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Beckett's Spectral Silence: Breath and the Sublime

University of Paris Sorbonne
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  • Film Studies
  • English Literature
  • English Literature By Author
  • French Literature
  • Fine Art
  • Theatre Studies


Of Samuel Beckett’s late plays, the one that most eloquently resists presentation, that retires from visibility, remaining almost completely hidden except for faint light and a brief cry over a glimpse of detritus is Breath. Though regarded as a ‘logical terminal point in Beckett’s writing for theatre’ when it appeared, it wrong-footed critical expectation, pointing instead to the much reduced plays of the 1970s. The paper examines Beckett’s Breath, theatre productions of the play––in particular that of Amanda Coogan––and the film version of Breath directed by Damien Hirst, in terms of Kant’s analytic of the sublime, in particular Kant’s idea of the sublime as that which is beyond the limits of size and representability. Drawing on Longinus, Lyotard and Derrida, the paper argues, through Beckett, for a reconfiguration of the sublime in terms of an absolute minimum.

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