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The Speech-Gesture Complex

Modernism, Theatre, Cinema

Anthony Paraskeva

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Places the performative gesture at the point of intersection between literature, theatre and cinema

This study examines the representation of gesture in modernist writing, performance and cinema. Deploying a new theoretical term, ‘the speech-gesture complex’, Anthony Paraskeva identifies a relationship between speech and gesture which is neither exclusively literary nor performative and which, he argues, is fundamental to the aesthetics and politics of modernist authors. In discussions of works by Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Henry James, Wyndham Lewis, Vladimir Nabokov and Samuel Beckett, Paraskeva shows how this relationship is closely informed by their attention to the performed gestures of actors in theatre and cinema.

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Kafka’s Amerika: The Aesthetics and Politics of Incompletion
Unstable categories: Naturalist and Modernist Performance Style
Performative Absence and Mechanical Reproduction
Theatre, Cinema and the Universal Language of Gesture
1. James Joyce
‘our sad want of signs’: Imperceptible Gestures in Ibsen and Joyce
Paralysis and Spectatorship: Henry James, Eleanora Duse, Yeats and Dubliners
Slips of the Hand in Exiles
‘In the beginning was the gest’: ‘Circe’, Early Cinema and the ‘Art of Gestures’
2. Wyndham Lewis
The Clown and the Über-Marionette in Enemy of the Stars
The Childermass: Lewis Vs Chaplin in the Afterlife
The Politics of Gesture: The Bailiff, Hitler and the Society of the Spectacle
3. The Transition to Sound
Nabokov, Lewis and Garbo
Late Modernism and the Resistance to Sound
4. Samuel Beckett
Hand-writing in Nacht und Träume
The Politics of Depersonalisation in Catastrophe

About the Author

Anthony Paraskeva is Senior Lecturer in English at Roehampton University. He is currently completing his second monograph, Samuel Beckett and Cinema.


The book combines an eloquent, robust style with ground-breaking argument and close pragmatic readings, placing modernist texts within European avant-garde contexts and experimental thinking about the body, triangulating theatre, cinema and writing. The gesture-complex idea is wonderfully original, woven into a superb texture by Paraskeva’s open-minded, rich sense of period and modernist multimedia event.

- Professor Adam Piette, University of Sheffield

The Speech-Gesture Complex offers an invigorating new critical approach to hitherto underappreciated intersections among 20th century literature, theatre, and cinema. Paraskeva’s nuanced rewriting of generic history both provokes and inspires.

- Scott W. Klein, Professor of English, Wake Forest University

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