- Beckett's Intuitive Spectator: Me to Play by Michelle Chiang
An important contribution to the New Interpretations of Beckett in the Twenty-First Century series, Michelle Chiang's study brings to the forefront the experience of the common spectator of Beckett's work. By reframing the experience of Beckett from the expert, scholarly perspective to the common reader and viewer, Chiang breathes fresh life into how we characterize the public reception of Beckett. Although Chiang brings a range of theory to her analysis of Beckett—from Deleuze to Bergson—she remains grounded in her concern with the common spectator and even frames her study in her early personal encounters with Beckett's work. As Beckett experimented with popular mediums such as radio, film, and television, it makes sense to question how a nonacademic public might receive his work. Chiang covers each of these mediums, as well as Beckett's staged plays, to trace a pattern of what she calls "an intuition of loss, where 'loss' is twofold in terms of 'the loss of meaning' and 'being at a loss'" (1). Beckett's art, Chiang reveals, pushes us out of our habitual ways of perceiving and moves us into an intuitive nonintellectual experience. The tension between these two modes of habitual and intuitive being is what constitutes the feeling of loss for Beckett's spectator (10-11).
After refining and connecting her concepts of habit, intuition and loss, Chiang devotes each subsequent chapter to Beckett's work within a specific medium. Her chapter on Beckett's radio plays, which covers All That Fall, [End Page 592] Embers, Words and Music, Cascando, and Rough for Radio II, explores how listeners imagine these plays in their mind-space and yet are continually frustrated in their narrative expectations. Subsequently, the spectator "is temporarily reconstituted, for the duration of each radio play, from a parochial gaze that is governed by a habitual way of knowing to an intuition of loss" (44). In her next chapter on Beckett's Film, Chiang effectively employs Eisenstein's theory of pathos construction and Deleuze's concept of Nonhuman Becoming to argue that appreciating Film is not reliant on expertise, but on the spectator's willingness to be puzzled and curious during the viewing process (52, 63). Chiang develops the concept of deterritorialization to explain how the spectator shifts from an "organic habit body to become an ecstatic being" in viewing the film (66). The strength and value of this chapter is achieved through Chiang's thoughtful close analysis of the different elements of Film.
The following two chapters of Chiang's study survey Beckett's staged and televised plays. In her chapter on the staged plays, which mainly focuses on Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days, Chiang helpfully differentiates Bergsonian intuitive time and Kantian intuition (93-94). She then shows how Beckett's characters use storytelling to make time internally "go faster," although they are forever stuck within the external time continuum. This internal durée is also experienced by the audience, but instead of the respite from time that characters experience within the play, the viewer's sense of internal time actually slows down, as the audience's expectations of coherence and closure are not satisfied. In her analysis of Beckett's teleplays, Chiang engages with the theory of "Uses and Gratifications" from media studies to better understand why Beckett's teleplays were not gratifying for viewers when they were first aired. She historically contextualizes this poor reception in the realism typically found on television from the 1950s to the 1970s. In her critique of Quad I & II, Chiang locates the spectator's sense of loss in the transition between the two parts, where the viewer loses the potential signifiers of music and color (160-66). Additionally, Chiang presents analysis of Eh Joe and …but the clouds… to clarify her argument that the framing of Beckett's teleplays, where his fame and intellectual depth were emphasized, sabotaged the viewer's ability to trust her intuitive experience of the teleplay (171). Although critics such as Deleuze and Guattari...