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Samuel Beckett and the Nonhuman

Thursday, 7 February, 2019 - 09:00 to Friday, 8 February, 2019 - 18:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy
Groene zaal, Rode zaal, Zwarte zaal
Douglask Atkinson, Christophe Collard, and Thomas Thoelen

When Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize in 1969, his work was praised for revealing ‘the terrifying spectacle’ of mankind’s ‘inhuman degradation’, and for letting the ‘negativism’ or ‘pessimism’ always shine through with a ‘positive’. The Academy’s evaluation extended a tradition of ‘humanistic perspectives’ on Beckett’s work, further consolidated with a famous essay collection by Morris Beja, S. E. Gontarski and Pierre Astier (1983). James Knowlson’s biography Damned to Fame (1996) revealed new details about Beckett’s political activities, for example during the Algerian War, showing his lasting concern with the human condition. However, as Ruby Cohn cautioned in A Beckett Canon (2001), ‘humanist’ was a label often scornfully affixed to these approaches. It has equally been pointed out that Beckett disliked the term ‘humanité’ and how it was being used in French philosophy. The German Diaries and letters have offered better insight into Beckett’s critique of ‘anthropomorphism’ in the visual arts, leading some critics to view his work as ‘posthuman’. Studies of the drama have long stressed the dehumanizing effects of radio, film and television technologies, and digital humanities have put forward fresh perspectives with the help of machine learning techniques. In recent years, Beckett studies have also embraced new avenues of research that focus on animals, the environment and objects, to investigate the centrality of nonhuman elements in his oeuvre. It is this relationship between the human and the nonhuman that the conference seeks to address, in addition to exploring the question whether Beckett’s writing still holds the same ‘human’ relevance and value that it did in the immediate aftermath of World War II, with regard to current waves of terrorism and the global refugee crisis.