Rebecca Nichloson is the daughter of a Nigerian father and African-American mother. Proud of her diverse West African roots, she is a prolific playwright, poet, fiction writer, singer/songwriter, and performer. Rebecca is the author of numerous plays, including Mara, Queen of the World (an acapella musical), The Wild, Bold Enlightenment of Velvet the Mistress, Cooking With Keisha (or Anatomy of Pie), and Jill, Jack & the Martian Lady; a play she created for a children’s educational workshop at the Minnesota Opera. Her fiction and performance pieces include Children of the First Hummingbird, Intelligence, and Zar-Baby, among others. She holds a M.F.A. in Playwriting (Multiplatform Writing) from Columbia University, an M.A. in English Literature, and a B.A. in Liberal Arts/Business Administration. She also studied publishing at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Author: Rebecca Nichloson
Rebecca Nicholson is a creative writer/editor, screenwriter/playwright, actress, singer-songwriter, and communications professional. She has written numerous articles about literature and the humanities, has completed two television pilots, Human Behavior and Atmore Girl, and she is the author of over a dozen full act, one act, and ten minute dramatic works, such as Hello I’m Eve (winner of the 2013 Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award), Remnants, Cooking with Keisha, Rose Out the Pavement, Collision with Cake, The Applicant, Big Black Pot, Chocolate Barbie, The Dramatist, Big Man/Little Man, Jemima, Charlie Horse, and Bird Man. Her works have been developed and work shopped at the following venues: The Playwright’s Center of Minneapolis (where she was a Many Voices Fellow for two residences), Harlem Classical Theatre (playwrights playground), The Fire This Time Festival, Signature Theatre Company (as part of Columbia University “New Plays Now”), Shakespeare’s Sister Theatre Company, Penumbra Theatre Company (Gym Workshop), Pillsbury House Theatre, Bedlam Theatre and Gremlin Theatre.
Rebecca holds a M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University School of the Arts and a M.A. in English Literature from Mercy College School of Liberal Arts. She is also the recipient of the Liberace Award, the Howard Stein Fellowship, The Matthew’s Fellowship, and an America-in-Play Fellowship.
To learn more visit www.rebeccanichloson.com
The 9th Annual Ethics & Publishing Conference at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. centered on sexism and gender inequality in publishing, and the importance of understanding the impact of gender bias in both conscious and unconscious forms. A pronounced example of unconscious sexism/gender bias emerged in the process of putting the conference, itself, together— which had been comprised of an all-White panel of male speakers.
In the opening introduction, a faculty member at GWU (and international publishing consultant) said that in putting the panel together, he and his team completely overlooked the fact that women were absent from their chosen list of speakers. He decided to leverage this blunder as an opportunity to highlight the inherent sexism in the industry. The speakers at the 2016 conference, now all women (none were women of color), discussed the publishing world’s predominantly White and female make up, but emphasized that when it comes to leadership roles, men generally hold positions of authority.
According to the Publisher’s Weekly Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2016, “72% of men reported that they earned $70,000 or more compared to only 41% of women,” largely due to management positions; generally the highest paying roles in publishing, being held primarily by men.
The female presence in publishing is concentrated in lower paying roles—84 percent of women in publishing work in editorial and 73 percent in sales and marketing. According to the same survey, 88 percent of women in the publishing industry are White, with only 2 percent of workers identifying as African American, 4 percent as Asian American or mixed race, and 4 percent as Hispanic. Past surveys have shown, such as the 2014 salary survey published in PW highlighting a $15,000 wage gap between the sexes, that men still dominate leadership in this field.
It’s important to note that sexism also exerts an influence on writers. For instance, Tramp Press, an Irish publisher, asked a group of writers to reveal which authors and literary influences were present in their work— only 22 percent listed female writers. Women of color and LGBTQ professionals have even more challenges in navigating the publishing industry. In “The Most Intersectional VIDA Count Yet Paints a Troubling Picture: Looking Beyond Gender Inequity in Literary Media Makes for a Disturbing View,” published in The Huffington Post, author Claire Fallon wrote, “Women from marginalized groups continue to be wildly underrepresented in most major literary publications.” Fallon’s article was written in response to a 2015 VIDA count that revealed rampant sexism and racism in the publishing world.
However, progress is still being made, as highlights from the count indicate:
Of the 26 publications in our 2015 Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count, 15 of them published as many bylines by women writers as men, or more! We are celebrating A Public Space (72%), The Normal School (69%), Crab Orchard Review (64%), Jubilat (59%), Ninth Letter (59%), Cincinnati Review (58%), N+1 (57%), Conjunctions (56%), Gettysburg Review (55%), Kenyon Review (55%), Prairie Schooner (54%), Colorado Review (53%), Missouri Review (52%), Pleiades (50%), and Harvard Review (50%).
In 2015, nine publications are closing in on gender parity, with bylines by women writers representing 40 to 49 percent of the pie: Copper Nickel (49%), Callaloo (48%), Fence (48%), The Believer (47%), New American Writing (46%), McSweeney’s (45%), Virginia Quarterly Review (45%), AGNI (43%), and Southwest Review (40%).
In Should You Invest in the Long Tail? Anita Elberse’s approach to The Long Tail Theory asserts that, though revenue-generating niche markets have grown, consumer purchase of niche entertainment products hasn’t replaced blockbusters or bestsellers. Elberse criticizes Anderson’s theory by offering information gleaned from extensive examination and analysis of U.S music and film sales data, which demonstrates that the theory may not be a fail proof strategy for marketing, branding, or distribution practices. Content abundance gives consumers more choices and, perhaps, inspires interest in non-mainstream products; this doesn’t necessarily lead to an increase in sales. At best, niche entertainment products can lead to additional sales when sold with blockbusters, but these sales shouldn’t be expected to replace blockbusters.
Elberse also states that, “from 2000 to 2005 the number of titles in the top 10% of weekly sales dropped by more than 50%—an increase in concentration that is common in winner-take-all markets. The importance of individual best sellers is not diminishing over time. It is growing.”
Anderson’s “Ben analogy,” where he emphasizes key differences between today’s generation and past ones, is also beneficial to any discussion about what competitive advantage might mean in the 21st century. To be competitive in the digital age is to build marketing, brand, and product delivery strategies that take into account the tremendous increase in autonomy that consumers have and value; particularly teens and millennials. Although Elberse’s article identifies logistical problems in Anderson’s concept and its application, the core idea of the theory is still valuable and relevant for adapting business strategies to changing markets and consumer needs.
Niche products may never replace blockbusters and big hits, but the Long Tail theory still provides a useful framework for thinking about competitive advantage and the intersection between big hits and niche products. The central question for any organization that wants to remain competitive should be: How can niche products help generate additional sales for blockbusters? How can blockbusters generate more sales for niche products? The answer to maintaining competitive advantage is eclecticism, an understanding that no one strategy is sufficient for meeting the needs of a market that has become increasingly fragmented.
Niche audiences have, largely, been an invisible market for most businesses, including the publishing industry. If publishing companies implement business practices that increase the number of choices consumers have—eBooks, print products, and Internet content that includes bestsellers and niche products—they will thrive and remain competitive, even as the publishing industry changes. Competitive advantage will shape the publishing landscape of the future by demonstrating how necessary it is for publishing to adapt to consumer demand for choice, and the need to develop strategies that most effectively meet this need.
Moreover, staying competitive means that publishing companies should develop and implement multimedia objectives that are measurable or verifiable; achievable and feasible; flexible and adaptable; and congruent, as a means of evaluating the effectiveness of branding, marketing, and customer service quality. In adapting business practices to the principles of the digital age, these companies will need to create a substantial balance between operational and abstract thinking, as well as lofty and practical goals, while assessing strategy through evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
What’s unique about Zoo Story is not simply that Albee employs symbolism and naturalism, but the manner in which he utilizes these elements to fully realize his theme: Isolation. The title of the play, Zoo Story, suggests that human beings aren’t just isolated from each other, but also from our selves— our own animal instincts. Albee conveys the notion that the world, itself, is a kind of zoo, a confining force that can lead human beings to take violent action; similar to the one at the end of Albee’s play, where one character murders the other after what seemed to be an amicable interaction. Isolation, as presented by Albee, is a human configuration: we as human beings build our isolation, emerging from man made elements like greed, prejudice, racism, sexism, and the like. These aspects, collectively, comprise our captivity; they are the bars of our cages. Isolation, therefore, is indelibly human.
The location in which Albee sets his drama—a park— is also an expression of his mastery of symbolism. To the untrained eye his utilization of a seemingly natural environment might suggest an effort to convey wildness or a lack of cultivation. However, he achieves the opposite. The contrast between nature and the very suppressed condition in which the play’s central characters function, provide the perfect juxtaposition-al framework for Albee’s drama.
The physical appearance of the characters and the occupations they hold, lacking distinction, make them ideal symbols of the masses and further emphasize Albee’s zoo theme. At best, Peter, the story’s central character, can best be described as “spiritually sedated.” A state, perhaps, brought on by his seemingly enviable attainment of the American Dream. For, after having achieved that mythological objective— the inherent goal of all our citizens— what is there left to pursue?
But are we free as human beings, even when we think we are? Is the price of living in a civilized world inhibition, limitation, the suppression of our most primal instincts?
Given the volatile climate of the world, one where violence is a regular occurrence, the conclusion that our animal instincts are freer than they’ve ever been— our propensity for murder and other harmful actions—comes easily. However, could the opposite be true, that our spiritual confinement, or lack of true freedom, leads us to create the chaos in which we reside?
Though the term “Afropolitan” is fairly controversial, arguments for and against it share similar qualities, espousing a mutual objective: an embrace of the cultural nuances and complexities of African culture and the individuals who define themselves as African.
In Bye-Bye Babar, Selasi emphasizes the ever-evolving landscape of African culture and the African experience while condemning generalizations. Afropolitans are presented as a distinct group of individuals, a social class, differentiated from the rest of Africa by their eclectic cultural upbringing and relationship to the continent, education and wealth.
The narrative that surrounds Selasi’s notion of the Afropolitan is similar to that of many young professionals whose parents or grandparents emigrated from other countries and established themselves in America and Europe.
In reference to the term, she states:
“You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world” (Selasi, “Bye-Bye Babar”).
This is indicative of a reimagining of, perhaps, the characteristics, behaviors, economic and social statuses society deems to be African. However, the term is often viewed as problematic
On one hand, Africa is one of the most stereotyped, overgeneralized continents on earth. It is habitually portrayed with narratives of extreme poverty, hunger, war, lack of education and disease. There is also an intrinsic belief that it is in need or of being saved and this, rescuing of sort, can only be achieved through action taken by the west. These narratives are portrayed in all forms of media and overshadow the cultural, political and societal nuances of Africa and its many countries.
In A Deep Humaness, a Deep Grace: Interview with Chris Abani by Yogita Goyal, the author introduces his readers to Abani’s stance on creative writing and the notion of the “African” writer. Abani is a noted Nigerian novelist, author of several books, most of which have achieved critical acclaim, as well as poetry, plays, screenplays and critical essays. In reference to his own work, he states that it is “post- national and global not in its reach, but in its attempts to locate a very specific African sensibility . . .” Abani refers to African writers as “curators of the continent’s humanity”.
This is a particularly poignant statement. It, inevitably, gives way to examination of whether or not African authors or authors who identify as such, should be deemed “curators” at all, or if a handful of writers, with varying relationships to the continent, should be given the task of curating its humanity, deciding what subjects, cultural and social aspects are relevant, worthy topics of literary exploration.
The central question becomes: should authors like Selasi be deemed as representative of the collective voice of Africa? Given the vast, landscape of African culture, can a collective “African” voice exist? Abani goes on to state: “women dominate the new global placement of African literature” whereas “men dominated the first generation.” Thus, authors like Selasi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and others are a part of this new generation of writers, shaping and expanding narratives related to Africa and the African experience but, also, a multicultural experience influenced by other parts of the world yet still, inherently, African.
In Selasi’s writing, positive and negative dimensions of the terms Afropolitan and Afropolitanism can be fully realized. In Sex Life of African Girls, there exists a wonderful distillation of language and a rhythmic quality that is international but never deviates from African roots.
The inherent poetry of the language in Ghana Must Go and her approach, choosing not to treat the reader as though he or she is a stranger in a foreign environment, but rather an entity welcomed into a world full of familiar sentiments, characters, circumstances; all the workings of that which is universal, distinguishes Selasi from other novelists.
Reporting by Rebecca Nichloson. Written for BlackEnterprise.com.
Actor, Blair Underwood, has long been a staple in black cinema, television and the arts. In addition to maintaining a successful career that spans 30 years, the two-time Golden Globe nominee, who made his film acting debut in Michael Schultz’s Krush Grove (1985), is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and has won the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award an astounding seven times.
Moreover, he’s the supporter of an array of nonprofit initiatives and co-founded Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), which has raised and granted upwards of $9 million dollars for African nonprofits. He’s also worked with organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
On Saturday, August 8, Blair Underwood will give thecommencement addressat AmericanInterContinental University (AIU) in Chicago, offering words of wisdom to the 2015 graduating class. He was invited to speak at the commencement because of his numerous achievements. Underwood will share his insights on the correlation between career success and education, in addition to encouraging these future leaders as they embark on a new chapter in their lives.
“This past year has marked such exciting changes in my own career, and there is no better feeling than knowing all of your dedication and hard work is paying off,” Underwood said. “As AIU students take to the stage for their commencement ceremony, I hope to inspire them to seize the moment and recognize their accomplishment of this important milestone, while looking forward to even greater success in the future.”
“Graduation at AIU is a celebration of each student’s personal accomplishments, recognizing their completion of academic programs that will prepare them for future success at a pivotal point in their lives,” said President of AIU, Dr. George Miller. “Blair Underwood’s own accomplishments and journey to success will undoubtedly inspire students to pursue their dreams as they move forward to their next chapter.”
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Blair Underwood to discuss his motivation for being the AIU commencement speaker, what message he hopes to impart to his audience of 2015 grads, and what inspires him to give back to the community.
BlackEnterprise.com: What inspired you to be the AIU commencement speaker this year?
Underwood: Well, they invited me first of all. It was an honor to be accepted. Actually, these last couple of years I’ve been seriously considering getting an online degree. So I’ve been personally researching different schools, different avenues to do that. I was impressed with AIU—what they do, what they stand for, what they represent—and then they invited me to give the commencement address.
What do you hope to communicate to the class of 2015?
I hope to encourage them. I hope to inspire them … Everybody’s path is different and unique, in terms of what they will conspire to do and what path they will take. But, after all that, it’s [about] belief in self, finding your strength and understanding your weaknesses. It’s about networking, it’s about reaching out. It’s about faith. It’s about potential. What I’ve found in my life, the most difficult part sometimes, is just believing yourself.
Having studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University, how did education influence your artistic and career development?
In one sense, people in my particular field don’t necessarily want to know, or need to know, that you have a college degree. But, with that being said, for me it was important to get the training—to get a specific conservatory training—because it gives you a foundation. And more than that, it sets you apart. Another basic tenet of life is: People’s perspectives have a lot to do with your ability to succeed sometimes. … You’re qualified and you’re talented—that can be one truth. But somebody’s perspective of your abilities is another. So when you have that college degree—in my case Carnegie Mellon, a very respected university—it opens doors.
What motivated you to co-found Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA)? Why should more people give back?
‘To whom much is given, much is required.” I’ve been given a great deal. I worked my butt off, but I’ve been given a great deal. So, therefore, I believe in giving back when you can and being of service … The definition of true success is finding your passion, your particular passion … The flip side of that is giving to others; being of service to others. I wholeheartedly believe that.
In Groves of Blarney: Beckett’s Academic Reception in Ireland, author Ronan McDonald writes:
“… the tendency to avoid Beckett in Irish studies is as strong as the urge to incorporate him. He has often been seen as insufficiently Irish (linked to the claim that he is insufficiently political) or as leaving all Irish interests behind on his elevation to a transcendent imaginative space” (McDonald 38).
Any reading of Beckett solidifies the validity of this assessment. Beckett, one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century was, among other things, a bit of a Universalist. He seldom confined his dramatic writing to simple commentary on societal issues or politics. Nor did he use the stage to pay homage to Ireland, his homeland. Ireland holds a prominent position in the works of other Irish authors of the era, such as Lady Augusta Gregory, John Millington Synge and W.B Yeats. However, in his writing, Beckett creates environments in which his characters lack identities dictated by any one culture or worldview. The futility of cognition and subsequent failure of language as a communicative tool is prevalent throughout many of his plays.
For example, in Waiting for Godot; arguably his most successful drama, he creates an emotionally rich atmosphere endowed with philosophical attributes that enables his audience to delve into the vastness of human ignorance, and the ineffectiveness of our attempts to construct meaning. This approach to creating theatre, which is what makes Beckett so prolific, poses a challenge for scholars seeking to determine the extent to which he contributed to Irish dramatic literature. Does writing about subjects that transcend national and cultural confines make Beckett less Irish? Is examining his work within a national, societal and cultural context significant?
Here, I will explore the standards with which Irishness and non-Irishness are measured as they relate to Beckett’s categorization in the Irish literary canon. I will elaborate upon the conflict between Beckett’s individuality and aspects of Irish nationalism, in an effort to demonstrate that the Irish experience isn’t collective and that Irish playwrights should be free to expound upon, supposedly, non Irish subjects without relinquishing the inclusion of their work in the realm of Irish dramatic literature. Furthermore, I will examine inherent notions of Irishness underlying the Irish Literary Revival and manifesto of 1897, which influenced Beckett’s relationship with Ireland and his writing.
In many Irish anthologies and literary journals, Beckett’s Irishness is reaffirmed, in others it is diminished. In Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture, editor Richard Kearney says that Beckett’s interest in “ . . . the universal concerns of Western humanistic culture outweigh his concern for Irish history and tradition” (McDonald 38). Historians, such as Declan Kiberd, argue against this, saying that the lack of Irish material in Beckett’s work is what makes him most Irish, because Irish references have generally been polluted by “colonial mis-apprehensions” (38). Kiberd feels that Beckett’s Irishness is rooted in his victory over the confines of Irishness itself and says of the characters in his plays; “ . . . [t] heir surroundings seem decontexualized because they represent a geography which has been deprived of history” (10, 42). Journals like Irish University Review (1986) and Hermathena, as well as Elion O’ Brien’s The Beckett Country (1986) and John P. Harrington’s The Irish Beckett (1991) have all attempted to emphasize Beckett’s Irishness (McDonald 36). In Vivien Mercier’s The Irish Comic Tradition, Beckett is linked with Gaelic poets and prominent Anglo-Irish authors. Other critics such as Seamus Deane and David Lloyd have also found ways to incorporate his plays into the Irish literary canon.
The reasoning behind their quest thrives off the notion that academic analysis of Beckett’s plays fail to identify the Irish elements within them; such as the sense of powerlessness his characters possess, their inability to communicate with language and his use of minimalism (Morin 6). Some historians believe that these aspects are linked to Ireland and its history, though Beckett has never confirmed nor rejected this. Arguments seeking to reaffirm Beckett’s Irishness must acknowledge the grounds for his marginalization, such as considerable differences between his work and that of other Irish authors, his bilingualism and his close association with the European avant-garde. Deane notes that in the work of other writers such as James Joyce, there is evidence of a historical context, but in Beckett’s, a transcendence of both context and history,” suggesting that even the most impassioned attempt to integrate him into the realm of Irish drama, may be forced (McDonald 33-51).
In James Mays essay: Irish Beckett: A Borderline Instance, the author probes elusive demonstrations of Ireland in Beckett’s early writings, such as Malone Dies. He also expresses a belief that scholarly indifference to Irish aspects of Beckett’s work may be due to resentment over his independence over the confines of Irishness (Morin 33). Mays assessment is significant because it is one of the first publications to address the discrepancy between Beckett and traditional Irish drama without categorizing him as either Irish or simply European. In Samuel Beckett and the Problem of Irishness, author Emilie Morin handles him in a similar fashion, writing, “ . . . he is neither fully Irish nor French, but an Irish author in translation whose work has changing boundaries, depending on the context in which it is examined”(2). Morin believes that Beckett should not be classified as an Irish writer because the term is obsolete. Conversely, the author doesn’t believe that labeling Beckett as a European writer is entirely appropriate, stating “ . . . this alternative configuration of Beckett rests upon theoretical and historical notions that require clarification” (2). Still, there’s something unsettling about saying Beckett was neither one or the other. Nor does it seem fair to say that Ireland was entirely absent from his plays. In order to understand his relationship to Ireland and its possible subtle representation in his work, it is necessary to consider Beckett’s background. Beckett was born in Foxrock, Dublin in April of 1906 and was raised in a very wealthy Protestant family.
His artistic development was affected by changes taking place in Ireland, images of political violence, such as the Easter Rising. Attending educational institutions, which were opposed to Irish independence such as Earlsfort House, the Portora Royal School and Trinity Dublin College, aided the development of his talent and exposed him to varying points of view (Wilson, Goldfarb 447-450).
In 1928, Beckett spent two terms teaching at Campbell College in Belfast, after which he worked at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris (Morin 12-13). When he returned to Dublin, he had become quite disillusioned with what he perceived to be the narrow-mindedness of Ireland’s intellectuals, writing “ . . . [the] intellectual life of the country [may] have come to a standstill due to the harsh censorship laws . . .” (12). This position was also expressed in a 1934 article, titled Censorship in the Saorstat, in which Beckett conveyed his concerns about the impact of government policy on Irish dramatic literature (12-20). This may have been one of his first realizations that Ireland would not be his artistic home. After World War II he made France his permanent place of residence and became increasingly critical of works with nationalistic agendas, like those of Austin Clarke and Thomas MacGreevy, whose inclusions of Irish mythology and Irish culture he found to be too overt. In a letter to MacGreevy in 1938 he wrote, “God love thee Tom, and don’t be minding me. I can’t think of Ireland the way you do . . .” (McDonald 35). Beckett was also opposed to the Irish Literary Revival. Evidence of his disdain can readily be seen in his minimalistic novel, Murphy, in which the central character dictates in his will “ . . .that his ashes are to be flushed down the lavatory of the Abbey Theatre, preferably during a performance . . ..” (33). Beckett was quoted as saying he favored France at war over Ireland at peace (33), words that further indicate his displeasure with his homeland. Still, his background predicts a different kind of playwright. One who, perhaps, isn’t compelled to take up social causes but is still politically motivated.
Waiting for Godot, the play Beckett is most frequently associated with, not only demonstrates his unprecedented ability as a dramatist, but also his ideas about what the function of the theatre should be. The so called, tragic comedy in two acts, is about two tramps who meet every day on an empty field to wait for someone called Godot, who never comes. In the process of waiting, the primary characters, Vladimir and Estragon experience immense boredom, which they attempt to alleviate by philosophizing, performing vaudeville routines and discussing seemingly unrelated ideas. The play begins with Estragon sitting on a low mound trying to remove his boot, starting and giving up, he says “Nothing to be done” (Beckett 2). Vladimir soon enters venting: “I’m beginning to come round to that opinion . . . All my life I’ve tried to put it from me . . . ”(2). Later in the scene as Estragon continues to struggle with his boot, Vladimir notes: “There’s man all over you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet . . .” (4). These lines are indicative of the symbolism and philosophical aspects prevalent in the play. Also, the scarcity of the setting says much about Beckett’s intent on creating something universal.
In the script he designates the setting as simply “A country road. A tree” (1); implying that the story takes place everywhere and nowhere.
Author Enoch Brater, in The Globalization of Beckett’s Godot, describes the characters in the play as shifting from their locale to one that is global. He suggests that their actions and use of language serve as proof that they possess at least some awareness of the ideas they symbolize. Brater believes that the play exhibits a perspective with a broad cultural, social and political range. Conveying that, in addition to being infused with universal themes, Godot possesses subtle aspects of both multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. The character Vladimir is Slavic, Estragon is considered to be of French and Spanish descent, Pozzo is Italian and Lucky is an Englishman. The mere fact that in the viewing of the play these characteristics are seemingly nonexistent, demonstrates that Beckett believed human nature should take precedence over culture. He made these distinctions between characters in accordance with that notion. Brater attributes the play’s international success to its applicability within in a variety of different cultures, especially in the European community. In 1953 Elmar Tophoven, a graduate student in Paris, became an advocate of Beckett’s after seeing a production of Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone. Shortly after, the play was performed in Zurich. It was then translated into different languages, mostly English and French, but there was a performance at the Teatro di Via Vittoria in Rome that was performed in Italian. The first English translation was directed by Peter Hall and was performed in London at the Arts Theatre Club. Alan Schneider was one of the plays leading directors once it came to the United States. He saw the production in French and was incredibly moved by it even though he couldn’t understand the language. Schneider took the play to Miami in 1956 where it was unsuccessful. However, his direction of Beckett’s other works brought him notoriety in America. Waiting for Godot has also had success in Asia and South Africa. The play was first brought to Japan by critic and translator Yasunari Takahashi. Its staging was greatly influenced by aspects of Japanese traditional Noh theatre. In 1962 the play was performed in South Africa with black African performers and was directed by Athol Fugard, a South African playwright and admirer of Beckett’s work. Godot has also been well received in Israel where its implications to the holocaust and Judaism have not gone unnoticed. In 1984 it was performed at the Haifa Municipal Theatre and was directed by Ilan Ronen. The Israeli actors in the play delivered their lines in Hebrew and Palestinian Arabic (Brater 145-158).
However, in Someoneis looking at me still: The Audience- Creature Relationship in the Theatre Plays ofSamuel Beckett, author Matthew Davies conveys that Beckett’s work is challenging for audiences because it possesses qualities that disregards them. Davies describes actor Peter Bull’s recollection of a production in which several hostile audience members exited before the play even ended. While Godot was seldom without accolades in theatrical review, there were some audiences who sat dumbfounded during performances, unable to make sense of what was taking place on stage. Perhaps they were expecting the moral lessons that Beckett was always so hesitant to give. Davies goes on to elaborate upon alterations in the relationship between Beckett and his audience, which he says took place in three sequential movements related to Beckett’s utilization of staging techniques.
Intrinsic in Godot, is Beckett’s exploration of relationships between the audience and the characters onstage. He infuses the play with a kind of unprecedented theatricality which makes it’s staging almost interactive. Beckett’s theatrical knowledge is significant because most of his staging directions suggest a desire to distance the audience from the stage in an effort to maintain a sense of theatrical illusion, an illusion I believe to be very symbolic and in accordance with the themes in his work (Davies 76-93). But how does this inform our understanding of Beckett’s Irishness? Does the international success of the play; it’s themes and his ambivalence towards his audience serve as a reliable measurement of his Irishness?
As stated before, Beckett was opposed to the Irish Literary Revival. It should be noted that during this time there was an obvious absence of Protestant Anglo- Irish representations on stage. Davies believes that inequalities between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, may have led to Beckett’s disposition. Though a minority, Protestants in Dublin weren’t without power or political weight. They were a dominant force in the country’s economy. Catholics and Protestants were often separated by class and socio- economic status and often lived in separate neighborhoods. Davies describes the Anglo Irish as a people whose sense of identity derives from displacement and an inability to define themselves as neither Irish or British. He elaborates on some of the many ways scholars have gone about defining them, such as Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley, who focus on socio-political and religious aspects as grounds for definition. He then gives some compelling information on Vivian Mercier’s categorization, which is primarily concerned with Anglo- Irish distance from the mainstream population, distance which may have originated when they first came to Ireland. Davies goes on to say that it has been a long held myth that Protestants are relatively silent in relation to Catholics and have been described as lacking performative qualities.
However, Protestants themselves have admitted to valuing their silence especially during the Irish Independence and The Civil War (Davies 76-93). In Waiting for Godot Beckett utilizes silences repeatedly. In fact, there are very few plays that command so many of them in and outside of spoken dialogue. It’s possible that Beckett may be commenting on Protestant Anglo- Irish aspects. If this is the case then it is indicative of the way Ireland may be represented in his other works. Scholars may overlook Beckett’s inclusion of Ireland if they are searching for anything overt or obvious, but rather Ireland can be found in the subtleties, the silences, the subtext (Brater 145-158).
As previously emphasized, Beckett’s marginalization in Irish studies derives from perceived differences between Irishness and non Irishness, distinctions which inevitably lead to the Irish Literary Theatre’s manifesto of 1897; which first advocated a national theatre in Ireland. The manifesto was written by Lady Augusta Gregory, William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn. The text is reproduced by Editor John P. Harrington in the introduction of Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama. Below is an excerpt:
“We propose to have performed in Dublin, in the spring of every year, certain Celtic and Irish plays, which whatever be their degree of excellence, will be written with a high ambition, and so to build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic and Irish literature. We hope to find in Ireland an uncorrupted and imaginative audience trained to listen by its passion for oratory, and believe that our desire to bring upon the stage the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland will ensure for us a tolerant welcome, and that freedom to experiment that is not found in England and without which no new movement in art or literature can succeed. We will show that Ireland is not home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the home of ancient idealism” (ix).
When the manifesto was written, Ireland, which had originally been a colony governed by England, was now an independent republic with an increasing population and a globalized economy. Yet it’s theatre was still heavily influenced by other parts of Europe. This resulted in the perpetuation of what is known as: the Irish quality, characterizations exemplifying drunken behavior, foolishness and sentimentality. These depictions were believed to help foreign audiences identify Irish characters but only resulted in caricature- like portrayals (xi). The manifesto was intended to end these representations and present plays that would reflect aspects of Irish culture, politics and values in more truthful ways. However, it did not indicate what themes national drama should expound upon or what function drama would have in Irish society. The historical context in which it was written implies a national drama that would confront Irish stereotypes. But who’s to say that in the dismantling of stereotypes, new one’s wouldn’t just take their place? How can a newly independent country that has been profoundly influenced by England and has, in many ways, viewed itself from a largely English perspective, create theatre that isn’t somehow impacted by it?
The notion of developing a school of dramatic literature that is uniquely Irish must rely upon thorough and definitive conclusions about Irishness and Ireland. Drama attempting to confront inaccurate Irish portrayals prolonged under British colonialism would need to present plays in which Irish characters behave in unexpected ways, but not so much as to not be recognized as Irish. This is where the problem lies. How does a playwright go about creating a character that does not behave in stereotypical ways but can still be recognized as Irish, not only by Irish audiences but international ones as well?
If the idea is for Irish characters to behave in unexpected ways, then perhaps there is good reason to give Beckett a central position in Irish studies. For his characters, though they are not Irish, behave in ways that are not confined to notions of Irishness. If the idea is to create drama which lends itself to Irish culture explicitly, it may be necessary to utilize at least some generalities to aid audiences in recognizing Irish characters, which would only perpetuate the stereotypes that a national drama is intended to disassemble. Stereotypes, though they have mostly negative connotations, can also be positive. A reading of Synge suggests that all Irish people speak poetically; Yeats implies that Irish writers are incredibly symbolic in their approach to drama and O’ Casey, that to be Irish is to be political. These implications may be in favor of a country or against it depending upon who accepts or rejects them as truth. The primary concern here is that there is a thin line between reality and belief; not only in regard to what other nations believe about a country, but what that country believes about itself (Harrington 525-530).
The manifesto describes Ireland as the home of ancient idealism, which is informative because it gives some insight into dramatic themes that could be used in the development of an Irish national drama. The word: “ancient” suggests Irish folklore and mythology as possible starting points. If this is the case, then Irish playwrights have something to build upon. But this scenario requires further interrogation. If in fact Irish dramatic literature should expound upon folklore and mythology, then how does a nation go about attracting its playwrights to these topics? How important is ethnicity in relation to their use? Is it necessary for the playwrights expounding upon them to be Irish? Can writers of other nationalities handle them with equal success?
In France, Beckett was largely considered to be a Frenchman because he spoke and wrote in the language. Should this logic be applied to his status in Irish studies as well? If so, then the mere fact that he was born, raised and educated in Dublin isn’t enough for him to be claimed by Ireland, meaning that a definition of: “Irish” is dependent upon the role of Irish culture in the personal and professional life of a given author. This means that a foreigner, say an African playwright such as Wole Soyinka, can go to Ireland, speak and write in the language, expound upon Irish folklore and mythology and be claimed by Ireland in the same way Beckett was claimed by France; albeit the interplay between Irishness and “African-ness” would undoubtedly become an obstacle. Nevertheless, these questions represent the subtext that exists beneath the search for manifestations of Ireland in Beckett’s work. This subtext is important because it yields information about bias in the way his nationality is measured.
In What Should the Subjects of National Drama Be? Author John Eglinton argues that Irish writers have no advantage over non-Irish writers when it comes to use of ancient Irish legends. He notes that because the legends are so environment specific it may be difficult for them to be modernized. He suggests that they be studied and allowed to influence rather than dictate. He goes on to say, “Ireland must exchange the patriotism which looks back for the patriotism which looks forward” (Eglinton 411). For Eglinton, a national drama is dependent upon a theatre which derives from universal concerns, concerns which are not all that different from those prevalent in Beckett’s work. He writes “ . . . literature must spring from a native interest in life and its problems . . .” (412).
However, author Frank J. Fay takes a more restrictive stance. In his essay, An Irish National Drama, Fay advocates a national theatre that will “… see life through Irish eyes . . . (Fay 415).” He had gone weary of seeing plays that told Irish stories but incorporated dialects that he felt were inaccurate. Fay views use of the Irish language in drama as an attack on “ . . . the spread of Saxonism . . .” (415) and felt that it was the most effective medium for Irish expression, writing,
“English as spoken by educated Irishmen differs from that spoken by Englishmen chiefly by reason of the difference in quality of voice between the two countries; in difference in inflexion or intonation and accentuation; in use of expressions which show the subtle Gaelic mind vainly struggling for expression through an unsympathetic medium” (415).
For Fay, language is key to not only insuring the true independence of Ireland but also freeing its inner spirit, which he felt could only fully be expressed in its native tongue (415-417). But is the Gaelic mind that he refers to confined to the Irish dialect? Can it also be expressed through use of other languages? In other words, is the Gaelic mind less Gaelic when it is expressed through alternative linguistic mediums such as English, or in Beckett’s case, French? What is the Gaelic mind? Is it a point of view? Is it a collective state of being? How does the Gaelic mind develop? Beckett didn’t leave Ireland until he was an adult, which means that all of his childhood memories, his relationships and his most meaningful experiences were in Ireland. In the reading of his work are we witnessing the expression of the Gaelic mind in an alternative medium? Or does Beckett’s disposition on the country and his subsequent assimilation into another culture cause this unique way of thinking to expire?
Fay’s use of this term compels an exploration of individual versus collective experience, which has long been the subject of sociological argument. The primary concern has been over which should take precedent in a nation. In the early twentieth century, newly independent Ireland was less concerned with the individual and more concerned with the country as a whole. The national drama that the 1897 manifesto advocates is firmly rooted in nationalism, which can be both political and cultural. “Political nationalism takes place when a native population or spokesperson for a native population organizes resistance to outside government” (Harrington xii). Since, at the time, Ireland was a newly independent republic it’s focus was on drama that would perpetuate national causes, most of which was the development of Ireland’s self image.
The Abbey Theatre was at the heart of the Irish Literary Revival and would serve as the spokesperson for the native population i.e. the citizens of Ireland (xii). The resistance would be geared towards the impact of British colonialism. The manifesto itself suggests that this was an underlying objective and there were in fact many plays produced at the Abbey that in one way or another attempted to achieve this, sometimes to the disdain of the audience. For instance, Irish playwright Sean O’ Casey received mostly negative feedback for his play The Plough and the Stars because it included a character that was a prostitute. Audiences argued there “were no prostitutes in Dublin” (Harrington x). In 1958 O’ Casey’s play The Drums of the Father was also criticized, this time by the Catholic Church, the play was described as immoral, leading him to withdraw it. It wasn’t long after this that Beckett banned his work from being produced in Ireland, saying until “ . . . such conditions [no longer] prevail” (xi).
The second kind of nationalism is cultural. It is defined as the process of organizing “ . . . for a native population, a sustaining image of itself, its uniqueness and its dignity, contrary to the subordinate and submissive identity nurtured by external, foreign administration” (Harrington xiii). The primary aim of cultural nationalism is to rescue and preserve the values and traditions of an indigenous culture that has been repressed by foreign colonialism. In this instance, the Abbey theatre is developing for the people of Ireland, a sustaining self image, one which undermines, or attempts to undermine the impact of that which has been imposed upon it (xiii). As the manifesto states, Lady Augusta Gregory and her contemporaries wanted to train Irish audiences to be uncorrupted and imaginative with a passion for oratory; thus indicating that they were somehow lacking in this qualities. The word “train” suggests authority and requires that an individual or group of individuals possess the power to define a nation as a whole, this process of defining involve elements of reduction and selection, or determining what represents the country and what does not. Those with the power to define would need to evaluate various aspects of Irish society, in an effort to determine which specific segment should serve as the “authorized emblem of the nation”(x).
However, no one has been able to state conclusively what this emblem is. Is Ireland’s true face rooted in the Celtic traditions or in the peasantry? What does it mean to be Irish? Is Irishness indelibly connected to patriotism? Religion? Politics? Each of these characteristics continue to be factors in Irish drama, but none of them have been exclusively identified as the ultimate symbol for Ireland. The manifesto of 1897 was written with marvelous intention and the Abbey Theatre produced some of the most prolific Irish writers in Irish dramatic history, O’ Casey, Synge, and Yeats.
But I believe it failed to achieve its goal, for the goal was one that can never be achieved, not until the Irish experience is endowed with all the complexities of the human experience. Theatergoers don’t want drama that simply shows a reflection of facts, such as country, language, race or politics. They want possibilities, an emphasis on the aspects of human nature that aren’t easily defined.
In addition to this, audiences don’t want to watch drama that implies they need to be changed, trained or given a sense of self, nor do they want to be made to feel as though they have all the answers. At the heart of good drama is good questions like: “How Irish was Beckett?” which may never be answered, but nonetheless offer knowledge. Drama asks questions and enlightens its audiences by asking, by acknowledging the unknowable. With that being said, it’s no surprise that Waiting for Godot has been endowed with all sorts of political and cultural implications, ones which Beckett himself has often rejected.
In South Africa, the play is about apartheid, in Israel, the holocaust and relations between Palestinians and Jews. It is the lack of conclusions and resolve that Godot offers which makes it so accessible to domestic and foreign audiences alike. Today, contemporary Irish drama, though incorporating some of the same dramatic techniques prevalent in the works of Yeats, Synge and O’ Casey, is generally broader and continues to be influenced by England and other parts of the world. There have been productions of Yeats plays in Asia utilizing aspects of the Noh theatre he was intrigued with, and authors, such as Conor McPherson, have had several productions of their plays in America and around the world.
The consensus seems to be that Ireland as a nation is and will continue to be impacted by other nations, especially England. Perhaps this is one of its greatest qualities; that it is able to blend with aspects of English culture, whilst still retaining its distinctiveness. But where does this leave Beckett and his categorization in Irish studies? Culturally, Beckett is prominently placed in Ireland, but academically he remains on the sidelines; it is most likely that he will continue to be, well into the twenty- first century. On some level, it seems as if no country can truly claim him as its own, not even France.
Yes Beckett spoke and wrote in the language. But how much of France is actually in his work? McDonald says that one of the reasons academia is reluctant to place Beckett with other Irish authors is that he is sometimes viewed as insufficiently political. If this serves as reasonable grounds for definition, then the same logic can be applied to his status in French studies. The language aspect is a significant factor, but Beckett didn’t write exclusively about France or it’s politics, thus making him not really French; at least not theoretically (McDonald 1-30).
The inability to arrive at a simple conclusion about Beckett’s contribution to Irish drama demonstrates that the issue is not a simple one. It may be that his willingness to leave Ireland and depart from conventional Irish ideals is perhaps his biggest contribution because it sets a precedent not only for Irish dramatists but the Irish as a whole. It demonstrates that the individual must have an active role in how he or she chooses to define. Notions of Irishness and non Irishness must not be narrow or defined through external examinations, nor can one determine whether a person is Irish simply by scanning their works for Irish cultural references, but rather, a man or woman must determine for his or herself what it means to be Irish. Beckett made his choice. If the goal of the manifesto is indeed national independence, then it contradicts itself, for both national independence and individual independence need each other to exist.
B Yeats understood this and believed that playwrights shouldn’t be forced to incorporate Irish subjects in their work. In his essay: An Irish National Theatre, Yeats states that “. Literature is always personal; always one man’s view of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the vision of others” (Yeats 413). In reflection of his process for creating the Countess Cathleen he wrote:
“I had a dream one night and I made Cathleen ni Houlihan out of this dream. But if some external necessity had forced me to write nothing but drama with an obvious patriotic intention, instead of letting my work shape itself under the casual impulses of dreams and daily thoughts, I would have lost in a short time, the power to write movingly upon any theme. I could have aroused opinions; but I could not have touched the heart . . .” (413).
Yeats, a prominent figure in Irish studies, though he also experienced success in England, considered him self to be a nationalist. Any reading of Cathleen Ni Houlihan will confirm this. George Bernard Shaw said it might encourage men to go out and do something irrational. Yet here we have Yeats saying that although he loves Ireland and believes she does in fact deserve to have a theatre in which her values are reflected, it shouldn’t be at the expense of individuality or the autonomy of the playwright. Being forced to incorporate specific themes into a play diminishes the quality of the work and sets the precedent for loss of freedom in other areas of a society. A writer should be defined by his or her philosophy, for it is this that shapes the playwright’s aesthetic.
When we think of Beckett, we should allow his language and perspective on human existence to shape our perception of him. In his ability to depart from Irish culture in it’s obvious form and not simply focus on race or nationality in his work, he has paved the way for other playwrights, actors and artists in and outside of Ireland to do the same. What more pride could a country have than to see one that was born and raised in its borders and educated in its schools, go on to become one of the most prominent writers of his generation?
With the universality of themes in his work, his ability to connect with other languages and cultures, Beckett has freed himself from the confines of being a national symbol. It is this that is his biggest contribution to Irish drama, to Ireland, and might I add, to me.
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Author Amy Logan’s tragic yet inspiring novel begins with an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv, Israel. The central character, referred to as Fareby, is an American journalist from Riverside, California who travels to Tel Aviv to cover a story. She meets a young Druze woman, named Leila Azzam, in which a kind of friendship develops. Leila is not Muslim, Christian or Jewish but belongs to an Arabic-speaking minority that is isolated and extremely religious. Like many Middle Eastern customs, the Druze beliefs place severe limits on how women can behave. In this community if a woman is accused of bringing shame upon the family name she can be killed; sometimes by her own family. The practice is known as an honor killing.
In her book, Logan illustrates that this tradition has existed for thousands of years and can occur with little or no warning to its victims. A woman can be executed for being raped, losing her virginity prior to marriage or by refusing to accept an arranged marriage; generally, any kind of behavior which the family or community deems inappropriate. However, Leila is not the typical Druze woman. She refuses to abide by the restrictions placed upon her life. She is incredibly intelligent and resourceful. So much so, that her parents allow her to attend The University of Haifa on a full scholarship. In addition to this, Leila has an American boyfriend. She is a painter and sells her paintings in a gallery. She also owns a cell phone. All of the above behaviors are considered to be immoral according to Druze custom and serve as grounds for her execution. Ultimately, Leila’s attempts to keep her life away from home a secret; are in vain. She is later murdered. Utterly devastated, Fareby begins the arduous journey to find Leila’s killer. In doing so she is forced to deal with her own demons, her relationship to her work and to the country itself.
The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice is a thorough, contemplative book that forces it’s readers to look at the Middle East with a broader lens. The quarrelsome, habitually violent relationship between Palestinians and Jews has long been slathered across American media, but Logan’s writing not only raises awareness about an issue that is seldom discussed. She humanizes it in a way that encourages us to use more than intellect or politics when considering the plight of women in other cultures. She urges us to remember our hearts.