Beckett and Biopolitics: Attention, Distraction, Drift


Mon, 25/11/2019 - 10:30 to 12:30


Mandel Building, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus


Dr. Yael Levin

The 19th century saw a seismic shift in the way that we view the subject – such thinkers as Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud upset the foundations of the Enlightenment cogito. The cogito presupposes a degree of autonomy in world-making: the rational mind stands at the center of experience; with the power of the will we can control and improve our situation in life. It is a conceptualization of subjectivity that hinges on autonomy, independence and freedom of choice. Attention is the product of will. It is in our control. Recent turns in critical thinking (including, inter alia, the sensory turn, affect studies, ecocriticism and new materialism) allow us to think of ourselves as evolving with our environment in a way that emphasizes points of interest outside the rational mind and the categories of thought. In what follows I will demonstrate how a tracing of the concept of attention in Samuel Beckett’s work allows for a demonstration of this shift. The paper traces a movement from the dialectical oscillation of attention and distraction in Proust to Beckett’s fashioning of an alternative that finds expression not only in the abstractions of thought and language but also in embodied experience. This alternative will be termed “drift,” a label denoting neither principle nor concept, but a mode of being that anticipates our attempts to think the human in the sensory-digital present. Beckett’s experiments allow us to reconsider forms of knowledge, understanding and conditioning. No less significant is his lesson on how we might do so without becoming embroiled in the dialectics of resistance and compliance.