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Beckett and television: anachronism as innovation

Bignell, J. (2020) Beckett and television: anachronism as innovation. In: Adar, E., Kiryushina, G. and Nixon, M. (eds.) Samuel Beckett and Technology. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. (In Press)

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Abstract/Summary

This chapter argues that Beckett’s dramas written for television (from Eh Joe in 1966 to Nacht und Traume in 1983) work as reflexive analyses of television technology’s uneasy position as an “old” and also a “new” medium. The history of television can be written by describing processes of co-option of aesthetic features and processes deriving from “old” media, like theatre and figurative painting, which are visible in Beckett’s staging of dramatic action and TV image composition, for example. But television also works through its differentiation from antecedent or competing media, its diversification into a wide range of genres, modes and forms, and its repudiation of features associated with its competitors. These aspects are visible in the ways that Beckett’s television dramas manipulate or refuse conventions of characterization, narrative, visual pleasure or entertainment. The chapter proposes a series of specific ways that Beckett’s TV dramas cite past forms anachronistically and innovate by refusing them. For example, their temporality of apparent liveness links the dramas to technologies for relaying live theatre, but none of the dramas was shot “live”. Beckett’s experience with filmmaking, on Film (1964) and Comedie (1966), connects his television work with cinematic concerns with framing and point of view. But his work for television also disrespects conventions of filmic storytelling, and the diegetic relationship of sound to image, for example, questioning the experience of spectatorship. By analyzing the aesthetic implementation of television technologies in Beckett’s dramas the chapter argues that they innovate by processes of assimilation, repudiation and displacement.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Beckett studies
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:90408
Uncontrolled Keywords:Beckett, Television, Technology, Innovation, Anachronism, Modernism, Cinema, Radio, Theatre
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press

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