“The Best’s to Come”: Suicidal Fantasy in Eh Joe

  • Graley Herren


In his seminal essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin identifies a fundamentally new trend in modernity, away from art’s traditional “aura” of authenticity and authority and toward an infinitely reproducible art designed for mass consumption. Benjamin places film at the forefront of this movement as “the most powerful agent” in “the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage” (221). As he sees it, film attacks art’s traditional “aura” on multiple fronts. Its infinite reproducibility undermines art’s claims on uniqueness, and its ready accessibility frees it from the exclusive domain of a privileged elite. Film also encourages a more critical stance on the part of the spectator toward the screen performer. In an observation that anticipates Beckett’s Film with uncanny prescience, Benjamin notes,

the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently, the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing. (228–29; emphasis added)


Female Voice Television Medium Manic Defense Originary Scene Engagement Ring 
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  1. 8.
    Though I ultimately find Freud’s theories more useful for understanding the psychological landscape of Eh Joe, Jungian psychology may be more apt for understanding the teleplay’s gender dynamics. For an insightful application of Jung’s theories on the anima, see Rosette Lamont, “Beckett’s Eh Joe: Lending an Ear to the Anima,” Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives, ed. Linda Ben Zvi (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1990), 228–34.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    See Arthur Schopenhauer, “Essay on Spirit Seeing and everything connected therewith,” Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, trans. E.F.J. Payne, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), 286ff. For a detailed discussion of this essay in connection with Beckett’s teleplays, refer back to chapter 1.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    See Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Macmillan, 1989), 14–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 15.
    I am indebted for this quotation to William Watkin, On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2004), 133.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    The only videotape I have viewed of this production is in the Samuel Beckett Audio-Visual Archive at New York University. This tape does not include a promotion for Phillips, verbal or otherwise, so I must presume that the request was denied. However, Phillips was still performing in Man and Superman when the BBC first aired Eh Joe on July 4, 1966, though the show had moved by then to the Garrick Theatre. For some interesting anecdotes about working with Beckett, see Siân Phillips, Public Places: My Life in the Theater, with Peter O’Toole and Beyond, (New York: Faber & Faber, 2003), 190–91.Google Scholar

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© Graley Herren 2007

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  • Graley Herren

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