation, the fragmentary text constructs a broken experience that has lost, or cast off, all markers of space, time, or context, and invites an engagement and physicality from its reader that few other books can. This physicality emerges in GSLI’s staged adaption of How It Is in three parts (2018, 2019, with the novel staged in its entirety scheduled for 2021), which was conceived during their three-year residency at the Everyman Theatre, Cork. This staging is “not a play”, but rather a novel staged in “its entirety”, as director Judy Hegarty-Lovett has stated in an interview with The Irish Times. GSLI’s research into How It Is was the impetus for this symposia series, which has now become an exciting annual event.

The symposium began with a fascinating morning keynote from Chris Ackerley titled ‘Annotating Comment c’est/How It Is: In Three Parts’. Ackerley’s paper detailed how Beckett wrote first in French (Molloy, Malone meurt, L’Innommable, Textes pour rien, Comment c’est) and then in English. The result of this being that the English texts are not a translation but works with their own integrity, that together with the French originals can truly be considered bilingual texts. The purposes of bilingual annotation then, Ackerley explains, is to give a “context of relevant meaning” that assists in the act of reading and interpretation. Ackerley, working with Llewellyn Brown, began a bilingual annotation of Textes pour Rien/Texts for Nothing which was published in 2019. The bilingual annotation of Comment c’est/How It Is is currently underway and is due to be completed later this year.

José Francisco Fernández’s paper on ‘How It Is/Cómo Es: Translating Beckett’s untranslatable novel’ was the first in the morning panel. Fernández’s described the physical intensity of the English text, especially in relation to the explicit discussion of sex that emerges out of Beckett’s mother tongue.  Fernández detailed the process of rendering this physicality in Spanish through the use of stronger verbs (specifically, this included verbs with repeated ‘r’ sounds) and avoiding neutral terms. This focus on physical intensity re-emerged throughout the next paper ‘Inscription as tattooing in How It Is’  as Akra Chattopadhyay discussed the act of tattooing as an “index of inhuman violence” and yet proposes that, “it stands for corporeal love”. Chattopadhyay also represented the primordial writing culture at the level of trans-generational communication in Beckett’s novel. Adrienne Janus’s paper prepared the attendees for GSLI’s ‘Work in Process Extract’ by discussing How It Is as text and dramatic performance in ‘Hear it is: Scenes of Listening and Sonic Atmospheres in How It Is’. Janus’s paper focuses on the perceptual experiences of listening readers and listening spectators in relation to atmosphere: “It is not a question of asking ‘who speaks’, from where, when, but following the experience Adorno referred to as “listening without localising,” asking how voices that, as material sound, as well as sense, affect us, envelope us and touch us, without being distinctly identifiable or graspable”.

After lunch, the symposium resumed with a pre-recorded ‘How It Is – Work In Progress Extract’ from GSLI, directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, with camerawork by Seamus Dillane and Judy Hegarty Lovett. This stunning work in progress displayed actors Conor Lovett and Stephen Dillane in various states of isolation and confinement, staring out into the void, as they journeyed across the three parts of the novel with the watching audience enthralled: “good moments yes I assure you before Pim with Pim after Pim vast tracts of time good moments.”

Ulrika Maude presented the afternoon keynote ‘“In the Dark the Mud in Torment and Solitude”: Reading How It Is’ which discussed the influence of experimental psychology and behavioural conditioning, such as Ivan Pavlov, on the non-visible body, “the viscera – ‘the soft contents of the principle cavities of the body’ (OED), including the kidney, heart, brain, bowels, lungs, the nervous, endocrine and blood systems” – in Beckett’s texts. In this detailed and expansive keynote, Maude also explored the affective and embodied quality of the non-visible body with specific reference to How It Is, as opposed to the representation of the sensorimotor body which has been much written about in recent years.

With close textual analysis of How It Is and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Sara Crangle’s paper ‘On ‘It’’ considered how the pronoun ‘it’ is used “to ask questions of the reader constantly” and to “interrogate our ideological assumptions” in the symposium’s afternoon panel. Particularly, Crangle discussed Beckett’s evasive response to reactionary politics and how this may enable an interpretation of How It Is as a satire of 1950s French governance and law.

The final paper of the symposium was Luz María Sánchez Cardona’s ‘Technological and Physical Space: An Exploration Through Text and Sound’ which detailed adaptions of Beckett’s work, such as Sarah Kenderline and Jeffrey Shaw’s virtual reality UNMAKEABLELOVE that is based on Beckett’s The Lost Ones. Sánchez Cardona, a transdisciplinary artist, writer and scholar, shared ‘Closed Circuit’, a mesmerising audio of a female voice detailing an autopsy, that has been influenced by How It Is. This piece is an immersive sound installation that explores technology, physical space and geometric sound structures. This audio has since been shared online and can be listened to here: https://vimeo.com/521096578

With over 65 international participants at the third How It Is Symposium, this digital event displayed the global impact of Beckett’s novel and the wide variety of research that is currently taking place from translation, to stagings, and technological responses. Inspired by the new circumstances, this was an important and timely symposium that utilised technology to provide a crucial platform for sharing research.

More information on GSLI’s How It Is is available from their website here: garestlazareireland.com

References

Gare St Lazare Ireland. ‘Attendee Information Pack’ (March 2021).

Leland, Mary. ‘How It Is review: A flawless conjunction of acting and staging’ in The Irish Times (2 February 2018). <https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/theatre/how-it-is-review-a-flawless-conjunction-of-acting-and-staging-1.3377880> accessed 15 May 2020.

Announcement: Creative Fellows 2020-21

The Samuel Beckett Research Centre at the University of Reading is delighted to announce the appointment of two new Creative Fellows 2020-21: Duncan Campbell and Hannah Khalil.

Duncan Campbell is an Irish video artist based in Glasgow; he was the recipient of the 2014 Turner Prize for his video work It for Others. Campbell’s art draws extensively on archival research, and examines the role that archives play in our knowledge of, and emotional connection to, the past. Through combining found and created material, this is work that questions the borders between personal and historical memory, dream and documentary, word and image.

Past subjects include Northern Irish politician Bernadette Devlin (Bernadette, 2008), the DeLorean car project (Make it New, John, 2009), and Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’ 1953 film Les statues meurent aussi, (It for Others, 2013). Most recently Duncan has worked in the archives of the Irish File Centre to make The Welfare of Tomás Ó Hallissy (2017).

Campbell has a long-standing interest in the work of Samuel Beckett, as is evident from his 2006 film O, Joan, No, based in part on the stage directions for Beckett’s Play.

Hannah Khalil is an award-winning Palestinian-Irish playwright and dramatist. Hannah’s  work for the stage and radio engages closely with identity, displacement and the politics of national history.

Her work for stage includes A Museum in Baghdad, which moves between the founding of a collection of Iraqi antiquities in 1926, and the aftermath of its looting in 2006, to examine the role of the archive as a national institution. It opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in 2019.

Hannah’s other plays include Interference for The National Theatre of Scotland, The Scar Test for Soho Theatre and Scenes from 68* Years for the Arcola. Scenes from 68* Years was nominated for the James Tait Black award. In 2017 Khalil was awarded The Arab British Centre’s Prize for Culture. Along with her theatre work, she has written numerous radio plays, including The Unwelcome, Last of the Pearl Fishers and The Deportation Room, all for BBC Radio 4.

Hannah has always been deeply influenced by Beckett’s drama, and her writing continues in the tradition of Beckett’s most engaged plays, such as Catastrophe or What Where.

Over the course of their year-long Fellowships, Duncan and Hannah will engage with the contents, history and spaces of the world-leading archive relating to Samuel Beckett’s work which is held at the University’s Special Collections. Supported by colleagues at the Samuel Beckett Research Centre, through this engagement with the archives they will produce new creative work, to be premiered at the end of their time with us. Duncan and Hannah follow our Inaugural Fellow, Eimear McBride, and novelist Robert McCrum and composer Tim Parkinson, in accepting a Creative Fellowship at the Centre. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with them.

Mouthpieces by Eimear McBride

We are delighted to announce that Eimear McBride’s three short, characteristically powerful and disorientating texts depicting a fragmentary female experience, has been published in one collection, Mouthpieces, earlier this month. These works were composed during her time as Inaugural Creative Fellow at the Samuel Beckett Research Centre in 2017-2018 with unique access to the Beckett Archives at the University of Reading.

McBride’s last three novels – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, The Lesser Bohemians and Strange Hotel – combines an innovative, affective style that expresses the inexpressibility of trauma and grief. In Mouthpieces, each short piece creates a dramatic space that is no less intense because of its brevity,

These are powerful, disorientating works that benefit from the fact that the reader can loop back round and re-read each of them immediately (Kelly, 2 February 2021).

In the first of the short pieces, ‘The Adminicle Exists’, we hear the inner voice of a woman who intervenes to save her troubled partner. This monologue for a female voice reveals to the reader the claustrophobic atmosphere of the facility where her partner will remain until he is “tidied back up,” as well the disgust, frustration and compassion that she feels at the situation. There is a rupture at the end of this piece where the undercurrent of fear bursts to the surface: fear of violence, fear for the speaker’s life. In ‘An Act of Violence’, fear is transformed into dismissiveness as remnants of Beckett’s themes of interrogation and power emerge. E, a woman, is questioned by A, an offstage, genderless voice, regarding an incident with a knife. E’s voice is unrelenting in its desire to know the truth of the incident, and to force A to accept their interpretation. However, the tremulous power balance of A and E undermines any definitive narrative of the event, or its truth. Finally, in ‘The Eye Machine’ the character ‘Eye’ tells of her imprisonment, flickering through a slideshow of female stereotypes. This an uncomfortable entrapment for the reader into a world where misogyny cannot be ignored or dismissed,

“If there was no everything only this things and that was all things. If she thought like that. If she thought that. If there was no getting to. If there was only is. If is, is the thing she liked to think except there is no like and there is no think, there is only is. There is no only. There is, is. Is, is all there is?” The effect is of a misogyny which in not intermittent or an exception, but an awful always (Kelly, 2 February 2021).

McBride’s short pieces are dramatic texts written in an original, sharp and innovative style that is unapologetic in its representation of the troubling, heart wrenching and traumatic aspects of the female experience. In many ways, Beckett’s Not I is perhaps most prevalent in Mouthpieces which McBride has noted in her ‘Reflections on Samuel Beckett’:

At any rate, after some suffering, much cursing and endless deleting, three short pieces emerged: two performance and one prose/performance. Not plays, definitely not plays, but also not stories, or not in the usual sense. I can’t pin them to a single work of Beckett’s, but an influential contender is certainly, almost inevitably, Not I. However, only in so far as this is where Beckett cleared space for the female voice, unhindered by psychology, sociology, physicality or even history to surge through. So, in line with my evolving practice of appropriating what I admire in other writers’ work – Sarah Kane’s unapologetic confrontationalism for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Dostoyevsky’s epic, tragic monologues for The Lesser Bohemians – this is what I stole from Beckett: the stripping away of all justification to reveal a deeper truth. I hope the pieces will succeed on their own terms, of course, but if not, we all know what the man himself has to say about that (McBride).

Mouthpieces by Eimear McBride is published by Faber & Faber and is available now (ISBN 9780571365814). You can listen to McBride read extracts from Mouthpieces, and read her ‘Reflections on Samuel Beckett’ here.

References

Kelly, Stuart. ‘Book Review: Mouthpieces, by Eimear McBride’ in The Scotsman (2 February 2021). https://www.scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/books/book-review-mouthpieces-eimear-mcbride-3121472

McBride, Eimear. ‘Reflections on Beckett’ https://samuelbeckettcentre.weebly.com/blog/eimear-mcbrides-evolving-relationship-with-becketts-work