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Insider's Perspective: The Beckett Period

Manuscript

Full page of last page of Samuel Beckett's manuscript for The Unnamable.

Manuscript detail

Close-up of final period of manuscript.

Art gallery installation

Pascal Bircher's installation uses a projection of the enlarged period. The piece was on display at Martine & Thibault de la Châtre Gallery in Paris in September.

In July 2008, the Harry Ransom Center's Research Librarian Richard Workman was faced with a rather unusual request: an artist was seeking a very specific, magnified digital scan of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable manuscript. The request came from Pascal Bircher, a British artist who frequently finds inspiration in literature. Bircher was in the process of creating a project titled "seven forty pm," a series of pieces that addressed and investigated questions of origin and the acts of "bringing into" versus "being in" existence.

The Ransom Center entered into Bircher's plans when he began to hunt for the final full stop—or the period—in Samuel Beckett's original manuscript of The Unnamable manuscript to use for a project called "Black Hole." To make Bircher's request possible, Workman enlisted the help of Ransom Center Photographer Pete Smith. Smith captured the document and enlarged the punctuation mark that Bircher requested with a high-resolution scanner.

The end result? What Bircher calls "an extreme visual and critical compression of the text."

The scan is so intensely magnified that even the paper fibers in Beckett's original manuscript are visible. The high-resolution reproduction gives the appearance of a large dark shape, or as Bircher describes it, a "black hole." To Bircher, this "black hole" holds significant meaning in the heart of his work and represents his aspiration to "scale the opus down to an idea" in creating a "visual capture of a narrative."

"seven forty pm" was on display from September 6 to 27 at Martine & Thibault de la Châtre Gallery in Paris.

LEARN MORE about Samuel Beckett in the Ransom Center's online Beckett exhibition.

 

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