Samuel Beckett's Drama and the Undoing of Myths of Empire and Imperialism
Call for Papers for the Samuel Beckett Working Group at IFTR in Accra, Ghana, 24th-28th July 2023
Samuel Beckett’s Drama and the Undoing of Myths of Empire and Imperialism
Beckett’s life is a dance between imperialisms, colonialisms and independence struggles. He has been portrayed, if not as a border thinker, at least as an artist for whom borders shaped his life, political thinking and artistic ethos. Born and raised in an Ireland colonised by England, he witnessed first-hand the partition of the country in 1922, which happened while he was schooled in County Fermanagh. During his trip to Germany in 1936–1937, he experienced the rise of Nazism and, when the Second World War broke out, he chose to give his allegiance to France, where he enrolled in the Resistance. Having chosen Paris as his home city, Beckett lived in a society torn apart by the Algerian War of Independence. The relationship between France and the Maghreb countries is one that might have been brought home to him by his wife, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, whose childhood was partly spent in Tunisia. Her father died in Tunis in 1921, and Suzanne and Beckett vacationed regularly in the Maghreb in the 1960s and 1970s. Beckett also took interest in the geopolitics of Eastern Europe and expressed support for oppressed people regardless of their nationality, race or religion throughout his life. Composed in various contexts of political turmoil, his texts wrestle with myths and mythos that states and institutions yielded to shape the thoughts, and by extension, the minds of their citizens, from Celtic mythology to protestant values and Dantean iconography, from the figures of the Paddy to the Aryan and the Jew, from the mechanical man to the hysterical woman and the impossible child, to list only the most obvious ones.
Under the pressure of biographical and historical approaches to Beckett’s life and work, the myth of the author as apolitical writer crumbled apart. On the one hand, one can identify power and powerlessness as central notions of his oeuvre, and much has been written about their dialectic, particularly in the historical contexts of the Irish war of independence, the Second World War and to some extent the Algerian war. They have also been explored mainly in connection with language, voice, gender, body-mind interactions, subjectivity, otherness, and the posthuman condition. On the other hand, scholars have demonstrated how Beckett directly applied his political stance to his artistic practice beyond the creative process: for example, he did not hesitate to withdraw his work from festivals, to protest against censorship, or to give conditional permission to perform his plays, to avoid racial discrimination among his audiences. The geopolitical and democratic crises of our time call for a reassessment of Beckett’s engagement with various forms of power and imperialism, particularly in the theatre that he described to Rosette Lamont as “a smaller space, one in which [he] had some control of where people stood or moved, above all of a certain light.” Simultaneously, contemporary performances of Beckett’s texts put the oeuvre in conversation with new political agents and spaces, hence revealing or creating specific power dynamics that need to be addressed within the framework of politics, geopolitics and peace-making.
After Peter Boxall’s identification of a need for “a political reading of Beckett’s aesthetic” (2002), after Emilie Morin’s “reinscript[ion of] Beckett and his work into their political milieux” (2017), and after James Little’s mapping of Beckett’s “deeply political aesthetic form” in closed spaces (2020), the Samuel Beckett Working Group proposes to reflect on the links and ruptures, the resonances and dissonances, and the interactions and tensions between Beckett’s political contexts and those which are ours. While all papers related to Beckett’s drama or Beckett in performance are welcome, we encourage proposals in English and in French pertaining to the following topics:
- Beckett, empires and imperialisms
- Beckett’s politicised dramatic spaces
- Beckett’s drama and the notions of decolonisation and decoloniality
- Performing geopolitics with(in) Beckett’s drama
- Peace-making with Samuel Beckett’s drama
- Performing Beckett in the Francophonie
- Performing Beckett in the Commonwealth
- Power dynamics in Beckettian artistic ecosystems
- Performing and undoing the myth of the author
Abstracts can be submitted via the IFTR Cambridge Core portal. Please note that you must renew your membership or become a member in order to submit:
- The deadline for submissions for working group papers is 31st January 2023.
- Papers of up to 3,000 words in length are to be distributed by 1st July 2023.
For information about the general conference, please check the IFTR website. Please also check for updates on the Samuel Beckett Working Group page at https://www.iftr.org/working-groups/samuel-beckett.
If you have questions about the group or about attending please contact the working group convenors, Céline Thobois, email@example.com, and Trish McTighe, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that papers to be presented at the Working Group are distributed and read by all the participants ahead of the meeting. At the Working Group sessions presenters give short résumés of their work, followed by a lengthy discussion period (each presenter has 30 to 45 minutes in all, depending on the number of presenters). This is an extremely effective method, which allows ideas to be discussed, debated and evaluated, with participants suggesting directions for the presenters’ work-in-progress. There is limited space for presenters; there will also be a limited space for auditors, who may also be sent the papers to and be encouraged to engage in the discussions during the sessions.