Here is a backlog of the meetings for the inaugural year of the Beckett reading group, and although we will not be meeting again until the last week in September, we will post throughout the summer on interesting things relating to Beckett and Irish Studies, so check back regularly and comment.


Our first session took place on October 10th, 2011. We started off with a discussion of the short prose piece Imagination Dead Imagine. Some of the themes that cropped up during the group were beginnings and endings, and the way the form and content resisted each other. It is a very visual text but Beckett chose to write it as a prose piece—a novel originally. The idea that Beckett frustrates the reader was also brought up.


Before our second meeting on October 17th, we attended a talk by John Calder on “Beckett and God.” He brought to light Beckett’s views on religion and some interesting comments about Beckett’s skepticism as well as some personal anecdotes. In our meeting we discussed a few poems from the collection Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates [1935]. We took a poem from the beginning, “The Vulture,” middle, “Alba,” and end, “Echo’s Bones.” We at first discussed the poems individually and then in context with one another. Beckett’s poetry is often overlooked because of its difficulty and obtuse nature. Some of the group again expressed frustration, but we were also able to discuss images like life, death, the journey and imagination that come up throughout Beckett’s oeuvre starting in these early works.


For the third and subsequent weeks, we asked the group for suggestions on readings and decided to read two critical pieces on the Beckett on Film Project. They were “Reclaiming Sam for Ireland: The Beckett on Film Project” by Graham Saunders and “The Blue Angel Beckett on Film Project: Questions of Adaptation, Aesthetics, and Audience in Filming Samuel Beckett’s Theatrical Canon” by Anna McMullan and Everett C. Frost.  Many in the group thought that the project failed. But one could argue that the project is misunderstood in parts, as some of the pieces work, while others do not. For instance, Play is a piece that captures the notion of the spotlight being a quasi camera. On the other hand, Not I, with Julianne Moore fails to grasp the grotesque and vividness of the play. Perhaps Billie Whitelaw is just a tough act to follow.


In our fourth meeting, we discussed the short prose piece “First Love.” Some felt pity for the narrator, while others felt his crudeness was misogynistic.  Some felt there were undercurrents of a trauma that was not fully addressed.


In our next meeting, the group read Come and Go and Human Wishes. Come and Go is a rewrite of Human Wishes, and so Kristin and I felt that it would generate a fruitful discussion. We discussed the cyclical nature of Come and Go and the flow of the characters and the order in which they speak. Similar to “First Love”, the group felt that there might be an undercurrent of a trauma, which had yet to be dealt with. It seems to be just below the surface of the text and is unspeakable by the characters. We questioned and discussed the significance of the rings, which are referred to at the end of the play by the character Flo. Human Wishes is a much wordier play and so it is easy to see Beckett’s aesthetic trajectory. It is interesting to note that Human Wishes is unfinished and Beckett withheld it from publication for many years.


Moving into the Spring semester, we continued choosing short pieces to discuss in detail. We started with “Stirrings Still” which in some ways reminded us of “First Love.”  The text is set into three parts which resembles The Trilogy and deals with an aging narrator that seems to loose his faculties as the piece progresses, if one can even say it progresses. We discussed in detail the element of time within the piece that simultaneously seems finite and boundless.


Next we discussed the text of Beckett’s play for Television Ghost Trio [1977]. Which despite its brevity and lack of actual dialogue, we found ample discussion points in Beckett’s specific directions for the production. We spent some time discussing how the production would have looked and been executed as no versions of the original are archived online. One of the only places it can be viewed is located at the Beckett Archives at University of Reading. We have plans to view this in the near future and will post about it then. The use of music and its relationship to mathematics is evident. The title of the piece is named after Largo of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio (The Ghost). We found it interesting that the title of the piece was originally Tryst but was changed right before production by Beckett’s own hand. We discussed the way self-consciousness is addressed. Again time is a prominent feature of the piece, which is evident when the young boy enters at the end. Like in Godot, the boy seems to be a messenger, and his image is unsettling as the reader is unaware of his significance.


Our next post will deal with excerpts from The Trilogy and the short prose piece “The End.” That will conclude our backlog and you can look forward to regular current posts in the future.


David and Kristin