What is it about?

This article tracks Samuel Beckett's treatment of sexual difference and gender by comparing his early fiction with his late fiction. It proposes two philosophical ideas to grapple with this treatment. Iconic Madonnas, Empedocles' cosmology, Mona Lisa's smile, the Dresden Venus, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Memnon and Schopenhauer; these are some of the intertexts explored in my reading of Beckett's Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932) and Ill Seen Ill Said (1981). It is interested in how Beckett harnesses his learning and experiences of the visual arts in his work. Desire becomes an interplay, resistance and clash of art-surfaces in which the world, ground, bodies, and universe are moving and converging frames of sexual and expressive intensity. Beckett’s literary works are, in themselves, the scene of a rhythmic vision: words are traces that sound the page site. I focus in on how the ‘ill seen’ and ‘dream/imagining’ condition and inform the shape of Beckett’s ‘—ill said’ and ‘—Fair to Middling Women.’

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Why is it important?

- This article is a feminist speculation on Beckett's work; presenting a new vocabulary for grappling with aesthetics, desire, sexuality and sex. - It is the first article to entertain in a sustained fashion (the possibility of) the only female masturbation scene within the Beckett canon. It does so by exploring an affective alignment of potential archival sources. - It expands the scope of sexuality by engaging with Beckett's use of the visual arts and its vernaculars, alongside his deep feeling for geologic time and astronomical space.


This was inspired by a conference: 'Beckett and the Afterlife,' organised by Chris Conti at the University of Western Sydney. The peer-review process, as well as the editing done by Chris and then Matthijs Engelberts (editor of Beckett Today/Aujourd'hui) helped the development of this article. While crafting this piece I was conscious of composing a critical style integral to the article's content and the main ideas it performs. Beckett's work provokes ever-relevant questions about time, sexuality, and sense... I hope the article kindles your curiosity about Beckett's art and perhaps, new pressing questions.

Cecily Niumeitolu
University of Sydney

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This page is a summary of: Sexuality after Life, Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui, July 2021, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/18757405-03301009.
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