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Samuel Beckett's letters

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A collection of Samuel Beckett’s letters has been published. Looks good. Review here.

By the end of the decade friends were showing him pictures they had purchased with queries about provenance and authentification. But Beckett could no more become an art dealer than he could become a lecturer in French, a commercial pilot, a student of Eisenstein or any of the other careers he briefly toyed with but either resigned from when they became a reality, or simply left to drift in the realm of possibility. For there was really only one thing Beckett wanted to do, and that was to write.

That passage reminded me of an old New Yorker piece by Ian Frazier, who seized upon this comment from Beckett, included in the new collection:

I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously, nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot.

Frazier took up this idea and offered up a sample flight with your pilot Samuel Beckett. You can find Frazier’s piece in his collection, Dating Your Mom. Here’s a quote:

Extinguish the light extinguish the light I have extinguished the No Smoking light so you are free to move about the cabin have a good cry hang yourselves get an erection who knows however we do ask that while you're in your seats you keep your belts lightly fastened in case we encounter any choppy air or the end we've prayed for past time remembering our flying time from New York to Chicago is two hours and fifteen minutes the time of the dark journey of our existence is not revealed, you cry no you pray for a flight attendant you pray for a flight attendant a flight attendant comes now cry with reading material if you care to purchase a cocktail.....

.......When we deplane I’ll weep for happiness.

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Thanks, dirac, for starting this thread. It would be wonderful to hear BT'rs responses to -- and experiences with -- Beckett.

Anthony Lane's long review in The New Yorker is here:


Lane makes it clear that this is not an easy read -- it's 780 pages long -- but worth reading nonetheless. I loved this sentence:

More and more my language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it." 1937

For those who have access to the print edition of the Times Literary Supplement (March 13), there is a lead review by Gabriel Josipovici. (Fantastic full-page cover photo of Beckett, too, taken at a rehearsal of Waiting for Godot, Paris, 1961.) Josipovici, unlike Lane, includes a good deal about Beckett's response to other writers and to the visual arts.

I first hear of Beckett by accident. In the mid-60s, I moved to the West Village to go to school. I was just a block and a half from the Cherry Lane Theater where they were playing Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days. It was one of those "we're not in Kansas anymore" experiences.

I've always adored his theater work ... but his prose, not so much. It will be fun to try out the letters.

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I loved this sentence:
More and more my language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it." 1937

I took part in a discussion of Bob Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home" record last night, and the following lines from "Gates of Eden" reminded me of just this theme of Beckett's that he worries in the quote above (with the difference, of course, that Dylan's words suggest a reason to hope):

At dawn my lover comes to me

And tells me of her dreams

With no attempts to shovel the glimpse

Into the ditch of what each one means

At times I think there are no words

But these to tell what's true

And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden

I too much prefer the plays to the prose, and I've seen productions of Happy Days and Krapp's Last Tape that moved me as much as the play everyone knows Beckett for. The prose novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable were a hard slog. They need a personality to bring them alive. Fortunately I saw Barry McGovern do just that in 1988.

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Michael Dirda reviews the published letters today in the Washington Post.

Has any modern author been better served by his editors than Beckett? When completed, this four-book set will include approximately 2,500 letters, chosen from some 15,000 written over 60 years. Just the introductions, chronologies, indexes and biographical profiles of Beckett's friends and associates take up nearly 200 pages of this initial volume.

Best of all, each letter is annotated in detail, with every person, event and allusion scrupulously identified.

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