'Going-on': silence and lateness in the work of John Hejduk and Samuel Beckett
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date28/06/2021
O'Shaughnessy, Jason Michael
By means of critical comparison, this thesis develops new understandings of two distinguished late modernists – the architect and educator John Hejduk and the author Samuel Beckett. Hejduk once describing his praxis as ‘fly-like’, as if landing here and there on the skin of the discipline, and the thesis adopts this tactic as a methodological mode. Considering distinct phases in the work of both Hejduk and Beckett, this thesis reads ‘lateness’ as a theoretical and aesthetic term that impacted much of their work and, through this, aims to advance new understandings of their respective oeuvres. Although working in different disciplinary fields, it observes they had both characterised their work in the same way – as late and operating within an almost exhausted field. In Beckett’s case, the problematic of coming late initially involved a retreat from any ascent to linguistic mastery à la James Joyce, while for Hejduk, it had to do with the depleted possibilities available to a late generation – one that came in the wake of heroic modern masters Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Reading their works from the late 1960s through the 1970s in terms of theories of cultural lateness and the vicissitudes of modernism (including late- and post-), it develops new readings of the sense of belatedness and pessimism that prevails in some of their key works. Notwithstanding the difficulty critics have had in classifying Hejduk and Beckett’s works in this period, this study attempts to clarify and develop distinctions that further our understanding of them. In doing this, the thesis examines the problematic of epochal lateness through Adorno's claim of the barbarism of post- Auschwitz aesthetic production and its relation to silence. It suggests there are important correspondences between Hejduk and Beckett in their attempts to make visible what had been silenced and bear witness to a catastrophic history that negotiates culture’s ‘after-Auschwitz’ aporia. The performative acting-out and spectral/ghostly qualities of the theatrical characters in Beckett’s play Endgame (1958) is related to this – but so too is the depleted figure of the angel that emerges in Hejduk’s Berlin projects. His adoption of it as emblem and of the theatrical mode of the masque is a turning point that decisively separates his late from his earlier work. The thesis concludes by considering the last works developed in the shadow of the approach of death and the type of lateness that subsists in them. It analyses the highly religious scenes (of crucifixes, crosses, monstrous and angelic figures) of Hejduk’s last works Enclosures (1999-2000) and Sanctuaries (1999-2000) produced just before his death in 2000. Arguing that these works reclaim architecture as mythological and ‘sacred’ space, it maintains that these scenes are also evidence of a late operation. While reanimating themes of time/space and reality/fiction of the Masques (space), they also signal the type of recapitulation often identified with late style - indicative of its mythopoeic tendency. Similarly, examining Beckett’s last works in relation to biography and the medical condition of aphasia, it contends these works do not necessarily represent a diminished or defective form of writing. Instead, it signals the type of irresolution that is the prerogative of late style that Beckett recognised in late Beethoven and which Adorno had theorised. Read this way, the supposed incoherence of these final written words mark the condition Beckett’s literary form was striving towards from the very beginning – supplementing a literary oeuvre that had affirmed the possibilities of failure and inexpression. As an overall schema relating to Hejduk and Beckett, lateness is thus not merely a project reduced to the last few years of an individual but is instead, produced by individuals deeply impacted by distinct historical moments. In this context, and viewing modernity as a late condition, we are reminded that some significant artists manifest the style normally associated with old age in order to exceed the limitations of their epoch.