17 March 2006

Words were my only love and not many


I will drink some Irish whisky on April 13th, the centenary of Samuel Beckett's birth.

There was a nice piece about him in the Guardian this week from Edna O'Brien, who knew him. I think she gets him about right in this passage, in words I should use the next time I'm trying to justify my once-obsessive interest in the man to friends who think him nothing but a whining Irish existentialist:

Much is made of Beckett's despairingness, his Cartesian soul nailed to its Cartesian cross, yet he is not a depressing writer, not depressing in the way Henri de Montherlant or Thomas Bernhard can be, because, as with Shakespeare, his darkest words are shot through with beauty and astonishment, his impassioned keenings the best witness that there is to the human plaint, his disgusts brimful with exhilaration. He was a maniac who managed with consummate skill to convert that mania into lasting poetry.


I also think of Francis Bacon's decription of what he was trying to achieve in art: "exhilarated despair."

Once upon a time, I collected every play and small bound volume I could get with Beckett's name on the cover. I discovered there were scores of tiny books, often no longer than a few dozen pages, all of them possessing a power I couldn't describe when I was 21 years old, but found oddly comforting.

I will get out "The Unnameable" or "Embers" or "Company" or "Not I" on April 13th and have another look.

1 comment:

I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

Ta an ceart agat, Adh mor!
How deprived were you not to discover his works until 21? You are only one of three other people whom I kow who credits Beckett with literary accolades and insight.
PS sorry about the Gaelic, still in family mode from Friday when my cousins and I had to write a play and perform it for my grandda ( complete with music)