A Captivating Confusion

So: Beckett. Based solely on his work, you can’t deny he gives the impression of being a curious creature. (And, based on a story I’ve heard about him, namely, giving a paper at a conference about a completely made-up poet and the movement surrounding said figure, and eliciting scholarly confirmations of his “findings,” makes me appreciate what was an apparently bold sense of mischief aimed, in this instance, at uncovering academic bullshit.)

Last night, I finished the man’s Stories and Texts for Nothing, and I’m still wondering how the whole thing came about in his head. What sort of person puts such addictively strange stuff out there, and believes it’ll find public acceptance? While devouring the book, I wasn’t entirely sure I really got it, or whether there was an “it” to get– but I do know that I couldn’t put the thing down. And the fact that the style of these stories and vignettes pushes the reader through these fictional worlds at at least a fast walking pace, and that I just surrendered and let myself be whisked through street scenes and bare rooms without stopping to pause, probably meant I lost any larger meaning that might have been hiding behind all the characters’ (not the author’s!) paralyzed and paralytic bluster.

With the exception of Endgame (which I adore), this sense of “huh?” is more or less representative of everything I’ve read by Beckett, even if that feeling of being, not rushed, exactly, but kept moving, is new to me. And I’m wondering if I love Endgame so much, and so much more than any of the author’s other works, because it’s the only one of his pieces I’ve seen staged. Would Waiting for Godot have had more of a personally positive impact had I seen it performed, instead of reading the play on my own?

In college, a friend and I had a way of rating cultural products about which we weren’t all that excited, but that also weren’t terrible enough to waste our time criticizing: “It’s better than Beckett.” The phrase, in addition to being generally underinformed about the guy’s work, was more than anything else, really, a reaction against the nineteen-year-olds who’d chosen to undertake their journey of self-discovery via the path of literary imperiousness. Sick early on of affected boys and their haughty airs used to hide a mess of insecurity and late adolescent gangliness, we decided it was acceptable to sacrifice our own potential appreciation of their idols if it would just make these dateless nerds shut up.

Well– knowing a little bit better these days how to deal with pomposity when it crosses my path (and having abandoned academia has meant said encounters occur much less frequently), I’m more willing to deal with this particular man of letters on his own terms, whatever the hell that might mean. If it includes more nights of staying up too late because I can’t stop reading his creations, that may just be enough for me.

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5 comments

  1. lostgander

    How nice to find this in my RSS reader today…glad to see you are writing here again. Extended personal responses to Beckett's work aren't always easy to come by online, in my experience at least, as I think people are either too mystified to comment at length or they go the (quasi-)academic route. I enjoyed reading yours. Stories and Texts for Nothing is probably my favorite book of his that I've read so far. My experience with it closely mirrored yours, particularly this observation:

    “I wasn't entirely sure I really got it, or whether there was an “it” to get– but I do know that I couldn't put the thing down.”

    So true!

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  2. Special K

    Thanks so much! It's grand to be back, and to have some interaction.

    Any thoughts on why you liked it so much? For me, I think a large part of it was finding some sort of truth in the character's (or characters'?) agonized mental wrangling involved in an attempt just to move, period.

    Plus, there were tons of verbal gems, such as the description of a projecting gallery as “separated from the void by a cynical parapet.” Yes!

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  3. lostgander

    I love that quote! Yes, there were a lot of verbal gems. I think I need to purchase a copy of this book and reread it. I checked it out from the library and that was probably a year and a half ago. But it's the kind of book that needs to be meditated over, don't you think?

    I found my reading notes but they are mostly quotes. Here are a few of my favorites:

    “I hear the curlews, that means close of day, fall of night, for that's the way with curlews, silent all day, then crying when the darkness gathers, that's the way with those wild creatures and so short-lived, compared with me.” (I have a thing for birds and bird references in literature)

    “Eye ravening patient in the haggard vulture face, perhaps it's carrion time.”

    “Ah, if no were content to cut yes's throat and never cut its own.”

    “That's right, wordshit, bury me, avalanche, and let there be no more talk of any creature, nor of a world to reach, in order to have done, with worlds, with creatures, with words, with misery, misery.”

    Hmm…seems I picked out some of the darker passages. Must have been a dark time for me!

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  4. Special K

    I do think this book deserves some meditation– and probably a re-read every decade or so. I tried the latter with Ulysses, which I originally loved– but in spite of being repeatedly in awe, ten years later, of Joyce's amazing ability to bring living discussions to the page without killing them, I just got disgusted with Bloom's fixations about 70% of the way through. Hopefully, this isn't a sign of impending priggishness.

    But back to the matter at hand: I marked the curlew passage as well, partly as a reminder to myself to become more familiar with different types of birds. (I think the curlew also came up in some Edward Thomas poems I was reading a few months back, and I realized I probably would have gotten more out of it had I been able to identify said bird.)

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  5. Special K

    FYI: I noticed the next poem up for my perusal in the Yeats collection I'm reading deals with a curlew. I don't know whether I should feel happy or worried (à la “The Birds,” maybe) about so many representatives of this bird type coincidentally showing up to greet me.

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