Slouching toward Television: Beckett’s Apprenticeship in Radio and Film

  • Graley Herren


Gilles Deleuze’s 1992 essay, “L’Épuise” (“The Exhausted”), remains one of the few critical treatments to date that examines Beckett’s entire television corpus in a theoretically consistent way. Deleuze’s theme is “the exhaustion of the possible,” and he tracks the movement in the teleplays away from exhausted language toward the Image. Toward this end, he considers three different categories of language. He defines “language I” as “a combinatorial imagination ‘sullied by reason,’” but he finds no example of this use in the teleplays. He defines “language II” as “imagination sullied by memory,” where “the cruelty of voices never stops piercing us with unbearable memories, absurd stories, or undesirable company.” Clearly, Eh Joe falls into this category. Finally, he defines “language III” as “no longer a language of names or voices but a language of images.” He places all the other teleplays into this privileged final category (158-59). By Deleuze’s estimation, then, Eh Joe is something of an aberration, the sole teleplay that still clings regressively to “imagination sullied by memory.” Deleuze never dismisses the value of Eh Joe entirely, but he concedes no more than “a preparatory value that serves to introduce the works for television, rather than fully being a part of them” (166-67).


Television Viewer Camera Perspective Memory Machine Mechanical Medium Involuntary Memory 
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  1. 4.
    I hold that any attempt to psychoanalyze an author posthumously through the medium of his work is as futile as it is presumptuous. Unfortunately, this principle has not been shared by all of Beckett’s critics. For a particularly egregious example, consider Antoinette Walker and Michael Fitzgerald, Unstoppable Brilliance: Irish Geniuses and Asperger’s Syndrome (Dublin: Liberties, 2006), which includes diagnoses not only for Beckett, but for Robert Emmet, Padraig Pearse, W.B. Yeats, and James Joyce as well.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Arthur Schopenhauer, “Essay on Spirit Seeing and everything connected therewith.” Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, trans. E.F.J. Payne (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), 272.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Beckett’s own description of his frenetic post-war period of writing, quoted in Dierdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 346.Google Scholar

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© Graley Herren 2007

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  • Graley Herren

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