Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Beckett’
July 18, 2016 | by Philip Maughan
Strange things happen when you live alone. When you’re no longer required to eat dinner at a particular time, or to close the bathroom door to shower, your relationship to the space around you changes. All of a sudden it is things, rather than other people, that seem to direct your thoughts.
In the most literal sense, the twenty stories that make up Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut, Pond, record a series of moments in the life of an English woman living alone on the west coast of Ireland. The woman eats fruit, tries to replace a broken dial on her Salton mini oven, and wonders if the cows in a nearby field believe she is Jesus. What makes the book unique is the voice in which those moments are described—unfolding in a bird-like language that feels closer to thought than public address.
These are not stories in the traditional sense—neither are they essays, monologues, prose poems, letters or diary entries—but a series of improvisations on each. “Pond is the way it is,” Claire-Louise told me recently when we chatted over email, “because of the way I am, more or less.” Most essentially, Pond is an account of the mind as it exists in solitude. It attempts to engage with the universe at its fullest and not just the little portion of it we identify as human. I began our conversation by asking Claire-Louise where she was writing to me from.
I’m in an apartment. And since I pay the rent on it each month and have a key to its door and the codes for the two entrance gates it’s reasonable to say it’s my apartment. I don’t feel much for it though. It seems thin, insubstantial, and often when I sit at the table, to eat, and at the desk, to write, I have the sensation the furniture and me are going to fall right through the floor into the thin, insubstantial, flat beneath. It’s raining, of course it is, it’s always raining. My dapper striped deckchair is swollen stiff with rainwater and will probably never close now. I can’t think why I ever opened it here, on a balcony on the west coast of Ireland. Read More »
July 8, 2016 | by The Paris Review
In 1924, Samuel Beckett, eighteen, lurked at a Sunday salon in Dublin, standing obtuse and silent against the wall, his head down as conversation breathed around him. Five years later, in 1929, in Paris, he sat silently on the edge of a circle of James Joyce’s acolytes, while “Shem” (Beckett’s affectionate sobriquet for Dublin’s literary master) held court. On a balmy afternoon, in 1932, he slouched into a corner during tea at Walter Lowenfels’s (a cheerful American—and failed publisher—in Paris’s literary society), where he sat “tall, thin, looking like a forest ranger in a Western.” Beckett’s dark form—I imagine him in the shadows of these parties, hunched, hawk-nose angled down, and blue eyes focused on a point—is a recurring image in the early chapters of Samuel Beckett, the 1978 biography by Deirdre Bair that I started reading this weekend. But these aren’t my only impressions of him. Bair was given unprecedented access to Beckett: the book was written while he was still alive, and though he didn’t give her any interviews, he allowed Bair to write to his friends and family, informing them that they should give her whatever they like. And so Beckett emerges—layered, brilliant, brooding, genius. —Caitlin Love
From the first page of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel Zama—in which the eponymous hero spies a monkey’s floating corpse “caught among the posts of the decrepit wharf … ready to go and not going”—a humid nimbus cloud of despair settles over the story, never to dissolve. Set in the Paraguay of the late eighteenth century, Zama follows a bureaucrat in his tortured efforts to secure a better position in far-off Buenos Aires, where he hopes to settle with his even-farther-off wife and children. Listless, phlegmatic, and increasingly horny, Zama wanders the lush country doing something close to nothing, watching almost distantly as he loses his moral compass. As a study in exile, paranoia, and the lonely tedium of quashed ambitions, this is great shit. But read it above all for the triumph of its style: Zama holds forth in deep, stewing paragraphs as pompous as they are incisive. It’s Sartre by way of J. Peterman, and in Esther Allen’s translation it still feels unique and alive. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »
May 18, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Ben Vida’s recent exhibition at Lisa Cooley Gallery, “[Smile on.] … [Pause.] … [Smile off.],” included a series of what the author calls Speech Acts, inspired by concrete poetry. Intended to be recited in a duo vocal performance, the speech acts capture all the pauses, false starts, stammers, and disfluencies of conversation: all the spoken detritus usually omitted in transcripts. Inspired by Beckett and other dramatists who foreground the emptiness of speech patterns, Vida and a partner read each piece aloud at the gallery. “Aurally it’s kind of a short distance from ‘eh, itz tah’ to ‘ah, um oh’ to ‘well, okay so,’ ” he told the Creators Project, “but within this distance the function of the language changes and so the compositional logic begins to change as well. It becomes a completely different engagement in terms of what is being communicated.”
Click any of the images to enlarge them. Read More »
April 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Should we be surprised that so many writers have doubled as spies? It seems a shame to put all their observational prowess to waste when there’s a great way to monetize it—and writing is most assuredly not that way. Plus, the connection speaks to deeper truths about both art forms: “Writers create plots; spies uncover them … ‘Everything is useful to a writer,’ [Graham] Greene insisted. ‘Every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.’ Writers are obsessed with plot and character, motive and perspective, and with the space between interior and exterior worlds, between what people think and what they say. Le Carré has suggested that espionage is a kind of metaphor; we all live undercover and mask our private selves with projected social personalities. ‘Most of us live,’ he said, in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage.’ ”
- Authors are great voyeurs, too, of course, so it comes as some surprise that Gerald Foos, who rigged up his motel so he could watch his guests going at it, didn’t end up a novelist or something. But he was a writer of sorts: he kept an exhaustive journal of his observations, and Gay Talese has reported on it. “As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word I, and sometimes he’d refer to himself as ‘the voyeur’ … The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, ‘You son of a bitch!’ ”
- If writers are voyeurs and spies, poets at least get in on the action. To Garth Greenwell, cruising is itself a kind of poetry: “The two phenomena, as I experience them, can serve as similes for each other. Cruising carves out intimacies in public space in the same way poetry carves out intimacies in public discourse; and cruising is also itself a kind of discourse, with codes that have to be secret in plain sight, legible to those in the know but able to pass beneath general notice, like one of Wyatt’s sonnets. Both poetry and cruising have a structure that is essentially epiphanic, offering the sudden, often ecstatic revelation of a meaning that emerges from the inchoate stuff of quotidian life. As poetry declares a system of value incomprehensible to the world of Yeats’s ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,’ a value different from that of commerce and instrumental usefulness, so cruising depends on an idea of the value of human interactions shorn of the usual institutions that mark that value. And, maybe most profoundly, both poetry and cruising are arts of loneliness and the assuagement of loneliness.”
- A new festival celebrating Beckett’s years in Paris must ask what turns out to be a complicated question: What did Beckett really think of the place? The devastating answer: a shrug. “During those years in Paris, he lived fully in the city; he drank at the Falstaff or the Rosebud and played billiards at the Les Trois Mousquetaires. He visited casinos with Thomas MacGreevy and in his trusty Citroën he once drove a stunned Harold Pinter from bar to bar at breakneck speed. Beckett was also of course a great walker, he crisscrossed Paris time and time again. In his younger days he accompanied James Joyce in walks along the Seine; the older Beckett strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens with the philosopher Emil Cioran … And therein lies the fascination of Beckett and Paris, he’s there but ever so subtly. As he was with people—reticent, gracious—so he was with the city … Not all writers of course are obsessed, like Joyce or Dickens, with the minutiae of a particular city; there are some who, based on their work, barely seem to have walked this earth at all. With Beckett, not surprisingly, the reality is more complex, more elusive.”
- As The People v. O. J. Simpson reaches its inevitable finale (spoiler alert: he’s acquitted), Nicholas Dames sees in it something more than a dramatization of a sensational trial: “The show’s job, as its creators seem to have understood it—and at which they succeed remarkably well is not fidelity to historical detail, but evocation of a vanished era in its most intimate aspects: the moment-to-moment feeling of being alive then, the sensory and affective horizons of a time still within living memory, seen through the slight parallax of the present. Big narrative resolutions, like guilt and innocence, are beside the point. Instead, small things get magnified … What this means is that, allowing for all of its early-21st-century savvy and its very different medium, The People v. O. J. Simpson bears a surprising resemblance to a Victorian novel. It was one of nineteenth-century fiction’s most subtle inventions: the idea that realism’s gaze was sharpest when focused on the recent past, neither beyond living memory nor quite like contemporary world.”
March 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in comedies of errors: William Empson began work on The Face of the Buddha in 1932, but the book is only now being published. What took so long? Well, for starters, Empson gave the manuscript to a dangerous guy: “The man of letters John Davenport had left it in a taxi when very, very drunk, circa 1947 … Davenport was so embarrassed by his bungle that he did not confess to Empson until 1952. But his apology was far from accurate. Thanks to an inspired curator at the British Library (let his name be honored: Jamie Andrews), we now know the full story. What actually happened is that Davenport, still three sheets to the wind, handed the manuscript and its photographic illustrations over to that most colorful figure of 1940s literary bohemia, the Tamil poet and editor of Poetry London, Tambimuttu. Shortly afterwards, Tambimuttu quit London and returned to his native Ceylon, leaving The Face of the Buddha in the hands of his coeditor, Edward Marsh. And shortly after the handover, Marsh took ill and died. His papers remained unexamined until they were bought by the British Library in 2003. Andrews discovered Empson’s material two years later.”
- While we’re on the joys of rediscovery, let’s bring Bob Dylan into the mix: “There have long been rumors that Mr. Dylan had stashed away an extensive archive. It is now revealed that he did keep a private trove of his work, dating back to his earliest days as an artist, including lyrics, correspondence, recordings, films and photographs. That archive of 6,000 pieces has recently been acquired by a group of institutions in Oklahoma for an estimated $15 million to $20 million, and is set to become a resource for academic study … With voluminous drafts from every phase of Mr. Dylan’s career, the collection offers a comprehensive look at the working process of a legendarily secretive artist … Seeing the archive may conjure a familiar feeling of astonishment at just how deep the well of Dylanology goes. There is always far more beneath the surface than anyone could guess.”
- Tim Murphy reminds us not just that Valley of the Dolls is fifty years old now but that talk shows used to be a lot more combative, and all the better for it: “Jacqueline Susann, with thickly rimmed eyes, signature lacquered black hair and in a print mini-dress, went on the David Frost talk show. There, the notoriously scabrous critic John Simon eviscerated her before a live audience. What was Valley of the Dolls, he asked her, but ‘a piece of trash on which you can get famous, rich, known quick, and make money?’ Smiling gamely and (literally) leaning in, Susann, then fifty, asked him if his name was Goebbels, Göring, or Simon, ‘because you sound like a stormtrooper.’ She then told him Valley of the Dolls was ‘too sophisticated a story for you to understand, because it’s dirty!’ ”
- Movie premieres used to be better, too, even when they were for art-house films by Samuel Beckett starring Buster Keaton: “Film premiered on September 4, 1965 … Rex Reed, in the New York Times, described the scene: ‘several hundred bikini-clad starlets’ surrounding the likes of Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jean-Luc Godard, and then Keaton, looking ‘for all the world like the kind of man dogs kick,’ with ‘his pants a little baggy’ and ‘his hat a bit crushed.’ Keaton said it was the first time he’d ever been invited to a film festival. Critics mostly panned the movie—but then Keaton hadn’t given them much to go on. ‘Heck, I’d be the last one in the world to comment,’ he told Reed, ‘because I didn’t know what those guys were doing half the time.’ ”
- The “shot reverse shot” is a fundamental filmmaking technique: you turn the camera on one character, then you turn another camera on whatever that character is looking at, and boom, you’re making movies. But the Coen brothers take the technique in another direction, according to Tony Zhou: their filmography “is full of shot reverse shots that feel both ‘kind of uncomfortable, and kind of funny,’ a visual evocation of the Coen brothers’ frequent use of isolated characters trapped in ‘situations they really have no control over’—and because of the choice of lens and placement of the camera, ‘you’re trapped with them.’ And that setup gives them a host of options when they want to emphasize or even exaggerate certain qualities of the characters talking or the situation the story has put them in.”
November 26, 2015 | by The Paris Review
Call yourself a foodie? Put down that cider-brined drumstick and order your copy of our Winter issue, including our Art of Nonfiction interview with Jane and Michael Stern, whose pioneering Roadfood first got Americans thinking about regional cuisine:
Our grand idea was to review every restaurant in America, which seemed like a really easy thing to do, considering neither of us had ever been anywhere … We just opened a Rand McNally map and said, Piece of cake. Three years later, we were still on the road.
Then there’s our interview with Gordon Lish, in which the editor of Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, and Harold Brodkey explains how he’s able to tell “shit from Shinola”:
I’ve got the fucking gift for it. Instinct, call it … I don’t go along—but am furious when others don’t go along with me. How can they not revere what I revere? How is it that my gods are invisible to them? It’s inexcusable but, of course, wretchedly expectable. Am I a zealot, a terrorist, out on my own limb? Yes, with a vengeance!
You’ll also find lost translations from Samuel Beckett; new translations by Lydia Davis; new fiction from Lydia Davis, Nell Freudenberger, Andrew Martin, Christopher Sorrentino, and David Szalay; the third installment of Chris Bachelder’s comic masterpiece The Throwback Special; poems by Anne Carson, Henri Cole, Jeff Dolven, Mark Ford, Kenneth Irby, Maureen N. McLane, Sharon Olds, and Jana Prikryl; and a portfolio of Richard Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks.
Get your copy now. And remember that a subscription to The Paris Review makes a great gift—especially when it comes with a free copy of our new anthology, The Unprofessionals. At just $40, it’s the best holiday deal around.