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Samuel Beckett’s Abstract Drama

Works for Stage and Screen- 1962-1985


Erik Tonning

Samuel Beckett’s Play, written 1962-63, was an aesthetic watershed inaugurating his late, ‘abstract’ dramatic style. This book gets close to Beckett’s creative process by examining the possible influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music and Vassily Kandinsky’s abstract painting upon this formal shift; by tracing Beckett’s developing attitude to abstraction and its relation to his long-standing preoccupation with the ‘breakdown’ of the subject-object relation and the ultimate failure of all expression; and by following his formal choices through manuscript drafts. The author goes on to analyse Beckett’s attempt to adapt his new methods to the media of film and television, and to demonstrate how Beckett’s late works for stage and screen develop alongside one another right up to his 1985 adaptation of the play What Where for television. Throughout the book, unpublished manuscript materials such as Beckett’s letters, drafts, notes on philosophy, psychology and art, and his ‘German diaries’ augment a detailed account of the submerged sources that Beckett appropriated to the evolving needs of his abstract dramatic art.
Contents: Beckett and abstraction: documented attitudes – Beckett’s aesthetics: from Schopenhauer’s irrational Will to the inexpressible ‘incoherent continuum’ – Weakness, failure, distress and the original sin of having been born – Formal disintegration in The Unnamable and the pre-Play drama – Abstract form in Play: foregrounding the inhuman system – Beckett’s analogy with Schoenberg and Kandinsky – The search for form: drafts of Play and Come and Go – Instructive failures at abstraction in Film and Eh Joe – Not I, That Time and Footfalls: staging insubstantial states of self – Beckett’s reshaping of Expressionist images – Depth psychology as structural template – Presenting ghostly images: Ghost Trio and ...but the clouds... – Vermeer as formal model – Beethoven, Yeats and Romantic ‘Sehnsucht’ – Ritualised desire and the unattainable Lady – Leibnizian monadology as formal model in A Piece of Monologue, Ohio Impromptu, Rockaby, Quad (I & II), Nacht und Träume and What Where – ‘Like something out of Beckett’: staging the creative self as monad.