The Endlessness of Ending: Samuel Beckett and the Mind

Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett

29-30 June 2015 · University of Western Sydney

Samuel Beckett’s work across the genres has always shown a keen interest in both the topography and the function of the mind. The experience of interiority in Beckett is complex and it is often on the brink of its own collapse. Beckett undertook a comprehensive self-education of the mind, primarily from the disciplines of philosophy and psychoanalysis, to understand this interiority which he would render poetically. If Beckett is interested in a physics and even a geometry of the psychic space, the recurrent image of the skullscape—from The Trilogy and Endgame to Worstward Ho—is also replete with the minimal and yet necessary possibilities of thinking.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers

  • Laura Salisbury (University of Exeter)
  • Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp)
  • Daniel Katz (University of Warwick)

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Beckett’s manifold portrayal of the mind is biographically grounded in his interest in psychology in the so-called Psychology Notes as well as his own psychoanalysis with Wilfred Bion. In addition to Bion, Beckett’s emphasis on the mind has been variously approached through psychoanalytic doctrines of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan. If the psychoanalytic readings of Beckett approach the mental question from the perspective of the unconscious, the recent neuro-scientific and cognitivist forays into Beckett have opened up the debate about the proximities of identification between the mind and the brain. Beckett’s work is becoming increasingly important in understanding the subtleties of brain damage. Neurobiologist Antonio Damasio’s reference to Beckett’s Winnie as an illustration of a specific neurological condition is a case in point. Catherine Malabou’s Deleuzean re-reading of Beckettian exhaustion has pushed this further into a ‘literary form of neuropathology’ where it inhabits a critical space between psychoanalysis and the neuro-sciences.

Read the full conceptual background to the conference.

The call for papers for this conference asks participants to consider the following topics:

  • Beckett, mind and embodiment
  • Beckett and Psychoanalysis
  • Beckett, mind and the process of meaning making
  • Neurosciences and Beckett
  • Mind and Spatiality in Beckett
  • Beckett and the philosophy of the mind
  • Emotions and sensations in the mind and Beckett
  • Beckett and the apprehension of madness
  • Mind and Mathematics in Beckett
  • Beckett and a phenomenology of the mind
  • Mental function and nihilism in Beckett
  • Beckett and the aesthetics of the mental image
  • The relation between vestigial mind and storytelling in Beckett
  • Beckett and the inter-generic and inter-medial minds
  • Spectrality, mind and Beckett
  • The extended mind thesis and Beckett
  • Beckett, technology and the mind
  • The mind and the human in Beckett
  • Beckett, mind and trauma
  • Temporality and the mind in Beckett

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Keynote Bios

Laura Salisbury is Senior Lecturer in Medicine and English Literature at the University of Exeter. She has published extensively on Beckett, including a monograph entitled Samuel Beckett: Laughing Matters, Comic Timing (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). She is co-editor of Kittler Now (Polity, 2015), Neurology and Modernity: A Cultural History of Nervous Systems, 1800-1950 (Palgrave 2010), and Other Becketts (Journal of Beckett Studies Books, 2002). Aphasic Modernism: A Revolution of the Word, on modernism and neurological models of language, is currently being completed, and she is beginning work on her next book, Slow Modernism (Edinburgh University Press). With Ulrika Maude and Elizabeth Barry, she is currently co-investigator on the AHRC-funded network Modernism, Medicine and the Embodied Mind: Investigating Disorders of the Self. This followed on from the AHRC-funded exploratory award: Beckett and Brain Science.

Dirk Van Hulle is professor of English literature at the University of Antwerp (Centre for Manuscript Genetics). His recent publications include the monographs Modern Manuscripts: The Extended Mind and Creative Undoing (2014) and (with Shane Weller) The Making of Samuel Beckett’s L’Innommable/The Unnamable (2014). With Mark Nixon, he is co-director of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project (BDMP, http://www.beckettarchive.org), author of Samuel Beckett’s Library (CUP, 2013), and editor in chief of the Journal of Beckett Studies. He is currently preparing the second edition of the Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett (Cambridge UP).

Daniel Katz is Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, where he is also Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature, and the Arts.  He has published widely on twentieth and twenty-first century literature, including the monographs Saying I No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett, American Modernism’s Expatriate Scene:  The Labour of Translation, and The Poetry of Jack Spicer. Recent and forthcoming work includes an entry on “Translation” in The Cambridge Companion to the American Modernist Novel and another on Jack Spicer in The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry, as well as work on Charles Olson and Peter Gizzi.