A machine for feeling: Ping's posthuman affect

Alys Moody*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Beckett's famous claim that his writing seeks to ‘work on the nerves of the audience, not the intellect’ points to the centrality of affect in his work. But while his writing's affective quality is widely acknowledged by readers of his work, its refusal of intellect has made it difficult to take fully into account in scholarly work on Beckett. Taking Beckett's 1967 short prose text Ping as a case study, this essay is an attempt to take the affective qualities of Beckett's writing seriously and to consider the implications of his affectively dense writing for his texts’ relationship to history. I argue that Ping's affect emerges from the rhythms of its prose, producing a highly ‘speakable’ text in which affect precedes interpretation. In Ping, however, this affective rhythmic patterning is portrayed as mechanical, the product of the machinic ‘ping’ that punctuates the text and the text's own mechanical rhythms, demanding the active involvement of the reader. The essay concludes by arguing that Ping's mechanised affect is a specifically historical feeling. Arising from a specifically twentieth-century anxiety about technology's tendency to evacuate ‘natural’ emotion in favour of inhuman affect, it participates in a tradition of affectively resonant but curiously blank or indifferent performances of cyborg embodiment. Read in this historical light, Ping's implication of the reader in the production of its mechanised affect grants it, from our contemporary perspective, an archival quality. At the same time, it asks us to broaden the way in which we understand the Beckettian text's relationship to history, pointing to the existence of a more complex and recursive relationship between literature, its historical moment, and our contemporary moment of reading. Such a post-archival historicism sees texts as generated by but not bound to their historical moments of composition, and understands the moment of reception as an integral, if shifting, part of the text's history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-102
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Beckett Studies
Volume26
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Affect
  • Machinic
  • Massumi
  • Ping
  • Posthuman

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