See also: [Samuel Beckett (beat-nic's welcome!) [Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)] [Georges Bernanos] [Literature Index] [Art History] [Music Index] [Time Line]

Samuel Beckett

On this page: {B/G} {Hobson's review and i/v with Beckett} {Notes on Watt {Quotes} (it's the shape man, it's the shape ;) SB: Dramatist of the Year by Harold Hobson (Theatre Annual, Pp. 153-155) NOTE: Format edited for FORM slightly; Frank. [P.153] I began this conversation with Samuel Beckett one summer morning in the bar of the Coupole, whilest a man on the opposite side of the Boulevard Montparnasse climbed a lader in order to lop off some of the branches of a too burgeoning tree; and finished it, on a duller, drabber day, in Madam Purnier's in St. James' Street. "You have lived in France a long time", I said. "Yes", he replied. "But I still have my green Eire passport". "What we all are arguing about in London", I went on, "is the meaning of Waiting for Godot". "I take nop sides about that", he quickly responded. "There is", I went on, "the incident of Estragon's boots". (The tramp Estragon was always having trouble with his boots. One of them would go on comfortably, and the other would not go on at all. In despair, Estragon used to leave the boots in front of the curtain at the Criterion Theatre during the interval. "One of Estragon's feet is blessed, and the other is damned. The boot won't go on the foot that is damned; and it will go on the foot that is not. It is like the two thieves on the cross". "You wre brought up a Protestant?", I enquired. "Yes. Almost a Quaker. But I soon lost faith. I don't think I ever had it after leaving Trinity [College]". "And yet the theieves on the cross interest you. Vladimir is troubled to account for one of them being lost and the other saved. How can you be so pre-occupied with this when you do not believe in salvation?" It was at this point that Beckett became eager, excited. His sharp, rugged face leaned over the table. "I am interested in the shape of ideas even if I do not believe them. There is a wonderful sentence in Augustine. I wish I could remember the Latin. It is even finer in Latin than in English. [Note 1] 'Do not dispair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the theives was damned.' That sentence has wonderful shape [Note 2] It is the shape that matters". In all the sentences that Beckett writes [Note 3] it is the shape that matters. His work is founded on an anti-thesis; he has established in literature the importance of the contradition, the contradition that can range from "She loves me, she loves me not" to "Godot will come, Godot will not come". Augustine recalls, immediately he has stated one fact, that the impression creates will not be a ture one unelss he immediately recalls another which qualifies it. There is no such thing as simple certainty; at least there is no such thing as imple certainty for Samuel Beckett. We can see this [P.154] in "Watt". "Finally, to return to the incident of the Galls father and son, as related by Watt, did it have that meaning for Watt at the time of its taking place [Note 4], and then lose that meaning, and then reeover it? Or did it have some quite different meaning, and then recieve that, alone or among others, which is exhibied in Watt's relations? Or did it have no meaning whatever for Watt at the moment of its taking palce, were there neither Gallas nor piano then, but only an un-intelligible succession of changes, from which Watt finally extracted the Galls and the piano, in self defence? These are most delicate questions". When the crippled, destitute bedraggled heor of Molloy is lost in the forest, the same process of the refinement and qualification of thought, the same process of anti-thesis, of the oppostion of word and phrase, goes on in his balled brain. "And having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straigh line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my bestto go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line". Here again, it is the balance of words that matters, the shape and the cadence of the phrases. Henri Peyré, in The Contemporary French Novel, a book I admire very much, says of Beckett: He sprang to glory with Molloy, which attracted readers to his earlier Murphy and to Malonone Meurt. ... Molloy is an epic of nothingess about an ill man, whose memory has been destroyed and who rides on a bicyle to visit his dying mother;. He will never reach his goal, like Kafka's surveyor ???*** REF ***???. He getst lost in a forest, falls into a ditch and stays there, mumbling to himself. Meanwhile, a man and his sone have been asked to go after Molloy, of whom they had never heard. Both become afflicted by paralysis, are separated, involed in a murder, and reduced to the the lowest level of degradation. The voluntary obscurity of the novel has spurred commentators to ingeneous exegreses. THe underlying assertion, if one may use such a term for a literature of total negation [!], seems to be that everything and everybody is in a state of disentegration and that yielding to some object nirvana is perhaps the only relief from anguish and absurdity that man can seek. [Note 5] Just as M. Peyré tries to extract from Molloy a series of sharp, destinct, and un-contradictory ideas [(ie, the search for *coherence*, *continuity*, and *clarity* ! ;)] so the audiences at Waiting for Godot tormented themselves with the question, what does the play mean? SOme peopel thaought tha tGodot was God, some that Lucky was Godot; some tha tPozzo represented Capitalism, and Lucky Labour; some that Estragon and Vladimir were material and spiritual aspects of the sam eperson; whilst one admireer of the play, more ingenious than most, divined that the bully Pozzo was the U.S.S.R., the enslaved Lucky the satellites in eastern Europe, that the two tramps were Great Britain and France, both waiting for Godot, or the United States, to come to their help. Now, I neither agree not disagree nor dis-agree with these explanations of Waiting for Godot, just as I neither agree nor dis-agree with Monsieur Peyré's interpretation of Molloy. They seem to me merely besie the point. I believe that Waithing for Godot has a little or as much meaning as a fugue, or a sunset, as a rainbow or a Chippendale chair. there are pople who think that a rainbow is God's assurance that there will never be a Flood. I know; I have talked to them. There are others who think it is merely an optical phenomenon. The raninbox may be equally beautiful to both classes of people, beacause its beauty has nothing to do with its meaning, if it has meaning. [contrast this to the "beauty" of ab ex paintings] Nor has the beauty of Waiting for Godot anything to do with its meaning, if it has a meaning. THis beauty depends [P.155] on symmetry, on balance, on shape; on the the anti-thesis between the triumphant Pozzo and the beaten Lucky in the first act, and the reversal of their positions in the second; [Note 6] on the balance between the boy's appearance at the end of the first act and his re-appearance at the end of hte second; on the strophe and anti-strophe of the speeches of the two tramps; on the musical inter-play of words and silence[s]. The play is not an appeal to reason, nor is it a puzzle. To search fro its meaning will reduce to futility the acutest intellect, just as to yield to the exquisite ordering of its ideas, its echoes, and its associations will exalt the humblest spirit. [needless to say, i *do* think it has meaning, and much of its equisit ordering of the ideas has to do with that at no time is a duck required for the performance! 2005.11.18, Dallas, Terra] Need to look up: M. Anouilh's plays (ref to P. 54; op. cit.) J.W. Lambert, P.55: "Lucky became in TRimothy Batesen, with his tiny pinched face, and the halting voice of an old, scratched, worn-out gramophone record, a frightening crature -- as frightening in his determination to server as in his evident decay, and somehow made more horrible by his master's shame on his behalf."


(This section only) [1] Now if *that* isn't a call for a librarian, then i don't know the cost (in herrings) of a towel! **** FIND LATIN CONTENT **** {Back to the TEXT} [2] This (for some reason) strikes a very strong chord in me as to the fate of the Bakku in "Star Trek Insurrrection". Choosing the quiet path *** must research **** crafts, artisans, and then the contrast of ultra technology -- that [F. Murray Abrahm's character] wants to use this vastly destructive machine to save himself. It's as if to twist the fates (that the two thieves be saved -- and he is the one that is damned (hubris, yes; but more by the person who he has become: the leader who is driven by hatred) -- and at what cost? his past, the denined past; eg, the changed names). The phrase: that sentence has a wonderful shape. {Back to the TEXT} [3] Alas, "In all [of] the sentences that Beckett has Written..." If only we could model *that* equation. PKD-A --> SB-A (ala Borges). QQ: If we make a JLB-A what does that tell us? Imagine an entire room of such robots (androids) conversing in a space! Twain/Douglass, Borges/Dick, Beckett/Ionesco, Picasso/Stein, Emily/Langston, etc! {Back to the TEXT} [4] Again this goes back to Point #2 in Michael Kirby's "aethetics of the avant guarde" [Here] Thus, the "current perception" (eg, "well, it wasn't funny at the time", etc) vs. the *recalled* perception in the future (and of course, "Yojimbo" {Back to the TEXT} [5] Compare this with Ibsen's idea of the "life-sustaining illusion". For example, in "The Wild Duck", Hialmar sustains his mundane life by the "illusion" that fiddling with lenses and such, that he might one day invent a new kind of camera. Indeed, Greggers can not (at the very end of the play) accept what he has done -- his own life sustaining illusion that "the truth will set you free" is but yet another blindness that we create to shield ourselves from the *actual* truth. It is arguable (i would maintain) that as artists/poets/etc it is this un-willingness to embrace these lies and cause us to go mad. A van Gogh that can accept a "comfortable middle class life", settle down, take a wife, get a job is not the van Gogh of our world. And yet is Picasso that other-world van Gogh who found a way to live a comfortable life by sheer in-exhaustible production. And what of David Smith who produced a work a day? Are the rest of us just slackers? {Back to the TEXT} [6] Actually, i would argue that Lucky is worse off than he was before. Thus, far from *his* fate being "reversed", it's taken a turn for the worse. As Pozzo is "brought down", he drags Lucky down as well; eg, the shorter rope. Also the fact that Lucky is deprived of his ability to speak (ie, think) is another indication of this. {Back to the TEXT} [7] {Back to the TEXT} Next: Watt.


PR 6003.E282'W32'1970 -- Watt "Samuel Beckett's Novel Watt", by Gottfried Büttner, PR 6003.E282'W3432'1984 ALso refer to "shape" essay in: PQ 2603.E378'E677'1987, Edited by (big drum roll here!) Harold Bloom (natch -- tips towel to "H.B." "The Language of Myth" by Bert O. States; Pp. 79-94. (oddly enough he starts the novel but does NOT give Hobson credit for the i/v !!!) "Merlin junviniles" ****** NEED TO RESEARCH Gottfried Büttner **** ??who??


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[1] {Back to the TEXT} [2] {Back to the TEXT} [03] {Back to the TEXT} [4] {Back to the TEXT} [5] {Back to the TEXT} [6] {Back to the TEXT} [7] {Back to the TEXT} [8] {Back to the TEXT} [9] {Back to the TEXT} [10] {Back to the TEXT}
"One cannot speak anymore of being, one must speak only of the mess. When Heidegger and Sartre speak of a contrast between being and existence, they may be right. I don't know, but thier langauge is too philosophical for me. I am not a philosopher. One can only speak of what is in front of him, and that now is simply the mess. ... [It] invades our experiences at every moment. It is there and it must be allowed [into art]. ... What I am saying does not mean that there will henceforht be no form in art. It only means that there will be a new ofrm and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else. The form and the chaos remain separate. ... That is why the form itself becomes a pre-occupation, because it exists as a problem separate from the material it accomodates. To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now. -- as quoted in "Reading Godot", by Lois Gordon LCCN PQ 2603.E378'E644'2020, ISBN 0.300.09286.5 (Yale Univ, 2002)


Major Works