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A tricky marriage between festival and philosophy

Typical of a not entirely satisfactory evening around Samuel Beckett and French philosophy is the way it was announced. The Holland festival called the evening Beckett and Philosophy: Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze. Organiser Felix and Sofie called it Beckett in the crosshairs of French Philosophy. I wonder how much dialogue there was between the festival and Felix and Sofie about the content and format of the programme. What it produced was an evening with little Beckett, but plenty of French philosophy, articulated by the evening's guests: philosophers Hans van Stralen, Sjoerd van Tuinen and Marc De Kesel.

Marc de Kesel was the only guest who really focused on Beckett and his play Krapp's Last Tape had thrown and made a clear substantive link to Georges Bataille. The meaninglessness in Krapp connects to Batailles idea that literature should also make no sense at all. It is precisely by placing oneself outside reality that it creates a sanctuary for the arts, a place where all violence can be botched. And although Bataille only wrote one text on Beckett, there was certainly fascination. De Kesel briefly analysed the text of Krapp's Last Tape and concluded his talk with a plea for literary scholarship. In doing so, he had the most connection with the festival and perhaps also with the theatregoers.

While the other two guests had interesting mini-lectures, they missed the connection with the performance. They mainly dealt with Deleuze and Camus, with absurdism leading more than its main writer.

The choice of a philosophical debate on Samuel Beckett at the Holland Festival is not illogical, given the programming of his Krapp in a version by Robert Wilson. There are plenty of thinkers who have commented on the Irish-French absurdist writer. Yet therein lies the rub: I went to this evening as a festival-goer hoping for an analysis of Beckett from a philosophical perspective. I was looking forward to the link between Gilles Deleuze, theatre and absurdism.

Albert Camus and absurdism is very obvious, but I wanted to know more about that.

Bataille and Beckett? Bring it on!

However, Felix and Sofie did not appear to have adapted the concept to the festival setting and so it was a philosophical café with a loose link to Krapp. Guests gave short talks at a considerable philosophical level, with Beckett, via Deleuze Spinozist was indicated.

Are you still there?

Nothing wrong with an evening like this, but I would have interpreted the announcement on the HF site differently. Something lighter and a bit more theatre-infused. Maybe I should have done my homework better. Or a link on the festival site would have been a good idea, then I could have reread Deleuze. Now, in all the philosophical violence, I missed the theatre a bit.

Helen Westerik

Helen Westerik is a film historian and great lover of experimental films. She teaches film history and researches the body in art.View Author posts

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