CFP: Samuel Beckett and Modernism

27 – 30 April 2016, University of Antwerp

About the Conference

Beckett and Modernism
The Second Annual Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society

Samuel Beckett. Photograph: John Haynes
Samuel Beckett. Photograph: John Haynes

The year 2016 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Beckett Studies (JOBS), founded in 1976 by James Knowlson and John Pilling. To celebrate this occasion, we are proud to announce both of them as keynote speakers at the second conference of the Samuel Beckett Society, dedicated to Beckett and Modernism. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Last Modernist’, Beckett has also been situated within the postmodern canon. After a long critical debate, the term ‘modernism’ has recently been reframed by a vibrant field of what is sometimes called the ‘new modernist studies’, and the term ‘Late Modernism’ seems to be gaining currency in Beckett studies.

At the same time, several critics have called into question not only the criteria underlying these labels but also the act of categorization itself, the danger being in ‘the neatness of identifications’, as Beckett warned his readers from the start. Therefore, with this second conference of the Samuel Beckett Society, we would like to move beyond the point of labelling and examine the different ways in which Beckett interacted with the broad intellectual and artistic climate commonly referred to as ‘modernism’, taking Susan Stanford Friedman’s ‘definitional excursions’ into account: ‘Modernism requires tradition to “make it new”. Tradition comes into being only as it is rebelled against. Definitional excursions into the meanings of modern, modernity, and modernism begin and end in reading the specificities of these contradictions.’

Keynote Speakers

  • James Knowlson
  • John Pilling

Call for Papers

Beckett’s formative years coincided with the first publications of several modernist masterpieces. While the importance of Joyce and Proust for Beckett’s work has been widely recognized, his dislike of T. S. Eliot has perhaps been taken too much at face value. One aspect of Eliot’s poetics that Beckett would have agreed with is the importance of the literary tradition for modern writing. As his lectures on ‘The Modern Novel’ at TCD, his early essays and the hundreds of books in his personal library confirm, authors from the previous centuries were central to his twentieth-century poetics. One question to ask is how Beckett used that literary tradition to ‘make it new’, not only in his novels, but also in his plays and poems. Even though Virginia Woolf is entirely absent from his work, he did share her interest in the mind. How different is Beckett’s approach from Woolf’s attempt to ‘look within’, and how does his own exploration of the mind relate to the ‘inward turn’ generally associated with Modernism, and to the recent revision of this concept by David Herman (2011)?

That Beckett was fascinated by the material traces of cognitive processes is shown by his careful preservation of drafts, notebooks or marginalia, and we are still learning how these reading and writing traces in turn continued to shape his own thinking. Beckett was not only interested in the mind and the self, as his psychology notes confirm, but also in the nature of representation. While his familiarity with Mauthner’s Beiträge has received much attention, the influence of Sartre, Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein on Beckett’s notion of linguistic skepticism and phenomenology still deserves more attention. His work is also informed by his familiarity with numerous other cultural aspects: for instance, his knowledge of the visual arts, both modern and classical, acquired especially during his German trip in the late 1930s and through his friendship with Duthuit and his work on transition; the importance of early cinema, attested by Beckett’s reading of Rudolf Arnheim’s Film in 1936, cannot be ignored; the non-visual medium of radio is another modern artform that he explored, around the same time when he listened to dodecaphonic music with Avigdor Arikha.

Like many of the Modernists, Beckett asked himself what it meant to write in a modern sense, as a young TCD lecturer in 1930. He pondered the question for the next sixty years in his writing, and this conference aims to distill answers from the rich body of work he left behind.

The CFP for the second conference of the Samuel Beckett Society invites abstracts that could focus on, but do not need to be limited to, topics such as:

  • Modernist Minds
    o Phenomenology and representation (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, …);
    o Analytic philosophy and language (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, …);
    o Psychology and the self (psychoanalysis, Gestalt psychology, …).
  • Modernist Poetics
    o Beckett’s Manuscripts
    o Linguistic scepticism
    o Beckett and the ‘Modernists’ (Joyce, Proust, Woolf, Eliot, Flann
    O’Brien, …)
    o The modern novel
  • Modernism and Literary Tradition
    o Intertextuality
    o Beckett’s reading traces (library, notebooks, etc.)
    o ‘Make It New’
  • Modern Art
    o Early cinema, radio broadcasting, technological revolution
    o Painting and sculpture
    o Experimental music
    o Theatrical innovation
  • Modern Times, Modern Spaces
    o Beckett and politics
    o Cosmopolitan/metropolitan Beckett

Abstracts (max. 300 words) should be sent to olga.beloborodova@uantwerpen.be

Deadline: 15 September 2015. Notification of decisions by 30 October 2015.
For more information about the conference contact dirk.vanhulle@uantwerpen.be