8 posts tagged Beckett
“‘Samuel Beckett au cigare,’ 1970; drawing by Avigdor Arikha, who died in 2010. An exhibition of more than fifty of Arikha’s paintings, pastels, and drawings—many of which have never been shown before—will be on view at the Marlborough Gallery, New York City, March 20–April 21, 2012.”
On September 26, 1976, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, in Berlin to perform a reading of his work, wrote a postcard to his close friend/lover poet Peter Orlovsky:
Dear Peter -Been here a week, went to zoo with Bill [William S. Burroughs], several afternoons in East Berlin learning Brecht style MUSIK from poet Wolf Biermann - Now sitting in Cafe Zillemarkt off big [?] cafe avenue…looks like cobblestone floored Cafe Figaro - shooting mouth off about politics - probably wrong - Vodka with Bill + lisping thin boyish wrinkled Samuel Beckett - he sang Joyce lyrics he heard from Joyce’s lips. See you the 15th. Allen.”Susan Sontag was also at the meeting Ginsberg describes, and she and Burroughs were interviewed about it by Victor Bockris in With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker (1982):Sontag: It all started like this: we were staying in this picturesque hotel in Berlin and Allen Ginsberg said, “We’re going to see Beckett, c’mon,‘“and I said, “Oh, William [Burroughs] are you are going, I don’t want to butt in,” and he said, “No, c’mon, c’mon,” and we went. We knocked on the door of this beautiful atelier with great double height ceilings, very white. This beautiful, very thin man who tilts forward when he stands answered the door. He was alone. Everything was very clean and bare and white. I actually had seen him the day before on the grounds of the theater of the Akademie Der Kunst. Beckett comes to Berlin because he knows his privacy will be respected. He received us in a very courtly way and we sat at a very big long table. He waited for us to talk. Allen was, as usual, very forthcoming and did a great deal of talking. He did manage to draw Beckett out asking him about Joyce. That was somehow deeply embarrassing to me. Then we talked about singing, and Beckett and Allen began to sing while I was getting more and more embarrassed.
Victor Bockris: Bill [William Burroughs] says Beckett made you feel as if you would be welcome to leave as soon as you could.
Sontag: He didn’t actually throw us out.
William Burroughs: Oh, the hell he didn’t! See, I have an entirely different slant on the whole thing. In the first place, John Calder said, “Bring along some liquor,” which we did. I know that Beckett considers other people different from him and he doesn’t really like to see them. He’s got nothing particular against the being there, it’s just that there are limits to how long he can stand being with people. So I figured that about twenty minutes would be enough. Someone brought up the fact that my son was due for transplants, and Beckett talked about the problem of rejection, about which he’d read an article. I don’t remember this singing episode at all. You see Susan says it seemed long, it seemed to me extremely short. Soon after we got there, and the talk about transplant, everybody looked at their watch, and it was very obviously time to go. We’d only brought along a pint and it had disappeared by that time.
Sontag: Allen said, “What was it like to be with Joyce? I understand Joyce had a beautiful voice, and that he liked to sing.” Allen did some kind of “OM” and Beckett said, “Yes, indeed he had a beautiful voice,” and I kept thinking what a beautiful voice he had. I had seen Beckett before in a café in Paris, but I had never heard him speak and I was struck by the Irish accent. After more than half a century in France he has a very pure speech which is unmarked by living abroad. I know hardly anybody who’s younger than Beckett, who has spent a great deal of time abroad who hasn’t in some way adjusted his or her speech to living abroad. There’s always a kind of deliberateness or an accommodation to the fact that even when you speak your own language you’re speaking to people whose first language it’s not and Beckett didn’t seem in any way like someone who has lived most of his life in a country that was not the country of his original speech. He has a beautiful Irish musical voice. I don’t remember that he made us feel we had to go, but I think we all felt we couldn’t stay very long.
Bockris: Did you feel the psychic push? That Beckett had “placed” you outside the room?
Burroughs: Everybody knew that they weren’t supposed to stay very long. I think it was ten minutes after six that we got out of there. […] He gave me one of the greatest compliment that I ever heard. Someone asked him, “What do you think of Burroughs?” and he said - grudgingly - “Well, he’s a writer.”
Sontag: High praise indeed.
Burroughs: I esteemed it very highly. Someone who really knows about writing, or say about medicine says, “Well, he’s a doctor. He gets in the operating room and he knows what he’s doing.”
Sontag: But at the same time you thought he was hostile to some of your procedures?
Burroughs: Yes, he was, and we talked about that very briefly when we first came in during the Berlin visit. He remembered perfectly the occasion.
Sontag: Do you think he reads much?
Burroughs: I would doubt it. Beckett is someone who needs no input as such. To me it’s a very relaxed feeling to be around someone who doesn’t need me for anything and wouldn’t care if died right there the next minute. Most people have to get themselves needed or noticed. I don’t have that feeling at all. But there’s no point in being there, because he had no desire or need to see people.
Bockris: How did you feel when you left that meeting?
Sontag: I was very glad I had seen him. I was more interested just to see what he looks like, if he was as good-looking as he is in photos.
Burroughs: He looked very well and in very good shape. Beckett is about seventy-five. He’s very thin and his face looks quite youthful. It’s really almost an Irish streetboy face. We got up and left, the visit had been, as I say, very cordial, decorous…
Sontag: More decorous than cordial I would say. It was a weightless experience, because it’s true, nothing happened.
Burroughs: Nothing happened at all.
—Everything here was lifted and rearranged from Stephen J. Gertz at BookTryst.
Beckett seems very pure. Almost entirely untainted by bullshit, to the point of rudeness. Fascinating, and true to form, that he would sooner sing for strangers than talk to them.
The postcard is apparently still available for a mere $575. I won’t say I’m not tempted.
If you have read James Knowlson’s superb biography of Beckett, Damned to Fame, you would not assume the word “writer” were a compliment.
I just returned from seeing a production of Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape”, in English, in Ankara. It was…not very good. But having lived in Turkey for almost a year and a half now, I wasn’t prepared to miss seeing plays as much as I apparently do.
I’ve always been too suspicious about plays. I can’t even write or say the word “theater” without feeling like I should adjust an ascot or smoke a pipe. I’ve always been horrified by Americans who spell the word with the last two letters transposed, as if the British spelling somehow doubles the fanciness.
I’ve seen plays too full of gratuitous look-ma-I’ve-been-to-college cultural references, too coy by half, or far too earnest in the non Wildean sense. But there have been precious stones in the rough. Among them was Krapp’s Last Tape, performed by Dublin’s Gate Theatre (sorry…their spelling) over eleven years ago in Berkeley. The Irish actor David Kelly (he starred in “Waking Ned Devine”) played Krapp. My whole walk and BART ride back to San Francisco was dazed and productively confused.
If you haven’t seen the play, here is how it goes. A 69-year-old man listens to tape recordings of himself when he was 39. On these tapes he is commenting—in the throes of full midlife cynicism—on the romantic skewing of his early twenty-something self. In a sense, the elderly Krapp is getting his past in stereo, and the resulting emotional dissonance inspires the expected but precisely rendered evasions and outbursts. Like many of Beckett’s works, there are moments of great “low” comedy. But god, the thwack to the gut you get in other moments…you can’t help evading your own self when sitting in the dark of the playhouse.
It just so happens—in the most expected way of all—that today I’m about the same age as the midlife Krapp to whom his elderly doppelganger listens with such disgust. Or, more precisely: the midlife Krapp whose scoffing disgust the elderly Krapp listens with exasperated contempt. Did seeing the play in my late twenties serve as a preemptive strike against middle-aged self-excoriating reflections on my own past? I like to think so, but who doesn’t hide their revulsion toward their former selves with either a patronizing smile or a metastasizing numbness?
The ending was played for high drama, Krapp throwing his tapes and boxes around and across the stage. In a moment I’m still struggling not to treat as a metaphor, I was hit by one of the spools. (Pictured above.)
I need to see this play again.
Samuel Beckett, London, 1965 -by Dmitri Kasterine [+]
Samuel Beckett, London, 1965 -by Dmitri Kasterine [+]
I took this picture of Samuel Beckett in London in 1965 at a rehearsal for a BBC production of “Waiting for Godot”. Beckett observed acutely, never taking his eyes of the actors or director, but said very little. When they broke for lunch we went to a local pub where Beckett drank Guinness and played bar billiards. He beat everybody.
photo and comment from dmitri kasterine