Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and Masonry

An exclusive extract from Lynn Brunet's recent book
Francis Bacon, 'Two Seated Figures' 1979

The following is an extract from Lynn Brunet's study of Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett, A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials, published by Peter Lang. Brunet is an Australian art historian whose research examines the coupling of trauma and ritual in modern and contemporary art and literature. She was a full-time lecturer in art history and theory from 1994 to 2006 and she is a practising artist. She lives and works in Melbourne:
[The] study is the product of a developing body of research and a new theory within the creative arts that proposes that particular artists and writers, especially those who appear to express a deep and confusing sense of anxiety and despair, may be representing the traces of initiatory rites found in various fraternities, religious groups, secret societies and cults.

Two of the twentieth century's most important creative figures, the artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. Gilles Deleuze has suggested that it is in these spaces that Bacon and Beckett 'have never been so close', as Bacon's figures and Beckett's characters 'trundle about fitfully without ever leaving their circle or parallelpiped'. This book provides a reading of Bacon and Beckett's work that demonstrates the many parallels between the spaces and activities they evoke in their work and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland of their childhood. As T. Desmond Williams notes, secret societies were probably more a part of everyday life and politics in Ireland than in most other countries and since the eighteenth century new fraternal orders were being formed in Ireland every decade. Many of these societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic order.

In the modern era the artist's role has often been interpreted as providing an important link to the subliminal currents that underpin the community, revealing those taboo or repressed issues that the society as a whole is unable to confront. Some artists do this by exploring their own struggles and psychological experiences and then externalising these explorations in creative form. The cliché of the tortured artist accompanies this modern concept. By making their struggles visible artists confront their viewers with unresolved issues that some in the public may share [...]

Lynn Brunet, A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials: Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth Century Ireland