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'The Eye of the Beckettian Present'

Wagner, MD and Redmond, S (2007) 'The Eye of the Beckettian Present' Screening the Past (21).

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Abstract

“Am I as much— Am I as much as…being seen?” In this article, we take up M’s closing question from Play, arguing that it is the overriding central phenomenological conundrum in much of Beckett’s stage and screen work. The question we selectively take to Beckett’s oeuvre is: what is the relationship between perception and presence, consciousness and corporeality? To answer ‘yes’ to M’s question - to be is as much as being seen –– is to render the body not utterly useless, but periphery, or secondary, merely the flesh of perception. Beckett famously remarked that, in his increasing sense of minimalism, in his desire to ‘say the least necessary’, his final work would be a blank piece of paper. In Beckett, does the body suffer the same fate as language? To repeat the refrain, am I as much as being seen? If so, I need to present you (someone) with something to be seen – skin, torso, muscle, a boundaried mass of flesh. So, yes; the body is required. But perhaps not as much as the perception of the seer. And if a disconnect between seer and seen is possible – and there is no doubt, at least in a Beckettian world, that it is not only possible, but is the hallmark of the human condition – and the presence of the seen is dependant on the seer, then we have no choice but to be suspicious, or questioning of our very existence. Am I as much as being seen? Yes, and so, I disappear when you don’t see me. But I cannot not be seen, particularly in a world where vision is everywhere, not least because the “I” is always simultaneously an embodied seer. It is this circular phenomenon, this duality of absence and presence – which works itself out in corporeal terms in different but closely related ways on stage and on screen – that we tackle here. In the first section, we trace the role of different bodies in Beckett’s stage work, arguing that these bodies, especially as mediated by a fractured and incohesive sense of Time, actively ‘presence’ an absence (and, inevitably, absent a presence). In the second section, we argue that in Beckett’s Film, the dilemma of embodied consciousness and what is an anguished flight from being seen and seeing oneself is played out in terms of the complex star/celebrity signification of both Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett. Star and phenomenological theory closely align in this respect, both discourses reliant on a tense, seemingly paradoxical absent/present union. The present article is an attempt to trace and, in some ways, explain this phenomenon of duality, this paradox between being there and not being there. . Our approach is largely phenomenological, drawing on the ideas of Bert O. States, Merleau-Ponty, and Vivian Sobchack to enrich our analysis. At the same time, we conjoin that approach with a cultural awareness of the living body in postmodern times. In the end, we offer the argument that the unique duality of presence and absence that is produced through the human body in Beckett’s stage works finds a corollary, and perhaps purer, realisation in the body of Film.

Item Type: Article
Authors :
NameEmailORCID
Wagner, MDm.wagner@gsa.surrey.ac.ukUNSPECIFIED
Redmond, SUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
Date : 20 July 2007
Contributors :
ContributionNameEmailORCID
UNSPECIFIEDRohdie, SUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
UNSPECIFIEDO'Rawe, DUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 16 May 2017 15:18
Last Modified : 17 May 2017 14:33
URI: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/818661

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