Showing posts with label Samuel Beckett. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Samuel Beckett. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Samuel Beckett's Crackling Static

Playwright, novelist and poet Samuel Beckett , better than any other 20th century writer I've read, best expressed the pervasiveness of what one can refer to as the " existential stall". That is say that is the  the state at which one realizes precisely the redundant nature of their existence, the stuff of the everyday being reduced to activities that have gone beyond habit or ritual and slipped into the anonymous functions of organisms maneuvering out of organic necessity, without the philosophical solace of free will. Combined with that is the awareness his narrators have of the small set of rooms their biographies and emotional reservoirs inhabit, but yet even with such acute awareness, done so in fractured, cryptic, half coherent remarks and complaints against a scenery and set of responses that repeat themselves , reliable as brief train schedules, there is not the will, the imagination, the energy to break the chains and do something else all together.
  These elements combined, churning, burning, roiling with their unchanging content , results in a paralysis, the inability to transcend one's despair and ennui and create something new and dynamic for themselves. An old saw of existentialist thought, a notion detectable in even the more abstruse and gratingly opaque writings of Kierkegaard, Tillich, Sartre, and the lot, religious and atheist alike, is that life gains meaning through one's acceptance of the fact that purpose is not given to our breathing and ambulatory ways metaphysically, but only by an act  of creative commitment to a way of living, and and the taking responsibility for the consequences of choosing to live in such a self defined fashion.
 The discussions are lengthier than that in each and all existential authors worth discussing,but the essential notion is that there is an ethical dimension one must achieve with complete awareness of what the world is like, in situ. Achieving this requires work, though, and such work is the sort of thing that causes the proverbial realization of everything you thought you knew about yourself and the life that contains your existence is wrong. Beckett's characters only get half way there and prefer, it seems,the persecution of the hallow echo of their meaningless , repetitive acts than the true freedom that is the adventure of wandering into the truly unknown.

Self awareness in Beckett's world is not the same as free will. Beckett's world is the eternal state of the mind that is too stimulated to sleep and which will not be quieted by lullaby or even the mortal need to rest, shut down, physically and psychically recoup. "I Can't Go On, I Go On" was the title of a superb reader of Beckett's writing , and it crystallizes Beckett's theme of awareness, paralysis. One is weary unto death and wants to surrender and perhaps die , finally, of an exhaustion only the strongest of us can bear, and yet the subject pushes on, repeats the pattern, masters some version of cliche and self assurance to make the reentry into the endless game palatable, but soon enough the protests begin again, the complaints about the trap, the fragments of memory that hint at the happy time when all was whole and fluid, and the trauma that was the fall from grace that removed the salve of hope and purpose from a life and made into a hell of awareness of the sheer futility of pressing on and it's twin state, the futility of abandoning what one is doing over,  and over and over. Beckett's art is the artful display of people in purgatories of their own creating.


why not merely the despaired of
occasion of
is it not better abort than be barren
the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love
the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words
terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
I and all the others that will love you
if they love you


unless they love you

This is a poem about being broken entirely, where the light of one's life is removed through death, divorce and the cruel metaphorical walls that comprise estrangement, a situation where the other side of the bed might as well another continent entirely. The implication here is death, an abortion, a miscarriage, strongly suggested by the anguishing yearning  of the first stanza. What I take away is the death of the child that was to be the demonstration of the union between a man and woman, a continuation of themselves into to the world and to extend the essence of the two of them into the future which, like many of us do in younger years, assumed would be endless and without limit. But there is interruption, a death, what had been seen before as the bed where love creates life and so ensures a future with an accompanying purpose now becomes the place where it ends ; hope, love, great pleasures experienced in the seeking of greater gratification and purpose are fragile and are collapsed . There is no reason to continue but one cannot stop, so existence becomes the oblong circle of infinite recollection, rage, regret, resignation, none of the elements illuminating anything in the narrator's life other than the moments leading up the fall.

This a lament that goes on forever in dreams one cannot change, a horror of torched land, trace feelings of now absent embrace, tenderness that grew hard as rock, intimacy that became distance, talk that became slogans, things repeated. There is the imagery of what was fruitful now gone barren, arid, what was full of life now bereft of spirit, animation. There are hints of blood, abortion, of falling in love when the sensation was new and suggestive of possibilities that could be fulfilled and renewed without end or resolution, but love that had cooled to mere affection and familiarity, a love that became habit and redundant rhetoric of convenience that rattled the nerves and deadened an already eviscerated soul with the crushing banality of the expression.

 One half asks and half answers their own questions, repudiate their own protests, stifle the roar of rage with a hard, gulping swallow. One wants to destroy the bounds that keeps this a rotating cycle of dread , one wants to walk away from the argument with oneself, that add space in the psyche where inflated sense of guilt and the wan giddiness of redemption and deliverance alternate in informing the nervous system that the war that rages in the center of one's emotional continuum is harsh,  unforgiving, ongoing,
 Beckett's dramas and his novels and his poems as well are resolutions denied, interrupted, a jabbering of frayed tongues uttering repetitive phrases and variations there of as the characters, the narrators, the damned search through images of the past  attempting to locate the precise moment things went wrong , awry, and life became a sequence of competing monologues that cannot , for all their sound and sharp recounting of people , places and things, stumble upon an idea , an inspiration that might avail them like wisdom and insight, This is Beckett's genius.
 This poem is nothing less than a man who has been  figuratively skinned alive by the collapse of his great love; there is moaning to the sky and beyond, a caterwaul to beyond the stars and perhaps to the ear of a God who does not intervene nor offer the intuited clue as to how to achieve closure and to garner the strength to press on with the remains of  one's life once the affair is cruelly concluded. Whether there is God who will do the impossible if he were sought or a God who is sadistic, silent and passive is not the point because all there is is silence and the elements that allow for growth are within, if one, no matter how bereaved and bemoaning , has it within himself to break free of the past they are chained to and dare to imagine a remainder of life that is new, unknown. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Beckett trashes the Supreme Fiction

"What is that unforgettable line?” 
Samuel Beckett

Existentialism is when I discover that I'm the private joke .I think Beckett would appreciate those who can pierce through that psychic prophylactic against comprehension and grasp the humor he observed and recorded. I have the idea that Beckett permeated the membrane that divides  this reality from the metaphysical one, in Plato's sense of the term (and Wallace Stevens as well with his theories about the Supreme Fiction) and instead of finding Ideal Types as promised, he found an empty room.This can be a comedy Kierkegaard and Bergman can also get behind, a God who is silent and likely engrossed in anything apart from what's going on in the human situation. People, his creations, are pretty much treated as laundry or broken toys or anything else he refuses to deal with, repair or restore. 

I always found it comic that the Idiot God we think is wise and all knowing is something human personalities entreat with prayer, mythology, art, poetry to give the world a sense of order, albeit an invisible one, and that there is meaning  and purpose to the mostly terrible and tedious events and fates that befall us; the punchline is that we modify the dynamics of the imagined , purpose-giving narrative we think we assign the world as a means of making it seem as if there is reason and a greater purpose served no matter how ugly, inane and repetitiously tragic like actually turns out to be.

  Our conversations and our actions become bizarre and baroque, symbolic of nothing in particular. Man continues to entreat God for wisdom, and God keeps playing with the remote control for something else to distract Him. Meanwhile , some of us would insist that there is indeed something arguably in place and permanent in a universe that that adheres to the 20th century paradigm of expanding attention-deficit randomness, love, and music. Those two items are permanent items in the storage closet of words and the things they represent that have been dedicated to tripping us up and making us step on the rake yet again. But permanent in what sense? Like everything else already touched on in this compacted rant, it depends on who you talk to and whose theoretical alibi you're willing to suspend disbelief for. Yet let's cut to the quick, slowly:
Love and music are not perfections of any sort, but rather, at their best, a brilliant crafting, or blend, of imperfect motives and tenuously played sounds. They are processes, albeit enjoyable ones. Perfect things are "done" and advance no further, and are dead. 
Perhaps we should not settle for the cover letter that comes with our world and choose rather to live as long as we can do so, creatively, fruitfully, happy as we can make ourselves.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Whoroscope by Samuel Beckett

The rickety and decidedly repetitive rhythms of Samuel Beckett's plays and novels suggest modernist poetry itself. As literary art shifted from universal declarations of world spirit and dwelt more on the interior life and the inability of the individual to convincingly make totalizing remarks about the makeup and purpose of existence. One is always waiting for something to happen to make the body's labors and the mind's intellectual achievements cohere with a serenity that comes only when imagination coincides with actual fact. 

Beckett's characters are not much less than obsolete machines that still make noise and can move their gears involuntarily, at crossroads awaiting the arrival of an unannounced re assignation, cloistered in boxes responding to daylight and sound with responses mimicking the slow grind of old gears. Beckett's novels and plays are in various demonstrations an acute set of visions of when the machinery of habits breaks down and grind against one another. His poetry, those few stanzas he actually wrote, get to the despairing and darkly funny heart of his matter in an even colder, more challenging light. This is the case with Whoroscope, one hundred lines of click-track short-circuiting referencing a gripe of Renee Descartes grousing over the nutritional value of an egg that had been served him. An extract from the poem, with Beckett's own notes:

WhoroscopeBy Samuel Beckett


What's that?An egg?By the brother Boot it stinks fresh.Give it to Gillot
Galileo how are youand his consecutive thirds!The vile old Copernican lead-swinging son of a sutler!We're moving he said we're off - Porca Madonna!the way a boatswain would be, or a sack-of-potatoes charging PretenderThat's not moving, that's moving.
What's that?A little green fry or a mushroomy one?Two lashed ovaries with prosciutto?How long did she womb it, the feathery one?Three days and four nights?Give it to Gillot
Faulhaber, Beeckmann and Peter the Red,come now in the cloudy avalanche or Gassendi's sun-red crystally cloudand I'll pebble you all your hen-and-a-half onesor I'll pebble a lens under the quilt in the midst of dayTo think he was my own brother, Peter the Bruiser,and not a syllogism out of himno more than if Pa were still in it.
Hey! Pass over those copperssweet milled sweat of my burning liver!Them were the days I sat in the hot-cupboard throwing Jesus out of the skylight.
Who's that? Hals?Let him wait.
My squinty doaty!I hid and you sook.And Francine my precious fruit of a house-and-parlour foetus!What an exfoliation!Her little grey flayed epidermis and scarlet tonsils!My one childScourged by a fever to stagnant murky blood-Blood!Oh Harvey belovedHow shall the red and white, the many in the few,(dear bloodswirling Harvey)eddy through that cracked beater?And the fourth Henry came to the crypt to the arrow.
What's that?How long?Sit on it.
A wind of evil flung my despair of easeagainst the sharp spires of the onelady:not once or twice but?(Kip of Christ hatch it!)in one sun's drowing(Jesuitasters please copy).So on with the silk hose over the knitted, and the morbid leather-What am I saying! the gentle canvas-and away to Ancona on the bright Adriatic,and farewell for a space to the yellow key of Rosicrucians.
They don't know what the master of the that do did,that the nose is touched by the kiss of all foul and sweet air,and the drums, and the throne of the faecal inlet,and the eyes by its zig-zagsSo we drink Him and eat Himand the watery Beaune and the stale cubes of Hovisbecause He can jigas near or as far from His Jigging Selfand a sad or lively as the chalice or the tray asksHow's that, Antonio?
In the name of Bacon will you chicken me up that egg.Shall I swallow cave-phantoms?Anna Maria!She reads Moses and says her love is crucified.Leider! Leider! She blomed and withered,a pale abusive parakeet in a maistreet window.No I believe every word of it I assure youFallor, ergo sum!The coy old fr?r!He tolle'd and legge'dand he buttoned on his redemptorist waistcoat.No matter, let it pass.I'm a bold boy I knowso I'm not my son(ever if I were a concierge)nor Joachim my father'sbut the chip of a perfect block that's neither old nor new,the lonely petal of a great high bright rose.
Are you ripe at last,my slim pale double-breasted turd?How rich she smells,this abortion of a fledgling!I will eat it with a fish fork.White and yolk and feathers.Then I will rise and move movingtoward Rahab of the snows,the murdering matinal pope-confessed amazon,Christina the ripper.Oh Weulles spare the blood of a FrankWho has climbed the bitter steps,(Ren頤u Perrron?!)and grant me my secondstarless inscrutable hour.

NotesThese notes were provided by the author.
1. Rene Descartes, Seigneur du Perron, liked his omelette made of eggs hatched from eight to ten days; shorter or longer under the hen and the result, he says, is disgusting. He kept his won birthday to himself so that no astrologer could cast his nativity. The Shuttle of a ripening egg combs the warp of his days.
2. In 1640 the brothers Boot refused Aristotle in Dublin.
3. Descartes passed on the easier problems in analytical geometry to his valet Gillot.
4. Refer to his contempt for Galileo Jr., (whom he confused with the more musical Galileo Sr.), and to his expedient sophistry concerning the movement of the earth.
5. He solved problems submitted by these mathematicians.
6. The attempt at swindling on the part of his elder brother Pierre de la Bretailli貥--The money he received as a soldier.
7. Franz Hals.
8. As a child he played with a little cross-eyed girl.
9. His daughter died of scarlet fever at the age of six.
10. Honoured Harvey for his discovery of the circulation of the blood, but would not admit that he had explained the motion of the heart.
11. The heart of Henri iv was received at the Jesuit college of La Fl裨e while Descartes was still a student there.
12. His visions and pilgrimage to Loretto.
13. His Eucharistic sophistry, in reply to the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, who challenged him to reconcile his doctrine of matter with his doctrine of transubstantiation.
14. Schurmann, the Dutch blue stocking, a pious pupil of Vo봬 the adversary of Descartes.
15. Saint Augustine has a revelation in the shrubbery and reads Saint Paul.
16. He proves God by exhaustion.
17. Christina, queen of Sweden. At Stockholm, in November, she required Descartes, who had remained in bed till midday all his life, to be with her at five o'clock in the morning.
18. Weulles, a Peripatetic Dutch physician at the Swedish court, and an enemy of Descartes

What's striking is how this foreshadows the late William Gaddis' final novel Agape, Agape, where a dying man holds forth on a scrambled, stewing monologue about the history of the player piano and how that was an omen of how technology would invade our private lives and monitor the stirrings of the soul. Pouring over a lifetime of research, notes, papers, he rails between the sources of his misery and the increased misery he made for himself, trying to diagnose the cause in anticipation of a cure. Beckett has no such irony; his speakers are crushed by routines that have taken over the spirit. 

It is the weariness of someone too exhausted to know the world on terms other than the sheer effort to form a vowel. Gaddis' unfulfilled researcher at least retains his belief that his ideas mattered even if they were ignored or not acted upon; the frustration he feels, painfully aware that he is out of time, causes him to rage at the world, technology, himself for perceived failures to change the ten of his time. Anger animates the monologue. Beckett's language is post emotion altogether. The long discourses of his plays and novels are not monologues as they are imagined transcriptions of sounds one might have made when the genuine feeling was still possible. The lines are shown here in "Whoroscope," with their fowl references and interventions upon arriving at a point of recognizable memory or sensual sensation, are made of static signifiers, weathered billboards on an abandoned road.

I'm a fan of Beckett's poems, and it's impressive to find out how fresh and contemporary these abrasive lines still are. Beckett's speakers are those for whom the effort to contain their rage within the conforming protocols of civil nee rational language is as herculean as any physical labor. The topics are lost as the sentences stop, break, take fantastic leaps from idea to idea to view. This is the narrative of a man trying to resolve many particulars of his life and finds that having that secret history to himself for so long finds that there are no resolutions for his contradictions that he can speak to. This is the state where words lose their ability to shape the world and become something like animal sounds, the equivalent of grunts, moans, and snorts to signify the internal grinding of a mind that can no longer be molded.

Prostitutes, abortions, issues with sexuality, guilt, self-recrimination, the objectification of women, mother issues, religious torment, the gaping gates of hell welcoming the self-consumed sinner? All that is in there and good stuff for poems and literary prose to deal with. You, though, seem to have issues above and beyond experimental writing. I will simply say again, briefly, that his kind of obscurantist, indirect writing is difficult to do effectively, and Beckett does it brilliantly. There is a reason why his name and work still provoke controversy and heated discussion. There is something he tapped into that still filters through the current age. His work still resonates with readers who choose to read him. Great writers have that effect.