International conference organized by the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, France, and the Samuel Beckett Society
28-29 May 2020
Bordeaux Montaigne University
“Stepping down into the sexpit”: Sex and Gender in Samuel Beckett’s Work
The titles of Samuel Beckett's two early novels show a taste for salaciousness and provocation that did not disappear in later years, and led to his being expelled from the family home and censored in Ireland. If obscenity became more subdued afterwards, and if sexuality tended to disappear from an increasingly abstract universe, sex, of an often crude kind, is a recurring feature of the Beckettian text. As for sexuality, in its normative version, it is systematically thwarted by the powerlessness and horror of procreation displayed by Beckett’s male characters, whose sexual behaviour “deviates” from the heterosexual paradigm (anality, onanism).
Sex questions the relationship to the other, as a sexual partner and in its gendered dimension. But this relationship is not a straightforward one in Beckett. Before the trilogy, female characters are essentially derealized (either through idealization or belittling, see Mercier, Bryden, Ben-Zvi, McMullan), while male characters are devirilized (Bjørnerud). Moreover, the question of connection and autonomy, central to the fiction and even more to the theatre, is experienced in sexual encounters with particular acuteness. The promise of a union, or even of fusion with the other, stumbles against an impossibility that feeds the melancholy of many characters. Considering that the sexual act is both material and spiritual, it can be traumatic but is also a source of humour and comedy.
Finally, there are many passages in Beckett’s writing that play on the denial of sexual difference. Indeed the boundaries between men and women, homosexuality and heterosexuality are often porous (Roof) and this calls into question any notion of identity built on sexual orientation (Stewart). The original forms taken by the social and interpersonal relationships of the Beckettian characters, from the 1940s to the rotundal fictions of the 60s and 70s with the flow of desire that runs through them (Fraser), are thus echoed in many queer but also trans theories (Crawford). Beckett’s writing seems to resist “the regime of the normal” when queerness shakes social bonds (Bersani) as well as narrative logic and identity (Calvin).
With this in mind, we would like to take stock of the contributions of gender, queer, trans and sexuality studies in the field of Beckettian studies. What do they reveal about Beckettian aesthetics and ethics? Which textual politics are revealed? How are gender and sexuality problematized today on the world stage when Beckett texts are adapted?
These questions can be addressed along the following lines:
-Representations and politics of sexual identities
-Censorship, repression, pornography, obscenity, voyeurism, sadomasochism...
-Sex, gender and laughter / trauma
-Queer and trans imaginative worlds
-Beckett and feminism / masculinism
Please send abstracts (300 words), including title and short bio (100 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 30th. Presentations will be 20 minutes long.
The official languages of the conference are French and English.
Co-organizers are Jean-Michel Gouvard (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. French department), Pierre Katuszewski (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. Theatre department), Stéphanie Ravez and Pascale Sardin (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. English department).
University of Reading (7-8 November 2019)
“Sapienza” Università di Roma (May 2020)
Beckett & Italy : “Old Chestnuts”, New Occasions
Can’t conceive by what stretch of ingenuity my work could be placed under the sign of italianità… There are a number of Italian elements [in my work]…
(SB to AJ Leventhal, 21 April 1958)
Beckett and Italy. As a student at Trinity College Dublin, Beckett studied Italian language and literature, and cultivated them privately with Bianca Esposito, the signorina Adriana Ottolenghi of ‘Dante and the Lobster’. They discussed the writers on his syllabus: Machiavelli, Petrarca, Manzoni, Boccaccio and Tasso, to name a few. His most striking encounter was with Dante – he read the Commedia many times throughout his life – and he also discovered a particular affinity with Leopardi. As a student, he wrote essays on Carducci and D’Annunzio. He attempted translations of Dante into English in letters and notebooks, and wrote a curious dialogue in German based on Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. In 1930, he published translations into English of Montale’s poem ‘Delta’ and texts by Franchi and Comisso. For a good part of his formative years, Beckett really was, as Walter Draffin in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, an “Italianate Irishman”. His interest extended well beyond literature. For example, he read the philosophical investigations of Bruno, Campanella, Thomas Aquinas and Vico. Moreover, he was interested in Italian music, was fascinated by Italian art, and followed with curiosity the experiments of Neorealist cinema. Yet Beckett’s relation to Italian culture is far from unambiguous. For example, despite his knowledge of the language, Beckett’s involvement with the Italian translation of his work was negligible. Comments like the one quoted above, where, while denying the “italianità” of his work, he draws attention to “a number of Italian elements” in it, are a testament to both the ambiguity and the vitality of this relationship. These two conferences aim to re-assess the influence that Italian culture, literature, poetry, theatre, arts and cinema had on Beckett’s works, even beyond what he was willing to recognise.
Italy and Beckett. When Godot was first performed in Italy in 1953, the first Italian-language production coming a year later, Beckett was greeted as a playwright who belonged to the Theatre of the Absurd. Meanwhile his prose was mostly ignored or disregarded as minor. Eventually, Beckett found his place in literature, art, and popular culture; it is significant, in this light, that Calvino turned to him, in the last years of his life, and looked positively at his minimalism in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Writers and artists felt – as they do today – the need to respond to the Beckett phenomenon, even if only to condemn his ‘literature without style’. Theatre directors welcomed his experiments and continue to propose innovative productions of his work. Critics have analysed him comparatively with writers like Pirandello, Levi and Gadda. More recently, much attention has been paid to the ties between Beckett’s writing and the philosophy of Agamben. In more general terms, there is room to investigate the way Beckett can help the exploration of the new avenues opened by the so-called ‘Italian Theory’, and, conversely, how the conceptual tools offered by this trend of thought can shed a different light on Beckett’s work. The recent publication of the Italian translation of Beckett’s letters seems to align with this continued Italian interest in Beckett. On the other hand, the fact that it is still difficult to find his work in bookshops, confirms the ambiguity of Beckett’s position in Italian culture. Each of these conferences aims to reconsider the impact of Beckett’s work on Italian culture.
For the conference at Reading, we encourage submissions focused on, but not limited to, the followings areas:
• Beckett and Italian culture (literature, philosophy, poetry, art, cinema, music, science, theatre, radio);
• Beckett, Italian Philosophy, and ‘Italian Theory’;
• Beckett, Italian Language, and Translation;
• Beckett, Italian Publishing Houses and Market;
• Beckett and Italian Criticism;
• Beckett and Italian Popular Culture;
• Beckett and Italian Theatre;
• Beckett, Italy and Poetry;
• Beckett and Italian Arts;
• Beckett and Italian Politics, and Bio-politics.
Confirmed Keynotes (Reading):
Prof. David Houston Jones (University of Exeter)
Dr. Rossana Sebellin (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’)
Prof. Mariacristina Cavecchi (University of Milan)
Dr Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp)
Further information about keynotes will be announced soon.
Submission of proposal:
For the conference in Reading, please send anonymised abstracts, in English, of 300–500 words to email@example.com with a separate short bio of no more than 150 words by 16 June 2019.
A separate call for papers will be circulated for the conference in Rome after November 2019.
Dr Michela Bariselli (University of Reading)
Antonio Gambacorta (University of Reading)
Dr Davide Crosara (University of Rome, Sapienza)
Prof. Mario Martino (University of Rome, Sapienza)
University of Almería, Spain
9-11 May 2019
Samuel Beckett and Translation
Confirmed keynote speakers: Erika Tophoven and Marek Kedzierski
Although Samuel Beckett’s literary career started in the late 1920s, he only really achieved international acclaim with En attendant Godot (1952), which he soon translated into English, beginning a pattern that would be repeated for the rest of his life. He also translated into French most of his writings in English, becoming, in the words of Nixon and Feldman (2009), the premier bilingual writer of the 20th Century. Very often he supervised the translation of his work done by others and it was frequent the consultation with the author by translators of his texts into a third language. At the same time, translation played a crucial part in his training as a writer; his translation of the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” section of Joyce’s Work in Progress, his work with Nancy Cunard’s Negro anthology, or his versions of surrealist poems in the early 1930s enabled him to develop the necessary skills to resolve the intricacies of linguistic expression that he would put into practice in his mature period. In times of necessity he even turned to translation to increase his income, as happened with the Anthology of Mexican Poetry in the early 1950s. However much he loathed translation, he never stopped translating, and it is the aim of this conference to raise questions about the role of translation in his literary production: What are the differences between the English and the French originals written and translated by Beckett? How does a Beckett text change when rendered into a third language? What strategies do translators employ to maintain the precision sought by the author in the original version? How does a text written by Beckett sound in other languages? We would like to create a forum of debate in order to find answers to these and other questions related to this emerging field of research in Beckett Studies.
Topics for papers may include:
-Beckett’s translations of other authors.
-Beckett’s self-translations into English or French: differences, losses and gains.
-Beckett’s collaboration with translators of his work into a third language.
-Beckett’s poetics of translation.
-Study of individual cases of Beckett’s translations into any language.
-Problems (and solutions) encountered by translators of Beckett’s work.
Please, send abstracts (300 words), including title and short bio (100 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 December 2018. The official language of the conference is English, but a reduced number of papers in French and Spanish will also be accepted.
This conference is part of the research project SB-ST (code FFI2016-76477-P) funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades and AEI/FEDER. Organizing committee chaired by José Francisco Fernández, University of Almería.
For more information: http://www2.ual.es/sb-st/
The Style of Samuel Beckett in the Epistolary Mirror 1929–1989
Lettres modernes – Minard, “Carrefour des Lettres modernes” series
This volume aims to study Samuel Beckett’s style in the mirror of his letters. Since 2009, four volumes of his letters have been published by Cambridge University Press: Volume I, 1929-1940 (2009); Volume II, 1941-1956 (2011); Volume III, 1957-1965 (2014) and Volume IV, 1966-1989 (2016). They have also been translated into French and published by Gallimard between 2014 and 2018. In spite of an originally imposing corpus, only a selection of around 2 500 (L1, xx) have been reproduced, but these letters give an idea of the evolution of the epistolary style of the author of Godot and Molloy, from the 1930s through to the 1980s. Written in English, French and, to a lesser degree, in German, the letters are addressed to numerous correspondents: friends (Tom MacGreevy, Ethna MacCarthy) and collaborators (Jérôme Lindon, Robert Pinget); close relations (Barbara Bray) or occasional correspondents, like David Hayman or Matti Megged.
Beckett’s literary style is overtly the subject of several missives, among which the famous ‘German Letter’ of 1937, where the young writer declares his desire to “tear apart” (L1, 518) “formal English”, and attack “grammar and style”. In other letters, it is his own epistolary style that Beckett comments on, in terms that somewhat recall the pejorative tone he almost systematically uses in relation to linguistic matters. Thus, the writer complains of his ‘shitty’ English that ‘pullulates’, whereas French offers him the advantage of ‘control’. He states: “I’m inclined as always in English to shit and pullulate – but there’s a play there all right I think – if I can restrain my native vulgarity.” (L3, 366).
If the question of Beckett’s style—understood as a singular idiolect—has incessantly drawn critics’ attention, following the author’s declarations in interviews or via the narrators of his own texts, these letters open new horizons for research. We therefore aim to study Samuel Beckett’s style in the epistolary mirror from the four following perspectives:
1. Definition and characterisation of Beckett’s epistolary style (What are its traits, its salient features?);
2. Diachronical study of stylistic variations, according to addressees, or the language used (Can we speak of a style common to both of Beckett’s major languages of writing? Can we, on the contrary, detect cultural specificities, knowing that Beckett described French as the “language of the infinitesimal” (L2, 189)?);
3. Stylistic affinities between his letters and his work (Are there—or not—constants, and shared stylistic units?);
4. How do Beckett’s metalinguistic statements in his letters shed light on his writing, or on that of other creators? Is the attention Beckett paid to “rhythms” (L3, 254) in language the same in his letters and in his works, or when he comments on the writing of others?
The notion of ‘style’ is to be envisaged in a linguistic and literary perspective from various angles, such as: vocabulary, enunciation, figures, registers, tonalities, sentence structure, etc.
To participate, proposals can be made in either English or French. A summary of around 300 words, accompanied by a bio-bibliography should be submitted before 15 November 2019. Acceptance by our scientific committee will be notified in January 2020. After acceptance of proposals, the completed texts (30 000 signs, including spaces) should be handed in by 15 April 2020. After evaluation, and return to the authors in June 2020, the final articles are to be handed in by 1st September 2020. Publication is planned for the first semester of 2021.
Correspondence should be addressed simultaneously to the volume editors:
Karine Germoni: email@example.com
Pascale Sardin: Pascale.Sardin@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr
Llewellyn Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org