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ABSTRACTS

Michael Bogucki (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)
See Spot Shut: Philosophical Investigations in Play

How does Beckett’s use of cliche in Play compare to questions of insistence and interiority raised in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later philosophy?  The spotlight’s increasingly desperate movements confront the audience with a radical picture of one of our most ordinary assumptions: that the grammar of seeing can adequately describe knowing.  Faced with the spectacle of three figures in urns provoked by a single inquisitor, the audience pieces together possible narratives and explanations only to have the da capo dissolve them.  In the light of Richard Begam?s arguments for considering Beckett?s work antifoundationalist and Simon Critchley?s reading of Beckett as viewing meaninglessness as an achievement, this paper examines how Play might be read productively alongside Wittgenstein’s parable of the boiling pot?

        Play confronts its audiences with the manifold ways they obscure their own comprehension by repeatedly derailing the audience’s attempts to find metaphysical implications.  Are these three figures in urns dead?  In purgatory?  Is the spotlight a cipher for the mechanism of the audience’s vision, or a reprise of a peculiarly human finitude?  Recasting Wittgenstein’s example with Beckett’s people, stuck in urns and bubbling with cliches, spins all these questions in a new direction:  Why do we feel that there is something more we need to know?  We can recognize the absurdity of insisting on a particular interpretation: the spotlight parodies our attempts to read meaning into the affectless words.  But we also recognize that the play’s cliches call for interpretation: we want to respond somehow to even the most deadpan banalities, even if the only responses we can muster are themselves hackneyed and trite.



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