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…Book Blog by Dolly Delightly

Tag: Samuel Beckett

Writers On Writers

“To read Patrick White is to discover an extra taste bud.”
Nicholas Shakespeare

“The whole of English Lit at the moment is being written by Anthony Burgess. He reviews all new books except those by himself, and these latter include such jeux d’esprit as A Shorter Finnegan’s Wake and so on….He must be a kind of Batman of contemporary letters. I hope he doesn’t take to poetry.”
Philip Larkin

“James’ repressions and evasions are many, varied and exhausting.”
Camille Paglia

“By saying Simone Weil’s life was both comic and terrible I am not trying to reduce it, but mean to be paying her the highest tribute I can, short of calling her a saint, which I don’t believe she was.”
Flannery O’Connor

“I had always had grave doubts about Eliot’s taste and, indeed, intelligence.”
Anthony Burgess

“Céline’s personal and artistic honesty are of a piece. If he made mistakes, grievous mistakes, in his life, as a novelist he remained true to himself and to his art.”
John Banville

“Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.”
Neil Gaiman

“No one, it seems to me, can hope to equal Augustine. Who, nowadays, could hope to equal one who, in my judgment, was the greatest in an age fertile in great minds.”

“In regard to absurdism, Samuel Beckett is sometimes considered to be the epitome of the postmodern artist … In fact, he is the aesthetic reductio ad absurdum of absurdism: no longer whistling in the dark, after waiting for Godot, he is trying to be radically silent, wordless in the dark.”
William Desmond

“If the English hoard words like misers, the Irish spend them like sailors; and Brendan Behan … sends language out on a swaggering spree, ribald, flushed and spoiling for a fight.”
Kenneth Tynan

Sources: The Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, Wikiquote


Writers On Writers

“The trouble with Freudian psychology is that it is based exclusively on a study of the sick. Freud never met a healthy human being—only patients and other psychoanalysts. “
Aldous Huxley

“I don’t know what service I provided for Cheever except to be delighted with his work.”
William Maxwell

“Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.”
Jean Cocteau

“I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep.”

Ray Bradbury

“Nabokov is a natural dandy on the grand international scale.”
Anthony Burgess

“Ezra was right half the time, and when he was wrong, he was so wrong you were never in any doubt about it.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking.”
Flann O’Brien

“What writers influenced me as a young man? Chekhov! As a dramatist? Chekhov! As a story writer? Chekhov!”
Tennessee Williams

“Only a technique like Faulkner’s could have enabled me to write down what I was seeing.”
García Márquez

“Beckett destroys language with silence.”
Eugène Ionesco

Sources: The Paris Review, Brainy Quote 

Samuel Beckett: Between two parting dreams, knowing none

Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing would be better renamed Good for Nothing, if only for the sake of accuracy. Harsh, I know, but perhaps wholly necessary. The book is a peculiar and idiosyncratic one, whimsical, opaque, self-indulgent, confused and confusing yet on occasion exoteric but unassimilable. Originally written in French between 1947-52, it was later translated into English by Beckett himself.Thus one can’t help but wonder how much was lost in the process and how much of the abject “quarto” about the essence of being, perception and will, was meant to be as abstruse as it appears. There is little continuity or narrative structure, but in a most ambiguous way. One assumes that the “I” speaking throughout the 13 monologue pieces is the unnamed narrator’s subconscious but this is just an arbitrary guess, as too often the text falls victim to unwitting sabotage by way of structural and stylistic subversion.

The book opens with the narrator debating the point of existence while dwelling somewhere on a “hill, so wild, so wild.” “What possessed you to come?” he asks himself. This we learn is “unanswerable,” but it may have been due to“fate”. The thought continues as he begins to query time, saying: “How long have I been here, what a strange question, I’ve often wondered, And often I could answer, an hour, a month, a year, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and where I never went looking for extravagant meanings there never much varies, only the there sometimes seems to vary.” This mode of quiet and circuitous flatulence continues for some pages and to a rather soporific degree as Beckett endeavours to reduce existential problems to their most rudimentary structures: the meaning of life; the role of perception; time; communication versus alienation and the interminable perplexities of the self. The prose is spares but saponaceous and orbicular, as it ebbs indiscriminately forward and backward only to retrogress to the point of origin again. For the narrator is neither here nor there and yet he tells us otherwise. “I’m there, I am here”  he says, and then somewhere else altogether, “between two parting dreams, knowing none”.

This sort of literature has the tendency to incite a certain urge to perforate the book’s cover with the sharp-end of a bradawl, not only because it is consummately exasperating but also because its writer is consummately more talented. And while I do realise that there is some vestige of merit in Beckett’s experimental indictment against language as a mode of expression, I still can’t excuse his monotonous eructations about being “here or elsewhere, fixed or mobile, without form or oblong like man,” or overlook his abuse of lexicon when he assert that “the subject dies before it comes to the verb,” because “nothing ever as much as began, nothing ever but nothing and never nothing ever but lifeless words”. Most of Texts for Nothing is spumous mullock only legible in spurts, which makes it somewhat difficult to follow Beckett’s intention or even attempt to decipher it. This is also largely due to the fact that the book flits from internal monologue to commentary on the external, from the narrator expounding about what constitutes living (“getting standing, staying standing, stirring about, holding out, getting to tomorrow”) to questions about the structure of civilisation (“all the peoples of the earth would not suffice, at the end of the billions you’d need a god, unwitnessed witness of witnesses, what a blessing it’s all down a drain”). It is also further muddled when Beckett sporadically asserts that in fact “nothing can be told,” and then proceeds to tell it. But the “it” remains indeterminable.

Somewhere mid-way through the book the obscurantist literary agitprop about the futility of language begins to grate. Not only that, the abstraction and anesthetised prose makes it an offering of laborious pelmanism. The only redeeming quality about Texts for Nothing is the occasional sound of Beckett’s voice manumitting itself from the confines of this postmodernist quagmire. Singular moments capture Beckett discoursing rhetorically, when he says, for example, “But I speak softer, every year a little softer. Perhaps. Slower too, every year a little slower.” Or when he notes plaintively that it’s a pity “hope is dead.” But these are few and far in between, or at least too few to justify the read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that even Beckett can’t justify it as at one point he says resignedly: “I’m the clerk, I’m the scribe, of what cause I know not.” During the middle period of his life when Texts for Nothing was written Beckett was struggling to maximise creativity due to, among other things, an increasing sense of self-censure and criticism, and a torturous desire to find an apt method of expression for his thought. He aimed to discover a form of art which would allow for reality of disorder, the “pettiness of heart and mind,” which in the end led him to lament the challenges of language.

Texts for Nothing pays homage to those challenges, emerging as a sort of preliminary attempt at deconstructed literature prompted by the “dread of coming to the last, of having said all, your all, before the end”. Today, it also reads like a literary posture built upon an outmoded postmodernist premise. Much like Beckett’s plays, Texts for Nothing is an experimental book, which does not comply with any given literary convention, dismantling generic pointers between fact and fiction, prose and poetry, dream and reality. But I fear it dismantles too much thereby turning language into an entity, a character, in itself which makes for an obtuse and wearisome piece of writing, devoid of irony and energy and the subtle nuances of effulgent and multiple resonances at the crux of much of Beckett’s earlier work. There is a point in Texts for Nothing, when the narrator says, “I shouldn’t have began,” repeating it throughout the book, and every time I came across it I couldn’t help but think: I definitely second that.

An Interview: Talking Flann with another fan

While searching for a photograph of Flann O’Brien to go with my review of The Third Policeman I came across Shane Crotty’s artwork inspired by the book, and was intrigued to find out more about the Galway-based artist.

Born in 1981, Crotty grew up in Galway and has studied at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin and the GMIT Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology where he specialised in Fine Art Printmaking. He is one of the founding members of Knife to a Gun Fight Inc, a triumvirate of print and video artists, collaborating on interactive web-projects, video performance, music production and website design.

Crotty experiments with various subjects including architecture, landscape, graphics and abstraction. He uses a combination of mediums in his printmaking, but is also interested in painting, drawing and digital design. His work has featured in a poetry book published by Baffle, the annual poetry festival in Loughrea in 2001 and again in 2003, a group exhibition entitled Lough Reaction in 2005, the Galway Arts Festival and Clifden Arts Festival in 2007, and a 2009 exhibition at The Kenny Gallery.

How did you first discover Flann O’Brien and The Third Policeman?

I came across The Third Policeman while watching the US sci-fi show Lost. I got curious about this relatively unknown Irish writer and after reading The Third Policeman read everything else I could find penned by Flann. You could say I became a bit obsessed.

What was it about O’Brien’s work and particularly The Third Policeman that inspired you?

While reading the book, I was struck by its visual elements. It is a supernatural, science fiction, murder mystery set in 1950s Ireland and you can’t get any more surreal than that. Along with the alternate story in the footnotes on De Selby, the idea of the paranormal inextricably entwined with the Irish landscape was a great starting point for some designs. I prefer to work with a particular theme thus creating a series of illustration for the story provided a very precise framework.

As for Flann, I was struck by his sense of bitterness, his mockery of Irish identity and his twisted sense of humour, which are all very Irish characteristics in a way. Anthony Cronin’s biography of O’Brien, No Laughing Matter,  gives great insight into the writer’s life; the combination of his personal and professional failures, his success as a senior civil servant, and the other elements that shaped him as a writer. I know Flann’s work is as highly regarded, by some, as that of James Joyce’s (a comparison that he both detested and exploited) and Samuel Beckett’s but his story was different. While they left Ireland and gathered acclaim, he stayed and died in anonymity from alcohol abuse.

How did you go about trying to capture the ideology of the book through illustration?

I am a printer and by this very nature a reproduction artist. I began by sketching a few scenes from the story, some of which I developed further but most materialized organically. I sourced images of old Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers, bicycles, prosthetics and barracks and combined them with my own photography and drawings. Using photo editing software, I over-laid some pieces with more traditional methods of printing, and although I had a specific brief, the final images came out quite different from the starting point.

Who are your favourite Irish writers?

Flann O’Brien, goes without saying, Pat McCabe, Samuel Beckett, Tim Pat Coogan, Eddie Lenihan and Spike Milligan.

Do you think you’re particularly fond of Irish literature being Irish yourself?

I work in Kennys, a bookshop and art gallery here in Galway, which focuses on Irish literature and language. While I am a geek at heart and love to read about technology and little green men, I have gained great appreciation for Irish writing, identity and culture over the last few years. Ireland’s position on the periphery of Europe has lent us a certain outsider mentality, which is, I think, reflected in our culture. While not always the most original, we do have a distinct style that has an appeal extending far beyond this small island.

What else apart from literature inspires you?

I love film, science, history, heavy metal, and kicking that football right in the sweet-spot. Oh and as Flann would say, “A pint of Plain (Guinness) is yer only man!” Some of the ideas I try to express in my abstract prints come from a less traditional approach. Seeing the similarities between the scientific, artistic and symbolic aspects of human nature, I try to adapt similar methods in my artwork. Using elements such as graphs, grids and geometry, and juxtaposing those to natural and organic forms like splashes, stains and random marks representing our need to document and contain our perceptions and understanding of the world around us.

What’s your favourite medium to work in?

I use many methods: drawing, photography, painting and numerous printing techniques such as monoprinting, linoprint, etching and digital printing. I have no one favourite method as each has its advantages and drawbacks. Draughtsmanship, however, is a quality that I have a great admiration for.

When did you become interested in art?

I think everyone has the ability to express themselves through drawing when they are children, and I guess that’s how it began for me. I remember trying to draw landscapes and architecture as realistically as possible and winning a small prize for a drawing of a ruined castle which spurred me on. Art has always been my favourite subject but I was also interested in maths and engineering. Funnily enough, it was the conceptual side of maths that put me off!

I know you have expressed an interest in sci-fi, history and Irish culture but who would you say have been your key artistic influences?

I am very open to all sorts of styles. My favourites being: Pop Art, Historical Painting, Expressionism, Abstraction and Surrealism. I also admire a great number of artists including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Michel Basquait, Max Ernst, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, and Jean de Buffett. I love the atmospheric artistry of the old masters, particularly Rembrandt and Carravaggio. Irish Art and Irish identity is also of particular interest to me and the work of Hughie O’Donoghue, Robert Ballagh, Patrick Scott, Tony O’Malley, Sean Illen and Sean Keating.

You’ve cited a number of artist and painters, but do you have favourite book covers or illustrators?

Alan Lee’s Lord of the Rings illustrations are great, anything by Ralph Steadman (his illustrations of O’Brien’s Collected Stories and Plays are perfect), and I like the designs of Iain Banks’ novels, very simple but effective. Sometimes how you feel about a story is shaped by how you feel about the cover. I find the difference in covers for the same stories by various artists more interesting than the images themselves. They tend to reflect more the fashion and style of the time than anything else. I would say that even the designs for the various editions of The Third Policeman, offer a great variety of responses to the same source of inspiration.

If you could illustrate the cover for one book which book would it be?

Anything by Phillip K. Dick. His characters are very easy to identify with, even though the actual settings of the books are extraordinary and far from the everyday. The Man in the High Castle, Valis and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are full of a variety and interesting imagery.

Lastly, do you have any definitive ideas or projects for the future?

I am doing quite a lot of life drawing at the moment working toward some finished prints based on the human figure. Other themes that I am preoccupied with are the current social and economic situation here in Ireland. We are re-evaluating our priorities and there is a feeling that our actions will have a great bearing on our evolution as a society. There are many positives to be taken from how we have managed so far, especially when it comes to our ability to adapt to the difficulties and our determination to overcome them. The story of Modern Ireland is somewhere between a melodrama, a farce and a tragedy, something I am sure Flann O’Brien would have great fun with.

Seminal Lines

“Women are really extraordinary the way they want to give their cake to the cat and have it.”

Murphy – Samuel Beckett

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