Perception, Attention, Imagery: Samuel Beckett and the Psychological Experiment
Powell, Joshua George
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Samuel Beckett is often thought of as an experimental writer but little critical attention has been paid to the question of what the term ‘experimental’ means when applied to Beckett’s work (and arguably literature in general). One might suggest that to call Beckett an experimental writer is to identify him as a member of the avant-garde, placing his writing in opposition to more commercially-orientated, ‘mainstream’ works of literature. Alternatively, the term might be taken to highlight Beckett’s formal innovations – his capacity to change conceptions of what literature is and does. This study, though, will specify another way in which we might understand Beckett’s writing to be experimental. Drawing on Beckett’s engagement with experimental and therapeutic psychology, the study suggests that Beckett’s works might be seen as experiments in a more scientific sense. Through readings of his later works for page, stage and screen, the chapters of this study suggest that Beckett’s writing can contribute to our knowledge of psychological concepts such as perception, attention and mental imagery. Beckett’s works, I argue, might be defined as experimental insofar as they position and stimulate human bodies in ways that allow us to better understand our complex, but partial, experiences of the world.
PhD in English