Showing posts with label William Gaddis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Gaddis. Show all posts

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.