The London Beckett Seminar welcomes Dr Amanda Dennis (The American University of Paris) speaking on “Beckett and Embodiment from an Ecological Perspective”
Increasingly, Beckett’s work is being read (and staged) against the backdrop of our intensifying climate crisis. Bodies potted in urns, confined to cylinders, shelters, or jars, or embedded in an earth where nothing grows, give us an image of the human as materially intertwined within its nonhuman environment.
It is tempting to read Beckett’s abject, decrepit bodies as signalling human helplessness. I argue instead that this porousness between the human (body) and the nonhuman (environment) supports a non-voluntarist, material agency that is not strictly limited to the human.
In Beckett and Embodiment, I argue that Beckett’s work urges us to reconceptualise agency, and in this talk, I’ll discuss the major claim of my book: that Beckett’s refashioning of subjectivity in dialogue with a disintegrating environment opens possibilities for modified physical (as opposed to voluntarist or willed) agency in collaboration with our physical and linguistic surroundings.
I’ll then describe how this argument plays out in Beckett’s works from the early l960s, which provocatively conflate linguistic and physical terrain. The dissolution of the world into mud and the disarticulation of language in Comment c’est—its eschewal of punctuation and syntax—tether the work of signification to the physical body’s complex rapport with its surroundings.
An aesthetic of bricolage also presents itself in Happy Days, where Winnie misquotes the classics to get her through a day that seems to recur eternally. I’ll ask how the body’s physical submergence (in mud, in earth) might parallel the verbal navigation among worn out fragments of culture, reframing the question of what, if anything, literary texts can do to reimagine human agency as integrated within nonhuman environments of earth and language.
Amanda Dennis is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and English at The American University of Paris. Her book, Beckett and Embodiment: Body, Space, Agency, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2021, and she recently co-edited a special issue of Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui devoted to Samuel Beckett and the Nonhuman/ Samuel Beckett et le non-humain (32.2, 2020).
Her interests span ecological criticism, philosophies of embodiment, phenomenology and modernist European literature. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Modern Literature and the Journal of Beckett Studies, among other places, and she is the author of the novel Her Here (Bellevue Literary Press, 2021). For more information, please visit http://www.amandadennis.net.
Dates & times
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|21 Jan 2022||6:00pm - 7:00pm|
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