18: Beckett

Produced in conjunction with the 2006 18: Beckett

80 pages, softcover, full colour, 15cm x 21cm
ISBN 0-7727-8208-3


cover of the catalogue 18: Beckett

18: Beckett is the catalogue for the interdisciplinary exhibition project by the same title, which marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer Samuel Beckett. Featuring work by Martin Arnold, Dorothy Cross, Stan Douglas, Gary Hill, Bruce Nauman, Gregor Schneider, Ann-Sofi Siden, Zin Taylor/Allison Hrabluik, and others. This project was curated by Séamus Kealy, then Director/Curator of the Blackwood Gallery.


The question has been posed regarding Samuel Beckett and contemporary art, about their proper and improper relations, about how they get along, about how they keep company or part ways. Under the coordination of Séamus Kealy and the Blackwood Gallery and in celebration of Samuel Beckett’s centennial year, a number of visual artists working in new media and inspired by the texts and plays of the twentieth century Irish bard are haunting the spaces of the University of Toronto at Mississauga and filling them up with questions.

Searching for some dark illumination concerning the aesthetic posture that directs Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre, I turn to The Unnameable for some questionable and questioning advice that both demands and resists analysis at the limits of self-knowledge:

And all these questions I ask myself. It is not in a spirit of curiosity. I cannot be silent. About myself I need to know nothing. Here all is clear. No, all is not clear. But the discourse must go on. So one invents obscurities. Rhetoric.

What does it mean to invent obscurities? I take this as a Beckettian approach to art and its making. To make contemporary art means for Beckett to invent obscurities. It is as simple and as complicated as that. This mode of invention has nothing to do with the satisfaction of curiosity that is somehow tied to the production of knowledge and to the discourse of enlightenment. In contrast, the discourse (like the show) that must go on is not at all clear. Whatever the technical means deployed (video, performance art, installation), what is produced is bound to be obscure. At odds with the bright lights of the enlightenment, the Beckettian discourse is the subject of an intermeittent or an irregular light. The Unnameable rhetorically asks us to consider what is so strange and so wrong about these lights: “Is it their irregularity, their instability, their shining strong one minute and weak the next?” But there is a further question: Is this Beckettian mode of invention to be viewed as obscurantism, a rendering unto obscurity solely for obscurity’s sake? This is one of the questions that you must engage with when you approach the contemporary work of art under the influence of Samuel Beckett.

You also should not forget that rhetoric (standing alone by itself) substitutes for obscurities in the above citation. From the sophistries of the pre-Socratic philosophers to the tragicomic characters of Samuel Beckett, the rhetorical acts (verbal and/or visual) are to be read as arts of obscurity that conceal/reveal the truth under the cover of performance and theatricality.

Beckett once said that his favorite word was the one with the capacity to cast a reasonable or unreasonable doubt over each and every situation. This word has an uncanny and paradoxical power to push being over the edge of certainty and into the state of limbo where things become undecided. In this way (and in between), the unnameable Beckett text is transported into the undecidable. The word in French is peut-etre. The word in English is maybe. Perhaps.

-"Foreword: Inventing Obscurities" by Louis Kaplan

Table of Contents

Foreword: Inventing Obscurities  p. 8
Louis Kaplan

Plates  p.10

Catalogue of Works  p. 27

Political Beckett?  P. 31
Terry Eagleton

Ten Texts for 18: Beckett  p. 41
Séamus Kealy

Artist & Writer Biographies  p. 74

Project Sites  p. 78

Acknowledgements  p. 79

Artists & Writers

Martin Arnold
Dorothy Cross
Stan Douglas
Terry Eagleton
Gary Hill
Allison Hrabluik
Louis Kaplan
Séamus Kealy
Bruce Nauman
Gregor Schneider
Ann-Sofi Siden
Zin Taylor


Editing: Paloma Campbell and Evonne Levy
Design: Jeff Khonsary
Printing: Benwell Atkins, Vancouver

How To Order

To order any of our publications, please send an email including title(s), number of copies, and your mailing address to: michael.dirisio@utoronto.ca


Humanities Centre at the University of Toronto

Related Projects

thumnail for the exhibition 18:Beckett

18: Beckett
November 9 - December 21, 2006
Curated by Séamus Kealy