Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive

International Conference, University of York, June 23-26, 2011
Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive Conference

Samuel Beckett: Out of the Archive
International Conference, University of York, June 23-26, 2011

Registration is now open

The cost of early bird registration is £200. Conference registration includes lunch and coffee breaks on all four days, access to three keynotes, nine panel sessions, and the closing address, as well as complimentary entry to the concert. It also guarantees seats at the Banville reading and the Coetzee address. Also of interest will be a photographic exhibition by John Minihan, which runs from 16-26 June.

Furthermore, a special ‘delegates only’ performance of The End by Gare St Lazare Players will take place on Saturday, 25 June. Since the capacity of the theatre is only 100, we cannot guarantee a seat at this performance for all delegates; seats will be allocated to those who register first. However, free tickets to the public performances of First Love on Wednesday, 22 June and Thursday, 23 June, and The End on Friday, 24 June, can be booked through the Events Office website from 21 February: http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/

Keeping down the cost for emerging scholars has been a priority. Therefore a heavily discounted registration rate of £100 is available for postgraduate students. To qualify for this concession rate one must expect to be a postgraduate at the time of the conference, i.e. in June 2011. Please note that evidence of student status may be requested. Unwaged delegates may also avail of this lower rate.

A £20 surcharge for late registration will apply from Saturday 19 March.

Direct Link to Registration: http://tinyurl.com/66hgvko

About the Conference & Festival

Samuel Beckett’s is one of the last great modernist archives. A vast, slowly emerging body of archival materials is enabling a “thick description” that details Beckett’s transformation of modern literature. Revised or previously unreleased texts, adaptations of unfamiliar works, and the recent publication of his arresting letters have revealed unsuspected reading habits and writing methods, and documented his immersion in specific intellectual and political contexts. This increasingly historical and empirical vision of Beckett seems at odds with the timelessness and universality presumed in earlier accounts of his work.

“Out of the Archive” probes the implications of this contradiction by thoroughly reassessing Beckett’s oeuvre. It tests his own universalist belief that “the artist who stakes his being is from nowhere,” against his equally candid embrace of the specific, the material, “the straws, flotsam, etc., names, dates, births and deaths, because that is all I can know.” Doing so now is especially timely when the wider field of modernist studies is increasingly attuned to the quotidian and the ordinary. Rejecting accounts that trace realist conventions withering before a blaze of self-conscious interiority, recent studies (Liesl Olson, 2009; Siobhan Phillips, 2010) underscore how modernist works dwell in the regularity of the ordinary. The daily doings of Winnie, or Didi and Gogo, are not inept responses to cosmic darkness; they are ordinary experience, the subject matter of modernism.

“Out of the Archive” embodies a pluralist embrace of artists, creative writers, theatre practitioners, and working scholars, bringing their specialist expertise into dialogue with a wider public through multiple media. To this end, the conference will be showcased by a series of events free and open to the public, events that speak to both Beckett’s contemporaneity and his historicity. Special Guests will include the Nobel-Prize winning author J. M. Coetzee, the Booker-Prize winning novelist John Banville, and Beckett’s publisher John Calder. John Minihan, whose images of Beckett in Paris and London have become iconic, will introduce an exhibition of his photographs of notable stage productions. Similarly, we hope to announce soon details of an exciting performance event, one that will provide people from across the region with a fresh introduction to Beckett. As well as twenty invited papers, some 150 academics from over twenty countries will also participate.

The key events will be captured on video and in a special issue of Modernism/modernity, the premier journal in the field. Overall we believe that this project will set a benchmark in Beckett studies and modernist studies.

Call for Papers (CFP)

"My texts are in a terrible mess"*

In the wake of his 2006 centenary, Samuel Beckett’s prestige has continued to grow. His work has a continuing resonance in the public sphere, as the recent high-profile publication of the first volume of his letters shows, and the field of Beckett studies remains central to developments in the understanding of modernism. Beckett’s oeuvre is also celebrated for its transcendence of specific cultural and historical contexts, a situation that appears to pull against his increasing historical importance.

A major gathering of academics, artists, and writers, the conference will take up the question of how to place Beckett as a late modernist. We shall encourage a dialogue between frequently polarized critical approaches, asking what sort of Beckett we want out of the archive. Despite the complexity of the still-growing archives, their intellectual force is only beginning to be examined. Is Beckett’s work rejuvenated or embalmed by historical treatment, and does his continued importance to theory mark a point of resistance or potential for an historical approach? Is Beckett saved by, or must he be saved from, the archive?

Suggested topics for papers include:
  • Beckett’s position within modernism and modernist studies
  • How emerging methodologies inform our use and understanding of the archive
  • The status of the ‘grey’ canon and the boundaries of the oeuvre
  • Beckett’s cultural, economic, and political capital now
  • How models of influence are sustained by and/or undermined by Beckett’s work
  • The complexities of Beckett’s national and intellectual contexts
The event is supported by the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, York’s new interdisciplinary Centre for Modern Studies, the Modern Humanities Research Association, and the journal Modernism/modernity. The keynote speakers will be Linda Ben-Zvi (Tel Aviv University), Lois Overbeck (Emory University), and Jean-Michel Rabaté (University of Pennsylvania), and scholars from eleven countries will present invited papers. We have also planned an innovative series of events surrounding the academic component, including an exhibition of photographs, a dramatic performance, and contributions from a number of major figures influenced in particular ways by Beckett. Confirmed guests include Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville, Beckett’s publisher John Calder, the distinguished photographer John Minihan, and Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee.

* Please note that a second and final call for papers will be issued shortly.


Proposals of up to 250 words for papers of 20 minutes are invited. Postgraduate students are strongly encouraged to apply. Please submit all proposals by November 19, 2010.



Conference Organizers:
Peter Fifield (St John’s College, University of Oxford), Bryan Radley and Lawrence Rainey (University of York)

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