28-29 May 2020 Pessac (France)


The titles of Samuel Beckett's two early novels show a taste for salaciousness and provocation that did not disappear in later years, and led to his being expelled from the family home and censored in Ireland. If obscenity became more subdued afterwards, and if sexuality tended to disappear from an increasingly abstract universe, sex, of an often crude kind, is a recurring feature of the Beckettian text. As for sexuality, in its normative version, it is systematically thwarted by the powerlessness and horror of procreation displayed by Beckett’s male characters, whose sexual behaviour “deviates” from the heterosexual paradigm (anality, onanism).


Sex questions the relationship to the other, as a sexual partner and in its gendered dimension. But this relationship is not a straightforward one in Beckett. Before the trilogy, female characters are essentially derealized (either through idealization or belittling, see Mercier, Bryden, Ben-Zvi, McMullan), while male characters are devirilized (Bjørnerud). Moreover, the question of connection and autonomy, central to the fiction and even more to the theatre, is experienced in sexual encounters with particular acuteness. The promise of a union, or even of fusion with the other, stumbles against an impossibility that feeds the melancholy of many characters. Considering that the sexual act is both material and spiritual, it can be traumatic but is also a source of humour and comedy.


Finally, there are many passages in Beckett’s writing that play on the denial of sexual difference. Indeed the boundaries between men and women, homosexuality and heterosexuality are often porous (Roof) and this calls into question any notion of identity built on sexual orientation (Stewart). The original forms taken by the social and interpersonal relationships of the Beckettian characters, from the 1940s to the rotundal fictions of the 60s and 70s with the flow of desire that runs through them (Fraser), are thus echoed in many queer but also trans theories (Crawford). Beckett’s writing seems to resist “the regime of the normal” when queerness shakes social bonds (Bersani) as well as narrative logic and identity (Calvin).


With this in mind, we would like to take stock of the contributions of gender, queer, trans and sexuality studies in the field of Beckettian studies. What do they reveal about Beckettian aesthetics and ethics? Which textual politics are revealed? How are gender and sexuality problematized today on the world stage when Beckett texts are adapted?


These questions can be addressed along the following lines:


-Representations and politics of sexual identities

-Censorship, repression, pornography, obscenity, voyeurism, sadomasochism...

-Sex, gender and laughter / trauma

-Queer and trans imaginative worlds

-Beckett and feminism / masculinism




Bjørnerud, Andreas. “Beckett’s Model of Masculinity: Male Hysteria in Not I”. In: Lois Oppenheim & Marius Buning (eds.). Beckett On and On. Madison & Teaneck: Farleigh Dickinson University Press/ London: Associated Press, 1996, pp. 27-35.

Ben-Zvi, Linda, (ed.). Women in Beckett, Performance and Critical Perspectives. Urbana and Chicago Ill.: University of Chicago Press, (1990) 1992.

Bersani, Leo. Homos, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Boxall, Peter. “Beckett and Homoeroticism”. In: Oppenheim, Lois (ed.). Palgrave Advances in Beckett studies. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave, pp. 110-132, 2004.

Bryden, Mary. Women in Samuel Beckett’s Prose and Drama: Her Own Other. Houndsmill: Macmillan, 1993.

Calvin, Thomas. “Cultural Droppings: Bersani's Beckett”, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 2, Summer, 2001, pp. 169-196.

Crawford, Lucas. “‘I’ll Call Him Mahood Instead, I Prefer That, I’m Queer’: Samuel Beckett’s Spatial Aesthetic of Name Change.” In: Miguel, Yolanda Martínez-San, and Sarah Tobias, (eds.). Trans Studies: The Challenge to Hetero/Homo Normativities. Rutgers University Press, 2016, pp. 47-64.

Fraser, Graham. “The Pornographic Imagination in All Strange Away”. MFS Modern Fiction Studies, 41 (3), 1995, pp. 515-530.

Mercier, Vivian. Beckett/Beckett, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Roof, Judith. “Is There Sex after Gender? Ungendering/The Unnameable”. The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association. Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), p. 50-67.

Stewart, Paul, Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Work, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.


Please send abstracts (300 words), including title and short bio (100 words) to psardin@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr by October 30th. Presentations will be 20 minutes long.


The official languages of the conference are French and English.


Co-organizers are Jean-Michel Gouvard (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. French department), Pierre Katuszewski (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. Theatre department), Stéphanie Ravez and Pascale Sardin (Bordeaux Montaigne Univ. English department).

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