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Beckett and AnimalsReview - Beckett and Animals
by Mary Bryden (Editor)
Cambridge University Press, 2013
Review by Kimberly Poppiti, Ph.D.
Jul 29th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 31)

In Beckett and Animals, editor Mary Bryden, Co-Director of the Beckett International Foundation and Professor of French Literature at Reading Universityhas compiled sixteen essays, including one of her own, into a coherent and comprehensive 200+ page study of the title subject.  Readers are presented with diverse investigations into the presence and significance of animals found within Beckett's works, and are challenged to consider the significance of these animals both within and beyond these texts while also considering what their presence reveals about both human and non-human animals and the continuum of our larger co-existence.  Beckett's real world experience with animals, both actual interactions from his daily life and those with animals that he encountered in literature and theatre, contextualize the references to Beckett's creative work and are included where considered relevant. 

Bryden provides a brief introduction and organizes the material in the book dichotomously:  Part I covers "animality" and Part II deals with "the specificity of animals."  Part I is comprised of seven essays/chapters, including Bryden's, "The Beckettian Bestiary."  Part II features nine chapters/essays, one each on: pigs, cats, flies, equids (horses and donkeys), bees, dogs, sheep, bears, and parrots.  The text considers not only Beckett's well-known works, but extends to cover the full scope of his writing, including relevant personal writings and drawings. 

The contributors are Beckett scholars from various fields.  The diversity of their specializations is important, not only because it diversifies the content of the text, but also because it illustrates a relevance of animal studies to other fields and presents a means of unifying the subject matter without constraining the investigations to a single field or perspective.  There are questions raised and conclusions drawn by the material that are specific to each essay and also which apply to the larger context of the subject. 

Contributors include essential references extending beyond the work of Beckett.  Many of these will be familiar to readers; Derrida, Descartes, Foucault, and Kleist, for example, are referenced significantly.  The concept of animal "gaze," complex but essential to an understanding of Beckett's animals, is referenced in more than one essay, and in varying degrees of specificity.  Readers unfamiliar with the references will still be able to make sense of the essays thanks to the clarity of the writing overall and the inclusion of supporting quotes and other information serving to contextualize and clarify the works under discussion in most instances.  

As to specifics of the content, the writing is solid and the research thorough; the book as a whole hangs together nicely thanks to smooth and logical connections between chapters and Parts I and II.  Some chapters are more readable than others, but none are inaccessible.  I found Part II more engaging than Part I and, perhaps because horses in drama is my area of specialization, I turned first of all to, "Hooves!: The Equine Presence in Beckett," contributed by Joseph Anderton; I found it well-conceived and executed.  "The Dancing Bees in Samuel Beckett's Molloy: The Rapture of Unknowing" and Julie Campbell's, "Beckett and Sheep" are also exceptionally well constructed and thought provoking.  Steven Connor's, "Making Flies Mean Something" is an interesting exercise that Connor introduces as a response to Beckett's 1982 suggestion (to another writer) "that flies […] might be made to mean something" (139) and, "Eyes in Each Other's Eyes': Beckett, Kleist and the Fencing Bear" provides an excellent concise conclusion to the investigation of "gaze," and is a pleasure to read.  

The book seems aimed primarily at those with more than a passing familiarity with the major works of Beckett; also, knowledge of the basic tenets of animal studies and literary analysis is assumed.  The text speaks most significantly to serious scholars in the fields of theatre, literature, and animal studies.  It does not strike me as a book most others would read for pleasure, but it is an informative and thought provoking text that raises numerous interesting questions about the functioning of animals within the works of Samuel Beckett.  The text will be a worthwhile read for most any motivated reader.

 

© 2014 Kimberly Poppiti

 

Kimberly Poppiti, Ph.D., Dowling College, NY


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