This week I had the pleasure of attending David Pattie’s research seminar entitled “‘At me too someone is looking…’ Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre.” Not only was Pattie’s paper thought-provoking (to borrow Dr. Clíona Ó Gallchoir’s word from the conclusion of the seminar), but it was an applicable example about how to talk about research during its early stages.
Pattie said that his paper contains the seeds that might lead to an argument and eventually a book on coercion and the ethics of said coercion in Beckett’s theatre. This was immediately accessible to me since this week I have been working on structuring my draft thesis argument and chapter titles from the initial research that I have conducted.
Pattie began his presentation by quoting the scene from Waiting for Godot where Vladimir discusses an unnamed force or figure that traps him. Vladimir finds himself in a submissive position in a controlled relationship, much like he has control over Estragon. Pattie used this example to show how Beckett’s works contain hidden systems of coercion that confine the characters and the story itself. Pattie’s contextualization of his argument through the use of this scene made a powerful opening to his paper.
The systems of coercion work differently in Beckett’s prose and plays. In his prose, like in “The Trilogy” of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, the characters speak in involuntary acts and the truth is often negated. As when Malone speaks of his legs being “there” and “not there,” his prose contains a compulsion to capture images that disappear.
To explain how coercion functions differently in his plays, Pattie used scholar Anna McMullan’s Kafka inspired metaphor of “authority inscribed on the bodies of others.” Like Kafka’s characters in “In the Penal Colony” are made to forever wear their crimes written on their bodies, Beckett’s stage characters embody an internal system of coercion. There are mechanisms that exist within the world of the Beckettian stage that persist to create a cycle of torture and coercion, as both the coercer and the coerced fade in parallel by the end of the piece.
It was encouraging to see Pattie say that he was “not sure that this is the whole story.” It demonstrated how research should include room for growth and that it is perfectly acceptable to not have everything figured out.
Pattie’s engagement with critical sources was an enlightening example that will surely help me as I finish my Literature and IT Review. For example, he discussed Trish McTighe’s concept of haptic communication, where the voice pokes and prods becoming an interrogative instrument. He also described her use of pure immanence, where characters come together in moments of connection. However, Pattie then took McTighe’s idea and argued the opposite. He contends that Beckett’s work more often contains negative immanence, where there is absence of pure relationships, human bonds are weakened, and images are created just to be effaced. Pattie says that he wants to “try and argue” — again emphasizing the early nature of his research — that the coercive systems of negative immanence move beyond the text in two ways. First, all of the characters are at the mercy of a unnamed system of power. Second, these unwavering systems work away at the characters. For example, the mouth in Nor I is responding to an unimaginable off-stage space, but the audience is never given any indication of what this space is. The lips, much like Winnie in Happy Days, are an example of how a singular character is forced into a position of negative immanence through stage mechanisms. Pattie explained McTighe’s ideas, but then proved how he would work off of her scholarship to draw his own conclusions, which I think was an invaluable example of engaging with sources for my Lit review.
He concluded by saying that the bodies in Beckett’s works are perhaps enmeshed in infinite series of coercions existing in an immutably coercive system. It was a fascinating presentation, although it makes me feel even more pessimistic about the fate of Beckettian characters than I did before!
Before Pattie gave his paper, Dr. Ó Gallchoir listed his very distinguished resume and past academic work. From fringe theatre to The Sopranos to the German electronic band Kraftwerk, Pattie jokingly declared that his “research trajectory makes no sense.” I think it was a fabulous reminder to those of us who are early in our academic career that academia allows the freedom to pursue multidisciplinary and varying research topics.
I am disappointed that I cannot attend Dr. Graham Allen’s presentation next week since I will be out of town. Thus, Pattie’s presentation marks the end of my research seminar attendance. Thank you so much to the School of English for putting on this excellent program.
Beckett, Samuel. “Not I.” Macba. BBC2, 1975, http://www.macba.cat/uploads/20151104/4397.jpg
“Happy Days.” RTE. https://img.rasset.ie/0009f06d-1500.jpg
Kafka, Franz. “In the Penal Colony.” The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces. Large Print, 2009.
McMullan, Anna. Theatre on Trial: Samuel Beckett’s Later Drama. Routledge, 1993.
McTighe, Trish. The Haptic Aesthetic in Samuel Beckett’s Drama. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Pattie, David. “‘At me too someone is looking…’ Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre.” School of English Research Seminar, 22 March 2017, University College Cork. Guest Lecture.