Samuel Beckett: Commentary (2)

File 1
File 2

File 1
Dylan Thomas
Kate O’Brien
Irish Book Lover
Kenneth Tynan
A. A. Alvarez
Vivian Mercier
Theodor W. Adorno
Eugène Ionescu
Hugh Kenner
Martin Esslin
Alec Reid
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

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
Colm Tóibín
Fintan O’Toole
Maev Kennedy
Nicholas Lezard

Beckett in America

In the summer of 1964, Beckett flew to New York to help with the shooting of his movie Film, starring, of all people, Buster Keaton, a career alcoholic for whom the movie made no sense; but he did it anyway because he was behind on his bar tab. Beckett didn’t particularly like the United States, a sentiment he expressed with such vague certitude it could be mistaken for diplomatic politesse: “This is somehow not the right country for me,” he said. “The people are too strange.” Knowing he was an avid fan of cricket, a friend brought Beckett to a Mets baseball game - a doubleheader. Sitting through a doubleheader of the 1964 Mets would make Godot seem like a Broadway musical by comparison:

[VLADIMIR: And where were we yesterday evening according to you?
ESTRAGON: How would I know? In another compartment. There's no lack of void. ]

When the first game ended, Beckett stood up and said “is it over?” And his friend said “yes, but it’s a doubleheader, so they play again.” And Beckett sat back down and said, “then it’s not over.&1#48; You can’t make this shit up.

—As told by Garry Pearce on Facebook [04.03.2018.]

J. M. Coetzee, ‘The Manuscript Revisions of Beckett’s Watt’, in Journal of Modern Literature (Nov. 1972), pp.472-80: ‘Watt is an uneven and anarchic work.’ (p.472); ‘Each sentence has its own little plot which in its workings out defines the verbal elements of the sentence and their dispositions.’ (p.480; quoted in Kingsley Hepburn, “The Early Samuel Beckett: An Un-philosophical Approach” [MA Diss.] QUB 2010., p.35.)

[ top ]

John Pilling, Samuel Beckett (London: Routledge 1976): ‘Despite the fact that there are no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names,, no bodytight mind, no mindtight body, one must have the absurd but dauntless quest after such things. And the quest will take many forms. Malone is, in the end, absolutely right: “the forms are many in which the unchanging seeks relief from its formlessness”. And in the process, life becomes art.’ (1976, p.66.)

John Pilling (Samuel Beckett, 1976) - cont.: ‘It is as if Beckett’s own creativity has come under scrutiny; the necessary liberation to compose one’s narrative ... is ousted by the remorseless repetition of event - what the Proust book calls “habit” - to which passing time commits us all. As the plays become more and more elemental there is less and less time for the narratives to tell themselves but our fictions have their revenge by taking on independent life, and compelling us to go on telling them. (p.109; both quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.133.)

[ top ]

Eric P. Levy, Beckett and the Voice of the Species: A Study of the Prose Fiction (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1980): ‘Like the artists and philosophers before him, he asks the question ’What does it mean to be human?’The answer he gets is disturbing: to be human is to seek endlessly for an identity and a universe in which to enjoy it. This is the plight of our species. Moreover, this position should in no way be constructed as a brand of Existentialism or a doctrine of Absurdity. While these two other schools both address what they see as the fundamental ambiguity and perplexity of human experience, they nevertheless have no difficulty elaborately constructing the two poles, subjective or objective, of that experience. The doctrine of Absurdity, for example, puts man in a meaningless universe but does not hesitate to enumerate the characteristics of that universe nor to suggest ways for man to cope with life in it... In contrast, the questioning in Beckett’s fiction no longer concerns merely the objective pole of experience ... but now addresses the very process of structuring experience into the poles of subject and object ... Human experience is an experience of Nothing: the only reality it knows is the inability to interpret its own structure.’ (pp.3-4; quoted in David Pattie, op. cit., p.158.) [Cont.]

Eric P. Levy, Beckett and the Voice of the Species [... &c.] (1980) - cont.: ‘The primacy of story over narrator is progressively reversed in Beckett’s prose ... The Beckettian narrator knows only the endless experience of trying vainly to complete the narrative act’ (p.5.) ‘What, then, is his experience in this universe of pure narration?’ (p.7.) The pure narrator, then, is the means Beckett has found to express the experience of Nothing, a flux of empty experience with neither subject nor object. In fact, to the extent that it implies a discrete self discoursing [...] the term “narrator” is misleading [....] Here, Beckett has hit upon a perfect way to indicate the absolute passivity of the experience of Nothing where empty impressions are registered but with no definite [9] subject responsible for having them in the first place. / Thus, in the pure narrator and his experience of Nothing, Beckett expresses the impasse reached by the great enterprise of Western Humanism. (p.10).

[ top ]

Angela Moorjani, Abyssmal Games in the Novels of Samuel Beckett (N. Carolina UP 1982): ‘From an examination of Molloy’s narrative [...] it appears that the components of the Oedipus myth are inscribed in duplicate. The Louisse episode condenses the entire drama into a dreamlike emblem in the middle of the narrative which, since it stages embedded inner journeys to the mother, traces Molloy’s movements through regions that evoke the mother and the unconscious: the walled city of his birth, the seashore, the dark forest, and the central garden of Louisse. The quest, as we have seen, is both commanded and forbidden by multiple embodiments of a paradoxical law: maternal voices that order and forbid, paternal figures that obstruct and goad, sphinxes both male and female. The violence against the father, of which there are two versions, and the union with the mother figures, however, fail to lead anywhere. Indeed, rather than Oedipus, Molloy is an anti-Oedipus, for instead of solving the riddle of the sphinx and attaining sovereignty, Molloy in a regressive movement recedes from his mother’s room via the sphinx to the killing of the stranger at the crossroads to the final crawling on all fours out of the forest and into the bowels of the earth.’ (p.106; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.160.)

[ top ]

Allen Thiher, ‘Wittgenstein, Heidegger, The Unnamable, and Sound Thoughts on the Status of Voice in Fiction’, in Samuel Beckett: Humanistic Perspectives, ed. Morris Beja, S. E. Gontarski & Pierre Astier (Ohio State UP 1983): ‘Beckett’s narrators are constantly playing with variations on the idea that mere naming suffices to grant existence or to offer being [...] it is precisely the nature of literary language or a feature of the ontology of fiction, that to name is to confer existence.’ (p.65.)

[ top ]

Richard Kearney, Myth and Motherland [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 5] (Derry: Field Day Co. 1984), for account of Beckett’s reaction to the symbolism practised by the literary revival (‘No symbols where none intended’) and his charges against poets who ‘flee from self-awareness’, picking out Sean O’Casey for praise in view of his anti-nationalism in Juno and the Paycock [here Peacock] especially as a testimony to the collapse of all notions of national identity[quoting]: “mind and world come asunder in irreparable dissociation - chassis.” (Quoting ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, in Bookman, No. 86, 1934, [q.p.]; Kearney, p.16.)

Richard Kearney, ‘Beckett: The Demythologising Intellect’, in The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions, ed. Kearney (Dublin: Wolfhound 1985), pp.267-93: ‘Beckett’s entire literary oeuvre embodies a modern critique of traditional notions of “identity” - whether it concerns the self, being, language, God or one’s sense of national belonging. His aim, I suggest, is less a nihilistic deconstruction of sense into non-sense than a playful wish to expose the inexhaustible comedy of existence.’ (p.293.)

[ top ]

J. C. C. Mays, ‘Young Beckett’s Irish Roots’, in Irish University Review 14, 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 18-33: ‘But Ireland is most important to Beckett as an inheritance to deny, or a set of appearances to go behind, or a range of authorities to disagree with.’ (p.21.) [Cont.]

J. C. C. Mays, ‘Young Beckett’s Irish Roots’ (Irish University Review, Spring 1984): ‘Beckett was very much of his generation in his understanding of the situation in more than national terms, in feeling the alternative to Yeats lies not in realism but, following the example of Joyce, in European writers of a quite different ambience.’ (‘Mythologizing Presences: Murphy in Its Time’, in Myth and Reality, ed. Joseph Ronsley, 1977, p.203.)

J. C. C. Mays, ‘Young Beckett’s Irish Roots’ (Irish University Review, Spring 1984): ‘Miss Counihan in the novel [Murphy] is Ireland’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan, whom the novel’s characters chase round in circles at a distance from anything central. Neary is a Trinity College philosopher named H. S. Macran, a great Hegelian and eccentric, who was often to be found in Neary’s pub. Austin Ticklepenny is Austin Clarke. Mr. Endon has touches of Beckett’s friend Thomas MacGreevy, and Mr Willoughby Kelly of Joyce.’ (Idem.)

[ top ]

Declan Kiberd, ‘Samuel Beckett and the Protestant Ethic’, in The Genius of Irish Prose, ed. Augustine Martin (Dublin: Mercier 1985), pp. 121-30: ‘Beckett’s plays are a slow-motion re-enactment of the puritan closing-down of the theatres.’ (p.124.) ‘For the Protestant ethic of work, he has substituted the Puritan ethic of relentless self-exploration, and produced the most striking testimony of our times to the need for human sufferings to be at once experience and unexplained.’ (pp.129-30; the foregoing quoted in Mary Junker, The Irish Dimension, Wolfhound Press 1995, q.p.].

Declan Kiberd, ‘Beckett and the Life to Come’, in Beckett in Dublin, ed. S. E. Wilmer (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1992), pp.75-84:

‘Beckett’s pilgrim’s progress - which might better be called a via dolorosa - begins with “Dante and the Lobster” and the problem of pain. The informing idea is that humans may be improved by suffering. [...] With the sudden death of his own father - a man in the prime of life as a quantity surveyor - Beckett faced these issued starkly in the mid 1930s, [...] his finest poems derive from this period’; A very Irish grudge against God which the merely godless would ne’er feel [...] “The bastard, He doesn’t exist!”; Every text a “stain upon the silence” that might be more beautiful if it didn’t exist; Belacqua Shah aspires to nothingness, quite literally, “What I am on the lookout for is nowhere, so far as I can see”; wishes to live his life in a “Beethoven pause”; “dirty low-down low Church Protestant highbrow”. [...] He fondly imagines himself to be an indolent Bohemian but at heart he is a puritan, seeking to replace the smooth Catholic rituals of the aesthetic adventure with a more literal minded low church honesty.’ [Cont.]

‘He is in fact an anti-Bohemian [. ...] at the root of Murphy’s refusal of the shallow Protestant ethic is a deeply Protestant desire to unlock and inhabit his own mind. This tragic conflict, at the core of Protestant spirituality, will lead the later Beckett to create a near monastic cellular set of structures for the protagonists of the trilogy and subsequent prose [...] Celia insists that virtue [...] is active in the world; the soul’s raw exposure to what Beckett elsewhere calls the “suffering of being” [Proust]; “balls-aching poppycock” and “a stain upon the silence”; Pozzo punished for an insincere evocation of nightfall by a real blindness; Yeats and Beckett aestheticised elements of their childhood faith [...]’. Here quotes Hugh Kenner: “the issueless Protestant confrontation with conscience”. [Cont.]

Kiberd calls Beckett ‘one of those writers who consider theology too important to be left to the theologians’; cites Weber [Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism], and discusses the confession to self without the priest which makes way for endless monologue. It may well be that the voice which speaks in the last 50 pages of The Unnamable is the voice of God, insofar as that word has meaning in this century, not any reassuringly traditional godhead, but a core of selfhood towards which all of Beckett’s mystics move. [...] one of those rare writers who truly captured the mystery of being in the world. He did this in a religious language which was completely devoid of pretence or the accretions of institutional discourse. He is that rare and a wonderful thing, a truly religious writer.’

Declan Kiberd, ‘Beckett’s Texts of Laughter and Forgetting’, Inventing Ireland (London: Cape 1995), pp.530-50: ‘Beckett [is] the first truly Irish playwright, because [he is] the first utterly free of factitious elements of Irishness.’ (p.531; cited in Aidan Arrowsmith, ‘Debating Diasporic Identity: Nostalgia (Post) Nationalism, Critical Traditionalism’, Irish Studies Review, August 1999, p.175.)

[ top ]

S. E. Gontarski, The Intent of “Undoing” in Beckett’s Dramatic Texts (Indiana UP 1985): ‘From his earliest artistic years, Beckett struggled to reject mimesis, based as it is on a fundamental empiricism, as an art of surfaces. The perfection of the illusion of reality interested him little. A flirtation with naturalistic film in the 1930s notwithstanding, his most strongly and frequently expressed aesthetics was anti-naturalistic, anti- any system that makes of art finally another set of conventions by imposing an artificial order a phrase that, for the young Beckett, at least, is redundant. On existence, on the self. Beckett’s continuing artistic struggles are to discover or develop accurate, pleasing, formal substitutes for the logic and causality that he rejected by repudiating naturalism or psychological realism. The aesthetic danger is, of course, simply finding another external form, a danger to which Beckett may have at least partly acceded in his more formalist drama and prose. (Gontarski, 1985, p.5; quoted in Pattie, op. cit., 2000, p.161.)

[ top ]

Peter Gidal, Understanding Beckett: A Study of Monologue and Gesture (London: Macmillan 1986): ‘[The way] the speaker on-stage becomes [an] introjection for the viewer, and [is] reprojected into the “character” on-stage, are a forced difficulty for the viewer, who is thus imbricated in this process and its complex functioning throughout. Because of the inability to identify simply projection and introjection as ever separable from “true” speech on stage and simple understanding consumed by the view, it becomes impossible to formulate in Footfalls a notion of self.’ (pp.161-62; quoted in Maria Jose Mayado Zanca, UG essay, UU 2004.)

[ top ]

Vicki Mahaffey, Reauthorizing Joyce (Cambridge UP 1988), Introduction: ‘One of the most concise and moving accounts of the freedom and the isolation of taking a truly egalitarian view of light and dark, the mental and the physical, is found not in joyce’s work but in that of his disciple Samuel Beckett. Beckett’s Murphy is a less optimistic counterpart to Bloom - less heroic, more pathetic, more subject to the black comedy of circumstance, less an epitome of epic endurance - but despite the differences, Murphy consciously tries to recreate the evenness of mind that Bloom restores to the universe of Ulysses. In the sixth chapter of Murphy, the narrator’s description of Murphy’s mind is furnished with a reading of Christianity as subject both to “the idealist tar- and “the ethical yoyo,” both of which Murphy has managed - not without some absurdity to elude [quotes Murphy: “Murphy’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without ... It felt no issue between its light and dark, no need for its light to devour its dark. The need was now to be in the light, now in the half light, now in the dark. That was all.” (Murphy, Grove Press 1957, pp.107-08.] (Cont.)

Vicki Mahaffey, Reauthorizing Joyce (1988), Introduction: ‘Murphy understands and needs the kind of binary authority embodied by Bloom: he, like Bloom, has intuited and appreciates the “evenness” in “evening,” and prefers it to a mode of feeling that requires the mind’s light “to devour its dark.” / Murphy is shot through with the effects of Joyce’s reading of light and darkness: Murphy is in love with Celia, whose name means “sky,” recalling Murphy to the light and darkness, heaven and hell, of creation. (Ibid., p.176.) Murphy is only at peace when he rocks, his gaze arrested looking down, then looking up: “Slowly he felt better, astir in his mind, in the freedom of that light and dark that did not clash, nor alternate, nor fade nor lighten except to their communion.” (Ibid., p.252.) Murphy is a Stephen Dedalus who never has and never will realize the values Bloom represents, except as dark “virtual” forms in his mind.’ (See longer extract in RICORSO Library, “Major Authors”, James Joyce - Mahaffey, infra.)

[ top ]

David Cairns & Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland, Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture (Manchester UP 1988), pp.136-37: ‘“An Elysium of the roofless” was Samuel Beckett’s description of a land where “history’s ancient faeces [...] are ardently sought after, stuffed and carried in processions. Wherever nauseated time has dropped a nice fat turd”, he continued, “you will find our patriots, sniffing it up, on all fours, their faces on fire”’ (Beckett, First Love, 1973, pp.30-31).

David Cairns & Shaun Richards (Writing Ireland, Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture, 1988) - cont.: ‘Beckett’s novel [Murphy] is a sustained deflation of such concepts. The rear of the statue of Cuchulain in the Dublin Post Office is the object on which Neary attempts to brain himself - “That Red Branch bum was the camel’s back”; a will requests that the deceased’s ashes be flushed away in the toilet of the Abbey Theatre, and in the description of Miss Counihan Beckett provided the ultimate demystification of she with the walk of a queen: “Standing in profile against the blazing corridor, with her high buttocks and her low breasts, she looked not merely queenly, but on for anything”.’ (Murphy, 1973, p.123).

David Cairns & Shaun Richards (Writing Ireland, Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture, 1988) - cont.: qQuotes ‘Beckett’s well-known preference for “France in war to Ireland in peace”; an expression of the sense of “Nothing to be done” which afflicted those described by Terence Brown as “members of the very small Irish bourgeoisie that in its urban tastes and values had been overtaken by the populist rural values of the new state.”’ (Brown, Ireland: A Social & Cultural History, 1985, p.168); Such negative responses are castigated by Seamus Deane as creating “a fetish of exile, alienation and dislocation’ (Deane, Heroic Styles, Field Day Pamph. 1985, p.58).

[ top ]

Sylvie Debevec Henning, Beckett’s Critical Complicity: Carnival, Contestation, and Tradition (Kentucky UP 1988) - Introduction: ‘The Accompliced Critic’: ‘Samuel Beckett’s work is commonly regarded as symptomatic of Western anxiety and self-doubt in the twentieth century. Often it has been considered representative of modern existentialist or absurdists movements. This view tends, I believe, to obscure Beckett’s more critical relation to our cultural context, a relation in which certain fundamental philosophical issues are frequently addressed in satirical, or even carnivalizing, fashion. In jesting confrontation with major representatives of our cultural heritage, his work offers serious challenge to many of their basic assumptions, for example, the desire for final resolution, including every form of integral totality, closed system, the comprehensive dialectic. By embodying, moreover, the enduring tension between our ipulse to order, structure, and identity, and a counterimpulse to question or even oppose such phenomena, carnivalized dialogization also provide a more affirmative face of anxierty that is never entirely sublimated. [...] Beckett shares Mikhaeil Bakhtin’s criticism of the repressive monologism that is so characteristic of Wester thought with its penchant for abstract integrality. Murphy, for example, can be read as a Menippean satire on totalitarian thinking in general. In many of Beckett’s “threshold dialogues”, such as Malone Dies, objective unity is recognised as an illusion, yet the protagonists continue struggling to establish [1] authoritarian control over one another or over their own unruly selves. The desire for subjective oneness remains strong, although not unchallenged.’ (pp.1.-2.) [Cont.]

Sylvie Debevec Henning (Beckett’s Critical Complicity: Carnival, Contestation, and Tradition, 1988) - cont: ‘Bakhtin’s generally hostile view of modern fictions suggests that he would have placed Beckett among those who perpetuate the “Romantic” deformation of folk carnival. Romantic aspects do exist in Beckett and constitute a definite tendency perceptible in both his critical essays and his literary work. His subjects, whether fictional characters or fellow artists, often retreat into solitary chambers to savor solipsistic pleausures and sorrows. Another tendency exists, however, and counters the first with parody and irony that is frequently self-directed. Moreover, the private chamber generally becomes the scene of a confrontation, both intra- and intertextual, between characters and their provocative doubles. These garrets, padded cells, hospitals or boardingrooms function as stages for carnivalized encounters analogous to those that occur in Dostoyevsky’s parlors. When, as in Endgame, these rooms can be described as “cranial boxes” (Disjecta, 126), the mind itself has been transformed into a carnival agora.’ (p.2.) [Available at Google Books - online; acccessed 1.12.2011].

[ top ]

John Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991), sets out to challenge the ‘institutionalised’ revisionism typified by Louis Cullen’s ‘classic of revisionism’ - 1969 reassessment of Daniel Corkery’s Hidden Ireland (rep. 1989). Harrington writes: ‘[the] establishment of the local contexts of Beckett’s world in these chapters likely upsets the respective compartmentalisations of Beckett by revivalists and revisionists.’ [7] He goes on to assert that the current literary anti-patriotism (as he sees it) has not yet summoned up a diastolic return to patriotism. ‘Far from being solely transition’s offspring, Beckett’s earliest criticism, poetry, and obiter dicta are profoundly entangled in Irish literary issues, including both literary precedence and consequent literary agenda.’ (p.14.) [Cont.]

‘Beckett reviewed Jack Yeats’s novel The Amaranthers in an unsolicited article published in the Dublin Magazine, during the composition of Murphy. He praised the directness of expression, “The artist takes things to pieces and makes new things”, and he noted that Yeats avoids forcing an impression of Ireland on his material, “The Island is not throttled into Ireland [...] nor the City into Dublin”, notwithstanding “one immigrant, in his cups, recited a long narrative poem” (p.40.) [Cont.]

‘Malone’s enterprise of discovering, or at least perpetuating, himself in stories has some specific significance in the Irish context. As liberating as it seems for him to shed the conventions of narrative fiction, the enterprise also entraps him in the culture-specific role of seanachie, or storyteller, and all the historical freight that comes with that designation. [...] On the survival of the seanachie role in modern Irish literature, [John] Waters observes that the inheritance is a “dual sense of cultural identity”. The modern Irish comic writer “tends to be suspicious of his rhetorical heritage and at the same time thoroughly capable of exploiting it.”’ (p.80).

‘Beckett’s dissent to antiquarianism centres on conventionalism, not on those fictive qualities of the myths of the revival stressed by other scholars of nationalism and by recent revisionists of Irish cultural history.’ (1991, p.87.) ’Murphy is virtually unique in Beckett’s fiction for its partial setting in a particular identifiable place outside Ireland. As if to underscore connections with issued peculiar to Ireland, other portions of Murphy are set in Cork and in Dublin.’ (p.91.)

Harrington gives an account of the Gogarty libel suit, with details of the trial report in which Beckett is cross-examined by J. M. Fitzgerald (here pp.82-84); at the libel trial, Justice O’Byrne advised the jury [that] ‘he [Beckett] did not strike me as a witness on whose word I, personally, would place a great deal of reliance [...] but when it comes to weighing up the evidence [...] that is a matter entirely for you and not for me’; cites newspaper commentaries, ‘Dr Gogarty’s Book’, Irish Press (23 Nov. 1937), and ‘Books Libel Suit’ (24 Nov. 1937).

‘In [the] debate over adherence to tradition in relation to rejection of it. Beckett is not summoned by revisionist as symptomatic of the limits of revivalism (like Flann O’Brien or Kavanagh) but as exemplary modernist for protracted interrogation of the idea of identity and unequivocal rejection of inherited certainties. In this last, however, Beckett does not totally support the program of revisionism. [...] Beckett’s address to symbols of national identity [was] much more qualified and ambivalent [...] nor can Murphy be called an equivocal rejection of Yeats and his revival assocations [... E]ven the Sinclair libel trial cannot be reduced to simple alienation [...] It is, rather, an indication of [John Hutchinson’s] alienating effects [...] Murphy is an illustration of alienating effects in its dissatisfaction with national terms of identity and collateral inability or unwillingness to depart from them or to reject them absolutely. (p.107.) ‘The place of Beckett’s works in Irish literary tradition is most evident in his plays, while the place of Ireland in Beckett’s works is most evident in his novels (p.156).

cites Swift’s tower in More Pricks than Kicks and [Oliver] Sheppard’s statue of Cuchulain in Murphy and further remarks: ‘But subsequent Beckett works move [...] towards the general, canal, or hill, or place on a road. [...] never completely frees itself from the type names. Connolly’s Stores in Company, for example, or Croker’s Acres in Not I. But his work quite gradually and quite studiously does complicate the pride of place fundamental to the project of establishing a national identity in the Irish literary revival; that complication is gradual enough and studious enough to suggest revision of previous ideals. [... O]ne might as well say that Beckett’s own movement from particular to general in the use of specifically Irish place-names or type names could be construed as fulfilling Joyce’s own surmise in Finnegans Wake that may or may not constitute literal reference to Beckett: “Sam knows miles bettern me how to work the miracle. [...] He’ll prisckly soon hand tune your Erin’s ear for you”.’ (FW, p.467; Harrington, p.180.)

‘The operative question in much Beckett criticism is, as it should be, that of Happy Days: “What does it mean? What’s it meant to mean?” The answer in regard to the Irish Beckett is that Beckett’s work elaborates a paradigm of orientation and disorientation, of place and individual, and of context and imagination that is analogous to, among other things, the particular historical complex of modern Ireland and other comparable complexes of affiliation and self-determination in personal and collective forms. The Irish Beckett offers no easy reduction. It does not suggest, for example, the view facetously reported by A. J. Leventhal that “the whole conception of Waiting for Godot is Irish.” But attention to the Irish contexts does indicate that Beckett’s work is of a broader scope thant he narrow chronology and topical bounds of Irish literature, and that Irish cultural self-examination has been a more sophisticated if less progressve form of identity thinking than is usually suggested. Further, Irish Beckett places his work on a verge at the end of the literary revival, from which it looks back and recapitulates more than it looks forward in prophetic-visionary fashion. In all its ample Irish materials, Beckett’s work has the means, the historic [sic] materials, to offer positivistic outcomes, but it does not. A small consolation as Company offers for tis troblesome oeuvre is that “Confusion too is company up to a point.” (Beckett, Company, NY: Grove, 1980, p.26; Harrington, p.191 [End].) [Available in part at Google Books - online.]

[ top ]

Salmon Rushdie, ‘Outside the Whale’, in Imaginary Homelands: Essays in Criticism, 1981-1991 (London: Viking/Granta 1991): ‘We see that it can be as false to create a politics-free fictional universe as to create one in which nobody needs to work or eat or hate or love or sleep. Outside the whale it becomes necessary, and even exhilarating, to grapple with the special problems created by the incorporation of political material, because politics is by turns farce and tragedy, and sometimes (e.g., Zia’s Pakistan) both at once. Outside the whale the writer is obliged to accept that he (or she) is part of the crowd, part of the ocean, part of the storm, so that objectivity becomes a great dream, like perfection, an unattainable goal for which one must struggle in spite of the impossibility of success. Outside the whale is the world of Samuel Beckett’s famous formula: I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’ (pp.100-01; quoted in Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, 1993, p.30; here p.30.)

[ top ]

Mary Junker, Beckett: The Irish Dimension (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1995), 199pp. Quotes Anthony Roche on Beckett’s use of radio and television: ‘demonstrating how the formal techniques of these media - camera movement and perspective in film, voice-over and close-up in television - provide multiple ways to stage a self-confrontation’ (‘Beckett’s contexts’, Hermethena, CXLI, p.74); cites Eoin O’Brien, to the effect that the Irishness in Beckett’s work seems part of its vital core: the element which he himself sees as constituting in any work of art, its ‘condensing spiral of need’ (O’Brien, Beckett Country, p.xxiii.); argues that the increasing ‘lessness’ of his later work and the difficult aspect of his technique - opacity, obscurity, ambivalence - is lessened by a fuller understanding of the language, lore and ‘soul-landscape’of his Irish plays.’; cites Vivian Mercier’s remarks that he himself comes from ‘the same rather philistine Irish Protestant background’as Beckett (Beckett/Beckett, p.x.); cites Deirdre Bair to the effect that Belaqua is a ‘barely fictionalised Beckett’ (Bair, Samuel Beckett, 1978, 130ff.) On Joyce and Beckett: ‘professor and trusted research assistant’ (Bair, op. cit., p.67.) [Cont.]

Mary Junker, Beckett: The Irish Dimension (1995) - cont.: Joyce to Power, ‘You are Irishmen and you must write in your own tradition. Borrowed styles are no good. You must write what is in your blood and not what is in your brain. ... For myself, I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.’ (Quoted in Bair, p.130.) Quotes Beckett on Waiting for Godot: ‘Christianity is a mythology with which I am perfectly familiar, and so I use it. But not in this case!’ (Citing Bair, 327.)

[ top ]

Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (London: HarperCollins 1996): ‘Like the aristocracy, the Protestant business community of the towns and cities looked down on Catholics as, in general, rather feckless, lazy and dishonest. A sort of right to ownership and control of business as a prerogative of greater thrift and industry, never mind the favour of Providence, was widely assumed. Except perhaps perforce as employers, and to some extent as manufacturers or shopkeepers, they took care to have very little contact with Catholics; and the aim of many Protestant business people as employers was as far as possible to recruit their clerical staff and work force from among their co-religionists. There were then many thousands of lower-middle-class Protestants from among whom to recruit and even a relatively smaller number of working class, of which number John Casey, or Sean O’Casey, was one. Socially too they kept their distance as far as possible. It was a boast among the denizens of Foxrock, the suburb in which the newly married couple were about to live, that one could pass one’s day without speaking to any Catholic other than the railway company’s employee.’ (p.9.)

Quotes Vivian Mercier, ‘The males and some of the females of the typical Protestant family took the train every week-day to office, school or university in Dublin. In all these places they were likely to be associating almost exclusively with fellow Protestants. The females who stayed at home spent their leisure time with other Protestant ladies, though their maids and gardeners were usually Catholic. If one preferred to think of oneself as English there was really no reason not to.’ (Beckett/Beckett, Souvenir Press 1977; Cronin p.9.)

‘[T]o call this class Anglo-Irish is to lump it in with the Protestant land-owning aristocracy Anglo-Irish is a misnomer also because in fact the Protestant Dublin middle classes probably did not look to English less often and with less social anxieties than did their landed co-religionists.’ (p.10.) [Cont.]

‘The extent to which he was impressed by the cadences and spiritual content of the Authorised Version of the Bible during his mother’s daily readings had perhaps been exaggerated by a generation less familiar with family readings than his own. Until comparatively short time ago the Bible was the first great work of literature or ontology to which most people were introduced and, as such, it of course proved memorable, but his frequency of quotation from it is no guide to the extent to which he was influenced, either theologically or in a literary sense. When he became a writer he made frequent reference to the Bible in his works, but reference in Beckett may be ironic or even [20] sarcastic. It may be intended simply to bring about an echo chamber effect, giving resonance to what is being said; or it may be an oblique reminder of how far his personages have travelled from the certainties of the past. Later he would sometimes insist that his use of the Bible and Christian mythology was merely a literary device, rejecting the idea that he had been profoundly affected or influenced by it. This may have been true, but in after-life he always possessed a Bible, at the end more than one edition, and Bible concordances were always among the reference books on his shelves. He knew the book backwards.’ (pp.20-21.)

Fierce loving: ‘There is no doubt that May Beckett loved her son fiercely. Later on he would speak of her “savage loving”, but somehow it did not come through to him in the right way.’ (p.23).

Beckett called O’Casey ‘a master of knockabout in this very serious and honourable sense - that he discerns the principle of disintegration in even the most complacent solidities, and activates it to their explosion’; especially praised one-acter The End of the Beginning, in which the two comic characters Darry Berrill and Barry Derill end ‘in an agony of callisthenics, surrounded by the doomed furniture.’ (p.58; ruin.) ‘[M]uch of what was going on in Paris passed Beckett by, for three principal reasons. The first was his youth and relative lack of sophistication. The second was that he had a fruitful talent for allowing things to pass him by; and the third that in spite of his knowledge of the French language and his interest in French literature he was drawn almost immediately into the circle surrounding James Joyce and therefore into an expatriate and, on the whole, anglophone, rather than a French, or francophone scheme of things.’ (p.83); Notes Beckett’s observation that there are ‘twelve men in Florence called Ottolenghi’ (Exagmination, 1929, p.29.) [Cont.]

‘Although this opportunity to attribute a transcendental belief to Proust is passed up, however, there is certainly a general impression of an attitude to art which partakes of a sort of religious fervour, or of an attempt to make a sort of surrogate religion of art [...]. Beckett would deny in later life that he had ever been a believer or that religious belief had ever made much appeal to him. The religious vocabulary of Proust certainly makes an opposite impression.’ (p.147.) [Cont.]

‘“Limbese” was Beckett’s word for the state of self-centred, mildly gloomy meditativeness and detachment in which he liked to live, with the outer world shut away, its noises meaningless, its struggles pointless. What he is describing is a psychology common enough in youth, one in which ordinary shyness and introspection of course play their part, but in which a deeper fear of the world, perhaps innate in the personality, is involved. To accept the tests and challenges of the world is to put the self in jeopardy, for the self of work, social encounter or even sexual relationship is not the real self, it is a compromise self and the real self may be permanently damaged by such encounters. The avoidance or retreat is therefore justified by the protection of self-hood, of the pure core of the personality. Those who suffer from varieties of this syndrome feel as if this inner core of the self - the soul, one might say - cries out against the necessity of engagement with others and with circumstance.’ (p.162.) [Cont.]

On Dream of Fair to Middling Women: ‘Reading it now, one can only agree that it thoroughly deserved this (p.169) fate. It may - indeed it does - give evidence of genius. There are remarkable honesties and even remarkable insights in it, passages in which very difficult matters, usually pertaining to the self, are discussed with some insight, eloquence and feeling. But it also contains long passages of thoroughly confused, obscure and unreadable writing. The tone of voice is embarrassingly wrong, at once ingratiating, cocky and would-be Olympian. When Beckett later described the Dream as “immature and unworthy” he spoke no more than the truth.’ (p.170); ‘Most of the events of life may have been “occasions of fiasco” as they occurred; but the subsequent remembrance of them was nevertheless more tolerable than present existence could every be. The vein of simple nostalgia in some of his writings is surprising, but its importance should not be overlooked. However happy or otherwise his childhood might have been, sometimes his childhood memories overwhelmed him.’ (p.182.) [Cont.]

‘Beckett found his trip to Galway “unforgettable” though “much too short”, describing the bog and mountainy country as “somehow much more innocent and obvious than the stealthy secret variety we have here”.’ (p.183); ‘Since these are the first observations he ever made about the landscape of any part of Ireland other than that of Dublin and Wicklow, his attitude is interesting. Though he spent much longer in Ireland as an adult than James Joyce did, his forays outside Dublin were almost as few in number.’ (p.184); praised Cezanne to MacGreevy for his vision of landscape as “something unapproachably alien” and “unintelligent arrangement of atoms”. (p.184); ‘the truth is that he was persisting in disliking most almost everyone with the exception of Leventhal, even though his manner when he met them seemed to give an opposite impression.’ (p.195); Notes the slow progress of ‘Censorship and the Saorstat’suggests ‘no whit of real indignation’ (p.206); ‘The fact is, though, that like his admired mentor James Joyce, he put his poetry into prose. Just as there is more true poetry in Ulysses than there is in Chamber Music, so there is more in Watt or even in the harsher and more humorous Molloy than there is in his avowed poetry.’ (p.225.) [Cont.]

‘[Watt] was a book about something which was central to Beckett and it could not have been written by anybody else. It not only signalled its author’s break with the traditional novel, but it marked also his rejection of all assumed modes and accepted subjects. Gone, or almost gone - for it does mar the opening pages a little - was the form of satirical Irish whimsy - buttonholing, personal, would-be shocking and would-be charming at the same time - which had been the mode of other Irish novels of the 20s and 30s and was also the mode of More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy. / Watt is an extraordinary book by any standards; but it is not perhaps such an extraordinary one for Beckett to have written in his current circumstances as would at first appear, for it is, in fact, about losing one’s grip on reality. To account for it, some biographical commentators have suggested that Beckett had a breakdown in Roussillon. Those who were there knew nothing of this. But he had been through some very strange experiences, ending in this marooning in the depths of the French provinces while Europe went through one of its periodical fits of self-destruction. It was natural enough that he should ponder the nature of reality and feel how easy it might be to lose one’s grip on it, such as it was. [...] (p.336) [Cont.]

‘In Watt for the first time Beckett achieved his characteristic style, a syntax full of reservations and uncertainties, denials and admissions that something else might be the case, with a superb use of the comma.’ (pp.336-37.) [Cont.]

‘From this point on there would be an entire abandonment of pretence of any kind, including the ordinary fictive pretences of plot; a total renunciation of certainties, including philosophic certainties of any kind; and there instead whould be a reiteration of ignorance, a restitution to the rightful place in the work of the certainties and confusions of which life is made up.’ (p.359; quoted in Colm McCloskey, UG Essay, 2005.) [Cont.]

‘Beckett did not want to be a stylist, or at least to write in a particular identifiable style. For him, an Irishman, French represented a form of weakness by comparison with his mother tongue. Besides English, because of its very richness, holds out the temptation to rhetoric and virtuosity. The relative asceticism [of French] seemed more appropriate to the expression of being, undeveloped, unsupported, somewhere in the depths of the microcosm.’ (p.360.) [Cont.]

‘Beckett’s attitude was that actors (or, for that matter, anybody else) should not seek for deep “meanings” or feel that they should understand the philosophical implications of a play. He was happiest with actors who could be the part, not understand it.’ (p.[3]25). [See also full text of Beckett: The Last Modernist, Chapter 1: in RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics” > Anglo-Irish, Cronin - infra.]

[ top ]

John Calder, The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett (London: Calder Publs. 2001): ‘Beckett’s purpose in Murphy and Watt is to describe philosophy rather than to make it. He follows the reasoning of the philosophers he knows, but is little interested in the arguments between them, nor the history by which one system of thought replaces another or augments it. A concept is either congenial or useful to him, or it is not.’ (p.23.) Calder also speaks of Beckett’s ‘philosophy as personal therapy that tends towards the condition of silence’ (p.87.) [Cont.]

John Calder (The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett, 2001) - cont.: ‘Those who have described him as “God haunted” were right, but the haunting had a mystical quality to it, not a devotional one. There is also an element of fear in his relationship to what he could not believe, but which seemed to be lurking always in the background of his mind, like a small animal’s fascination towards its predator.’ (p.106.) Calder warns against reading the Trilogy as a unified text: ‘All of Beckett’s work has a unity that makes it whole and complete, interconnected and interreferential, but still consists of separate self-sufficient units.’ (p.109.) [All the foregoing excep. p.87 quoted in Kingsley Hepburn, “The Early Samuel Beckett: An Un-philosophical Approach” [MA Diss.] QUB 2010.)

[ top ]

H. Porter Abbott, Beckett Writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph (Cornell UP 1996): ‘Beckett makes terminally indeterminate the temporal relation of the fictive world to our own. He further aggrevates the uncertainty of temporal distance by including a corrupt version of another conventional linking device: that of referring during the course of the narrative to historical events that take place somewhere in the interval between the utopian and realworld time.’ (p.135; quoted in Stephan Zurheide, UG Essay, UU 2004.)

[ top ]

Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto 1998), p.38: ‘Beckett’s essay [in Exagmination] . attempted to meet the challenge set by Joyce, a challenge which, because of the terms in which it is framed, could only ever be partially successful. Joyce famously wanted ‘to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’[AP]. To that end, he announced his affiliation with a radical Irish subjectivity, both by making Ireland the raison d’être of his work and by subverting a (English) culture which functioned as a component of colonial domination. More than this, however, he had to resist his own affiliation to one or another mode of decolonisation which was already overwritten with the disabling languages of domination and subordination. Joyce’s resistance to Irish decolonisation takes the form of a challenge to a tradition of literary criticism organised around the notion of an indissoluble link between national culture and nationalist politics. As another Irish writer who was to refuse the limitations of being Irish, Beckett remains one of the very few Irish critics to recognise and respond to this challenge.’

David Wheatley, review of Samuel Beckett, Poems 1930-1989, with Previously Unpublished Poems and translations, in The Irish Times (27 April 2002), Weekend: ‘Beckett told Adam Tarn that “literary widows” who published their dead husband’s work should be “burned alive for it.” Wheatley recounts that he came across unpublished poems by Beckett in the Reading Beckett Archive (“Antipepsis” and “le petit sot”) and received permission to publish them from Jerôme Linden, with the observation that the second named was actually by Suzanne (Beckett). Knowlson’s life contains similar poems on the theme of the second but Linden held firm and the poem do not appear in this collection. “Antipepsis” is Beckett’s response to the banning of More Pricks than Kicks. Wheatley notes and endorses John Banville’s repeated extolling of Beckett’s late prose as among his very best work. Suggests a Complete Poems. (p.11.)

John Robert Keller, Samuel Beckett and the Primacy of Love, with a foreword by Lance St. John Butler (Manchester UP 2002), summary: ‘This study presents a comprehensive and original argument about the fundamental literary value and the underlying psychological meaning of Beckett’s work. John Keller explores Beckett’s work, not only for its importance on a personal, human level for many readers, but its place in elaborating the origins of human emotional life, and of creative fiction. He explores the central place of the emotional world in Beckett’s writing, which he argues is primarily about love. Keller believes that Beckettian texts embody a struggle to remain in contact with a primal sense of internal goodness founded on early experience with the mother. He suggests that Beckett’s greatest achievement as an artist was to document a universal struggle that allows for the birth of mind, and to connect this struggle to the origin, and possibility of the creative act.’ (See COPAC, online; 2.6.2009.)

[ top ]

Benjamin Kunkel, ‘Sam I Am: Beckett’s Private Purgatories’, in The New Yorker (7 & 14 Aug. 2006), pp.84-89 [with full-page port. of SB by Jane Brown]: ‘The trilogy proceeds by way of collapse. Beckett’s successive monologuists, confined to a series of small rooms, try and fail to tell their stories; and each narrator is then revealed to be the alias, and each story the alibi, of its successor, until, pulling all of Beckett’s earlier creations down upon its nonexistent head, there is [87] only the disembodied voice of the Unnamable: “I am neither, I needn’t say, Murphy, or Watt, nor Mercier, nor - no I can’t even bring myself to name them, nor any of the others whose very names I forget, who told me I was they, who I must have tried to be.” And what is the Unnamable? A blind need for words, plus an abiding sense that words name nothing, are ony words.’ (pp.86-87.) / The bare idea of the trilogy is a large part of its power. Here, it seems, is the novelistic equivalent of abstract painting; indeed, another of this year’s tribute volumes, Beckett After Beckett [2006], translates for the first time a letter in which Beckett proclaims, “I can not write about.” The trilogy has become famous in the history of fiction because of what is left out: the usual novelistic apparatus of plot, scenes, and characters. Here, ifyou want to think of saintliness, is a vow of poverty. And now and then the books do illustrate Becketfs dictum that “there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” But “obligation” is a moral term, applicable only in a world of other beings. The trilogy is so solipsistically self-enclosed that a better term would be compulsion.’ [Cont.]

Benjamin Kunkel, ‘Sam I Am: Beckett’s Private Purgatories’ (New Yorker, 7 & 14 Aug. 2006): ‘And the issue of psychology returns us to what is often overlooked in the trilogy, which is what Beckett chose to or could not help but leave in. Why, when Malone wants to tell himself a story on his deathbed, does he dream up a massacre of mental patients? Why, when the Unnamable is in similar straits, does he devise the story of a household laid waste by a tin of “fatal corned-beef”, contaminated with botulism, so that when a man comes home he finds himself “stamping under foot the unreco~le remains of my family, here a face, there a stomach, as the case might be, and sinking into them with the ends of my crutches”? Perhaps the successive narrators are lured into unburdening themselves of their lives by the promise of that worldless emptiness that Murphy sought to enjoy, only to discover that this is like entering a sensory-deprivation tank: instead of peace, the subject experiences wild terrors. But, faced with the nasty fantasies thronging the trilogy, we might do better just to admit bewilderment. /Beckett’s themes of solitude and death are universal, but he remains a tremendously peculiar writer’ [quotes as in Quotations, infra]. [Cont.]

Benjamin Kunkel, ‘Sam I Am: Beckett’s Private Purgatories’ (New Yorker, 7 & 14 Aug. 2006): ‘Malone Dies contains surely one of the most horrifying moments in modern literature [quotes]: ‘What if I started to scream? Not that 1 wish to draw attention to myself, simply to try and find out if there is someone about. But I don’t like screaming. I have spoken softly, gone my ways softly, all my days, as behoves one who has nothing to say, nowhere to go, and so nothing to gain by being seen or heard. Not to mention the possibility of there being not a living soul within a radius of one hundred yards and then such multitudes of people that they are walking on top of one another... I shall try all the same. 1 have tried. 1 heard nothing out of the ordinary.’ This quarantined solitude, those compacted pedestrians, that stillborn scream there, it seems, is a nightmare version of modern life. But Beckett more likely had in mind his strange Jungian notion of an incomplete birth. He claimed that he had memories of being trapped inside the womb, “crying to be let out, but no one could hear.”’ (pp.87-88.)

Further: ‘Beckett’s work can lay a strong claim to universality: not everyone has a God, but who doesn’t have a Godot?’ (Kunkel, op. cit, p.89; and see online summary in New Yorker archive [online].)

[ top ]

Tim Parks, ‘Still stirring’, review of Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition, ed. Paul Auster, and other works, in The New York Review of Books (13 July 2006): [...] Remembering Beckett [ed. James & Elizabeth Knowlson] includes a few pages of notes that Patrick Bowles made of his conversations with Beckett while undertaking the translation of Molloy. Written immediately after the war, this was Beckett’s third full-length novel, the first written in French, and the first of what would become the trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable), in which, as the work proceeds, we have the impression that each narrating voice - the bedridden Molloy, the detective Moran, the dying Malone - turns out to be actually no more than an invention or earlier manifestation of the next, until finally we arrive at the “unnamable,” the voice behind and beyond all the others, unsure of anything except the interminable chattering of language in the mind. In his notes Bowles recounts a conversation in which Beckett insisted that in order to represent the meaninglessness of the world it was necessary to allow chaos into the text and break down form, to declare the maker of the work as “blindly immersed” in “chance” rather than standing outside it. At the same time, all mere details of history or social setting must be stripped out of the work, so as to arrive at the ultimate reality of consciousness and being. We understand that it was partly in response to these convictions that Beckett decided to work in French, renouncing the greater control and facility he had in English, together with the powerful associations a mother tongue inevitably brings with it. / However, in the same conversation it is clear that author and translator take very great pains over the exact choice of the words in the English version of Molloy. Similarly, Richard Seaver, who translated the short story “La Fin,” recalls Beckett’s meticulous work on the English text. Reflecting on the sentence “They dressed me and gave me some money,” Beckett suggested, “What would you think if we used the word ‘clothed’ instead of ‘dressed’? ‘They clothed me and gave me money.’ Do you like the ring of that better?” “Yes,” replies Seaver, “clothed’ was the better word.” / So although facility must be shunned, form broken down, the creator shown to be subject to chance, &c., actually nothing was left to chance when it came to the ring of a word. “It was as far apart from machine translation as one could imagine,” writes Bowles.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Major Authors > Samuel Beckett”, via index, or direct.)

Terry Eagleton, After Theory (London: Allen Lane 2006): ‘Modernism, or so it imagined, was old enough to remember a time when there were firm foundations to human existence, and was still reeling from the shock of their being kicked rudely away. That is one reason why so much modernism is of a tragic temper. The drama of Samuel Beckett, for example, has no faith whatsoever in redemption, but presents a world which still looks [57] as though it were in dire need of it. It refuses to turn its gaze from the intolerableness of things, even if there is no transcendent consolation at hand. After a while, however, you can ease the strain of this by portraying a world in which there is indeed no salvation, but on the other hand nothing to be saved.’

Colm Tóibín, ‘My Darlings’ [on Beckett’s Irish Actors], in London Review of Books (5 April 2007), pp.3-8: ‘[...] MacGowran later described his first meeting with Beckett: “At that time I was drinking. Beckett drank Irish whiskey and lager. There was dead silence. He looked at the floor. Every furrow on his face seemed to be in deep. He thinks I’m going to pester him. Then I became silent. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I must have been utterly tight after half an hour. I cracked and suddenly blurted out something about a rugby match. He said something about a rugby match, and we talked about rugby, golf, six-day bicycle riding. Not a word about literature. What surprised me was his Dublin accent. After enough whiskies, I said: ‘I detect tones of Dublin.’ About three miles from where I lived. That is why we gelled so well. I understood his rhythm, his terrain.” / Beckett, whose Dublin accent could be detected rather than instantly spotted, had found his Irish voices. One of them, MacGowran, had recently trained some of Ireland out of his voice and the other, Magee, had it done for him by Anew McMaster. When you hear these two actors’ voices now on tape in the plays by Beckett which they recorded for the BBC, you notice that their voices, their accents are made up; the hybrid is most apparent, the oddness; you notice the self-fashioning in their tones rather than something obviously Irish. It is not insignificant that both of them changed their names to make them seem less Irish to the English. MacGowran added an “a” to his Mc and Magee removed his Mc altogether, becoming Magee. (I think they did this without consulting each other: they had not met at the time, except perhaps in the way in which parallel lines meet.) In any case they reminded Beckett less of home than of the joys of the Irish Sea, of what can happen to the self away from home; they did not carry any aura of nostalgia for Ireland, or an air of missing home, but a sense that Irish writers, actors, broadcasters and journalists have carried with them in London for more than a hundred years a sense of pure ownership of the place, and a sense of absolute pleasure at being in the company of other Irish people miles away from Ireland while the English quietly and usually very respectfully listen in, half-bewildered, half-grateful. This is why we have English people.’ [Cont.]

Colm Tóibín, ‘My Darlings’ , in London Review of Books (5 April 2007), pp.3-8: ‘[...] When he was broke in 1937, Beckett bought a painting from Yeats, who was a friend of his, for £30. Now in Paris, when MacGowran said that one of the few things he would wish to own was a painting by Yeats, Beckett took it from the wall and made him have it, worrying afterwards about how he would buy it back from MacGowran, who was always in financial trouble, should he need to sell it. It was a painting called “A Morning” and it showed an Irish landscape under a high sky and a figure on a horse; it meant a great deal to Beckett because of its dense texture and its deep simplicity. The painting was bought from an anonymous dealer in 1996 by the National Gallery of Ireland, which is not far from the studio where it was painted, and it hung in the gallery’s show Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Paintings, which marked the centenary of Beckett’s birth last year. Its trajectory Yeats’s studio, Beckett’s apartment, the managed chaos and charm of Jack MacGowran’s life, the dealer, and then back to the gallery where Beckett’s friend Thomas MacGreevy worked as director for so many years can stand for the way Beckett’s own affections and loyalties had travelled.’ (p.8 [end]; available at LRB - online.)

[ top ]

Fintan O’Toole, ‘The Wilde Spirit that Speaks the Language of the Theatre’, in The Irish Times (2 Oct. 2010), Weekend - “Culture Shock” [column], p.7: ‘[...] Beckett is the anti-Stanislavski. Didi and Gogo in Waiting for Godot do not have a backstory. Their “lives” are purely those of the stage. Like humanity in the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley, they exist only so long as they are being perceived. If we were not there to watch them, they would not be there at all. Instead of narrative, there is pattern and repetition. Instead of a pretence that the words we hear from the actors are tokens of reality, the writer (and his characters) revel in the fact that they are arbitrary and therefore free. Free, that is, of the tyranny of a single meaning. [...] What Beckett taught Pinter and Mamet is the poignancy of this absolute need for a language that is utterly inadequate to those needs. In Endgame, Hamm attacks Clov for using the word “yesterday”: “What does that mean? Yesterday?” Clov’s answer is full of both frustration and yearning: “I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.” / Silence is not an option: there would be no play otherwise. And there are no “other” words, or at least none that would be any less arbitrary, any more securely rooted in reality. What’s left is the words we have been given. If this seems a bleak conclusion, it also opens theatre up to the things that make Beckett, Pinter and Mamet so oddly entertaining: the brilliant deadpan humour, the pleasurable pointlessness of the exercise, the collective awareness that we are all taking part in a ritual that has no purpose beyond itself. For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Maev Kennedy, ‘Samuel Beckett manuscript of first published novel to go on display’, in The Guardian (9 June 2014): ‘[...] Beckett gave the notebooks to a slightly ramshackle friend, the Irish poet Brian Coffey, who eventually sold them to a collector. They were regarded as one of the most important 20th-century manuscripts still in private hands when auctioned at Sotheby's last year, estimated at up to £1.2m. After seven tense minutes, bidding against an anonymous collector on the phone, the university got them for £962,500. / ince mounting an exhibition in 1969 in celebration of the author winning the Nobel prize, Reading has gradually built up the largest collection of Beckett material in the world, including many gifts from the author before his death in 1989. The one-day exhibition on Wednesday, at the university’s Museum of Rural Life – the most accessible secure display space – will be the first time the notebooks have ever been on show. / They reveal that the novel, where the central character gets a job in a mental hospital as a blessed escape from the madness of his life in London, was originally called Sasha Murphy and that he was 30, the same age as the author in 1936. More significantly, they show it took Beckett eight attempts to arrive at the opening lines, which he changed from: “The sun shone, as only the sun can, on nothing new”, to the much more familiarly Beckettian tone of: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”’

Nicholas Lezard, reviewing Echo’s Bones, in The Guardian (9 May 2014), ‘Echo’s Bones is itself almost insanely allusive, even in comparison to Beckett’s other works. Belacqua’s purgatorial round is described almost purely in terms of references to Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Hamlet, Augustine’s Confessions, On the Origin of Species, Dr P Garnier’s rather splendidly titled Onanisme seul et à deux, the Bible, and anything else he happened to be reading at the time. “I put all I knew and plenty that I was better still aware of [into it],” he wrote shortly after its rejection; and how. To summarise the plot, barely: our resurrected Belacqua is first accosted by a prostitute called Zabarovna Privet, then the infertile Lord Gall of Wormwood, and finally, as his own headstone, the groundsman/gravedigger Doyle (who, the text tells us, had appeared unnamed in “Draff”, the final story in Pricks). Location changes dreamlike, at whim; we are either in a mushroomy field in gorgeous countryside, or a Parisian room, or by a seashore or a graveyard. It is deliberately arbitrary, the idea clearly being to renounce completely the very idea of narrative causation. As Beckett said earlier in his essay on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, “his writing is not about something; it is that something itself”.’ (See online.)

[ back ]
[ top ]
[ next ]