'Beckett’s Spontaneous Drawings'

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This paper is based on the research project ‘Beckett and the Phenomenology of doodles’, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. '…you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery.'

(‘Molloy’, Samuel Beckett)

Beckett himself was a compulsive doodler, but perhaps because of its incipient threat to text doodling is generally ignored by writers on art, not receiving the attention that its more public sibling, graffiti, has done. This talk places Beckett’s spontaneous drawings in their social and cultural context, for just as his writing evokes comparisons that span world literature – fiction, theology, and philosophy - so his drawings unconsciously co-opt influences from both deep and shallow visual traditions.

For example, the manuscript of Beckett’s unfinished play ‘Human Wishes’ contains over seventy tiny drawn characters, who bear no discernable relationship to his text - a gloomy snippet on the household of Dr. Johnson. Instead they stimulate imaginary couplings with comics, the art of children and the insane, medieval bestiaries, psychic automatism, Haboku imagery, stained glass windows, Modernist painting, and ‘The Analysis of Beauty’ - as well as comparisons with the doodles of other writers such as Kafka, Hugo, Dostoevsky, and Proust.

Rather than seeing doodles as tools for psychotherapeutic diagnosis (as, for example, in the work of D.W. Winnicott), my focus is on their visual playfulness and ubiquity. The relinquishing of conscious control, so admired and sought by the Surrealists, is in doodling natural to everyone. After all, the root of drawing is trahere, to drag, and when time does we cannot help ourselves.

Keywords: Samuel Beckett, Doodles, Drawing Research, Phenomenology
Stream: Arts Policy, Management and Advocacy
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Bill Prosser

Senior Research Fellow, University of Reading

Through a combination of my writing and drawing the project ‘Beckett and the Phenomenology of Doodles’ aims to offer fresh perspectives onto Beckett’s complex visual imagination. To date a drawn catalogue of all Beckett’s spontaneous images held by the Beckett International Foundation together with over one hundred larger individual drawings have been made. A preliminary text, ‘Drawing from Beckett’ has been published in ‘Performance Research’, 12.1. 2007, and a book, 'Human Wishes', will be published by the University of Reading Press this autumn. Exhibitions of visual work have already been held in Paris, as well as in Universities of Oxford, Rome and Warwick. Currently a selection from the work forms part of an exhibition at the University of Texas. Next year there will be further shows at Trinity College, Dublin, the Naughton Gallery, University of Belfast, and at the University of California. Illustrated conference papers have been given in Bristol, Rome and Warwick, and further presentations will occur later this year and next in Ireland and the USA. Further writing on the diverse history of doodles and Beckett’s place amongst it, together with a series of drawings examining the doodles in more tonal and textural detail will follow during the next eighteen months.

Ref: A09P0064