In the sixth event of the Arts of Breath series Prof Susan Jones considers Beckett’s engagement with choreography. Everyone is welcome to this free talk on 21st February, at 18.15, in Durham University Elvet Riverside 142.
“Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness” (“Ill Seen Ill Said”, 1981).
Unusually for Samuel Beckett, the final declaration of this short prose work gestures to a positive closure. However, the simple directive is preceded by a more enigmatic statement from which we glean Beckett’s more familiar “taste for the negative”. In his final experiments with form, Beckett turned to the choreographic to understand and express the workings of the breath and the “happiness” of the void.
Taking this compelling moment in 1981 as a starting point, this discussion will explore how Beckett continued to be preoccupied with the “last breath”, the compulsion to move, and ultimate cessation of movement, in a group of late prose texts and dramatic work including “Ill Seen Ill Said”, “The Way”, “Ceiling”, “Worstward Ho”, and the dramas Quad and Ohio Impromptu.
Beckett’s understanding of the choreographic in these texts enables us to uncover his proximity to the principles of twentieth-century modern dance practices which use the breath in (often skeptical) responses to the concept of grace.
Susan Jones is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Hilda’s College. She is founder and director of Dance Scholarship Oxford and author of Literature, Modernism, and Dance. She was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship 2017-18 to work on Samuel Beckett and choreography.