Beckett And The Cognitive Method: A Book Launch In 5 Objects, 3 Scholars, 1 Voice

Swati Joshi reports on the book launch of Marco Bernini’s Beckett and the Cognitive Method: Mind, Models, and Exploratory Narratives (Oxford University Press, 2021)


The Bishop’s Dining Room in Durham Castle provided the fitting apparatus for the senses of the guests at the book launch of Dr. Marco Bernini’s latest magnum opus, Beckett And the Cognitive Method: Mind, Models, and Exploratory Narratives (2021) on 26th May 2022. Here, the guests could see, touch, and listen about the objects that serve as inspirational models for Bernini’s exploration of Beckett’s narrative modelling. This book launch was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Hearing The Voice project, and the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University.

Objects materialise stories, and stories are stored in objects in a way that each serves a purpose for the other as a model to understand the cognitive process of creation. The artist uses objects in his stories to understand the self in relation to them and the analyst uses objects as models to study the stories that narrate the different shades of “self”. The book launch introduced guests to various cognitive processes that were employed for the first time, not only to examine the shades of “self” represented in Beckett’s texts, but to study Beckett more as a “modeller” (Bernini 2021).

A display of the zoetrope, toy monkey, and magic lantern on a brown tablecloth. Framed pictures are displayed on red chairs.
Photo © Swati Joshi 2022

As a researcher who works on Samuel Beckett and care, I could relate with Bernini’s discussion on the role of Beckett’s narratives as tools for cognitive modelling. In my thesis, I am attempting to demonstrate models of artistic care that emerge in Beckett’s texts and the texts by writers including Sam Thompson, Maylis Besserie, Annabel Abbs that resurrect him as a character. For me, the opportunity to know more about the modelling through and within Beckett’s style of narration was one of the major attractions of the event. The other prominent reason was that, as a reviewer of his book, I wanted to know and see in-person the role played by the materiality of these objects (some of them bearing personal memories like the camera) in shaping the trajectory of Bernini’s research. So, I would like to sincerely thank Prof. Angela Woods, the director of the Institute of Medical Humanities, Durham University for inviting me to the launch.


A brown cylindrical zoetrope displayed on white and multicoloured tablecloths
Photo © Swati Joshi 2022

The book launch began with the discussion of the objects like the zoetrope (a 19th century cylindrical device known for producing optical illusion), the magic lantern, the geological chart, the soft toy monkey, , and their significance in learning more about Beckett’s models. For instance, Bernini draws parallels between the optical illusion produced by the zoetrope and Beckett’s portrayal of the illusion of the unity of self that is constantly evolving. A very fine example emerges from Beckett’s trilogy, Molloy (1955), Malone Dies (1956), and The Unnamable (1958), wherein the respective protagonists find themselves waking up in an unknown world. I would like to highlight Bernini’s argument of “going beyond continuity” (2021) as analogous to Knowlson’s reflection of Beckett’s works containing the continuous discontinuity in the preface to production notes of Beckett’s Happy Days (1961). Beckett’s famous trilogy and Company (1979) present to the readers a world of narratology wherein the narrating and the narrated self are the same. The self is created during the process of narration. Beckett’s characters are trapped within the confined spaces wherein they resist and struggle but also crave for companionship. The magic lantern helped Bernini understand how mental images become the introspective models engineered through and within the narratives of Samuel Beckett. The geological chart facilitated the study of what Bernini calls “geology of conscience” (2021). In this final chapter, Bernini studies how characters appear as the “prisoners of experience” (Bernini 2021) in Beckett’s works and how the mindscape of these characters could be mapped.


Book cover of Beckett and the Cognitive Method

Bernini’s discussion of each object was followed by Peter Marniker’s reading of the excerpts from some of Beckett’s texts. Marinker’s voice seemed to resurrect the Beckettopia in the room, bringing the Beckettian experience of the uncertainty of self to life. The discussion and the reading were followed by the critical reflections of Prof. Ulrika Maude (University of Bristol), Prof. Michael Wheeler (University of Sterling), and Prof. Richard Walsh (University of York).

This book is a lighthouse for the researchers working in the Beckett studies, literature and cognitive sciences, and medical humanities who intend to explore how Samuel Beckett’s narratives could serve as models of nuanced interpretations. I will be employing Bernini’s arguments in my thesis as I investigate Beckett’s role as a modeller of artistic self-care, resisting the prescribed confined care in his texts.



Works cited
Bernini, Marco. 2021. Beckett and the Cognitive Method: Mind, Models, and Exploratory Narratives. New York: Oxford University Press.
Knowlson, James (ed). 1985. “Preface.” In Samuel Beckett, Happy Days. London: Faber and Faber, pp. 11-18.


About the author:
Swati Joshi is pursuing her doctoral studies in the medical humanities at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. Her research has been published in Synapsis: A Health Humanities Journal, Sanglap, Victoriographies and Medical Humanities | BMJ.

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