Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Beckett's Game With Reality

In my post a few days ago about Happy Days, I wrote of the challenges of acting Beckett, and actually talked about acting Beckett as almost a conversion into a submissive religion. Today, the New York Review of Books examines the centennial of Beckett with an interesting article addressing the struggle Beckett had with his beliefs regarding the ineffectiveness of prose and the fact that he was a writer.

Tim Parks is interested in some of the words of those "remembering" Beckett. For instance, Parks points out that Harvard Professor Robert Scanlan gives this parting line, ""Here's to you, Sam Beckett. God rest and bless your sweet and patient soul."

Parks then muses on this:

How curiously this valediction rings, addressed as it is to a man who satirized every form of metaphysics and renounced any mental comfort that might subtract him from the exhausting
experience of being alone with his conviction that the world was without meaning and expression futile, yet that all the same he was duty-bound to express the fact. But perhaps it is precisely in Beckett's repeated renunciations—of English for French, of a rich and traditional narrative facility for texts stripped of
everything we would normally think of as plot or color—that we can find a link between these sometimes sentimental centenary remembrances and the core of the author's work, his special position in the literature of the twentieth century.
"How easy," wrote Cioran, "to imagine him, some centuries back, in a naked cell, undisturbed by the least decoration, not even a crucifix." With Beckett, it is the persistence of a "religious" seriousness in the declared absence of any
sustaining metaphysics that gives his work its special, for some, saintly, pathos.

Beckett approaches chaos in a religious way, Parks explains. While Beckett may have preached aimlessness in concept, his word choice was meticulous and his dedication strict. However, how does such yin and yang manifest itself?

Beckett was aware of course of the contradiction in his position, that it is inconsistent if not masochistic to talk, as he does to Anne Atik, of writing being a "sin against speechlessness," and then to go on writing, perverse to apply such meticulous control in texts that seek to demonstrate the impossibility of control. Given this state of affairs, honesty (and sanity) demanded that he bring the contradiction to his readers' attention, use its colliding energies—the yearning for expression and the conviction of its futility—to give his work pathos, and, in the end, realism, since it was this contradiction that lay at the core not only of Beckett's experience, but of a whole strand of Western thought that declares the world without sense, but then finds that to go on living one is obliged to behave as if the opposite were the case. Looking for a voice for this modern state of mind, Beckett produced a style in which, with all its developments over his long career, lyricism and parody, affirmation and denial, are always fused together in such a way that each intensifies the other.

And, though Parks professes sadness on the part of the raving fans of Beckett's prose, he ultimately sees the most effective medium for Beckett's bleak vision in the stage.

"But most importantly of all, the theater allows both silence and physical movement to come to the fore in a way they cannot on the page. A blank space between paragraphs simply does not deliver the anxiety of a hiatus in a stage dialogue. Only in the theater, as the audience waits in collective apprehension for the conversational ball— between Didi and Gogo, Hamm and Clov—to start rolling again, could Beckett's sense that any deep truth must be located in something, or nothing, beyond speech come across with great immediacy. Likewise the actors' interminable and pointless movement back and forth across the stage is a more immediate statement than the words of a page-bound narrator telling us of his aimless daily wanderings. When we watch the plays, the impotence of language to explain the characters' experience is powerfully evident. Conversation serves above all to pass the time."

So much more in the article, it is free, so get it while you can.

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