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Not I, 1972 (1977)

Not I is a thirteen-minute dramatic monologue that was written in 1972 and premiered that same year at the Forum Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York. In 1975 Samuel Beckett made a television version for the BBC, performed by Billie Whitelaw and directed by Bill Morton. In Not I a human mouth floats in the darkness, lit by a single beam of light and filmed in close up. It recites a fragmented monologue made up of syncopated phrases about an individual with a distressing past. Although the voice is female (performed by an actress), the text does not specify whether it is a man or a woman. The title is taken from the voice’s repeated insistence that the events she describes did not happen to her.

The television adaptation of the theater piece decisively influenced the work. For technical reasons, in the television version Becket eliminated a second character (of indeterminate gender) who had acted as a silent receiver in the original theater piece. On the stage, the audience saw a woman reciting a monologue, but on the screen viewers see only a mouth, an element that becomes autonomous, emphasizing its status as a physical organ. The lips of the actress maintain their original state, but they also become a sphincter and a vagina. The monologue is spoken very rapidly, broken by desperate outbursts of laughter and shouts: an incandescent mouth that speaks about itself in third person while repeatedly denying its identity.

Although cinema is one of Beckett’s lesser known facets, his forays into film are by no means peripheral within his body of work, and they have influenced contemporary visual artists such as Bruce Nauman and Sol LeWitt, among others. Beckett began to take an interest in the use of radio and television in the mid-sixties. Over a period of more than two decades, he wrote and produced one film (Film, 1964) and seven works for television, and made a film adaptation of his theatre piece Not I. In all these works, he continued the formal quest that had driven his playwriting, for “the strangeness and beauty of the pure image.”


Technical details

Original title:
Not I
Registration number:
4397
Artist:
Beckett, Samuel
Date created:
1972 (1977)
Date acquired:
2011
Fonds:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium
Object type:
Media
Media:
Single-channel video, b/w, sound, 11 min 52 s
Credits:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium
Copyright:
© Samuel Beckett
It has accessibility resources:
No

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

If you need a high resolution image of the work, you must submit an image loan request.

The problem becomes clear, crystal clear: the artist’s canvas becomes a mirror.
Michelangelo Pistoletto