Reflections on Beckett's life and work
'...when it comes to those bastards of journalists, I feel the only line is to refuse to be involved in exegesis of any kind. That’s for those bastards of critics.'
Letter from Samuel Beckett to Alan Schneider, 1957
The Philoctetes Centre for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination (pardon me?) has introduced a series of roundtable discussions on a range of topics, from art and literature, to philosophy, to neuroscience, poetry and jazz improvisation. Aside from sounding like an intellectual cult, the centre presents talks on a wide range of topics from a broad selection of multidisciplinary approaches.
One of the roundtable discussions, entitled I'll Go On: An Afternoon of Samuel Beckett, is based on the performance-aspect of Beckett's dramatic works, along with some of the prose. The wonderful Lois Oppenheim hosts the discussion, an acclaimed Beckett academic in her own right, and successfully negotiates the speakers while weaving the topics together. The setting is very informal, with John Turturro, Edward Albee, Tom Bishop and Alvin Epstein surrounded by curious spectators.
Lasting over an hour and a half, it's easy to understand why they labelled the clip 'An Afternoon with...' and there are times when the conversation seems to drag. Having said that: Lois Oppenheim is always good value, and offers critical insights with a characteristic restraint. John Turturro, who played Hamm in a recent production of Endgame, is certainly one of the quieter members of the group, but one has the impression that his comments are among the most interesting.
Before the first ten minutes have elapsed, one thing becomes clear: Edward Albee, renowned playwright and friend of Beckett, is undoubtedly leading the discussion. And for all the wrong reasons. I have read and enjoyed his accounts of Beckett's personality, and of his work, in numerous books and articles over the last year or so; so when Albee began to tell one of his favourite anecdotes to the audience, I was engaged and interested. Yet there was something awry about his recollections. Albee's body language was louche, and almost hostile, as he competed for space and airtime in the group. As one personal story drifts aimlessly into the next, I couldn't help rolling my eyes and shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
I'll Go On: An Afternoon of Samuel Beckett offers some interesting comments, and is useful to the newcomer who is interested in finding out more. But with the exception of John Turturro and Lois Oppenheim, who were a joy, there was a sniff of elitism in the air that I suspect will turn more people off than on. There comes a point where I feel that instead of going on I'll Go Somewhere Else, Thank You.