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Beckett After Beckett (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 4, Summer 2007
pp. 834-837 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0007

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Samuel Beckett’s writings are increasingly inhabited by shades like those Gabriel Conroy encounters at the end of Joyce’s “The Dead.” In Waiting for Godot, Didi and Gogo converse so that they will not hear their “dead voices.”1 Godot is a pervasive and spectral absence, as are the lost loves in Krapp’s Last Tape and Ghost Trio (213–23, 405–14). Beckett suggests that the pacing woman in Footfalls is “not there” (403) and that Mouth in Not I was not quite born (373–83). Posthumous specters appear in Play and such fiction as The Lost Ones (305–20).2 Working on a television series that included Not I, Ghost Trio, and ... but the clouds ..., Beckett gave it the collective title Shades,3 a word with a distinctly Joycean and Yeatsean afterlife that could be attached to any number of works beginning with Play in 1963.

In their introduction, “Afterimages: Introducing Beckett’s Ghosts,” S. E. Gontarski and Anthony Uhlmann lay out a two-fold (“Beckett and Theory” and “Beckett and Praxis”) spectral thesis and structure for Beckett after Beckett: “This collection gathers essays that draw out and illustrate kinds of ghostly interaction, between different texts, between and within historical moments, between different versions of the same text, and in relation to ideas that illustrate these kinds of interaction” (6). The word “ghostly” in this sentence posits a principle and a coherence: “This collection is organized around notions of the image and in particular the afterimage that lingers, as a memory, a haunting, a not-yet-vanished impression that merges with and changes the images that are forever being impressed upon us in the present” (3–4). The afterimage “lingers, haunting, no longer there but all the more there in not quite being absent” (4). All of these descriptions ring true for Beckett’s work but much less so for this uneven collection.

The “Theory” essays are often abstract and unpersuasive. The section begins by offering in full Beckett’s March 1949 letter to Georges Duthuit as a further organizing principle (15–18): the editors note that the letter “haunts both the works and the aesthetic writings of Samuel Beckett, challenging us to consider the manner of the interaction between them. It haunts the other essays in this volume, as well. As such it casts a shadow that is both real and elusive, an afterimage traceable in the life of the works” (7). None of the book’s essays, however, discusses its aesthetics or even mentions the letter. Instead, Herbert Blau does a tortured riff on avant-garde theater, piling up phrases—often within a rather irritating use of dashes—that suspend coherence or leave it to fend for itself, straining for the oracular but falling short. Luce Irigary makes the empty (and unprovable) claim that “[n]owadays meaning too often vanishes because of the power of money and the lack of signification of the term the other” (39), offers a series of rhetorical questions and abstract declarations, and barely mentions Beckett. Bruno Clément’s “What the Philosophers Do with Samuel Beckett” surveys writers who seem to use Beckett largely as a mechanism for self-understanding and self-revelation (116–37). The brief summaries of Blau’s, Irigary’s, and Clément’s contributions in “Afterimages” say more about Beckett than their essays do.

Uhlmann writes perhaps the key essay in this section. Seeking to “examine what it might mean to extract an image from a philosophical work and what effects this might have” (80), “Samuel Beckett and the Occluded Image” focuses on Beckett’s interest in Arnold Geulincx, a seventeenth-century Flemish skeptic and metaphysician, and his image of the rocking chair that Beckett appropriates for Murphy, Film, and Rockaby (321–34, 431–42).4 Uhlmann’s essay may offer a model for other studies that seek similar balance: Steven Connor’s exploration of “Beckett’s Atmospherics” (air, respiration, farting, suffocation); Paul Davies’s ecocritical approach to Beckett in “Strange Weather: Beckett from the Perspective of Ecocriticism”; and Stephen Barker’s exploration of “Beckettian Time”—all of which nicely comprehend the theoretical, thematic, and imagistic in Beckett’s writings.

Part II is also a mixed...



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