This chapter examines the intermedial performance history of Samuel Beckett’s 1963 Play, with a focus on the emergence of digital technologies and the evolving role of the director. Beginning with attention to the play’s ‘first wave’ of adaptations to radio and film in the 1960s, all of which proceeded with Beckett’s involvement and approval, the chapter demonstrates the flexibility and experimentalism inherent in Play’s algorithmic structure. It argues that a ‘second wave’ of Play’s performance and reception, involving digital and cybernetic technologies, has emerged since the 1990s, ranging from robotically controlled theatre lighting to ‘gamification’ of narrative in virtual and augmented reality. The directorial process for the author’s work with Play over a ten-year period is documented and analysed, including presentations of Play within Ethica (2012–13), Intermedial Play (2017), Virtual Play (2017–19) and Augmented Play (2018–19). Ultimately, this chapter suggests that while activating (and altering) Beckett’s text in newly available media may at first appear to be a radical break, such practice actually fits within a robust experimental tradition, highlighting both the openness of Play’s dramaturgy and its surprising continuity over time.
This chapter is a plea for a digital edition of Samuel Beckett’s complete works. Apart from the published works, the corpus for such an edition includes the manuscripts, typescripts and proofs of all of these works, as well as notebooks with reading notes that were used in the drafting process and unfinished works. In addition to the integration of Beckett’s digitised personal library, the editorial model includes a reconstruction of the virtual library. The aim of such a digital complete works edition is to respect the complexity of Beckett’s oeuvre and present it as both a product and a process, without abandoning readers in the chaos of manuscripts. Digital media provide us with the means to design the tools that enable readers to explore this complexity, characterised by its dialectic of completion and incompletion.
Beckett’s media mysticism in and beyond Rough for Theatre II
With a focus on Fragment de Théâtre II (1958), this chapter explores Beckett’s artistic experimentation with symbolic logic, Boolean algebra, alternating currents, electric switches and incandescent light bulbs, linking it to the history of digital technology to inquire into Beckett’s engagement with the nexus between literary representation and electronic data processing. The chapter discusses the role of bird speech and the divine language in Théâtre II and elsewhere in Beckett’s search for the other of signification and his increasingly radical attempts to bring the game of literature to an end. The chapter argues that the notion of currents travelling (and staying) inside circuits offered Beckett a model radically different from that of intersubjective or intrasubjective dialogue. By reimagining the stage as a switching circuit, Beckett makes a step towards the media-technological realisation of non-representational drama.
Stimuli, signals and wireless telegraphy in Beckett’s novel Watt
In a scathing critique, Beckett diagnosed Marcel Proust’s fabled term of memoire involontaire as a conditioned reflex in the strict Pavlovian sense, pure habit. His response: absolute, and potentially self-destructive freedom. In his novel Watt, he explores this possibility in a long series of experiments involving a man’s leftover food and a dog that is supposed to consume it if and whenever it becomes available. The question is: how to bring the food and the dog together. Answering this question Beckett shows that, under the condition of freedom, there is no such thing as a conditioned reflex. Dog and food can only be brought together via signals, and signals only operate within systems of coercion potentially bordering on torture. Constructing such a signifying system from its most basic level, Beckett replicates, as it were, the history of signals from optical telegraphy to railway and traffic signals up to wireless telegraphy.
Between theatre as cultural form and true media theatre
If we combine sound philology and the archival contextualisation of Beckett’s oeuvre within his contemporary media culture with a radically media-archaeological reading of the one-act drama Krapp’s Last Tape, we discover a different poetics emerging from within the media-technological sphere of magnetophony. My non-historicist reading of Krapp’s Last Tape understands the Beckett drama as an operational function of the epistemic challenge posed by the manipulations of tempor(e)alities by electro-acoustics around the 1950s/1960s. Not only is the configuration of a human protagonist (Krapp) and a high-technological device (the tape recorder) a microsocial configuration in the sense of Actor–Network Theory or an ensemble in Simondon’s sense, but the close coupling of the human and the machine on the stage requires a more rigorous analysis of the cognitive, affective, even traumatic irritations induced in humans by the signal transducing machine. This chapter zooms in on the media message of Krapp’s Last Tape, and its approach is inductive in two ways: on the one hand, electro-magnetic induction is the technological condition (the arché) of possibility of the phonographic drama at stake in Krapp’s Last Tape, and on the other hand, in the sense of idiographic identifications of the real media theatre.
The electronic interlaced raster scan that composes a televisual ‘image’ was relayed to the cathode ray beam via an analogue signal from the broadcast video source. That signal amounted to a set of instructions, telling the beam how to behave as it was pulled in a line, magnetically, across the back of the phosphor-treated CRT screen. These instructions worked, irrespective of the imaginary ‘content’ of the image temporarily formed thanks to phosphor persistence, moiré induction and retinal retention. They worked through an electronic arrangement of post-human speed and the inbuilt conservatism of the psychological apparatus; as McLuhan puts it, ‘The TV image offers some three million dots per second to the receiver. From these he accepts only a few dozen each instant, from which to make an image.’ Beckett’s Quad is still the most extraordinary work of art composed for the televisual medium, and the only major work for the ‘small screen’ written in an act of imaginative sympathy with the raster scan itself. This chapter looks deeper into the implications of Beckett’s intuitions with regard to the analogue electronic arts as arts of time set to the measure of inhuman speeds and rhythms.
In this chapter anti-computing is introduced, being explored from two connected directions. First it is defined as a series of dissenting responses to computerization, and its social or cultural impacts which have arisen since the 1950s are identified. What these share is that that they refuse the powerful and teleologically inspired myth that computational progress automatically constitutes progress in general, or in common. Dissent takes heterogeneous forms, operates in different registers, and rarely fully succeeds, since digitalization continues to expand its reach globally and at expanding scales – but it persists and rearises, older arguments finding new salience in relation to developing events. Responding to this anti-computing is elaborated as a critical theoretical approach drawing on media archaeology, media theory, and media history, constituting a means through which computational dissent, found ‘on the ground’ or ‘in theory’ can be explored. In the final third of the chapter this approach begins to be operationalized; a series of provisional taxonomies of anti-computing being generated and briefly explored.
Anti-computing explores forgotten histories and contemporary forms of dissent – moments when the imposition of computational technologies, logics, techniques, imaginaries, utopias have been questioned, disputed, or refused. It also asks why these moments tend to be forgotten. What is it about computational capitalism that means we live so much in the present? What has this to do with computational logics and practices themselves? This book addresses these issues through a critical engagement with media archaeology and medium theory and by way of a series of original studies; exploring Hannah Arendt and early automation anxiety, witnessing and the database, Two Cultures from the inside out, bot fear, singularity and/as science fiction. Finally, it returns to remap long-standing concerns against new forms of dissent, hostility, and automation anxiety, producing a distant reading of contemporary hostility. At once an acute response to urgent concerns around toxic digital cultures, an accounting with media archaeology as a mode of medium theory, and a series of original and methodologically fluid case studies, this book crosses an interdisciplinary research field including cultural studies, media studies, medium studies, critical theory, literary and science fiction studies, media archaeology, medium theory, cultural history, technology history.
This chapters asks what happens when technophilia falls out with its object. It tells the story of ELIZA, an early chatbot developed by the computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum as a rudimentary artificial therapist. The reception accorded to ELIZA and what it might presage led Weizenbaum to reappraise his thinking on artificial intelligence and human reason and to call for limits to the expansion of computational thinking in human culture and society. This chapter explores these arguments by focusing in particular on the question of the therapeutic – set aside by Weizenbaum and yet central to questions about the limits of computational reason and computational being. Contemporary discussions of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the increasing use of bots in everyday life resonate with these issues, while the contemporary rehabilitation of behaviourism produces once again a demand to consider the tensions between modulation (computational nudges, for instance) and forms of therapy based on an increase in the individual capacity for decision making.