Samuel Beckett: Nothing Funnier Than Unhappiness

David Mamet nails it. “He was a great kisser,” Mamet faxes the New York Times in answer to the centennial survey of American playwrights on the modernist master, Samuel Beckett.

Samuel Beckett

It helps in the Times piece to see Jane Brown’s late portrait of Beckett’s craggy, catatonic “face full of trenches.” But it’s Mamet’s crack, from our own “prince of f***ing darkness,” that confirms precisely what Tony Kushner observes as the essential Beckett effect — “the way the writing is pitched on the line between profundity and meaninglessness,” with a burst of rude laughter, I would add.

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” says Nell in Beckett’s “Endgame.”

So on the occasion of his hundredth (April 13), amid readings and Beckett performances around the world, we are beginning again with Beckett: the grimly prolific minimalist, the generous recluse, the gaunt ex-athlete (a 7-handicap golfer in his youth), the Protestant Dubliner who moved to Paris and preferred to write his major works in French and recreate them in English; the pianist who loved to play Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart (not Bach) and worshipped Schubert, most especially for his late song cycle, Die Winterreise, the “Winter Passage” of a lonely traveler toward a very Beckettian madness and death.

Once at a cricket match a friend remarked to Beckett that it was “the sort of day that makes one glad to be alive.” Beckett hesitated: “Oh, I don’t think I would go quite so far as to say that.”

We know him best in those revolutionary plotless dramas of people stuck on the way to nowhere. Most famously, “Waiting for Godot,” which begins with Estragon’s line: “Nothing to be done.” It ends with Estragon asking his fellow tramp, “Well, shall we go?” and Vladimir answering, “Yes, let’s go.” Beckett’s stage direction at the curtain reads: “They do not move.”

Everywhere in Beckett we feel him refining literature in the direction of music, but also diminishing the noise of too many words toward silence. He was an endlessly dedicated and productive writer in lifelong struggle with artistic expression itself. As in the novel Molloy: “Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the heat of composition.”

And in the last words of The Unnamable, closing his great mid-century trilogy of novels: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

Great words for these despairing times. Let’s get busy on Beckett. Where shall with go with his legacy?

Tim Conley

Co-edits a Beckett blog Apmoniaa code word from the novel Murphy. He’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Brock University in Ontario—his new book of short stories is titled Whatever Happens.

Richard Seaver

Translator, Editor Richard Seaver encountered Samuel Beckett and his work as an American student in Paris in the early 1950’s. He joins us from New York.

Steve Cosson

Founding Artistic Director of New York based theater company The Civilians

Anne Atik

American-born poet, married to an Israeli artist. They were both intimates of the Beckett circle in Paris 50 years ago. A world of food, drink, art and endless talk that she has recreated from notes in her memoir How it Was.???

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  • nother

    Whenever I think of Beckett, a passage from Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment� crosses my mind. The following is Raskolnikov thinking in chapter VI:

    “Where is it that I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!… How true it is! Good God, how true! Man is a vile creature… And vile is he who calls him vile for thatâ€?

  • nother

    I connect Dostoevsky’s passage above to Beckett because it paints a picture of hope amidst despair. That hope might only be faint embers, and that despair may be omnipresent and overwhelming, but…

    “Better hope deferred than none. Up to a point. Till the heart starts to sicken. Company too up to a point. Better a sick heart than none. Till it starts to break. So speaking of himself he concludes for the time being,

    For the time being leave it at that.�


    I would love to explore Beckett’s legacy of hope. Beckett may see hope as tragic comedy, yet doesn’t that also mean he sees comedy as hope. The hope of Beckett goes well beyond the idea we throw around in our daily lives: I hope we win the World Series this year, I hope I get a promotion; I hope our president comes to his senses. The hope of Beckett is a tangible shadow; it’s broken into tiny disparate parts – miniscule parts that add up to – everything. If we can somehow touch that elusive essence of Beckett’s hope, we will be on to something.

    Hey Chris, Beckett would have found hope in blogging:

    ”There is nothing to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”


    Oh man, do I feel his words every time I post on this site.

  • cheesechowmain

    nother, you’re a hard act to follow! To get a little “low brow” because I can’t resist, and because I love the following song so much, whenever I read Beckett or see a performance, I can’t help think about the Randy Newman song “I’m Dead (But I don’t know it)”

  • nother

    Cool CCM, I never heard that song. I like the lyric – “Why do I go on and on and on and on and on

    And on and on and on and on and on”

    I would answer that lyric – because there is a slimmer of hope. But I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  • cheesechowmain

    Okay nother. You’ve forced me to throw down and go to the deadly serious Hope weaponry. This is extremely dangerous stuff, so be forewarned before hitting this link. Behold, the spectacle of irony rendered incapacitated:

    Angst neutralized? No telling the effect this site would have had on Beckett and his proponents. I predict a complete psychic meltdown. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. If Krapp has a kitten instead of a tape recorder we get a completely different presentation. Of course, if Krapp has a weblog, we get a different presentation.

    nother: A blogging Beckett? What an incredible thought. And the Dostoevsky analysis is wonderful. Thanks for putting this out there.

  • I don’t know if Beckett would be all about blogging. The web as a resource could expand the amount of contradictions and hamperings that could be dealt with in a theoretical ‘Beckett Work,’ sure; it would be a place to sit back and examine power structures playing themselves out, yes; but — blogging? How do you mean?

    Does anyone else think of Death in Venice when they read Beckett?

  • nother

    Cheesechowmain – there was simply no call for that! You went over the line with that one! What did I ever do to you to deserve that?

    I’m over here clawing with my finger nails for a just a tiny little scrap of elusive hope – and you knock me over the head with all that good.

    You forced me to google the word “happy.”

    “The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important forgive easily.”

    That from an article about recent studies done on happiness.

    Now that I’ve read the article Cheesechowmain, I have chosen to “forgive” you for sending me to that link above.

    Now Cheese, I ask you to repent for your misdeeds by going to this link:

    Click on the “play all” button

  • Ben

    Just a quick share, some may have already caught the Beckett on Film as part of the PBS Thirteen/WNET Stage on Screen series that aired quite a while ago. It was very good. For anyone interested it’s info is here …

  • From a personal perspective, though, I’d love to hear more about Beckett’s sense of humor, his jokes, et. al.

  • Ben

    Again … more here…

  • Potter

    Whoa! I can’t wait for this! What a great picture!

  • cheesechowmain

    re: nother and b. mcferrin thought control tune…you’ve taken brinkmanship to new heights! Or new lowly depths? As they say: “smile and the whole world smiles with you.” Of course, the world may have you institutionalized while they’re smiling at you, so this may not be a useful metric. Best just to grimace, furrow your brow, and feign sanity, I suppose.

    re: Ben thanks for the links.

  • In these times, I find Beckett’s “The Lost Ones” quite chilling. It is not long, only 63 pages, yet it affects me more than Orwell’s “1984”.

    Here is a short excerpt of a review: ” ‘The Lost Ones’ imagines the death of imagination, the end of life on the planet. People live within a cylinder. Those who searched, who climbed the ladders to the alcoves and niches, or who moved at any rate their eyes, are one by one frozen into lifelessness. The light and the temperature continue to obey their pulsing rule; the human beings still do their meticulous best (from “metus”, fear) to abide by the deranged, civilized, intricate code which governs the use of the ladders and the permitted movements.” (from “Beckett First and Last” by Christopher Ricks, Vol. 19, no. 10, Dec. 14, 1972.

    I am currently reading Professor Ricks’ “Beckett’s Dying Words”. I have read a few other authors on Beckett. None of them, to my mind, have been able to capture Beckett’s soul (not just his art) as Ricks has.

    I feel extremely privileged to have been introduced to his works.

  • hurley

    Great idea for a show. I think I’ve read nearly every word Beckett published, many more than once (no merit to me, just avidity). More to the point, I’ve also read a lot of writing about Beckett, but have rarely come across anything that sufficiently emphasizes what first struck me in his work: the unholy humor (“My work is a matter of fundamental sounds, no pun intended”), and the extreme beauty and technical brilliance of his prose. There are acres of dead interpretation of his supposed themes, but little living engagement with the words themselves (Kenner, Ricks, Davenport exceptions of a sort).

    Donald Barthelme: “I write the way I do because Beckett wrote the way he did.”

    Robert Coover has spoken of his debt to Beckett, and would I imagine make a good guest, particularly on the subject of Beckett’s humor.

  • nother

    Cheesechowmain- getting institutionalized wouldn’t be all bad, three hots and a cot, the freedom to blurt out what’s on your mind, you can run around in your underwear.

    Considering that there are some drawbacks, for now I will do as you say and continue to “feign sanity.”

    Hurley- I hope you will share more thoughts on Beckett. What writings have struck you the most? I would like to delve deeper into his thoughts, what path should I take aside from the masterful, Waiting for Godot?

  • hurley

    Nother: I’m away from home and on the fly, however: I read around Beckett as a teenager, a bit of this, a bit of that, but the hook really set within 20 pages of the Trilogy, sending me back to what I’d misread, especially Krapp’s Last Tape, with it’s devastating epiphany on the pier, which lead, and me with it, to all the briliant work to follow, particularly the prose, against which the plays pale. Start with the Trilogy, or the stories gathered in First Love. Lucky you to read this stuff for the first time! Any recommendations of your own? Any recommendations, anybody?

  • Potter

    Beckett wrote poetry. this, his own translation from his French version, somewhat well known, caught me:

    what would I do without this world faceless incurious

    where to be lasts but an instant where every instant

    spills in the void the ignorance of having been

    without this wave where in the end

    body and shadow together are engulfed

    what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die

    the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love

    without this sky that soars

    above its ballast dust

    what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before

    peering out of my deadlight looking for another

    wandering like me eddying far from all the living

    in a convulsive space

    among the voices voiceless

    that throng my hiddenness

    and this is his translation of a Paul Eluard poem ( from the French):

    Lady Love

    She is standing on my lids

    And her hair is in my hair

    She has the color of my eye

    She has the body of my hand

    In my shade she is engulfed

    As a stone against the sky

    She will never close her eyes

    And she does not let me sleep

    And her dreams in the bright day

    Make the suns evaporate

    And me laugh cry and laugh

    Speak when I have nothing to say

    (Dying of Not Dying- 1924)

  • icantgoon

    “…when plans fail there are always aspirations, it’s a knack, you must say it slowly, If only this, if only that, that gives you time, time for a cud of longing to rise up in the back of your gullet, nothing remains but to look as if you enjoyed chewing it, there’s no knowing where that may lead you…”

    The Unnamable

    Beckett is a phenomenon, one of a handful of geniuses (Shakespeare? Woolf? Dickinson?) who serves to push the boundaries of language so much further than ever thought possible. Who can say how or why these artists come into being among millions of wordsmiths over time—i.e. what is the nature of genius in any realm?

    It’s a shame that Beckett is not produced more widely. I’ve had little opportunity to see his work performed on either coast, but there are small, brave theaters out there that embrace the challenge. Some lesser known gems I’d like to alert the ROS audience to are plays Happy Days, Rockaby, Not I, All that Fall and the prose pieces Texts for Nothing.

    He’s influenced countless other writers and artists over time (e.g. I even recall novelist Carole Maso was planning to name her baby “Beckettâ€?–she’d probably be a great guest for this show), and from what I’ve read (James Knowleson’s Damned to Fame is particularly good), lived his life with enormous integrity, courage and generosity.

    He is also, without a doubt, the most fucking hilarious writer I’ve ever read.

    “But it’s a change of muck. And if all muck is the same muck that doesn’t matter, it’s good to have a change of muck, to move from one heap to anther a little further on, from time to time, fluttering you might say, like a butterfly, as if you were ephemeral.”


  • Nikos
  • glw

    Beckett is a very funny writer, especially in the novels. Murphy and the trilogy of novels, Malloy, Malone Dies, and the Unnamable, are full of deadpan humor and large quantities of blarney. He is a merciless exposer of our obsessions, fears, and foibles but always manages to leaven disgust and despair with true Irish wit.

    A brilliant stylist and amazingly literate, his works repay rereading. There is always something new to discover in “The Beckett Country.”

    On the show, you might address a less admirable side of his character: his misogyny. He did not have a high opinion of women, and made no effort to hide his contempt for them in the early novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women. He seems to have moderated his views over time, though.

    Happy 100th, Samuel Beckett!

  • nother

    The minimalist musicians are influenced by Samuel Beckett, but how was Beckett influenced by musicians?

    Was Beckett passionate about music? If one is to love music, one must know hope, right? Years ago, when I was depressed, I felt detached from music. Ugh! I wanted no part of music, what a waste of time, how trivial!

    I read about his collaboration with Morton Feldman but I would love to know how deep his connection to music went.

    I hear music in his quote: “All I know is what the words know, and dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.�

  • altartifacts

    Beckett’s ability to represent the state of existential despair while throwing in a comic sense of endurance was incredible. Many years ago I read and viewed everything I could get my hands on by him. At the same time I was reading works by Kierkegaard. Interesting reading…

    Kierkegaard books – Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Dread, The Concept of Irony, Either/Or. Familiar topics of Beckett’s books.

    These fellows were guide posts along the way for my own search for meaning.

    I am currently soaking up everything written by Jose Saramago whose writing delves into the sometimes absurd, sometimes comical world and life we find ourselves in.

    Good to see this topic coming up. Thanks!

  • babu

    Any comparisons/contrasts with (the very au courant) Martin McDonogh?

    I just saw ‘The Pillowman’ at ACT Theater in Seattle and thought of Beckett every-other line. McDonogh’s satiric riffs subsist on overstatement, however. But he’s a genius, fully formed from play one. He seems himself a Beckett character come to life, prattling on behind the Master’s back.

  • nother

    A passage from a NY Times book review last week concerning David Hume.

    “Although his revolutionary work in philosophy demonstrated the uncertainty of all knowledge, including knowledge of God, Hume resisted despair. When his thoughts got him down, he famously wrote, ‘I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse and am merry with my friends,’ and all would be well.�

    That’s the kind of thing I’m most intrigued by, what kind of things gave these men who delve so deep into the darkness, the will to live? Maybe we can gleam insight into what gives the rest of that will.

    What did Beckett do when his thoughts got him down? I know he liked to drink and talk with friends (I don’t know if he ever used the word “merry� �). I know he appreciated wit, so I assume he craved those precious moments of laughter.

    Personally, when my thoughts get me down, I enjoy watching and reading about sports, especially baseball. I enjoy stopping by my local and sipping a pint and engaging in witty repartee with my favorite bartender and her regulars. This bartender from Galway Ireland, who I now consider one of my best friends, could make a busy mortician pee his pants laughing.

  • loki

    The Bumper sticker comment: Don’t Resent Absurdity-Enjoy It!

  • nother

    How hideous is the semi-colon.


  • Potter

    I spoke to an old friend of mine who saw “Waiting for Godot” in Paris many years ago, probably when it was first introduced. She and her husband were avid and serious theatre goers and YET they had to walk out on this one. It was too much for them. I find this interesting since she is an artist and very open-minded. Maybe they were not in the mood. But she says she found it was better to read Beckett, and probably much later.

    I feel handicapped when I try to read a play- preferring to see a play acted out. I am wondering if Beckett is different however.

    I was listening to the audio clips above, some of the same play, different performances. It’s interesting what a different feeling you get from each. Is this moreso with Beckett than with say Shakespeare because he is so minimalist?

  • hurley

    Nother: re the hideousness of the semi-colon: Donald Barthelme described them as “uglier than a tick on a dog’s belly.” Bernard Shaw complained of T.E. Lawrence’s allegedly improper use of them; I’m not quite sure myself, etc…

  • nother

    hurley, you gota love Beckett’s ironic wit though, there is a semi-colon in the word semi-colon! He is using an actual semi-colon in a sentence decrying semi-colons! I love it!

    That five word sentence says so much. First of all, it’s funny; second of all, the overt contradiction tells us – question anything I ever write; and it’s lastly, it tells us he thinks semi-colons are ugly.

  • serious lee

    Hoooold on ther people Beckett was a looser. Scroll back and looka t his picture, now that the picture of an unfulfilled and lonely looser. Let’s face it he had nothing to say. I know, I know, you’re all impressed cause in the small town in Kansas you came from he’s really really smart and oh so sardonic. Poo poo my low life friends. Don’t be so impressed by some wordy looser. If he’d actually fullfilled any of the fantacies he’d ever had he would have been silent. Most of the wordy bastards that call them selves writers are miserable failures as human beings. Only real men like Hemmingway had the sense to blow theitr brains out. Worship your heroes you loosers. You’ll be no more than you are and all the quote in the world will elevate you beyond the mediocre lives you slosh through. Accept your limitations and keep your worthless thoughts to yourself. No one cares what you think. Everyone on this miserable site is only interested in what they write. They could care less what you think or write. Don’t believe me? Try complimenting someone, you’ll have a slavering lap dog of a pal in a minute. Look at all the loosers on this site that have such miserable lives that they salivate at the idea of another human being meeting them for coffee in Anacortes. Look at the hubub that’s built over this huge event. I’d say get a life but I know this is beyond anything any of you would comprehend. I pity all you loosers that have no dreams or hopes beyond the big meet in Anacortes. I’m closing out my participation in this site because it’s no fun anymore. It’s too much like kicking a dog with three legs and the mange. I volunterer to be the focus of your frustration and volumnous hatred. Take your best shot you loosers. I go to a much better and more stimulating place. Love Serious Lee.

  • cheesechowmain

    Serious Lee. I demur with the tenor of your last post. Incidently, carbon is a very mediocre element and look at its bounty.

    From the archives

    We’ll miss you Serious Lee. Don’t be gone long


  • loki

    the wait…….

  • nother

    From what I’ve read Beckett had a passion for painting, esspecially the Dutch masters. Apparently, the painting “Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich was one of the inspirations for Waiting for Godot.

    He was greatly interested in Cezanne’s take on nature: In a letter Beckett wrote:

    “What I feel in Cézanne is precisely the absence of a rapport that was all right for Rosa or Ruysdael for whom the animising mode was valid, but would have been fake for him, because he had the sense of his incommensurability not only with life of such a different order as landscape, but even with life of his own order, even with the life . . . operative in himself.”

    As far as his connection to Joyce, Beckett wrote that he:

    “realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than adding.”

    I found all this in an article by John Banville in the Irish Times.

  • nother

    Could nature be where we find “hope” in Beckett?

    In his novel Watt, he writes the following beautiful passage: (again taken from Banville’s article)

    “The crocuses and the larch turning green every year a week before the others and the pastures red with uneaten sheep’s placentas and the long summer days and the new-mown hay and the wood-pigeon in the morning and the cuckoo in the afternoon and the corncrake in the evening and the wasps in the jam and the smell of the gorse and the look of the gorse and the apples falling and the children walking in the dead leaves and the larch turning brown a week before the others and the chestnuts falling and the howling winds and the sea breaking over the pier and the first fires and the hooves on the road and the consumptive postman whistling The Roses Are Blooming in Picardy and the standard oil-lamp and of course the snow and to be sure the sleet and bless your heart the slush and every fourth year the February debacle and the endless April showers and the crocuses and then the whole bloody business starting over again.”

  • nother

    Hurley, you said that you’ve read just about all his stuff. I look forward that adventure myself. I hope you’ll share more insight into what kept you reading. How do his ideas connect to the every day – for you.

  • peadarquinn

    The pillars of literature in the twentieth century come from Ireland: Joyce created the world from a human perspective while Sam Beckett vanquished it, emptied it, if only to drive us within the great mystery that is ours to live. Beckett waas fond of quoting the Greek Stoic philosopher who said, ‘where you are worth nothing, you should expect nothing’. A sweet tweak of western values as the ‘President’ of China visits us with a 200 billion deficit.

    Long live Sam

    Peadar Quinn

  • Potter

    Beckett for Dummies! Nothing to it! An excellent show! I recommend the Ubuweb sound links above for a real treat (extra credit listening). The ending with Schibert was perfect. Thank you!

  • FedericoMuchnik

    What a strange coincidence. Netflix has “Beckett on Film” and I’ve just seen Michael Lindsay Hogg’s take on Waiting for Godot. Nothing less than masterful. So is Catastrophe, with Pinter, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sir John Geilgud, directed by David Mamet….this omnibus oeuvre, featuring all 19 Beckett plays was produced – I think – by the brits and the Irish back in 2001. It is essential. It reminds us of those eternal truths; we’re here, we’re stuck, we need to laugh at all of this, and no on here gets out alive.

  • BJ

    Brilliant show! The only way to “get” Beckett is to let him get you.

  • marianne

    One way to get at SB’s wrangling with words is to look at PROUST. One of the reasons SB is always searching for the “right” word and (in his opinion) failing to find it is touched on in PROUST, in which (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find my copy) he says that it is impossible to accurately describe something because the thing–the subject– being described and the moment of describing it don’t coincide. Once the description begins, the subject has changed. A line I remember: “The observer infects the observed with his own mobility.”

    Also from PROUST: “Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit.” It’s a line that sticks with one.

    I love Beckett’s optimism. He keeps “going on” even when he says he can’t.

    A favorite quotation (from MOLLOY): “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 in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in that way to go in a straight line. And if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something.”

  • fiddlesticks

    Beckett wrote a short but brilliant study of Proust.

    I really enjoyed the program. I like to see more programs on literature and philosophy aired as well as painting.

  • cheesechowmain

    Excellent show in topic and execution. And I’ll echo what fiddlesticks said: more programs on lit & poetry, phil, and visual arts (artists or critics). Always great.

  • That was great. I knew so little about Beckett that was an appreciated introduction. Thanks.

    I too enjoy the arty shows.

  • nother

    Marianne, great post! I hope you’ll post more, on any topic.

  • hurley

    Nother: I like your question, but I don’t think I can answer it. As a maker, one might take from Beckett what he took from Joyce, a lesson in care and rigor. Any question of imitation is moot: his achievement, as Al Alvarez put it, was terminal (like that of Joyce — an understanding that finally liberated Beckett from the distorting influence you see in the early work.) As a human being, one might do worse than to bear in mind Beckett’s evident compassion. One story among the many that I love about him goes that a friend of Beckett refused to conceal from a mutual friend who was dying the grim truth of his condition. Beckett, furious, replied, “Another fucking moralist.” Great show, great conversation, many thanks to all.

    (A show on William Gaddis wouldn’t be a bad follow-up.)

  • nother

    Thanks hurley, you answered my question, I appreciate it. “Care and rigor,” “compassion” – nice.

    I’m curious about the word “rigor,” I looked it up – “Strictness or severity, as in temperament, action, or judgment.” Do you mean we should take away from Beckett a lesson of rigor, in how we deal with death only, or in every day life? Personally, I try to face the hills and valleys with a relaxed temperament. Although, I realize that when one of my loved ones inevitably dies, “rigor” might be in order – if only to keep me sane until enough time passes to forget.

    I’m a little confused by the “terminal” idea and how that relates to Joyce. Do you mean that he finally confronted death and nothingness full on in his work?

    You don’t have to answer these questions concerning my confusion, along with my relaxed temperament, I move through life in a state of confusion.

    I will say one thing before I listen to the podcast today. I’m struck by how many people recognize the name “Samuel Beckett” beyond the works of Samuel Beckett. It reminds me of John Cage and how people can tell you his philosophy on music when they haven’t even listened to his music. Many people can tell you about Pollack’s style of painting, without ever have seen one of his paintings.

    It tells me that the ideas that some artists introduce to our world transcend any specific piece of art they created.

    The idea is the art. Another example is Andy Warhol.

    In this way, these artists become philosophers, do they not?

    Although, it would seem that the other side of the coin is, they sometimes create a specific piece of art (like “Wainting for Godot”) that trancends both the idea and the artist.

    Just rambling.

  • hurley

    Nother: At the risk of stiking a Grasshopper pose, I’m more accustomed to asking questions than answering them, which is why my answers last time round were misleading. “Rigor” and “terminal” in the same paragraph invite the sort of joke Beckett might have executed (“mortis” lexically at attention nearbye). “Rigor” might be substituted by “precision,” though I was referring to his art, not his attitude to morality. However: there is a devastatingly beautiful letter of his to Alan Schneider on the death of Schneider’s father that I have nearly off by heart but not near enough to risk mis-representing: I’ll transcribe it soon when home. It’s everything you wish you might have said to someone you love who has lost someone they love. In terms of “terminal,” I was referring to his writing. It was a dead end, a lovely way to a dead end, but still a dead end. He staked out his path and drove it to it’s conclusion. One could only hope to imitate it by imitating it’s rigor, care, etc. That’s the lesson Beckett claimed to have learned from Joyce.

  • andy b

    How satisfying it was to hear the Beckett show. I’m a podcast listener, so I didn’t know it was upcoming–don’t visit the website often enough–but I recommended it months ago when there was a general call for upcoming show topics. I wish I could have heard it live…I think Chris and his choice of guests did justice to Sam.

    I went to Dublin specifically to celebrate Beckett’s centenary. There were plays, events, and great symposium at Trinity College. A week ago last Thursday, on his birthday, I bought an atlas of Dublin and took the train from Dublin to Killiney, from there I walked to “Cooldrinagh”, Beckett’s childhood home and birthplace. It was originally in a semi-rural setting, but it’s now a fashionable and expensive suburb, still called Foxrock. The house is currently surrounded by high fences and security cameras–a private residence and not much to see. But I could barely make out the 2nd floor room with bow windows where Samuel Beckett was (likely) conceived and born–see “Company”. There was no one else about and no commemorations of any sort. It contrasted nicely with the multitude of celebrations in Dublin, and though I was disappointed, it was probably fitting.

  • bsavvy

    Just listened to your Beckett show. Just beautiful. I can go on, but I won’t.

  • nother

    hurley, I just listened to the podcast and was impressed. I sincerely hope you plan on translating that letter; I would love to hear it.

    Also, it would be cool to hear something more personal about Beckett’s impact on you; that’s the beauty of blogs you can let it all out and I won’t look at you funny in the morning. 🙂

    From the show I learned he had the rigor you speak of – for is art. But listening to Mr. Seaver, we also learn that Mr. Beckett was very chill, very relaxed about his art. He was like “what do you think about the word clothed instead of dressed?

    That’s the best thing I learned about Beckett, he isn’t anal. Being anal or uptight isn’t worth it – even to the rigoress Samuel Beckett – especially to the rigoress Beckett!

  • hurley

    Nother: I’ll transcribe that letter soon as I’m home. As for Beckett’s impact on me, I couldn’t describe it in any meaningful way except in terms of how great art affects anyone who has the luck or patience to attend to it. Beckett never says, You must change your life. Again, I like your stress, but it’s so unfamiliar that I have trouble doing it justice. There’s a very great and more or less unheralded American writer named William S. Wilson (Birthplace, Why I Don’t Write Like Franz Kafka) prowling the web whose emphasis, as best I can tell, is firmly in your direction. He’s worth searching out, and I may yet propose a show in his direction. Give me an example of sometihng that has touched you in the way you think Beckett has touched me, and perhaps we can align our terms. More on the rest another time. Many thanks in the meantime.

  • hurley

    Nother: The Beckett letter to Alan Schneider, on the death of Schneider’s father:

    I know your sorrow and I know that for the likes of us there is no ease for the heart to be had from words or reason and that in the very assurance of sorrow’s fading there is more sorrow. So I offer you only my deeply affecctionate and compassionate thoughts and wish for you only the strang thing that may never fail you, whatever it is, that gives us the strength to live on and on with our wounds.

  • was not able to contribute this in time, but hope that you might still enjoy it.

    It is a marvelous recording of Cascando as captured from the late night

    show “Brave New Waves” on CBC probably 20 years ago. There was

    no credit to the particular recording, so I have no way of knowing what it

    is (hence why I did not post it).

    A low-quality version can be found at

    I would be happy to send you a copy of the high quality MP3, if you find you like it.

    If you have heard several of the “silly” renditions, as have I — renditions surely

    departing from the intended depiction, this recording will seem like a breath

    of fresh air (IMO).

    When I first heard this, I was living is a terrible basement apartment in Vancouver, BC, while in

    graduate school. My roommate and I rigged up an analog oscilloscope to run off of the stereo output

    (left channel being the vertical signal, and right channel being the horizontal), and dimmed the lights

    and played this recording with the aid of several glasses of wine. The effect was

    truly magical! The instruments and vocals made some truly lovely patterns.

  • nother

    Thank you hurley, that is a heartfelt sincere letter. That letter probably meant more to Mr. Schneider then any of the formatted niceties people generally send.

    It says a lot about Beckett’s compassion, something many people assume he lacked.

    After thinking about what you wrote I realized what you were saying about the difficulty in describing the tangible affect he had on your life. I realized because you turned the question back to me and I had trouble answering it.

    You asked who has affected me and I would have to say Gao Xingjian the Chinese Nobel prize winning author of “Soul Mountain” and “One Man’s Bible.” His writing breaks all the rules buts still sticks to the gut. He was a victim of Mao and in exile he delved into the self, his writing takes me on that journey. I love how he plays with pronouns and with genres. Most of all I’m moved by the connection I feel to him. I’m moved by the fact that we couldn’t be more different as people but I still feel some direct link to him – some link to his humanity.

    It’s funny, I was googling Mr. Xingjian tonight just to see what he is up to and I came across info that mentioned his major influence as Samuel Beckett. He has even translated Beckett into Chinese. It’s cool how things connect.

  • nother

    oolitic, thank you for that gift of a link.

  • I found this site very useful and interesting. I think silence is a very important element in Beckett’s books.

    I’m a big Beckett’s fan and I appreciate this effort very much. Thank you.

    – Katia Tabeshaw Rojas