Richard Begam

Richard Begam
6147 Helen C. White
(608) 263-2804
E-mail Richard Begam
Modern British and Irish literature, modernism across the arts, postcolonial literature, literature and philosophy, literary theory

Degrees and Institutions

PhD, University of Virginia
MA, University of Virginia
BA, Columbia University

Selected Publications


  • Modernism, Postcolonialism and Globalism: Anglophone Literature, 1950 to the Present, co-editor with Michael Valdez Moses (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018).
  • Modernism and Opera, co-editor with Matthew Wilson Smith (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016). Finalist for the 2017 Modernist Studies Association Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection.
  • Platonic Occasions: Dialogues on Literature, Art, and Culture, co-author with James Soderholm (Stockholm University Press, 2015).
  • Text and Meaning: Literary Discourse and Beyond, co-editor with Dieter Stein (Düsseldorf University Press, 2010).
  • Modernism and Colonialism: British and Irish Literature, 1899-1939, co-editor with Michael Valdez Moses (Duke University Press, 2007).
  • Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity (Stanford University Press, 1996).

Recent Articles and Book Chapters

  • "Rushdie and the Art of Modernism." In Modernism, Postcolonialism and Globalism (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018).
  • “From Automaton to Autonomy: Mechanical Reproduction in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.”  In Modernist Cinema (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018).
  • "Schoenberg, Modernism and Degeneracy." In Modernism and Opera (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).
  • "How To Do Nothing with Words, or Waiting for Godot as Performativity." In Reading Modern Drama (University of Toronto Press, 2012).
  • “Games Modernists Play: Performativity in Beckett's Endgame.” In Text and Meaning: Literary Discourse and Beyond (Düsseldorf University Press, 2010).
  • “Joyce’s Trojan Horse: Ulysses, Modernism and the Aesthetics of Decolonization.” In Modernism and Colonialism: British and Irish Literature, 1899-1939 (Duke University Press 2007).
  • “Beckett’s Kinetic Aesthetics.” Journal of Beckett Studies 16.1 & 2 (2006/7).
  • Achebe's Sense of an Ending: History and Tragedy in Things Fall Apart." In Modern Critical Interpretations: Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart', ed. Harold Bloom (Chelsea House, 2002).
  • “Beckett and Postfoundationalism, or How Fundamental Are Those Fundamental Sounds?” In Beckett and Philosophy. Ed. Richard Lane (New York: Palgrave, 2002).
  • “Making Modernism Matter.” Clio 30.1 (2000).

Current Projects

  • Beckett’s Philosophical Levity traces Samuel Beckett’s engagement with a variety of philosophical thinkers and systems. Chapters include: “Philosophical Trepidations” (Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Beckett’s “Philosophical Notebook”); “Embodied Aesthetics” (Sade, Kant, Schopenhauer, and Murphy); “Antihumanism” (Descartes, Sartre, Heidegger and the Trilogy and Texts for Nothing); “Performativity” (Austin, Derrida, and Waiting for Godot); “Language Games” (Wittgenstein, Mauthner, Adorno, Cavell, and Endgame); “Speech and Writing” (Descartes, Husserl, Derrida, and the late fiction, drama, and radio plays); “Contemporary French Philosophy” (Beckett’s influence on Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Guattari, and Badiou).
  • Modernism's Odyssey argues that Ulysses not only serves as an example of modernism, but also offers a theory of it. Situating Joyce’s masterpiece within the broader field of modernist studies, this study divides itself into three sections. The first section considers Ulysses in relation to modernism in music (Busoni and Schoenberg’s atonality), the visual arts (cubism, surrealism and collage), psychology (Weininger, Krafft-Ebing, Freud and Ellis) and philosophy (Nietzsche, Bergson and Mauthner); the second section examines how writers like Eliot, Pound, Lewis, Woolf and Barnes responded to the novel; and the third section reads Joyce alongside contemporary poststructuralist theory, especially Jacques Derrida.

Professional Activities

President, The International Samuel Beckett Society: 2009-2010
Visiting Professor, Stockholm University (Sweden): Spring 2011
Visiting Professor, Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf (Germany): Spring 2008
Visiting Associate Professor, Duke University: Spring 2001
Member, Editorial Board: Modernist Cultures, 2011-present
Member, Editorial Board: Journal of Beckett Studies, 2010-present

Graduate Teaching

"Twentieth-Century Fiction and Theory"
"Modern British Literature"
"Joyce, Beckett, and Modernity"
"The Literature of Empire and After"

Undergraduate Teaching

"Modern British and Irish Literature"
"Intellectual Backgrounds to Modernism"
"Literary Criticism and Theory"
"Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction"
"James Joyce"
"Forster, Lawrence, Woolf"
"Conrad, Eliot, Beckett"
"Yeats, Pound, Eliot"
"Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida"

Recent Books

  • Modernism and Opera

    Richard Begam and Matthew Wilson Smith, Eds.

    Johns Hopkins University Press


    A collaborative study of the ultimate collaborative art form, Modernism and Opera reveals how modernism and opera illuminate each other and, more generally, the culture of the twentieth century. It also addresses a number of issues crucial for understanding the relation between modernism and opera, focusing on intermediality (how modernism integrates music, literature, and drama into opera) and anti-theatricality (how opera responds to modernism’s apparent antipathy to theatricality).

  • Platonic Occasions: Dialogues on Literature, Art and Culture

    Richard Begam & James Soderhom

    Stockholm University Press


    In Platonic Occasions, Richard Begam & James Soderholm reflect upon a wide range of thinkers, writers and ideas from Plato, Descartes and Nietzsche to Shakespeare, the Romantics and the Moderns—from Evil, Love and Death to Art, Memory and Mimesis. The authors discuss not only what is healthy and vigorous about Western culture but also consider where that culture is in retreat, as they seek to understand the legacy of the Enlightenment and its relation to the contemporary moment. 

  • Text and Meaning: Literary Discourse and Beyond

    Richard Begam & Dieter Stein, Eds.

    Düsseldorf University Press


    In the aftermath of the "Theory Wars" of the late twentieth century, this collection reconsiders two of the most fundamental questions of interpretation: where do we locate the material, linguistic and cultural boundaries of a text and what role is played in the establishment of meaning by intention, production and reception? Topics covered include British, German, and American literature, the visual arts, philosophy and linguistics.

  • Modernism and Colonialism: British and Irish Literature, 1899-1939

    Richard Begam & Michael Valdez Moses, Eds.

    Duke University Press


    This collection of essays by renowned literary scholars offers a sustained and comprehensive account of the relation of British and Irish literary modernism to colonialism. Bringing postcolonial studies into dialogue with modernist studies, the contributors move beyond depoliticized appreciations of modernist aesthetics as well as the dismissal of literary modernism as irredeemably complicit in the evils of colonialism.

  • Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity

    Richard Begam

    Stanford University Press


    This study explores the relation between Samuel Beckett's five major novels - Murphy, Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, andThe Unnamable - and the phenomenon that Lyotard, Habermas, and Vattimo have described as the "end of modernity." Through close readings of Beckett's "pentalogy," Prof. Begam shows how these novels, written between 1935 and 1950, strikingly anticipate many of the defining themes and ideas of Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida.