John Pilling & Mary Bryden, eds., The Ideal Core of the Onion: Reading Beckett Archives (Beckett International Foundation 1992), 151pp.


John Pilling, From a (W)horoscope to Murphy [1]; Lionel Kelly, Beckett’s Human Wishes [21]; Mary Bryden, Figures of Golgotha: Beckett’s Pinioned People [45]; P. J. Murphy, On first looking into Beckett’s The Voice [63]; Steve Connor, Between theatre and theory: Long Observation of the Ray; Andrew Renton, Westward Ho and the End(s) of Representation [99]; Paul Davies, Stirring Still: The Disembodiment of Western tradition [136].

John Pilling, From a (W)horoscope to Murphy
Quotes [... the heart of the cauliflower or th ideal core of the onion would represent a more appropriate tribute to the labours o poetical excavation than the crown of bay.’ (Proust and Three Dialogues, Calder, 1965, p.29.)

In 1937 Beckett worked on a play for the irish theatre about Samuel Johnston ... nameed ... Human Wishes [21]; Beckett wrote to MacGreevy that Johnston was ‘spiritually self-conscious, was a tragic figure, i.e., worth putting down as part of the whole of which one is part’, while Beckett told Bair that ‘They can put me wherever they want, but it’s Johnston, always Johnston, who is with me. And if I follow any tradition, it is his.’ (Bair, p.257; here 21).

In life’s last scene what prodigies surprise,
Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise?
From Marlb’rough’s eyes the streams of dotage flow
And Swift expires a driv’ler and a show.

(Vanity of Human Wishes, Poems, ed. E. L. McAdam, Jr, with Geoere Milne, Yale Edn. of the Works of SJ, vol. VI, 1964, p.106, ll.315-18.)

Pilling gives some account of the wod ‘vidual’ (of widowhood) in Johnson and in Beckett (Krapp’s dictionary word); it is also in Jermey Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying, where a cap. title is ‘Rules for Widows, or Vidual Chastity’.

Johnson, on being asked if he wished an introduction to Hugh Kelly, ‘No Sir, I never desire to converse wtih a man who has written more than he has read.’

Beckett also noted what Johnson wrote: ‘Apropos barbarous debilitating policy of Britsih Government in Ireland: “Let the authority of the British Government perish rather than be maintained by iniquity. Better would it help restraint eh turbulence of teh natives by the authority of teh word, to make them answerable to law ans justice in an effectual and vigorous policy, than to grind them to poweder by all manner of disabilities and incapacities. Better to hang or drown people at once than by unrelenting persecution, to beggar and starve them.’ [30]

Johnson: ‘All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity’ [Rasselas]

Notes that Krapp has an entirely Johnsonian distaste for birthdays [37]; generally derives krapp from the character of Dr. Johnson, and particularly from VHW.

Mary Bryden, Figures of Golgotha: Beckett’s Pinioned People
Beckett calls Judaeo-Christian elements in his work ‘a mythology with which I am perfectly familiar’; refers discussion to play fragment that foregrounds a man immobilised on a cross, and his female attendant. [47] notes Christlike elements in descriptions of Watt, who is compared with the Christ of Bosch, ‘then hanging in Trafalgar Square’ (meaning the National Gallery. [Watt, p.157; here 52-53]

Illustrated by grotesquely comic doodle of crucifixions in Beckett papers, with God save teh King’ in musical bars beneath. [56 facing]

Gilles Deleuze is author of 2 vol work on Bacon.

‘The inchoate scream out of the blackened mouth in teh Beckett parable may be the only sort of response whose patent inadequacy does not trivialise.’ (Steiner, ‘A Note on absolute tragedy’, in Lit. and Theology, vo. 4. no. 2, July 1990, p.152.) [62]

P. J. Murphy, On first looking into Beckett’s The Voice
The Voice, a MS much derived from the Book of Job, dated Paris Jan. ‘77..

Beckett: ‘There is not the slightest Biblical authority for the conception of language as a direct gift of God, any more than there is any intellectual authority for conceiving that we are indebted for the “Concert” to the individual who used to buy paint for Giorgione.’ (Dante ... Bruno. Vico. Joyce., in Disjecta, p.31-32; here 67]

‘still small voice’ (Kings 19:12); cf., Isaiah, ‘life up they voice with strength’ (40:9)

Voice includes the phrases: ‘Pause to recollect what said of itself so far. As [if] of another. It. Mind voice. Old. Toneless. Breathless. Faint. Faltering. Minutely. Tidal. At a loss for words. For matter. Unfixed in space. Whereas hearer fixed. No mention of accent. Indefinable. Of one whose mother tongue as foreign as the others. Voice then very weak. (p.7) [77]

Murphy remarks, ‘the paradox of “mother tongue” that is “foreign” is one of the most remarkable and enriching characteristics of Beckett’s writing - its range and knowledge in many languages and literatures. [78]

Quotes final draft of LORay: ‘Long observation that is sum of countless brief observations separated by spells of uneasy rest’. And comments, ‘this structure of blinking, which we may say characterises all of Beckett’s last prose works, with their typographical alternations of text and empty page-space, is to be found in LORay.’ Goes on to cite Derrida on blinking and unblinking eyes, charcterising the former as capable of reflection (in ‘The principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils’, Diacritics, 13, 1983, p.5), and adds: ‘Beckett’s long observation in his work of the process of looking, thinking and imagining may aptly be thought of as belonging to this attempt to capture this interstitial sight within sight.

Shakespeare, King Lear, ‘The worst is not/So long as we can say, “This is the worst”.’ King Lear, Act IV, sc. i.)

Enoch Brater holds that Worstward Ho ‘intertextualises a Renaissance play, Webster and Dekker’s Westward Ho (1607) and also a Victorian novel set in Elizabethan times, Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! (1855). [100]

Paul Davies, Stirring Still: The Disembodiment of Western Tradition
Although Stirrings Still is not a finalised text - it was once titled “Fragments for Barney Rosset” - it is the last statement of any length that Beckett had to make to the world. It recalls his earlier works, and unlocks the meanings of earlier images and motifs and themes; it also says something which to my knowledge Beckett never came closer to saying than here, that is, that there are states of consciousness in which the relative conditions of existence, the [138] everyday world, the limits of time, space and language, are transcended.’ [138-39]

Stirrings Still first published in The Guardian, Friday, 3 March 1989, p.25.

Bibl. Helene L. Baldwin, Samuel Beckett’s Real Silence (Pennsylvania UP 1974); Gottfried Buttner, Samuel Beckett’s Novel Watt: A Gnosiological Reading (Penn UP 1984); Paul Foster, Beckett and Zen (London: Wisdom Books 1989).

‘One night as he sat at his table he saw himself rise and go. One night or day. For when his own light went out he was not left in the dark. Light of a kind came then from the one high window. Under it the stool on which till he could or would no more he used to mount to see the sky. Why he did not crane out to see what lay beneath was perhaps because the window was not made to open or because he could or would not open it. Perhaps he know only too well what lay beneath and did not wish to see it again. So he would simply stand terhe high above the earth and see throgh the coulded pane the cloudless sky. It faint and unchanging light unlike any light be could remember from the days and nights when day followed hard on night and night on day. This outer light then when his own went out became his only light till in its turn went out and left him in the dark. Till it in its turn went out.’ (‘Stirring Still’; first para.; reprinted in As the Story was Told, Calder, 1990, pp.113-28.)

The esoteric content I have described is of course implicit; Beckett, as alsways, hesitates to commit himself to one form of statement or ideology, and thus makes what he writes accesssible to all readers at whatever level is appropriate. ... ften been misrepresented by commentaries whcih use his work to support a materialistic ideology ... [145]


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