Ohio impromptu: reading Blanchot, hearing Beckett

Bailes, Sara Jane (2014) Ohio impromptu: reading Blanchot, hearing Beckett. In: Bailes, Sara Jane and Till, Nicholas (eds.) Beckett and Musicality. Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, England/Burlington, US, pp. 199-213. ISBN 9781472409638

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Abstract

© 2014 Sara Jane Bailes and Nicholas Till. On the cover of Samuel Beckett’s short play, Ohio Impromptu, written in English in 1980, is a black and white photograph, a still from the play’s original production at Ohio State University, Columbus, in 1981.1 The image still captivates me, even as I recall it, as it did from the moment I first set eyes on it in the 1989 Grove Press paperback edition where the play is published along with two of Beckett’s other ‘shorts’, Catastrophe (1982) and What Where (1983), the latter the final playtext Beckett wrote. It is both an arresting image and an image of arrest: it captures the imagination for the way in which its subjects seem detained by something they are nevertheless willing to endure, compliant in their resistance. As with many of Beckett’s figures, particularly in the later works, they appear stone-like, fixed, unmovable, unmoving. My recollection of the image is this: two old men, who appear almost identical, are seated at a large, white table. Each wears a black coat. Both have improbably long white hair. Their posture is almost identical: they appear to be one and the same figure; they mirror one another though they are not the same. These two figures possess 1 Ohio Impromptu was written for Stan Gontarski, who wrote to Beckett in February 1980, asking him to write a play for his symposium and festival due to take place in Ohio as part of celebrations that would mark Beckett’s 75th birthday. Beckett responded a month later saying he would do his best and by May of that year was at work on a text. By midDecember he had finished the short play, and, according to Pierre Astier, in his account of its genesis, a typescript of Ohio Impromptu arrived in the mail. The play premiered on 9 May 1981. See Pierre Astier ‘Beckett’s “Ohio Impromptu”: A View from the Isle of a quality of reclusiveness, cloistered, as if over time and for many years they have drawn back from the everyday world, receding into a state of diminished existence. One sits at the end of the white table, the other at its side to the right of the first. Their heads are bowed, each propped up by the right hand, the same but different. The position of the hand is remarkable in that one’s attention is drawn to it: it appears to prop up the head and shade the brow and eyes, hiding each figure’s face by casting a downwards shadow that conceals the eyes. The image suggests a profound weariness and a desire to retreat from perception - from perceiving as from being perceived, and to withdraw from the light. They do not look; they listen. The left hand of each figure lies at rest on the table. Yet despite its depiction of a weariness one might associate with prolonged attention to a situation, the image also depicts a mood that is imminent and expectant: the figures are engaged in an activity that is unfinished and it is unclear when it began or how it will end. In front of the man seated at the top end of the table an unusually large book lies open on what appears to be its final pages which are lined with faint print. The figure who sits before the book looks as if he is beginning to read, or perhaps he is approaching an end. Perhaps the other listens. They are united in a state of apprehension. The presence of the book distinguishes them: it sets them apart and brings them together. It provides the bridging of a distance between them. In the foreground of the image a large black, wide-brimmed hat sits on the table.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Beckett, Blanchot, Theatre, Musicality
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > MT Musical instruction and study > MT0960 Music in the theatre
P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater > PN2100 History > PN2131 By period > PN2181 Modern > PN2193 Special topics, A-Z > PN2193.E86 Experimental theatre
Depositing User: Sara Bailes
Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2015 11:33
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2021 16:30
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/56463
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