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Beckett Summer School

Long Room, Trinity College

12 August 2013

Ambassadors, visiting professors, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the Samuel Beckett Summer School, one of the most significant events in the Trinity and Dublin calendar.

It’s surprising that this is only the third annual Beckett Summer School – when you consider that we are now in the 54th year of the Yeats Summer School, the 25th year of the Joyce Summer School, and indeed the 23rd year of the Parnell Summer School which I had the pleasure of opening yesterday.

But I’m delighted that we have, if belatedly, woken to the necessity of a Beckett Summer School, and that it is hosted here in Trinity, in his alma mater, and it’s a truly international event.

I welcome the ambassadors and diplomats that are here – I understand from Spain, the Netherlands, and Lithuania for sure, but others as well. And I welcome the visiting professors and the very many visiting students from all over the world, including Canada, the USA, Ghana, Turkey, India, Israel, and China, as well as EU countries. The presence of so many of you is, I think, a tribute to Beckett’s extraordinary international significance.

I thank USIT, the Summer School’s administrator – it seems most fitting that a company dedicated to travel, specifically youth travel, should be involved in this promotion and elucidation of Beckett.

This year for the first time, we have arranged partnership scholarships with six institutions: Reading University in England, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Antwerp University in Belgium; Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Florida State University and the University of Michigan. We are delighted to be partnered with such prestigious universities and we look forward to what this will bring to Beckett Studies.

It will not surprise anyone here to learn that, as Provost, I like to quote Beckett in speeches. It would, indeed, be a dereliction of duty not to celebrate and evoke the wisdom of one of the most remarkable of all our graduates. I particularly cite Beckett when I’m talking about innovation - I like to point out that Trinity incubated two of the most radical innovators the world has ever seen – William Rowan Hamilton in mathematics and Samuel Beckett in the arts.

As a student, Beckett was, in his freshman years, known mainly for his interest in cricket and his habit of silence. He alarmed his tutor, A.A. Luce by his propensity to skip classes, but in his sophister years he found the discipline that suited him – modern languages – and a lecturer who inspired him, the eccentric, avant-garde and charismatic Professor of French, R.B. Rudmose-Brown.

Rudmose-Brown was a profound influence on Beckett - inspiring his lifelong interest in Racine, encouraging him to take study trips to the Continent, and urging him to join the French faculty in Trinity.

I can’t say I’m sorry that Beckett didn’t remain in the French department since his alternate profession was so remarkable, but I’m glad that Trinity spotted his potential and that we can claim him, not only as a Foundation Scholar, but as a lecturer in modern languages.

While Beckett’s genius, like all genius, is unique, idiosyncratic and unquantifiable, I like to think that he imbibed something of the Trinity intellectual ethos. I have three interesting quotes to share with you.

The first quote is: ‘What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind’

The second: ‘Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.’

And the third: ‘We learn from failure, not from success’.

You could be forgiven for thinking these three quotes are Beckett’s, particularly the first, which captures not just his philosophy but his style of delivery. But in fact, the first quote is from the 18th century philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, the second is from the 18th century playwright, Oliver Goldsmith, and the third is from the 19th century author of Dracula, Bram Stoker.

What they all have in common, along with Beckett - is that all are Trinity alumni. So I like to think that Beckett gained something of his existential, absurdist, and stoical attitude from Trinity. I’m certainly struck that so many Trinity people should have chosen to celebrate failure, and while I may not go so far as to advise our students that failure in their exams doesn’t matter, I do hope to bring them towards the understanding that one can learn from failure. Fail again, fail better.

I look forward to the contribution of this Summer School to Beckett studies, and am particularly pleased that the School of English, the School of Drama, Film, and Music, and the Department of French are all involved. We like our interdisciplinarity in Trinity, and transgressing boundaries is what we in Trinity are about.

I thank all involved in bringing this summer school to fruition, and it’s my pleasure now to hand over - to launch this summer school, Beckett’s nephew, Edward Beckett.

Edward Beckett embodies not just the genetic link - he is also co-executor of Beckett’s estate, and has been instrumental in protecting and enhancing his uncle’s great legacy in a way commensurate with his uncle’s wishes. This is a most significant role, which Mr Beckett has managed alongside his own career as a noted concert flautist.

I’d like to claim Edward Beckett as another Trinity graduate – however, while he was indeed a freshman here, he abandoned his degree in Engineering to take up a place in the Paris Conservatoire. Since the result was so spectacular – he graduated with first prizes in Flute and Chamber Music – we cannot regret his abandonment of Trinity and engineering, and we are absolutely delighted that he has been able to return today to open this Summer School.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Edward Beckett.

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