Hellgoers: Beckett, Dante and Ireland

A conversation and film screening exploring the motif of hell and purgatory in modern Irish culture and politics


Organizing Institutions



Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce "Hellgoers: Beckett, Dante and Ireland," a conversation and film screening exploring the motif of hell and purgatory in modern Irish culture and politics, on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 from 6-8:00pm. The event will feature a screening of Elaine Byrne's Hellgoers (10 minutes, 2016) and a conversation with Senior Curator Jean-Michel Rabaté, and will conclude with a reading by Elaine Byrne from Beckett's works. In addition, Hellgoer and two other works by Byrne, Pure Codology ( 2015) and Rakoczy's March (2015), both relating to James Joyce's Ulysses, will be screened on Wednesday, September 28, from 5-6pm.

Hellgoer opens with footage of Saint's Island in Lough Derg, Ireland, an island that in medieval times was a portal to Purgatory and Hell. Between the 12th-15th century, the St Patrick's Purgatory and Ireland were synonymous; it was the only reason any foreigner would come to Ireland. Many pilgrims accounts survived, and were translated widely. It is likely that Dante used these accounts as inspiration for the punishments he describes in the Inferno. In Hellgoer, Byrne intersperses footage from the oldest surviving feature film, an adaptation of Dante's Inferno, made in 1911 and censored footage from the Irish parliament where questions are raised about businessman Denis O'Brien and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. This collage of fragmentary footage is juxtaposed with travel accounts from one 14th century pilgrim trip to Purgatory, along with an interview with an Irish journalist who reports on corruption.

In their conversation, Byrne and Rabaté will engage both Hellgoer as well as Rabate's recently published Think, Pig! Beckett at the limit of the human (Fordham University Press, 2016). which reinterprets the links between literature, ethics and philosophy in Samuel Beckett's works. Rabaté surveys the entire corpus, highlighting the post-war period when Beckett broke from Joyce and Proust. Beckett's decision to write in French was not an accident but followed a program that placed him among post-war writers who developed a "writing degree zero" as the only available post-Auschwitz literary expression. Beckett gives a lesson in courage, and shows that life is worth living in spite of reasons to despair. Rabaté also examines the theme of pigs and animals, which are supposedly devoid of reason, to further explore life reduced to survival. Beckett was friends with Georges Bataille, and shared a fascination for de Sade, whose excess and obscenity were tools to debunk post-war humanism. Bataille's philosophy of transgression was toned down by Beckett in favor of Dante and Geulincx, from whom he derived an ethics of humility and compassion.

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Elaine Byrne is an Irish artist whose work deals with overlooked histories, texts and artworks as a platform to mobilize history as it relates to current political and social concerns.

She has exhibited widely, including at the Douglas Hyde gallery, Dublin, Limerick City Gallery and Crawford Gallery of Art, Cork, Elizabeth Foundation, New York and Venice Arsenale, Italy. She completed the Whitney Independent Study program in 2015.

"'And the point of climbing is?' he replied. 'God's own angel sits at the gate, and I think he is not going to let me in for a while yet. I'll hang out here for as long as I put off my groans of penance--and obviously I waited right to the very end.'"

-- Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio (Canto 4, Belacqua)