Mischa Twitchin[1]

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Résumé :

S’appuyant sur la dernière pièce de Beckett, Quoi où, cet essai étudie l’idée de mise en scène sous l’angle de l’esthétique ouvertement moderniste de la spécificité du médium. Considérant la pratique performative évoquée par Beckett dans son « champ de mémoire », cette esthétique peut être entendue à la fois comme poétique et politique, ce qui permet d’offrir une critique de plusieurs productions, en fonction de leur mise en scène.

Abstract:

In conversation with Stanley Gontarski, Beckett observed that, while his last play What Where, “was written for the theatre… it’s much more a television play than a theatre piece.” Rather than detail the textual differences between the play as written (or, indeed, rewritten) for theatre or television, the following discussion looks at examples of the play’s mise en scène (including Beckett’s own) to try to make sense of writing for one medium when read in the light of another.[2] How does an idea of mise en scène come into question through one medium (writing, stage or screen), when this medium is itself put into question by another (instead of being simply subsumed by it, as McLuhan famously observed)? This question is distinct from a simple “adaptation” (in which the conventions of one medium are presupposed by the possibilities of another). Rather, it concerns how the play’s aesthetic resistance to such conventions in one medium (manifested in its mise en scène) insists or returns in those of another. With respect to the Dublin film version of What Where, the discussion engages the concept of mise en scène with the aesthetic politics of a now neglected sense of “medium” within modernist art practices, which is itself more or less contemporary with the epistemologically distinct (and also often neglected) sense of mise en scène (analysed particularly by Patrice Pavis [2013]). This is to recall issues that seem forgotten in a “post-medium” culture, addressing what Beckett called the play’s “Field of Memory.” Evoking the actors’ playing space with this term, Beckett marks the question of mise en scène as belonging specifically to the word play of What Where.

I.

Caught briefly on camera, Beckett can be heard observing to Stanley Gontarski that his last play, What Where, although “written for the theatre,” was “much more a television play than a theatre piece.” How does this difference, with respect to the medium of performance, make sense of and for an understanding of mise en scène? How do examples of this writing “for” performance in one medium or another come into question through their differences, as distinct from being subsumed as analogies of a supposed, “original” intention, one which would not be specific to either medium? This question is vital to begin with if one is to avoid treating Beckett’s own reading of his play text (as a director) in terms of an interpretative teleology retrospectively supposed of the work’s very inception. How might the concept of mise en scène allow for reflection on examples of the play in performance, and how do the particular examples themselves allow for reflection on the concept of mise en scène? How does one avoid simply offering another supplementary interpretation of the play, and engage with what makes Beckett’s example specific? Not to get caught up in the familiar contradictions of appeal to an original, authorial meaning, it is important to keep in mind that Beckett changed the play text in the light of his own directorial experience, so that a reading in one medium became a rewriting in another. This undoes assumptions concerning what is primary (text) and secondary (performance) in the interpretative work of mise en scène. As Steven Connor notes (citing Enoch Brater’s remarks on the earlier example of Quad):

In one sense the performance… is its own text, and has, if anything, a higher status than the actual written form, which in some ways it modifies and supercedes. But if this written form comes beforeand after the performance, then both text and performance repeat and perhaps displace each other, the text being one ‘original’ for the production, just as the production is another ‘original’ for the text. (Connor 166)

What then can be learnt from the different examples of the play on screen specifically; not least, as these fracture the traditional question of precedence between play text and mise en scène (or between writer and director) in claims to the “authorship” of a production? Rather than simply rehearsing a familiar debate as to the relative authority of play and performance texts, what is staged by the question of medium specifically? How does the question of textual differences record the aesthetic resistance to expectations of what is performable in the play, as this raises its own question of performance medium in a discussion of mise en scène? How does this engagement of mise en scène with the aesthetic politics of the now neglected concern with medium specificity allow us to make sense of the Dublin film version of the play, directed by Damien O’Donnell, as compared with Beckett’s own version made for German television in Stuttgart? (Curiously enough, the amendments to the play text made by Beckett, and adopted in the subsequent stage production directed by Pierre Chabert, were not followed by O’Donnell – in the name of a textual “fidelity” to the original publication, which was apparently demanded by the Beckett estate.) Comparison between the two films allows us to address issues that appear forgotten in a so-called post-medium culture, reflecting on the play’s action through examples of mise en scène, where its playing area (whether on stage or screen) was characterized by Beckett as a “Field of Memory.” This also resonates, in a broader critical context, with Rosalind Krauss’s sense (in the concluding paragraph, below) that “the medium is the memory.”[3]

II.

Although it is the singular term “medium” that is invoked here (as indicating questions of aesthetics, distinct from the ubiquitous “media” of cultural studies or sociology), performance on both stage and screen works, of course, through a hybrid of audio-vision. Despite the fact that we habitually refer to watching television, and of going to see a play or a film, these performances are as much heard as seen, and it is the relation between these – seeing what we hear, hearing what we see – that, indeed, constitutes the theatre of Beckett’s late plays. This is a theatre in which questions of space and time, sound and sight, constitute the drama (like a musical score, in Beckett’s preferred analogy), rather than the identity of characters and settings with which interpretative mise en scène is traditionally concerned.

The elements of audio-vision are conventionally identified with each other (indeed, synchronised) in both the mediums of stage and screen, distinct from their being treated separately, where their juxtaposition allows for exploration of the very conditions of performance in either medium. Space and time (as the material of the play, imagined in words before appearing as embodied) are, however, distinct in each medium: necessarily continuous in stage performance and necessarily discontinuous in screen performance (exemplified by the technique of close-ups). How writing appears in each medium – as writing for one or the other – becomes discernible through the differences afforded by examples of mise en scène, as writing (text) in performance (evidenced here in the literally repeatable What Whereproductions for the screen).

The specific questions of medium posed by the play are not simply formalistic – to which the dead hand of its reproducibility (rather than its singularity) would reduce it, defining mise en scène by appeal to a “fidelity” to the “original” text (the contradictions of which are clear in the Dublin production’s claim to intelligibility through “context”). Indeed, mistaking the question of medium specifically for that of authorial definition was addressed in practice by Beckett himself, reflecting on what he called the “interesting failure” of his film, Film. In a letter to Alan Schneider, Beckett observes, with respect to the production as that of its medium, that the film, “does I suppose in a sense fail with reference to a purely intellectual schema… but in doing so has acquired a dimension and validity of its own that are worth far more than any merely efficient translation of intention” (Harmon 166).

It is with this “dimension and validity of its own,” revealed in the mise en scène of the written work through its realisation in a specific medium, that the aesthetic question of writing for that medium is posed. Rather than any “merely efficient translation,” then, the issue is one of trying to understand the aesthetic question at work in the mise en scène, distinct from supposing an answer that would have it conform to a “purely intellectual schema” in the text. With this in mind it is hard to know what purpose the possessive apostrophe in the Dublin film’s opening title, “Samuel Beckett’s What Where,” is meant to serve – as if there were other versions threatening to challenge the film’s claim to a unique legitimacy. Beyond its attempt to assimilate authority (and, no doubt, authenticity), the title also foregrounds an anxiety about authorship. For, as we shall see, even as its mise en scène fails to engage with the textual variants, it also departs from its source text in pursuit of what it calls “context.” It as if the play was read as simply a transferable set of medium-independent characters and dialogues, rather than precisely an attempt to address the very medium of its potential performance.

III.

Enter Levett

Mrs W.: Words fail us./ Mrs D.: Now this is where a writer for the stage would have us speak no doubt./ Mrs W.: He would have us explain Levett./ Mrs D.: To the public. (Beckett 160)

Writing for the stage (and, by extension, for the screen) involves having characters speak in place of the author, to explain for themselves what they are doing outside of anyone’s imagination. In the last lines of What Where the public is invited to, “make sense who may” of the appearance of its characters. However, the work of interpretation rarely admits that words (or words alone) may fail to make sense of, or indeed (as Mrs W. would have it) “explain,” such appearances. The gap between any particular instance of performance and the play’s proposals concerning the what, where, and even the who, of its drama constitutes the very possibility of “making sense” that is addressed by its mise en scène. Here we are invited by this “writer for the stage” to ask the question: how might one make sense of what where? (Or, even, fail to make sense of it.) Between the writing and a performance – and also between stage and screen – how does the question of medium specify this making sense, in the play’s possible mise en scène? In Beckett’s modernist aesthetic, how might the question of mise en scène make sense of what is medium-specific in the particular example of its performance?

Given that What Where is contemporary with what Rosalind Krauss called a “post-medium condition” in the arts, however, why specify medium for making sense of the play’s potential mise en scène? How is Beckett’s modernist example still contemporary, in the sense that the play already makes of that particular mode of attention called an audience (or, as Mrs. D. calls it, “the public”)? Why is resistance to the post-modern claim that the question of medium no longer makes sense important for a question of mise en scène (at least in this case)? The apparently anachronistic modernist context of this question can be referred back to one of Beckett’s most profound readers, Theodor Adorno.[4] As Jay Bernstein observes:

[T]he bald and obvious thought governing Adorno’s aesthetic theory that aesthetics without art (history and criticism) is empty, and art without aesthetics is blind depends on construing one stretch of the history of art, modernism, as the constitutive condition for art history and aesthetics alike. For Adorno, to imagine going beyond modernism would mean simply either going beyond the point where art continued to matter to culture at all (which is what the culture industry keeps attempting to make happen to art) or that its promise was realised (which is what society keeps telling culture has happened so it can relax)… (Bernstein 250-51)

What is contemporary – and, precisely, still modernist – refers to the potential of and for an aesthetic resistance to the sense to be made of – and by – a medium (not least through the work of mise en scène). This resistance is opposed to defining a medium (through its technology) in terms of its potential audience (as, of course, advertising demands of it), which has always been a condition of the culture industry. The attempt to identify an audience (or a public) by and for a medium – as if to write for a medium was the same as to write for a specific audience – is one of the more pernicious corruptions of aesthetic practice, where the medium is understood as a means to an end (as if merely conveying content or the proverbial ‘message’). If there is, in Beckett’s example, something anachronistic in an appeal to the sense of medium, this is nonetheless to insist (in its own terms) on the potential of resistance to examples of mise en scène that could be characterized as pastiche, parody, or kitsch.

It is, precisely, in this critical, modernist sense of medium – as referring to the specifically aesthetic conditions for an understanding of art, addressed by the work itself in the very material or technical conditions of and for its concept – that Beckett’s own mise en scène of What Where, indeed, ‘makes sense.’ As Rosalind Krauss, one of the few critics who still invokes questions of medium specificity, observes: “[I]n order to sustain artistic practice, a medium must be a supporting structure, generative of a set of conventions, some of which, in assuming the medium itself as their subject, will be wholly ‘specific’ to it, thus producing an experience of their own necessity” (Krauss 1999, 26). Although this criterion of “necessity” may appear not only anachronistic but also, in the eyes of many, conservative (or even reactionary),[5] it lies at the heart of what makes Beckett’s work still challenging. My claim here, then, is that not all that may be thought of after modernism is necessarily post-modernist; given that the post-modern is characterised by an omnivorous “mixing of genres” of which Beckett despaired.

This claim can be related, for example, to an essay by Beckett on the poet Denis Devlin where he writes, with a merciless historical irony, that: “Art has always been this – pure interrogation, rhetorical question less the rhetoric – whatever else it may have been obliged by the ‘social reality’ to appear, but never more freely so than now, when social reality (pace ex-comrade Radek) has severed the connection” (Beckett 91). It is worth recalling, from amongst his more pithy insights addressing the cultural politics of “social reality” (severing itself from art), before he too fell victim to Stalin’s show trials, Radek’s suggestion that Joyce’s novel Ulysses offered the reader “a heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema apparatus through a microscope” (Radek 153). For the sense to be made of the literary medium is identified here precisely with its modernist specificity – the “cinema apparatus.”

Although the appearance of “social reality” is regularly invoked with respect to the drama of What Where(together with Catastrophe and Rough for Radio 2), the key word in Beckett’s reflection on Devlin – as for any modernist aesthetics – is “less,” as it points to a reality that is specific to art, as pureinterrogation, as that which is itself in question through its medium. As Beckett wrote to Alan Schneider about his stage characters (in this case Mouth in Not I): “All I know is in the text. [The character] is purely a stage entity, part of a stage image and purveyor of a stage text. The rest is Ibsen” (Harmon 283). Indeed, if there is one word that characterises Beckett’s sense of the rhetoric of aesthetic autonomy it is – to say the least – “less”; or perhaps, more expansively, “lessness.” (Beckett’s opposition to “Ibsen” here would allow for a rich discussion of modernist aesthetic ideas in relation to historical concepts of mise en scène.) The question of mise en scène (as that of medium) is not one of “more orless,” but rather of that modernist mantra that “less is more.” Beckett refers precisely to “the principle that less is more” (which is usually credited to Mies van der Rohe) in the writing of That Time, anticipating objections that its proposed relation between image and word (in any possible mise en scène) would be thought insufficiently “theatrical.”[6] Indeed, of his own making sense (or mise en scène) of What Where, Beckett referred – with respect to the work in Stuttgart – to a “process of elimination” (Gontarski 1999, 431).

IV.

How, then, does this work of elimination relate to Beckett’s suggestion, concerning the play’s potential mise en scène, that What Where “is much more of a television play than a theatre piece”? How does a “pure interrogation” of the what and the where of a performance emerge in Beckett’s own making sense of the play for television – as an instance of resisting the reduction of one medium (the stage) to simply the content of another (the screen), not least in the aesthetic cause of what is “less”? After all, the interrogations and confessions in the play lack any apparent “social reality”: where the characters don’t say what remains as elusive as the play’s opening and closing suggestion that its repeated interrogations occur “in the present” – “as were we still.” These potentials of time and space simultaneously associate both film and television with theatre and yet distinguish them from it; especially as the screen offers no intrinsic clues as to the embodied “present” sources of either sound or image, given that their reception in this medium is discontinuous from their production.

Here the image of television (as an abstraction of its medium) is itself staged by Beckett’s mise en scène of his own play: that is, as questioning the enactment, or performance, of embodied experience, located in time and space. Evoked as a “Field of Memory” (Gontarski 1999, 415 & 450), Beckett renders the question of his characters’ appearances specific to the play’s concept of making sense in and of a performance medium (whether the stage or the two-dimensional space of the screen). By contrast, the opening of O’Donnell’s Dublin film forestalls the play’s own questions (of what where) by providing an overwhelming setting, distinct from that of the screen medium itself. Indeed, the huge, cinematographic stage excludes any specific question of mise en scène, treating film as merely a narrative means rather than an aesthetic medium. In a revealing interview, Alan Moloney (the producer of the Dublin film project) declares that: “In the making of a film, you need to do certain things. You need to contextualise things, and create an environment that – in its purest form – Beckett’s writing doesn’t require” (Herren 192).

This unrequired requirement of contextualisation – where the potential of mise en scène is simply applied to the text rather than derived from it – is further elaborated by O’Donnell, who remarks concerning the playing space in “the original play” that “there is no set.” While insisting that he “wasn’t allowed to change the text, or the staging,” O’Donnell here acknowledges the question of medium (as putting – or locating – the play on stage or screen) only by its negation. Paradoxically, the possibilities of time and space (as of the medium of performance) is not the least of What Where is ‘about’ – making sense with (and of) its play between light and dark, voice and vision, memory and image – even in the possibility of and for the “abuse of power” (or its “social reality”), for which O’Donnell sees his “library set as a metaphor” (Sierz 52-3). O’Donnell’s anti-modernist aesthetic remains focused on an associative message or content, as though the dramaturgy inscribed in the very concept of the play was insufficient. The Dublin claim for context displaces the play’s specific drama, exposing the contradictions of “making sense” through its claims to textual “fidelity.” (Here the question of mise en scène is regulated through the extraneous demands of the Beckett estate, rather than through an engagement with the critical experiments with medium that the play proposes.) This difference is pertinently expressed by Eckhart Voigts-Virchow, for instance, when he observes that: “The real alternative that Beckett’s minimalist, abstract TV vision has to offer contemporary media culture is its definition of space as a void and an absence – the denial of vision and spectacle” (Voigts-Virchow 121). The pre-McLuhan view of medium – that “the message, it seemed, was the ‘content,’ as people used to ask what a painting was about” (McLuhan 14) – does not engage with the specifically aesthetic questions of resistance (in the play of its medium), which would address the very possibility of What Where’s mise en scène (and, indeed, for making sense of the film version).

This is particularly brought into focus, so to speak, by the way that O’Donnell’s film locates the voice. Paradoxically, the megaphone – which was cut in Beckett’s small screen production and in the subsequent Paris stage performance (directed by Pierre Chabert, under Beckett’s supervision) – becomes an index of the ‘filmed theatre’ that the Dublin project supposedly wished to avoid (which Beckett and Marin Karmitz successfully did in their collaboration on a film version of Play). A curiously antique anomaly in an otherwise futuristic, automated environment, the suggested constant visual presence of the megaphone anchors the otherwise ambiguous coming and going, appearance and disappearance, of the characters. Here, precisely, the unasked question of medium – “we wanted to create a cinematic feel, rather than just filmed plays” (as Moloney put it) – returns on an epic scale, repressing any thought of aesthetic resistance, assimilating the mise en scène to the generic conventions of this “cinematic feel.” Any possibility of dramatic lessness is overwhelmed by adding more and more by way of the supposedly missing “contextualization” (Moloney). It is as if O’Donnell’s understanding of the film language with which to adapt this “Field of Memory” was learnt from James Cameron rather than Beckett himself (or still less, as I would suggest in Beckett’s own case, from Wilhelm Röntgen). In fact, Beckett’s sense of the cinematic – long before he articulated this through his own adaptations – was oriented by the modernist, anti-realist montage of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, as opposed to the principles of what, in a letter to his friend Thomas McGreevy, he disparaged as “industrial film” (Fehsenfeld and Overbeck 312). Where Beckett’s version manifests its medium-artificiality, O’Donnell’s “naturalises” its effects by resort to the medium’s established conventions. This is the usual sleight-of-hand in which a play is presented as if making sense of the mise en scène, treating the latter as simply a means (rather than a medium) for making sense of the former.

V.

Beckett’s own mise en scène, as director, of his play for the television screen, installs an ambiguity in place of the expected synchronicity of word – or rather voice – and image. This exploration of the medium specific potential of the actors’ performances (in terms of the adaptability of the play from stage to screen, where the actors are not corporeally present for the audience) is undone, in principle, by O’Donnell’s resort to the convention of shot/counter-shot to visually narrate the ‘play’ (or ‘interrogation’) between the different voices in his own mise en scène for camera. By identifying whatand where with an unquestioned expectation of narrative cinema editing – where dialogue is presumed to be inter, rather than intra, subjective (let alone, as it were, intra-medial) – the play is subsumed by the supposed intelligibility of the new medium. This occludes the possibility of an audience making their own sense of it, since the play has already been made sense of in terms of industrial conventions, emblematized from the start by an all too standard opening ‘top shot.’ With this typical cinematic scene setting, the question of space (as that of memory) in the performance medium is answered before the characters can even pose it. This is a classic example of reductive mise en scène, in which whatever might have been discovered by the audience at end of the play has been preempted from the beginning.

Beckett’s ambiguity, in the play of identity and repetition, as to whether the voices speak as, or about, the “I” who hears them (and who might, thereby, imagine himself to be no longer alone) is lost in the Dublin version by eliding voice and vision, memory and speech, the mental and material image, in the “contextualized” presence of the actors. This becomes not so much an evocation of a “Field of Memory” as an audition for yet another blockbuster episode in the Star Trek franchise. The voice, being heard, is no longer the promise of an image that may or may not be seen, but, rather, the index of a narrative visibility that refuses, precisely, to adapt its potential mise en scène to the particular drama in question. This is the reversal of everything that Beckett’s writing for theatre tries to resist. As Martin Puchner has observed:

The sequential arrangement of gestures and speech – stage direction and direct speech – is not just an accidental feature of one text but a structuring principle of many of Beckett’s plays… Beckett’s technique of interruption… [is] thus directed against what since Aristotle had become the purpose of drama: the representation of action. It is a strategy that uses the dramatic text against the theatre and stage directions against the integrity of actors. (Puchner 168 & 169)

This opens up the aesthetic question of what is – or is not – at stake in the example of mise en scène here, as offering the paradox of the play’s resistance to its potential performance, specific to a medium, in its writing for that medium.

What O’Donnell describes as the “restrictions” of the text (Sierz 52) – upon the language of film, as a medium of and for the play’s mise en scène for camera – are precisely the potentials of and for its resistance to the medium of its performance that make it this play and not simply a generic, filmable drama. In terms of a modernist critical judgment, this is what makes of Beckett’s What Where art and O’Donnell’s sensational and spectacular version kitsch. For between these two examples, the question of mise en scène involves an aesthetic politics, in which a position needs to be taken. As Rosalind Krauss writes:

If [certain examples] are not instinctively felt to be meretricious, arbitrary, and thus the simulacrum of art rather than the real thing, this is because kitsch has become the polluted atmosphere of the very culture we breathe. Their identity as kitsch derives from their feckless indifference to the idea of a medium, so long ago condemned by Greenberg’s admonishment inAvant-Garde and Kitsch. Kitsch he defines as the corruption of taste by the substitution of simulated effects for that recursive testing of the work of art against the logic of its specific conditions, a testing he named ‘self-criticism’ (Krauss 2011, 68-69)

Beckett, reflecting on his last play, called this a “process of elimination.”

VI.

It is in terms of what Krauss identifies as “both projective and mnemonic” (Krauss 1999b, 206) that the question of medium provides for an aesthetic resistance from within to the sort of mise en scène produced by the corporate recycling of media that displaces the work of both modernist cultural memory and its politics. It is precisely in this context that Thierry de Duve’s acknowledgment of Greenberg (widely dismissed as ‘outmoded’; as if the concept of history that permits such a judgment were not itself in question) is significant: “While everyone else was crying from the rooftops that the avant-garde was an anti-tradition, Greenberg saw it as the sole authentic defense of the tradition before the erosive force of kitsch” (de Duve 8).[7] The conjunction of “industrial” (pace Beckett) with “cultural” (paceAdorno) occludes the possibility of that aesthetic ‘failure’ which is a touchstone for both writers. Film, which was once emblematic of the culture industry (before the rise of digital gaming), pioneered the use of audience previews for making a “final cut,” ostensibly to protect the producer’s investment from the director’s vision (eloquently satirised in Godard’s Le Mépris). The model of what has already been made (and successfully sold) now feeds the cannibalism of cinema in pursuit of “remakes.” What Friedrich Kittler calls “McLuhan’s law” – “according to which the content of a medium is always another medium” (Kittler 115) – becomes the means by which resistance in and to a medium (in this case Beckett’s “Field of Memory”) is not only co-opted by its adaptation to another, but even within the one medium itself. Here the relation between the “projective and mnemonic” is reduced to a regressive will to forget, in which the possibility of and for cultural memory is simultaneously de-aestheticised and de-politicised in the production (and promotion) of kitsch.

In conclusion, given that the power of Beckett’s writing is so much bound up with its testimony to the fractured possibilities of memory within modernism (whether psychical, in the Copernican revolution against the ego, or cultural, in the contested relation to tradition), it is perhaps worth quoting another of Rosalind Krauss’ appeals to the critical value of the concept of medium, as this poses both the problem and the possibility of mise en scène in these examples of What Where:

The aphorism… the medium is the memory… specifically opposes Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism ‘the medium is the message.’ McLuhan exalts in the non-specificity of the medium, its ‘message’ always referring to another, earlier medium… ‘The medium is the memory’ insists, instead, on the power of the medium to hold the efforts of the forebears of a specific genre in reserve for the present. Forgetting this reserve is the antagonist of memory… The paradigm of the medium could thus be mapped as memory versus forgetting (Krauss 2011, 127-28).

References

Beckett, Samuel. Disjecta. London: Calder, 2001.

Bernstein, Jay. “Modernism as Aesthetics and Art History.” James Elkins, ed. Art History Versus Aesthetics. Abingdon: Routledge, 2006.

Connor, Steven. Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory and Text. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

De Duve, Thierry. Clement Greenberg: Between the Lines. Trans. Brian Holmes. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.

Fehsenfeld, Martha and Lois Overbeck, eds. The Letters of Samuel Beckett, vol. 1 (1929-1940). Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Gontarski, Stanley. “Greying the Canon: Beckett in Performance.” Stanley Gontarski and Anthony Uhlmann, eds. Beckett after Beckett, Gainesville, Fl.: University of Florida Press, 2006.

Gontarski, Stanley, ed. The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett, IV (“The Shorter Plays”). London: Faber and Faber, 1999.

Harmon, Maurice, ed. No author better served: the correspondence between Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1998.

Herren, Graley. Samuel Beckett’s Plays on Film and Television. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Kittler, Friedrich. Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metteer and Chris Cullens. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990.

Knowlson, James and John Pilling. Frescoes of the Skull. London: John Calder, 1979.

Krauss, Rosalind. “A Voyage on the North Sea”: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

Krauss, Rosalind. “Reinventing the Medium.” Critical Inquiry, 25.2 (Winter 1999): 289-305.

Krauss, Rosalind. Under Blue Cup, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2011.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, London: Routledge, 2001 [1964].

Osborne, Peter. “October and the Problem of Formalism.” Anaël Lejeune, et al., eds. French Theory and American Art, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013.

Pavis, Patrice. Contemporary Mise-en-scène. Trans. Joel Anderson. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013.

Puchner, Martin. Stage Fright. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2011.

Radek, Karl. “Contemporary World Literature and the tasks of Proletarian Art.” H.G. Scott, ed. Soviet Writers’ Congress, 1934: The Debate on Socialist Realism and Modernism, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977 [1935]: 73-163.

Sierz, Aleks, ed. Beckett on film. London: Channel 4, 2001.

Stakemeier, Kerstin, “Deartification this side of art.” Warren Carter, Barnaby Haran, Frederic Schwartz, eds. Renew Marxist Art History. London: Art Books, 2013: 494-504.

Voigts-Virchow, Eckhart. “Face values: Beckett Inc., the camera plays and cultural liminality.” Journal of Beckett Studies, 10, 2001: 119-136.


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[1] Mischa Twitchin is a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Drama Dept., Queen Mary, University of London. His book, The Theatre of Death: the Uncanny in Mimesis, will be published in the Performance Philosophy series by Palgrave Macmillan (2015); and examples of his own performance making can be found on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user13124826/videos; and on his website: http://shunt.co.uk/OLD/mischa_twitchin/.
[2] The variant texts are available in volume IV of The Theatrical Notebooks, a key part of what the editor, Gontarski [2006], calls “greying the [Beckett] canon” through the shades of its paratexts.
[3] It would be as well if the concluding paragraph from Krauss were read both at the beginning of this essay and again at the end. The Dublin film version of What Where has been widely seen at festivals and is accessible on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DJp93G9TIg, as well as on DVD. Beckett’s German version is also available on a Suhrkamp DVD of his films for German television, as well as on Ubuweb: http://www.ubu.com/film/beckett_what.html. (An instance of ‘practice-as-research’ that accompanies this essay can be found on Vimeo, with three versions of my own film, called Field of Memory: https://vimeo.com/60040714.) [All last accessed, 25.03.14.]
[4] The anachronisms of Adorno’s own reading of the value of autonomy and labour in conditions of late capitalism are explored, for instance, in Kerstin Stakemeier’s discussion of Adorno’s term “deartification” (preferred to the standard translation of “deaestheticisation”) (Stakemeier, 2013).
[5] This is typically the case where the question of medium is reduced to one of ‘formalism,’ as (for instance) in Peter Osborne’s account of the October group and of Krauss in particular (Osborne, 2013).
[6] cf. Beckett’s note concerning “the very edge of what was possible in the theatre,” quoted by James Knowlson (Knowlson and Pilling, 219).
[7] De Duve later makes an apposite comparison with Adorno (43-44) on precisely this point concerning a tradition that is a process of “more or less constant innovation” (112).

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Mise en scène: Beckett’s “Field of Memory”