During Samuel Beckett’s lifetime, he crafted works for a wide range of media, as well as referencing and incorporating multimedia elements within his texts. A sustained interest and engagement with analogue technology is indexed in his oeuvre: his narratives often include a fascination with glitches, repetition, distant voices, recording, and the dynamics of control over production and reception of text. These interests are mirrored in Beckett’s directing practice as well, rendered visible especially as he brought his texts to the stage and screen, developed intermedial translations of his own work, or suggested adaptation possibilities for his prose.
The human subject, in the era in which Beckett was producing his work, was already a technological subject, whose embodiment either affected, or was affected by, machines. Three decades after Beckett’s death, both technology and embodiment have evolved, with substantial implications for the ongoing production and reception of his texts. The shift from the analogue to the digital in technology has resulted in what Matthew Causey has called a shift from “simulation” to “embeddedness” in the human. In this context, translation and reception of Beckett’s texts automatically integrates the technological, and contemporary performance practice largely bears this out: new uses of the stage technologies of sound, light, and video, not to mention the role of internet/ computer-based and VR/AR disseminations of Beckett’s texts, show that the evolution of the technological is bound to alter both individuals (making/receiving the text) and the social context (the market of performance, the community of scholars). This lecture blends historical and contemporary examples of Beckett in praxis, in order to establish both the “evolutionary” dynamics of the techno-human interface and the “embodied” dimension of translations across medium or “genre” in Beckett. The dynamic model proposed in this talk will be of interest not only to Beckett specialists, but also to scholars and students of adaptation and intermediality.
Nicholas Johnson is Associate Professor of Drama at Trinity College Dublin, where he convenes the Creative Arts Practice research theme and co-founded the Trinity Centre for Beckett Studies. Recent publications include Experimental Beckett (Cambridge UP), BertoltBrecht’s David Fragments (Bloomsbury), Influencing Beckett / Beckett Influencing(L’Harmattan), Beckett’s Voices / Voicing Beckett (Brill), and the “Pedagogy Issue” of the Journal of Beckett Studies (29.1, Edinburgh UP). He works as a dramaturg with Pan Pan, Dead Centre, and OT Platform. Directing credits include Virtual Play (1st prize, New European Media awards), The David Fragments (after Brecht), Enemy of the Stars (after Lewis). He has held visiting research positions at FU Berlin and Yale.