Gestures of helpless compassion: Beckett’s eco-poetics of extinction

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Beginning with the scenography of Waiting for Godot’s Irish premiere, 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 political 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 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 uneasy complicity 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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSamuel Beckett and catastrophe
EditorsMichiko Tsushima, Yoshiki Tajiri, Mariko Hori Tanaka
Pages 193-213
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783031083686
ISBN (Print)9783031083679
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2022


  • colonialism
  • deforestation
  • ecoscenography
  • extraction


Dive into the research topics of 'Gestures of helpless compassion: Beckett’s eco-poetics of extinction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this