Beckett’s Memory Machines

  • Graley Herren


Like many of his modernist forebears, Samuel Beckett heeded Ezra Pound’s clarion call to “make it new” by “making it old anew.” Nowhere are Beckett’s impulses to “make it old” more acutely displayed than in his encounters with the relatively new media of film and television. From his first venture behind the camera in the mid-1960s filming Film with Alan Schneider, through his last stint in the mid-1980s adapting What Where for German television, Beckett approaches the typically frenetic and forward-looking filmed media with a gaze fixed backwards and an ear attuned to echoes from the past. As C.J. Ackerley and S.E. Gontarski observe in The Grove Companion, “Writing for Beckett was always a haunting echo of memory, personal and cultural. Learning to read Beckett, again, is to approach him as already a repetition, an echo of his reading, of his culture, and finally of himself” (xvi). Those echoes are especially resonant in Beckett’s teleplays, the primary focus of the present study. In the teleplays Beckett broadcasts multilayered, medium-specific confrontations between present and past, perception and memory, subject and object, presence and absence. Here “making it old” does not mean making it artistically stagnant and mired in nostalgia. Rather, Beckett rigorously explored the potential and exploited the limitations of mechanical media—first radio, then film, and ultimately television—to serve as memory machines: sites for recollecting and reinventing personal, philosophical, and artistic pasts.


Cultural Memory Memory Machine British Broadcasting Corporation Involuntary Memory Pleasure Principle 
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© Graley Herren 2007

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  • Graley Herren

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