Exploring Literary Backgrounds in Traditional Irish Storytelling

On St. Patrick’s Day, millions of Americans celebrate the life of the patron saint of Ireland by dyeing their rivers green, wearing “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons and drinking green beer.

But the true essence of Irish culture is the fine art of storytelling.

Alan Friedman, the Arthur J. Thaman and Wilhelmina Doré Thaman Professor of English and Comparative Literature, explores this distinctly Irish tradition through the works of two of the 20th century’s most notable Irish writers in “Party Pieces: Oral Storytelling and Social Performance in Joyce and Beckett” (Syracuse University Press, 2007).

Examining storytelling styles, such as hearthside oral narratives, music and dance, Friedman illuminates how social performances shaped the literary output of James Joyce’s fiction and Samuel Beckett’s plays. With a particular focus on Joyce’s great tome “Ulysses,” and Becket’s play “Waiting for Godot,” he reveals how traditional Irish narratives were steeped in the writers’ most prolific works.

Friedman is author of “Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise” and editor of “Beckett in Black and Red: The Translations for Nancy Cunard’s Negro.” He has taught at universities in England, France and Ireland, is the coordinator of the annual residency program, Actors from the London Stage, and faculty adviser to the student organization, Spirit of Shakespeare.

Do you know the history behind your favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Samuel Beckett’s Doodles: What do they mean?

Bill Prosser of the University of Reading explores Samuel Beckett’s doodles and discusses doodling as an under-appreciated art form on Tuesday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Harry Ransom Center. Seating is free, but limited. This event will also be webcast live.

Although doodling is everywhere, it is often overlooked in writing about art, receiving less critical attention than its more public relative, graffiti.

Prosser hopes to rectify this imbalance. His talk will cover a history of spontaneous drawings, using the doodles of Irish writer Samuel Beckett as an example. Beckett’s images demonstrate how doodling acts as a mirror, reflecting the complicated visual soup in which we all swim.

Prosser’s talk will include background on the history of doodles and cover politicians’ doodles of the 19th- and 20th-centuries; drawings by writers; the doodle craze of the 1930s; the difficulties of psychological interpretation; Japanese Haboku drawings; drawings by children and the insane; links with medieval plea rolls, graffiti, and illumination; Surrealist automatism; 20th-century Modernism; and popular culture.

Preview some of Beckett’s doodles in the Ransom Center’s online exhibition Fathoms from Anywhere: A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition. To learn more about Prosser’s work, check out The Mystique of the Archive.

Are you a doodler? Leave a comment and tell us what recurring motifs pop up in the margins of your writing pad.