Saturday, April 29, 2017

Beckett: Going on and on

In honor of reaching post #900, I thought it would be appropriate to honor Samuel Beckett, who seemed to see life as a Sisyphean struggle...

One of Samuel Beckett's most famous quotes is the ending to the novel The Unnamable: "you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." (Quite a few of his particularly cheery quotes are gathered up here.)  Given that I usually share a fairly pessimistic outlook on life with Beckett, it is perhaps surprising that I haven't delved more into his novels or shorter works.  However, the truth is that I have mostly confined myself to reading and watching his plays.  I usually do seek out his plays when they are staged, including just a few months back U of T did some of his shorter works, including an extremely impressive version of Not I (performed in unison by 10 actresses!).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, I've seen all the major plays (often twice) with the exception of Happy Days.  (Happy Days is playing at UBC in Vancouver this Sept., though I can't really think of a good excuse to get out there in time to see it.)

Time weighs too heavily on me sometimes.  It simultaneously feels like an endless treadmill of activities (the daily grind) that leads inexorably to decrepitude and death (with occasional moments of levity when one can stop and take in the more beautiful aspects of the world) and, at the same time, there are so many things to do and see (and in particular to read) that it becomes evident that one can't do it all in one life time.  I guess the "trick," as it were, is to keep going forward and not letting on be paralyzed by the fact that so much will be left undone at death.  After all, what other choice does one have?  (This seems to be where Beckett lands at the end of most of his pieces -- there is no point to life but one perseveres nonetheless.)  Oddly enough, as I was pondering this, I was also misremembering a song by Camper Van Beethoven as "Endless Press of Days" when it is actually called "Humid Press of Days," though in some ways the sentiment is similar.  Here are some core lyrics: "I wonder how you make it through each day / And, after all, time barely crawls / Unoccupied, between each breath it sticks."

Anyway, for my birthday I decided to order a book that contains his earliest novels: Murphy, Watt, and Mercier and Camier.  I'm much less certain I will ever get around to reading Beckett's first (unpublished) novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was published 4 years after his death, though it sounds a fair bit like Flann O'Brien mixed with even more Joyce.  I suppose I'll have a fair idea of what it will read like after I read Murphy and Watt.

I thought about ordering How It Is, but that is quite a short novel (and not written as a conventional novel at all) and I'll check it out of the library instead.  Ironically, it on the shelves at the Yorkville Library, and I'll probably be going there for a concert in the stacks this evening, but I assume the library functions will shut down at 5, and I really don't want to hang out in Yorkdale for a couple of hours just to try to check out a book.  So I'll first see if they do have the automatic checkout tonight (though this is doubtful) and then put it on hold and see how long it takes to turn up.  I think I'll also borrow Beckett's Complete Short Prose to decide if I like it enough to buy it, though I won't have time to get to this for a few months.  Interestingly, this does not include the stories from More Pricks Than Kicks, which is sort of a stand-alone novel of short stories, though Echo's Bones was rejected by the publisher (in 1934) and finally published only recently.

I already own Beckett's main trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, but I've never cracked them.  I do have them on my main reading list, and I'll probably move them up a little bit, at least to ensure I get to them before my 50th birthday!

I also own his Complete Dramatic Works.  This replaced my stand-alone volumes of Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape.  I definitely read these and a few of the shorter works.  I don't think I've read Endgame or Happy Days, though I will eventually.

Finally, there is a collection of novellas called Nohow On which contains some of his last published work: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho.  This again looks like something I would be better off checking out from the library rather than buying my own copy.

Since this list has gotten a bit jumbled, I'll try to reorder it in terms of date of composition (in French), rather than by translation or publication date:

Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932)
More Pricks Than Kicks (1933-34)
Echo's Bones (1933-34)
O  Murphy (1938)
O  Mercier and Camier (1946)
O  Molloy (1951)
RO  Waiting for Godot  (1952)
O  Watt (1953)
O  Malone Dies (1956)
O  Endgame (1957)
O  All That Fall (1957)*
O  The Unnameable (1958)
RO  Krapp's Last Tape (1958)
O  Embers
O  Happy Days (1961)
O  Play (1963)
How It Is (1964)
O  Not I (1972)
Company (1980)
Ill Seen, Ill Said (1982)
Worstward Ho (1983)
Complete Short Prose (1929-89)

It seems as if I have quite a bit of Beckett to struggle through over the next few years, but I think I will definitely need to pace myself, as too much Beckett at one time is really too overwhelming.

* Of all the radio plays, this one seems the most successful and yet fairly difficult to "see" in performance, though it is in the Complete Dramatic Works.  It had it's Canadian premiere in 2014 in Vancouver (not long after I left unfortunately) by Blackbird Theatre.  The Beckett estate does not allow it to be performed regularly, and when it is performed, it can only be by actors standing on stage and talking into a microphone (i.e. staging it as a true radio play).  It looks like the 4 CD set Works for Radio is OOP.  UT does own a copy, though I am not sure they let it circulate.  I'll be that way tomorrow, so I'll find out the situation.  (Edit - surprisingly they do but only for 2 days!)  I don't think I'll have enough time to listen to the entire play if it doesn't actually circulate, but I can probably carve out some time later on.  As for Blackbird, I was supposed to see their production of Waiting for Godot, but was misled by a terrible directions to the Cultch and actually missed the performance.  In sad but totally unrelated news, their main sponsor passed away, and the theatre is folding.  One more cultural institution in Vancouver bites the dust...

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