Samuel Beckett: Commentary (1)


The Irish Book Lover, reviewing More Pricks Than Kicks (1934): ‘[Beckett may have] read James Joyce with loving care [but u]nfortunately, no one has told him that violence and obscurity, even assisted by a considerable dash of the indecent, are, when uninformed by any real passion or direction, merely dull’. Further, ‘The author’s skill not hiding the fact that Mr. Beckett has nothing to say’. (Quoted in Nicholas Allen, Introduction to The Irish Book Lover: An Irish Studies Handbook, ed. Bruce Stewart [Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco; Symposium Proc.; Oct. 2002], Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2004).

File 1
Dylan Thomas
Kate O’Brien
Irish Book Lover
Kenneth Tynan
Alec Reid
A. A. Alvarez
Vivian Mercier
Theodor W. Adorno
Eugène Ionescu
Hugh Kenner
Martin Esslin
Ruby Cohn
John Fletcher
Jacobsen & Muellar
Richard N. Coe
Peter Brook
Sean O’Casey
Thomas E. Porter
Marilyn Caddis Rose
Frederick S. Kiley
Raymond Federman

William York Tindall, A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce [1959] (London: Thames & Hudson 1960, 1963) [on Joyce]: ‘Like all great literature - like the world itself- his great creation is inexhaustible; and that is part of the fun - for us as for the bums of Samuel Beckett, who find delight and peace in puzzling endlessly. The many-leveled complexities of dancing bees, for example, move Moran of Molloy to say: ”I was more than ever stupefied my the complexity of this innumerable dance, involving [...] determinants of which I had not the slightest idea. And I said, wth rapture, Here is something I can study ll my life, and never understand.” This goes for the intricacies of Joyce as wel. We try in vain for last words here.’ (Syracuse UP Edn. 1995, Preface, p.[2]; available at Google Books - online.)

File 2
J. M. Coetzee
John Pilling
Eric P. Levy
Angela Moorjani
Allen Thiher
Richard Kearney
J. C. C. Mays
Declan Kiberd
Peter Gidal
Vicki Mahaffey
S. E. Gontarski
Cairns & Richards
Sylvia Henning
John Harrington
Salmon Rushdie
Anthony Cronin
John Calder
H. Porter Abbott
Gerry Smyth
David Wheatley
John Robert Keller
Benjamin Kunkel
Terry Eagleton
Fintan O’Toole

Eugen Ionescu, et al.: On learning of the Beckett’s receipt of the Nobel Prize, Ionescu told reporters: ‘I am happy that Beckett has had this prize, because he deserved it. I can say that all the more easily because there is no comparison between his kind of plays and mine.’ Marcel Archard, however, declared: ‘I am wild with rage [...] The Swedish Academy has covered itself in ridicule, it has dishonoured itself through snobbish[ness] and the desire to be with-it. Now I understand why Sartre refused the Nobel Prize.’ (See the announcement of the award in The Irish Times, 24 Oct. 1969, p.5; copied in The Irish Times, Weekend Review, 10 Oct. 2009, p.15.)
Joyce & Beckett: ‘Beckett was addicted to silences, and so was Joyce; they engaged in conversations which consisted often in silences direct towards each other, both suffused with sadness, Beckett mostly for the world, Joyce mostly for himself.’ (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, 1959 Edn., p.661.)
 
Jack Yeats: Terence de Vere White is quoted in the news story associated with the above [Ionescu, et al., - as supra], as writing of Beckett’s affinity to his friend, Jack B. Yeats: ‘In Jack Yeats’s novels you will find, in a rather formless character, the very essence of Beckett. Beckett has been able to give to the quality of Yeats a finer edge.’ (Idem; the correspondent is Dick Walsh.)
 

Dylan Thomas, review of Murphy, in New English Weekly (17 March 1938), pp.454-55: ‘[Murphy is] a complex and oddly tragic figure who cannot reconcile the unreality of the seen world with the reality of the unseen, and who, through scorn and neglect of “normal” society, drifts into the society of the certified abnormal in his search for ‘a little world’; ‘Murphy’s successors, Watt, Molloy, Moran, Malone, share his unassimilability but not his bliss. As much as they spurn the great world, it invades them, and their desperation lies in the effort to comprehend it, word it, narrate it.’ (rep. in Critical Heritage, eds. Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1974, p.47.)

Kate O’Brien, review of Murphy, in Spectator (25 March 1938): ‘Rarely have I been so entertained by a book, so tempted to superlatives and perhaps hyperboles of praise. It truly is magnificent and a treasure - if you like it. Quite useless to you, quite idiotic if you don’t.’

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Louis MacNeice, Varieties of Parable [Clark Lectures, 1963] (Cambridge UP 1965): ‘Beckett’s aged and ragged and often crippled soliloquists, senile nostalgia and all, prim obscenity and all, are always trying to be honest with themselves. Which means that they are always looking for themselves and so, ipso facto, for that which is not themselves. Their quest is metaphysical. They may not be concerned with God but they are concerned with spiritual meaning, even if all they know about this - or almost all - is its absence. And, though Beckett’s characters and probably Beckett himself would not subscribe to Kafka’s - or Golding’s - concept of sin, their never-ending efforts to answer the unanswerable questions seem to imply that they think they have done something wrong, if only through not understanding whatever it is they have done. Perhaps in Beckett the Original Sin is lack of meaning.’ (p.140; quoted in Daniel Murphy, Imagination and Religion in Anglo-Irish Literature 1930-1980, Dublin: IAP 1987, pp.127-28.)

Further: ‘It looks as if in these two work [Waiting for Godot and The Castle], as in many others of our time, there is an underlying paradoxical riddle: when is unbelief not unbelief.’ (MacNeice, op. cit., ., 118; Murphy, op. cit., p.128.)

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Eugène Ionesco: ‘The value of a play like Beckett’s Endgame … lies in its being nearer to the Book of Job than to the boulevard theatre of the chansonniers. That works has found again, across the gulf of time, across the ephemeral phenomena of history, a less ephemeral archetypal situation, a primordial subject form which all others spring … The youngest, most recent works of art will be recognised by, and will speak to, all epochs. Yes, it is King Solomon who is the leader of the movement I follow; and Job, that contemporary of Beckett.’ (‘Lorsque j’écris,’, in Cahiers des Saison, XXV, Winter 1959, p.211; quoted in Daniel Murphy, Imagination and Religion in Anglo-Irish Literature 1930-1980, Dublin: IAP 1987, p.149.)

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Kenneth Tynan, review of London premier of Waiting For Godot (3 Aug. 1955, Arts Theatre London): ‘A special virtue attaches to plays which remind the drama of how much it can do without and still exist. By all the known criteria, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a dramatic vacuum. Pity the critic who seeks a chink in its armour, for it is all chink […] It frankly jettisons everything by which we recognise theatre. It arrives at the custom house, as it were, with no luggage, no passport, and nothing to declare; yet it gets through, as might a pilgrim from Mars. It does this, I believe, by appealing to a definition of drama much more fundamental than any in the books. A play, it assets and proves, is basically a means of spending two hours in the dark without being bored. […] Its author is an Irishman living in France, a fact which should prepare us for the extra, oddly serious joke he now plays on us. Passing the time in the dark, he suggests, is not only what drama is about but also what life is about […]. His two tramps pass the time of day just as we, the audience, are passing the time of night. Were we not in the theatre, we would, like them, be clowning and quarreling, aimlessly bickering and aimlessly making up - all, as one of them says, to give the impression that we exist.’ (quoted in John Boland, ‘Bookworm’, The Irish Times, 3 Aug. 1996, Weekend, p.8.)

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Alec Reid, ‘Master of style in two languages’, in The Irish Times (24 Oct. 1969) ‘[...] His earlier writings, critical studies, poems, short stories, and a novel were in Enlgish, but since the war he has composed all his novels – the the work on which, according to the most professional critics and students of literature, his fame will rest - in French, while his plays, apart from the first two, En Attendant Godot and Fin de Partie, have been composed in English. [...] But there is far more to it than a mere linguistic virtuosity. Beckett has chosen to cast his novels in French because that language enables him to write with greater freedom from irrelevant associations, an essential advantage in the kind of novel of ideas which he has been evolving; his plays are in English because that is how he hears them, and the English he hears, as Alan Simpson has pointed out, has the unmistakeable cadence and flavour of south Co. Dublin. / Whatever language Beckett works in, he contrives to catch the doubts, the uncertainties, the anguish of unreasoning non-knowingness which seemes to be the spirit of our time.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, infra.)

Alec Reid, All I Can Manage, More Than I Could: An Approach to the Plays of Samuel Beckett (Dublin: Dolmen 1968): ‘The first point to be established is that Beckett has deliberately designed his plays to be performed by actors for an audience sitting in a theatre or beside a radio. He means them to be experienced immediately, as the sounds come at us across the footlights or out of the loudspeaker: they are not intended to be read from the silent, immobile page, and least of all are they […] commentaries on Beckett’s novels. They are pieces of theatre, needing to be performed if they are to make their full impact, as a symphony needs to be layed or a ballet to be staged.’ (p.19; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.124.)

Note - Reid quotes Hugh Kenner: ‘The play [Endgame] contains whatever ideas we discern in it; no idea contains the play.’ [q. source.]

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A. Alvarez: Beckett (London: Fontana 1973, 1978): ‘He describes the fate of the artist as being resigned to “the expression that there is nothing to epress, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” It is like the last words of The Unnamable: “you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”’ (p.17; quoted in Colm McCartney, UG Essay, UUC 2005.) [Cont.]

A. A. Alvarez: Beckett (1973, rep. 1978) - cont.: ‘Technically, it is a stage by stage assassination of the novel and all its forms in which it is traditionally received […] In that sense, Beckett was using the novel form only in order to go beyond it, using it as a clearing-house in which he could unclutter himself of his obsession and so be free to move on into another form, the drama.’ (Ibid., p.68; McCartney, idem.)

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Vivian Mercier, Beckett/Beckett (OUP 1977): ‘The aim of the chapters that follow, as their titles imply, is to focus attention on certain aspects of this all-pervasive dialectic. They do this, I hope, in three different ways. First of all, the chapters entitled “Ireland/The World” and “Artist/Philosopher” deal with areas in which critics have by now agreed that a dialectic is present […] At least three other chapters - “Gentleman/Tramp”, “Classicism/ Absurdisrn”, “Eye/Ear” - were written in the belief that Beekett criticism, while somewhat aware of each dialectic, tends to emphasise one of its poles to the almost total neglect of the other. In the chapter headings, to emphasise this neglect, I have put what might be considered the antithesis [the subordinate term] before the too familiar thesis. The chapter “Painting/Music” falls into yet a third category, being concerned with a dialectic that, so far as I can discover, Beckett criticism has not previously recognised. Finally, to which of my three categories should I assign “Woman/Man” (pp.11-12; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, pp.149.) [Cont.]

Vivian Mercier, Beckett/Beckett (1977) - cont.: ‘Nevertheless, my own severest criticism of Beckett’s oeuvre is based not on its pessimism but on its proneness to self-pity, even though that self-pity is of a very special kind, expressed by his characters on behalf of the human race […] Footfalls provides yet another example of this nagging pity. […] One is left wondering why so few of Beckett’s characters carry their distaste for life to its logical conclusion in self-destruction.’ (pp.237-38; both quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, pp.149-50.)

Bons mots: famously called Waiting for Godot ‘a play in which nothing happens twice’ (see Christopher Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000, Cambridge UP 2002, p.207).

Dr Johnson: Mercier writes of the sentence in Molloy, ‘And from the poop, poring upon the wave, a sadly rejoicing slave, I follow with my eyes the proud and futile wake. Which, as it bears me from no father landward, bears me onward to no shipwreck’ (Trilogy, Picador p.48) - that Beckett wrote it the style of Samuel Johnson. (Cited in Anthony Cronin, The Last Modernist, 1996, p.257.)

Anglo/Irish: Writing in The Irish Times (18 February 1956), ‘Pozzo in Waiting for Godot is dressed like a wicked landlord in the melodramas of Victorian Ireland (sporty bowler, riding breeches, cloak overcoat) and Lucky in the unfastened knee-breeches, bare legs and buckled shoes recalls the nineteenth-century Irish peasant of Punch cartoons.’ (See Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics, 2001).

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Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Versuch, das Endspiel zu verstehen’, in Noten zur Literatur II (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1961), pp.188-236: ‘Beckett stands existential philosophy on its feet. His play reacts to the comedy and ideological mischief of sentences like: “Courage in the boundary situation is an attitude that lets me view death as an indefinite opportunity to be myself”, regardless of whether Beckett is familiar with them or not. The misery of participants in Endgame is the misery of philosophy’. (p.190.)

Adorno: ‘Always with Beckett there is a technical reduction to the extreme. … But this reduction is really what the world makes out of us ...that is the world has made out of us these stumps of men … these men who have actually lost their I, who are really the products of the world in which we live. [Immer von Beckett ist eine technische Reduktion bis zum äußersten. … Aber diese Reduktion ist ja wirklich das was die Welt aus uns macht … das heißt die Welt aus uns gemacht diese Stümpfe von Menschen also diese Menschen die eigentlich ihr ich ihr verloren haben die sind wirklich die Produkte der Welt in der wir leben.]’ (“Beckett and the Deformed Subject” [Lecture].)

Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Versuch, das Endspiel zu verstehen’, in Noten zur Literatur II, 1961) - cont.: ‘The interpretation of Endgame therefore cannot chase the chimera of expressing its meaning through philosophical mediation. Understanding it can mean nothing else but understanding its incomprehensibility, or concretely reconstructing its meaning structure - that it has none’. (pp.204-05; both trans. by Werner Huber, in ‘Notes on Beckett’s Reception in Germany’, in Geert Lernout, ed., The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama, Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991), pp.29-39, p.36.)

See other translations as ‘Towards an Understanding of Endgame’in Bell Gale Chevigny, ed., Twentieth-Century Interpretations of “Endgame”, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1969, pp.82-114, and ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, in New German Critique 26, Summer 1982, pp.119-50, trans. by Michael T. Jones; rep. in Harold Bloom, ed. Samuel Beckett: Modern Critical Views, NY: Chelsea House 1985, pp.51-81.) Note that H. Porter Abbott quotes Adorno in identifying Endgame as the ‘abandonment of the last outpost of Western individualism’ (Abbott, Beckett Writing Beckett, 1996, p.45.)

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Theodor W. Adorno (on Endgame): ‘Understanding it can mean nothing other than understanding its incomprensibility, or concretely reconstructing its meaning structure - that it has none.’ (‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, The Adorno Reader, ed. Brian O’Connor, Oxford: Blackwell 2000, p.322; quoted in Michael McAteer, ‘Yeats’[s] Endgame: Postcolonialism and Modernism’, in Critical Ireland: New Essays in Literature and Culture, ed. Aaron Kelly & Alan Gillis, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.161.)

Theodor W. Adorno (on Endgame): ‘After the Second World War, everything, including a resurreced culutre, was destroyed, although without its knowledge. In the wake of events which even the survivors cannot survive, mankind vegetates, crawling forward on a pile of rubble, denied even the awareness of its own ruin.’

Theodor W. Adorno (on Endgame): ‘The final absurdity is that the repose of nothingness and that of reconciliation cannot be distinguished. Hope crawls out of a world in which it is no better safeguarded than pap or candy, back to where it started: to death […] Consciousness makes ready to look its own end in the face as though it sought to survive […] (Quoted in Belle Gale Chevigny, ed., 20th-Century Interpretations of “Endgame”, Prentice Hall 1969, pp.85, 114; both cited in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.125.)

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Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Engagement’, in Noten zur Literatur III (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1965), pp.109-35; trans. as ‘Commitment’, in New Left Review 87-88 (1974), pp.75-89. Cited in Werner Huber, ‘Notes on Beckett’s Reception in Germany’, in Geert Lernout, ed., The Crows Behind the Plough: History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Poetry and Drama [Costerus n.s. Vol. 79] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1991), pp.29-39: [Huber’s own trans.] ‘Kafka’s prose, Beckett’s plays, or the truly horrific novel The Unnamable produce effects compared with which the official type of littérature engagée is mere child’s play; those works excite the type of Angst, which the existentialists can only prattle about.’ (Huber, p.35; Adorno, p.129).

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Eugène Ionesco: ‘The value of a play like Beckett’s Endgame … lies in its being nearer to the Book of Job than to the boulevard theatre of the chansonniers. That works has found again, across the gulf of time, across the ephemeral phenomena of history, a less ephemeral archetypal situation, a primordial subject form which all others spring … The youngest, most recent works of art will be recognised by, and will speak to, all epochs. Yes, it is King Solomon who is the leader of the movement I follow; and Job, that contemporary of Beckett.’ (‘Lorsque j’écris,’ in Cahiers des saison, XXV, Winter 1959, p.211; quoted in Daniel Murphy, Imagination and Religion in Anglo-Irish Literature 1930-1980, Dublin: IAP 1987, p.149.)

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Hugh Kenner, Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study (NY: California UP 1961; rep. 1968): Hugh Kenner, ‘He has had a difficulty development, for he has taken on himself the burden of one conscious that he is conscious, since the seventeenth century [i.e., Descartes] a peculiarly Western burden. That is the meaning of his stories within stories, his plays within plays, his chracters within characters. it is also, with its eerie fidellity to the movements of a mind that has not noted itself in motion, the point where his highly specialised,self-immolating art impinges on our sense of the familiar.’ (p.34.) ‘Waiting for Godot reflects in its dusty but accurate mirror the Noh drama (tree, journey, concatenated rituals), Greek theatre (two actors, messengers, expectation of a deus ex machina), and commedia dell’arte (unflagging improvisation round a theme), while Endgame beats its bleak light on Shakespeare’s stage, dominated by a prince of players named Hamm. Novels and plays alike recapitulate the past of their art, so sparely that if we stare at a parallel it vanishes, so casually that if we ask Beckett the meaning of all this incumbent tradition he can cry with Dan Rooney, “it is the thing I carry about with me!” Yet its presence contributes to the powerful sense - irradiating his inert material - that he has gotten at the form’s central source of energy, and looks into a long tradition with X-ray eyes.’ (p.67). ‘Beckett protagonists characteristically tell themselves stories, and the boundary between fiction and experience is impossible to fix. The whoke , in turn, is enclosed in Beckett’s fiction; and from the unsettling intimacy of these works with what you find when you think about yourself, their magneetic power emanates. By the end of the trilogy our attention is being held by nothing succulent, no narrative, nothing but the turning wheels of rigorous precision. It has spiralled inward […] to the centre of the solitary world, the world in which every man lives nine-tenths of his life alone. it offers for our instpection, even as we read fascinated, the fascination with sequence, logic, association, with the perrmutation of our small stock of private ideas, that enables us to keep ourselves company, for many, many years. / The fallacy of most introspective fiction, which Beckett’s performance has rendered largey supererogatory, lies in its too ready assumption that the inherent interest of human being is self-evident […]’ (Ibid., p.36.)

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Hugh Kenner (Samuel Beckett, 1961): ‘The crucial place of Ireland in the recent history of Western literary art is accounted for in the historical fact that Ireland escaped the humanist dogma. Consequently the great Irish nihilists (for so they appear in a humanist perspective) have been the persistent reformers of the fictional imagination.’ (p.69; quotes Swift and Joyce.) ‘The processes of mathematics offer themselves to the Beckett protagonists as a bridge into number’s realm of the spectrally perfect, where enmired existence may be annihilated by essence utterly declared. Let a calculation get under way, let but a waft of mathematical terminology pass across the page, and the unpurged images of day recede. At least, it is reasonable to expect that they will, but Beckett’s is a world of anticlimax [.../ ...] the dream of commanding a method adequate to even the scanty requirements of sucking-stones is dissipated in compromise and frustration, and asceticism at length replaces system. He throws away all the stones but one, and that one he ultimately loses.’ (p.110). ‘For the work in hand to scrutinise its own mode of being, and having suddenly discerned the conventions upon which it is established to suddenly cancel out all certainties, by forcing on our attention a converging series of fictions, as of mirrors facing one another, this is a familiar Beckett technique.’ (p.173). Further, ‘Beckett’s work […] is far from being a by-product of hopless misery. It is the unassimilable by-product of a set of operations with words, every word of which retains its meaning and every operation its vitality. And the work leaps from end to end with comic invention.’ (Samuel Beckett, NY: Grove Press 1961, p.202; quoted in David Pattie, The Complete Guide to Samuel Beckett, 2000, p.114.)

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Hugh Kenner, A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; London: Thames & Hudson 1973), [discusses only collected pieces]: ‘By the time we arrive on the scene, as readers or as spectators, the story is over, and what is left is a situation amidst which it is being recalled ...’ (p.9.) ‘[Beckett is the] clearest, most limpid, most disciplined joiner of words in the English language today’[…] ‘We shall not find out who Godot is, and shall waste our time trying. Nor are we meant to ask what Godot ‘means’ (“If I knew, I would have said so in the play”, said Beckett.)’ (p.10.) ‘the quality of their waiting […] he has no minor works; each undertaking is of the same magnitude (p.11.) ‘Since the story […] is frequently of secondary importance, he will often use and re-use a story, or a motif, until we are apt to suppose that we are re-reading versions of the same work. […] The torment he has devised for many characters (who deserve it) is the torment of self-repetition, reciting the same tale again and again. […] fiction can afford to be most unspecific about what the stage manager must specify, and can dilate as a play cannot on mental nuances.’ (p.12.) ‘After Madame Bovary the theme of fiction after fiction proved to be illusion.’ (q.p.) ‘Endgame, I think his best play, is that apparent impossibility, a play abut a solipsist’s world, accomplished with no Pirandello flummery. Its world is monstrous, but so is the world we are defining, the world spun about one man who is ac customed to dominate because we can dominate our mental worlds. Its grotesque actualities […] correspond to Hamm’s monstrous egocentric vision’ (p.13.) Of Waiting for Godot: ‘the substance of the play, in short, is as common a human experience as you can find […] waiting amid uncertainty’ (p.32) and notes that the characters ‘manage to fill [the] time with beautifully symmetrical structures’ (p.33) involving ‘a beautiful economy of phrasing’ (p.34.) ‘A novel, in short, is a novel, not a map of the familiar world, and Beckett's novels differ from most in their consistency upon this principle.’ (p.58.)

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Hugh Kenner (A Reader’s Guide [..., &c.], 1973) - cont.: ‘Murphy […] elaborately jocular, in Watt he is reporting the results of defective research, in Mercier et Camier he lets us know that he is content to be arbitrary, the novel, then, explicitly the novelist’s fantasy. […] the experience of living in France during the Occupation systematised cruelties’ (p.16.) ‘The players in Play are like sentient tape recorders, switched on and of at whim but never changing a word. And it was somehow to be expected that Beckett should eventually devise a two-part structure of exact recurrent, though no audience, as Heraclitus foretold, steps twice in the same stream.’ (p.157.) ‘How often in Beckett’s work, the long-age death of love has been the crucial event!’ (p.161.) ‘The reason Embers failed entails a problem that has beset Beckett’s work since Endgame. He has been preoccupied since then with illusion - one pauses to remark that Happy Days is the exception - preoccupied with solipsism, with lonely people haunted by interior voices, with peoplings (How it Is) that may be the illusions of solitude.’ (p.163). Further, ‘Like music, Beckett’s language is shaped into phrases, orchestrated, cunningly repeated. The statements it makes have torque within the work’s content and only there, while the form, the symmetry, ministers to the form of the work, its uniqueness […] It is that structure shaped, sometimes self-cancelling if it pleases him, that he has laboured to perfect, draft after draft […] After years of familiarity with his work, I find no sign that it has ambitions to enunciate a philosophy of life. Nor had Stan Laurel.’ (Strauss & Ferrar, pp.37-38; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.131.)

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Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961): ‘If for Beckett, as for Sartre, man has a duty of facing the human conition as a recogniton that at the heart of our being there is nothingness, liberty, and the need of constantly creating ourselves in a succession of choices, then Godot might well become an image of what Sartre calls “bad faith” - “The first act of bad faith consists in evading what one cannot evade, in evading what one is.’ (Being and Nothingness). While these parallels may be illuminating, we must not go too far in trying to identify Beckett’s vision with any school of philosophy. It is the peculiar richness of a play like Waiting for Godot that it opens vistas on so many different perspectives. It is open to philosophical, religions, and psychological interpretations, yet above all it is a poem on time, evanescence, and the mysteriousness of existence, the paradox of change and stability, necessity and absurdity […]. (pp.61-62; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, pp.114-15.)

Martin Esslin, Meditations (London: Methuen 1980): ‘Beckett’s works through their uncompromising concentration on existential experience, also claim attention as human documents of great important; for they constitute an exploration on a hitherto unprecedented scale of the nature of human existence.’ (p.120.)

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John Fletcher, The Novels of Samuel Beckett (London: Chatto & Windus 1964): ‘The substratum, as always, is Irish, and concerns only a small part of Ireland […] it is to this layer of his consciousness that the author regularly plunges for his most deeply felt and significant episodes - thus it quite naturally occurs that Sapo and his world should be French, but Macmann and his territory Irish. (p160.)

John Fletcher, The Novels of Samuel Beckett (1964) - cont.: ‘[S]uffering, as the inevitable price that has to be paid, his writing to be undermined by an indifference not his own: to speak of a world in ruins one has to make one’s art a ruin before building upon it something new. Joining his heroes in their extremity, he sends back these painful but unimpressive reports for us to read.’ (p.176.) [Both cited in Darren Gribben, ‘Samuel Beckett and the Disembodied Irish Narrative Voice’, MA Diploma in Anglo-Irish Literature, Univ. of Ulster, 2000.] (Cont.)

John Fletcher, The Novels of Samuel Beckett (1964) - cont.: ‘Murphy is the last of the heroes who can be described as a citizen of the world; in Watt the tone comes much nearer to the strident cry of loneliness and despair that is characteristically Beckettian’ ([q.p.].) [The Beckettian hero is] ‘par excellence an agile but despairing mind tied to, and unable to escape from, a decaying and disgusting body which he holds in contempt and the appetites (sexual as well as alimentary) which are fit only to be the butt of the crudest ridicule. The dualistic split foreshadowed in Belacqua is acute in Murphy, and the fact that the latter feels profoundly divided is ultimately the cause of the catastrophe that kills him.’ (The Novels of Samuel Beckett (1964) [q.p.].)

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Josephine Jacobsen & William R. Muellar, The Testament of Samuel Beckett (London: Faber 1964; rep. 1966): ‘Beckett the novelist and Beckett the playwright remain Beckett the poet.’ (p.20); ‘[…] the Beckett universe, the Beckett protagonist: this unique figure of which all alter egos are the mask - a giant, amorphous, frightening creation, whose image dominates every word Beckett has written.’ (p.21.) Jocobsen refers to the Beckett protagonist as distinct from its manifestations as “Q” (Idem.) ‘In the novels the only motion was circular; identities merged, and emerged, and remerged [sic]. Locale, data, characters gave out under the reader’s feet with the abruptness of a pitfall. There was the sense of a mockery which ridiculed all things, even suffering; a sense of mystery which [m]oulded the reader’s hasty, or even sober, conclusion. And there there were the repetitions. […] An object intrinsically insignificant […] reappears like some nemesis, shifting commonplace and horrifying aspects.’ (p.22.) ‘[T]he work of Samuel Beckett is a major contribution to literature, to poetry, and to the ancient questions man has asked in attempting to establish the truth of his identity and his predicament.’ (p.23). ‘Beckett is in revolt against what he envisages as a scientific position […] Beckett is in revolt also against virtually our whole literary tradition’ (p.71). [For Table of Contents and further extracts, see Archives, “Criticism > Major Authors”, via index, or direct.]

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Richard N. Coe, Beckett (Edinburgh & London: Oliver & Boyd 1964): ‘In his poetry, where he usually speaks directly, he either camouflages his Self so well that none but his intimates can guess at the hidden meanings, or else reduces this same Self to a commonplaceness which even the Figaro littéraire might find acceptable. In Whoroscope, however, he has interposed between himself and the world another figure [Descartes], and this is the solution which will be continued in Murphy and Watt, in the unpublished Mercier et Camier, and in the plays - with this additional factor, that Murphy, Watt, etc., are also grotesque and the element of parody serves as an additional barrier against the ironic assaults of the world. But the final solution - arrived at gradually by way of Molloy and Malone Dies - lies in the creation of a pseudo-Self, a narrator whose “I” is at first reading indistinguishable from Beckett’s own, and yet who, clearly, moves in a dimension which is not that of any living mortal.’ (p.17.) [Cont.]

Richard N. Coe, Beckett (1964) - cont.: ‘Beckett’s plays, from Godot to Happy Days, are, as it were, running commentaries on his novels; but inevitably, the various aspects of the problem of Time loom larger, while other themes tend to fade into the background.’ (p.88); ‘Waiting for Godot, then, is the angoisse of man at grips with time, the finite clutching at the infinite. But Beckett’s genius in the play lies in weaving the inconclusiveness of his rational system into a pattern of imagery so complex, that almost every line suggests another train of images and ideas leading, like the extremities of parabolas, towards infinity.’ (p.93.)

Richard N. Coe, Beckett (1964) - cont.: ‘The central theme of Beckett’s philosophy - the impenetrable tangle of relationships between the essential Self and the apparent Self - drove him necessarily in the novel towards the form of the extended monologue. On turning to the theatre . the compulsive forces which demanded the monologue did not cease to operate, and Krapp’s Last Tape was Beckett’s first experiment in designing for the stage a monologue which is at the same time, in the full sense of the world, dramatic.’ (p.103.)

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Peter Brook, ‘You can snipe at them, you can throw custard pies at them; they continue serenely on their way […] They are critic-proof.’ (‘Endgame as King Lear, or How to Stop Worrying and Love Beckett’, in Encore, [12] Jan.-Feb. 1965, pp.8-12.)

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Sean O’Casey, ‘Not Waiting for Godot’, in Blasts and Benedictions: Articles and Stories, ed. Sean O’Casey (London: Macmillan; NY: St. Martin’s Press 1967), pp.51-52: ‘Beckett? I have nothing to do with Beckett. He isn’t in me; nor am I in him. I am not waiting for Godot to bring me life; I am out after life myself, even at the age I’ve reached. […] That Beckett is a clever writer, and that he has written a rotting and remarkable play, there is no doubt; but his philosophy isn’t my philosophy, for within him there is no hazard for hope; no desire for it; nothing in it but a lust for despair, and a crying of woe, not in a wilderness, but in a garden.’ (p.51)

Thomas E. Porter, S.J., ‘Samuel Beckett: Dramatic Tradition and the Ausländer’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 1 (Spring 1969), pp. 62-75: in his opening sentence, Porter quotes Beckett’s ‘acrostic for his literary exemplar and fellow expatriate James Joyce in which he referred to his native land as the “haemorrhoidal isle.”’ (Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, NY: 1959, p.714.)

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Marilyn Caddis Rose, ‘Solitary Companions in Beckett and Jack B. Yeats’, Éire-Ireland, 4, 2 (Summer 1969), pp. 66-80, remarks that ‘Yeats, who never let anyone see him painting, was a solitary creator as a writer also. Beckett likewise. Beckett says that they did not discuss their works in progress. They sent each other their works after publication. Beckett does not recall seeing Yeats’s plays performed. Surprisingly, although the men are more than two generations apart, their/ writing careers nearly coincide up to Yeats’s death in 1957. The older man had been publishing random pieces since 1890, but his first piece of serious adult fiction Sligo comes in 1930, the same year as Beckett’s first publication of the poem Whoroscope. Although the work “influence” may be misleading where these two solitary companions are concerned, the likenesses between their writings are more than Irish coincidences. It is a clear case of spiritual kinship, Yeats through his writing reënforcing the impact his paintings and presence made upon his young compatriot - and always preceding him.’ (pp.68-69 in Rose, Éire-Ireland, 4, 2, Summer 1969, pp. 66-80.)

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Frederick S. Kiley, ‘Baedeker for Beckett’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 4 (Winter 1971), pp.104-109; ‘Beckett’s mode is essentially comic, principally because the tragic hardly qualifies as a natural response to an insight into the dementia that stares out vacantly from the core of the human fact on earth. he even labels the species of laugh that man’s Sisyphean torment evokes - the dianoetic laugh’. (p.105)

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Ruby Cohn, Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut (Rutgers UP 1962): ‘The illiberal jest lies at the root of the corrective theory of comedy - the leading theory of comeedy of the Western cultural tradition. By laughing at the comic defect of the victim, the laugher exorcises that defect from his own makeup. More recetly, comedy has been interpreted as social consolation, to wwhich laughter is irrelevant. In the latter view, the comic hero is integrated […] into his society, whereas the tragic hero is isolated from his. [.../] So ambiguou are Beckett’s heroes that they appear to exist in tragic isolation rather than comic isolation. But can a world be labelled tragic when the isolation of the hero from his society is conveyed by recourse to various comic tricks of literary or theatrical heritage? if tragicomedy can be defined as “a play mainly of tragic character, but with a happy ending”, perhpas Beckett’s works should be called comitragedy.’ (p.8; quoted in Pattie, Complete Guide to Samuel Beckett, London; Routledge 2000, p.116.) [Cont.]

Ruby Cohn, Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut (1962) - cont.: ‘Beckett’s motif […] is that words and thoughts are emotions, what fiction is out only knowledge, and all knowledge a fiction written in a foreign tongue […] All Beckett’s fictions merge, finally, into the unique, suffering artist-human, ironically probing the meaning of fiction, and the fiction of meaning. This is Beckett’s unique achievemet, uniquely achieved.’ (pp.167-68; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, pp.116-17.)

Ruby Cohn, Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut (1962) - cont.: ‘Dramatic or fictional, Beckett’s work paints an ironic portrait of man, Everyman, as artist - liar. He paints in words- in the words that his heroes revile and unreavel, in the words he weaves into one f the masterly prose styles of our time / Within each fictional genre, Beckett undermines that very fictional genre […] He pommels existence with the questions of hs characters, or with their frenzied affirmations immediately followedd by more frenzied negation. These questions slap at life as well as arat; for any interpretation of life as a construction, a game, a work of art. Bordering on a reality that is necessarily unknown, unknowable, and frustratingly seductive.’ (pp.298-99; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, pp.117-18.)

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Raymond Federman, Journey to Chaos: Beckett’s Early Fiction (California UP 1965): ‘Placed on the periphery of human life, reduced to nondescript identities, these subhuman creatures represent the evolution of mankind from the ape to the mystery of its future condition. In his French works Beckett no longer satirises, as he did in his English fiction, the mediocrity of certain types of people, of certain social institutions; instead he confronts the reader with the crude image of being - the image of a creature stripped of all human attributes, who, while crawling naked like a worm in the mud, reveals the secret of the creative process as well as the agony of the process of life, whether real or fictitious. (Federman 1965: 204-05; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.121.)

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