Saturday, 16 February 2008

A dash of Beckett

My favourite 20th-century writer is Samuel Beckett. No writer makes me laugh more; no writer (except Milton) fills me with more dread.

At the moment I’m filling my leisure time with Alan Badiou’s book on Beckett, together with Andrew Gibson’s new study, Beckett and Badiou: The Pathos of Intermittency (Oxford UP, 2007). And I’ve also been watching some of the performances in the flawed but lovable Beckett on Film series. As one of Beckett’s own characters puts it: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.” Oh, how I love it!

So anyway, in this Beckettian mood, I was delighted to come across this hilarious piece of spoof journalism in The Onion: “archivists analyzing papers from [Beckett’s] Paris estate uncovered a small stack of blank paper that scholars are calling ‘the latest example of the late Irish-born writer’s genius’. The 23 blank pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed some time between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting for Godot…”

On a more theological note, one of my favourite moments in Waiting for Godot is Lucky’s thinking scene, which you can see on YouTube. It’s a great speech, and it includes some important doctrinal elucidations about “the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattman of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell…”

6 Comments:

T.B. Vick said...

My undergrad degree is in Theatre, and for my senior year project, I directed Endgame, it got rave reviews but it damn near kill me to get it finished and polished the way I wanted it.

His material is both simplistic and quite complicated at the same time - complicated especially if one is performing it.

Also, I had the opportunity to see Edward Albee's weekend of Beckett in Houston. He flew several Broadway actors down to Houston to perform several plays - best acting I've ever seen - best productions too.

Erin said...

ahh, then you will most assuredly appreciate John Cage's brilliant piece, 4'33", Ben.

Beckett - now we're talking! Becket and Pynchon can keep one in stitches in the spare moment. I guess I missed the Milton-Beckett connection, though :)

psychodougie said...

it [onion's spoof] is funny coz you could (if you squinted a little and put your head on the side) imagine something similar actually happening.

Ben Myers said...

Wow, Todd, you directed Endgame? I'm impressed!

Psychodougie, I had exactly the same thought. I especially love the sentence: "Enthusiasts still maintain that the 'nuances, subtleties, and allusions to his previous works' are all unmistakably Beckett."

Erin, I hadn't really thought about the Milton/Beckett connection either until now. But now that you mention it, Milton and Beckett (and Tom Waits as well, come to think of it) have one important thing in common: their best characters are all in hell.

The theological similarities end there, however, since Milton is a radical heterodox anti-trinitarian, while Beckett is a good orthodox Augustinian through and through.

kim fabricius said...

"Augustinian through and through" - that Beckett was for sure. He would often read Augustine in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

I would single out: his cor inquietum and chronic angst; his preoccupation with time and memory; his mistrust of language ("There are two moments worthwhile in writing, the one when you start and the other when you throw it in the waste-paper basket") and skepticism about stable selfhood (we are not who we think we are); his descriptions of the human as the "non-knower" and the "no-can-doer".

Interestingly, Beckett's last writing was a poem entitled "Comment dire" - and its first word is "Folie".

Also the guy admired Moby-Dick (a Miltonic as well as Augustinian connection!); loved his mother; and (though repressed in Augustine) he was passionate about women and the games (an outstanding cricketer and lover of rugby union).

That's a start anyway. What would you add, Ben?

Finally, in Augustine, Sinner and Saint (2005), James O'Donnell remarks that Beckett "tormented his interpreters with with a story he told, supposedly to help them understand Waiting for Godot," recalling a passage where Augustine says, "One of the thieves was saved. Do not presume one of the thieves was damned." O'Donnell continues: "It is wonderfully Beckett-like that the particular passage cannot be found anywhere in the surviving writings of Augustine ... Did Beckett make up the quotation. Is he the most modern of pseudo-Augustines?"

byron smith said...

When I was 17, Beckett (along with T. S. Eliot) effected my conversion from maths-focussed science student to lover of literature (and even English teacher).

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