Gestures of Helpless Compassion: Beckett’s Ecopoetics of Extinction

McTighe, T. (Advisor)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Beginning with examples of scenography drawn from selected Irish productions of Beckett’s theatre, this essay will trace Beckett’s staging of the relationality between human and nature, interconnecting this with the politics of the Irish landscape, and tracing this forward to a consideration of moments of complicity in Beckett’s theatre. Addressing the ways in which the Irish landscape is marked by its colonial past and how this might be traced or referenced within a Beckettian eco-scenography, I will initially position Beckett’s theatre relative to two forms of catastrophe that mark the era known as the Anthropocene: extinction and extraction. While the looming threat of extinction of both humans and other planetary species is coming to dominate the discourses of our times, practices of extraction, the exploitation of resources from colonised regions of the world, is what has helped form the basis of European modernity. Kathryn Yusoff argues that while the notion of the Anthropocene seems to lament the end of the world, colonial settler practices ‘have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence’ (A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, xiii). The violent extinction of humans and their environment predates our current era but its legacies remain; it is only in recent times that Europe has begun to confront its complicity with such violence, even as global capitalism is beginning to confront its complicity in environmental damage. It is to this notion of complicity and its meanings that this essay will finally turn, in order to examine moments of such complicity in Beckett’s work, as in the gesture of helpless compassion made by the Auditor of Not I and the complicit disgust shown by the Assistant in Catastrophe. Ultimately, I argue that Beckett’s work offers grounds for thinking through the ethics and aesthetics of art in the era of precarious planetary life.
Period16 Dec 2019
Held atAoyama Gakuin University, Japan
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Beckett
  • Ecology
  • Invited talk