Beckett and the Unfilmable

A conversation about the relationship between film, perception and philosophy in the work of Samuel Beckett


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy, Gregg Lambert


Evergreen Review, Foxrock, Inc.

Opens to public



4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce Beckett and the Unfilmable, a conversation with Branka Arsic and Jean-Michel Rabaté, engaging the relationship between Beckett, film and philosophy. A public screening of Beckett's Film (1965, 21 minutes, B&W) will accompany the public conversation. The work will also be screened from April 17-May 20 as part of our storefront video series, courtesy of Producer Barney Rossett and Evergreen/Foxrock.

Samuel Beckett's only venture into the medium of cinema, Film was written in 1963 and filmed in New York in the summer of 1964, directed by Alan Schneider and featuring Buster Keaton. For the shooting, Mr. Beckett made his only trip to America. The silent film, which has no dialogue, takes its inspiration from Berkeley's theory "Esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived"). Even after all outside perception has been suppressed, be it animal, human or divine, self-perception remains. Film was edited by Sydney Meyers with cinematography by Boris Kaufman, both of whom were preeminent in their fields at the time. Film was produced by Barney Rosset and Evergreen Theater.

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Branka Arsic teaches critical theory and American literature at the University of Albany. Her book The Passive Eye: Gaze and Subjectivity in Berkeley (via Beckett) was recently published by Stanford University Press. She is currently completing a volume on Melville's Bartleby, The Scrivener, and has begun a project on Henry David Thoreau. In The Passive Eye, Arsic explores Berkeley's theory of vision as well as prior conceptions of vision including Decartes. Berkeley viewed the eye and the image as inseparable, leading, Arsic argues, to a problem of presentation rather than representation. Judith Butler has suggested that "Branka Arsic... is arguably the most important Eastern European feminist philosopher to emerge since Julia Kristeva."

Jean-Michel Rabaté, a Senior Curator at Slought Foundation, is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, and has authored or edited twenty books on Modernism, Joyce, Pound, Beckett, Lacan, Derrida, psychoanalysis and literary theory.

"For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.

--George Berkeley, "Of the Principles of Human Knowledge"