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Reviewed by:
  • The International Reception of Samuel Beckett
  • Peter Fifield
The International Reception of Samuel Beckett. Mark Nixon and Matthew Feldman, eds. London: Continuum, 2009. Pp. xiv + 309. $160.00 (cloth).

Feldman and Nixon's volume on Samuel Beckett adds strongly to Continuum's Reception series, dealing well with the difficulties of selection that all such volumes pose. Led by those countries most closely associated with Beckett (and Beckett Studies), the volume covers the USA, France, Britain, Ireland, and Germany, before moving on to less familiar ground: Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Poland, the Low Countries, Italy, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Spain, and Portugal. Whilst one might debate endlessly which countries should be included in such a work, the collection balances well the demands of its subject, which requires the compilation of national receptions familiar and less so. Objections to the book's composition are largely a matter of taste, although the choice to give Germany alone two partially overlapping chapters, while Africa and South America are omitted entirely—regretted by the editors in their introduction—seems a false step, even considering Beckett's sizeable German influence. However, editors and contributors alike are to be applauded on their superb bibliographical material, which directs readers towards greater detail and absent countries.

The book is, by necessity, dominated by Waiting for Godot, which remains the work by Beckett for the majority of people in all countries. Whilst occasionally trying for the reader, this focus at least allows for the comparisons that the book's composition invites. When the essays themselves make explicit comparison between nations, such as Ulrika Maude's review of the Nordic countries and Russell Smith's methodical survey of Australia, which both take Ireland as a model of sorts, the book achieves a sharper focus.

A more significant obstacle is the occasional absence of an explicit definition of reception. A failure to identify the diverse actors and communities that play out reception is something of a problem. Are they the actors, directors, and publishers; the newspaper theater critics; the academic community; their students; the theater-going public; the political classes; the developing dramatists and artists of that country? The understanding of that single question [End Page 706] determines the very shape of national reception as it appears here, and is too often left unspoken. Numerous chapters cover several areas fluently, including Mary Bryden on Great Britain, Gaby Hartel, Klaus Völker, and Thomas Irmer on Germany, and Yoshiki Tajiri and Mariko Hori Tanaka on Japan. Others navigate a tighter course through their chosen domain without making entirely clear why. Stanley Gontarski's chapter on the U.S. sets reception largely as an exchange between Beckett, his American publisher Barney Rosset, and prominent dramatic exponents Alan Schneider and Mabou Mines, while Shane Weller's rich account of the French reception provides an overview of shifts in the philosophically-leaning academic community. These are fascinating chapters and reward the reader generously, but one is led to ask whether, say, this academic reception in France is indicative of the more general cultural positioning of Beckett's work in that country. For, without such comment the volume might be understood to confirm certain national stereotypes: French culture shaped by the preoccupations of its philosophes, German taste driven by technological advancement, and American success led, in Rosset, by an impresario of marketable counter-culture. Are these the principal forces that have moulded Western reception as, say, government censorship did in the Soviet bloc?

Regardless of the breadth of approach the editors have gathered together an impressive range of scholars, introducing voices unfamiliar to many Anglophone students and scholars, as well as featuring contributions from established academics. The volume as a whole is deeply fascinating, and the chapter on the reception of Beckett in China by Lie Jianxie and Mike Ingham is among the strongest. Although reception in mainland China is "essentially the story of one single work, Waiting for Godot" (129), Beckett has had a broad and subtly shifting currency. Emerging "internally" as one of the Communist Party's "yellow books," Beckett's play was published in 1965 as one of numerous "negative examples" whose distribution was to be controlled by the state. This, of...


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