"Where now? Who now? When now?": A correction
Labels: Samuel Beckett
Labels: Samuel Beckett
Whether Beckett's French is as apt an instrument as his English, or rather his Irish English, and whether this would be because of something about Beckett or about French: these are less important than our enjoying his bilingual myriad-mindedness as evincing a true wit, wit as T. S. Eliot understood it: 'It involves, probably, a recognition, implicit in the expression of every experience, of other kinds of experience which are possible.' The experience of another language is the supreme instance of such a recognition.The reference to Beckett's French is worth commenting on. Throughout the book, Ricks compares the English and French versions of various passages. In general, the French seems to lack the vitality of the English. Alas, my own French is not up to snuff, but Ricks shows us numerous instances where the play in Beckett's choice of words is missing in the French, whether the French or the English was the original.
The two senses of a workaday phrase—all over [again] or all over [finished]—may beckon the afterlife. On this earth we may hope for summary mercy, but it too will need to avail itself of this turn. Plus 'all over' as 'very characteristic of'.Scrupulous to the last, finical to a fault, that's Malone, all over.The French, appositely the same as ever, is: 'Ah ce vieux Moran, toujours le même.'
Ah Moran, he said, what a man! I was staggering with weakness. If I had dropped dead at his feet he would have said, Ah poor old Moran, that's him all over.
Alive to all these paralysing possibilities of antithetical senses, Beckett works unusual wonders with the usual condition that cleave can mean either stick together or cut apart (there's another mortal liveliness for you); and with the fact, no less pertinent to his lifelong preoccupation with whether or not one is going to be allowed to say 'thanks for the nice time and go', that leave and left may be likewise equivocal. (Get to go, or get to stay?)
Beckett does not scorn as nugatory the smaller pleasures of these words. He finds not only pleasure but profit in the awareness that even prepositions may palter with us in a double sense. It is agreeably confounding that to slow down is hard to distinguish from slowing up, and that saving against your old age turns out to resemble saving for it.
Here I strut about, I cannot and will not do otherwise, and have no idea if God helps me or not. There is after all an almost never-failing joy, namely the thought of those millions who are less fortunate than I, or ought to be. What a feast that is! But as it becomes clear as soon as one reflects a bit on the matter that no relationship between suffering and feeling is to be found, then even that joy begins to look deceptive. If, for example, I read in the paper that poor Mr. So-and-so is to be executed early in the morning, before I get out of bed, and immediately start to congratulate myself that I do not have to spend such a night, I deceive myself in as much as I compare two circumstances instead of two emotions. And it is highly probable that the man condemned to death is less afraid than I. At least he knows exactly what is at stake and exactly what he has to attend to, and that is a greater comfort than one is generally inclined to believe. So great that many sick people become criminals solely in order to limit that fear and gain that comfort. Only beyond speculation does man reach his Eden, that refuge where there is no more danger, or rather one which is determined and which one can bring into focus.
Labels: Samuel Beckett
To know you like the poem cheers me up. Genuinely my impression was that it was of little worth because it did not represent a necessity. I mean that in some way it was 'facultatif' [optional - RC] and that I would have been no worse off for not having written it. Is that a very hairless way of thinking of poetry? Quoi qu'il en soit I find it impossible to abandon that view of the matter. Genuinely again my feeling is, more and more, that the greater part of my poetry, though it may be reasonably felicitous in its choice of terms, fails precisely because it is facultatif. Whereas the 3 or 4 I like, and that seem to have been drawn down against the really dirty weather of one of these fine days into the burrow of the 'private life', [...] do not and never did give me that impression of being construits. I cannot explain very well to myself what they have that distinguishes them from the others, but it is something arborescent or of the sky, not Wagner, not clouds on wheels; written above an abscess and not out of a cavity, a statement and a not a description of heat in the spirit to compensate for pus in the spirit. [...]One could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that Beckett here holds to the Romantic view of art as one of lightning-struck inspiration, where the words simply pour out onto the page, as if unbidden. But it has more to do with the necessity of the writing. His early writing does give off the whiff of a writer trying rather too hard; the prose, while accomplished, is more laboured, the levers and pullys more visible, than in the work beginning with Watt. Molloy and Malone Dies and especially The Unnamable read like lightning, but they are not. Though they read much like what they pretend to be—first-person accounts, as if a diary or journal—considerable energy was expended to write and re-write these works, but once completed, they read as less constructed, as if the scaffolding had been removed.
There is a kind of writing corresponding with acts of fraud & debauchery on the part of the writing-shed. The moan I hve more & more to make with mine is there - that it is nearly all trigged up, in terrain, faute d'orifice, heat of friction and not the spontaneous combustion of the spirit to compensate the pus & the pain that threaten its economy, fraudulent manoeuvres to make the cavity do what it can't do - the work of the abscess. [...] I suppose I'm a dirty low-church P. even in poetry, concerned with integrity in a surplice. I'm in mourning for the integrity of a pendu's emission of semen, what I find in Homer & Dante & Racine & sometimes Rimbaud, the integrity of the eyelids coming down before the brain knows of grit in the wind.
Forgive all this? Why is the spirit so pus-proof and the wind so avaricious of the grit?
I quote the first paragraph because I want to note the assumption some people have that the lives of certain others apparently have little to no "aesthetic component". But it is the second paragraph that is relevant here, for various reasons, both negative and positive. I believe Mayhew's observation to be essentially true. This belief has unfortunately had the effect of leading me to the further self-defeating belief that it has always already been too late for me to read difficult poetry with any degree of competence. I have blogged numerous times about this kind of thing, and probably will again; it remains something that bothers me, not just on a personal level. On the other hand, why not simply read poetry? Why worry so much? The same goes, more or less, with philosophy—endless deferrals, endless fretting, and so on. But still, why not just get on with it?
Now the problem is that in the contemporary university, cultural studies has largely displaced that canon, especially in Latin American studies--but also to some degree in the peninsular (Iberian peninsular, that is) realm. The typical argument in Latin American studies would have a very clear political "take away." I heard a colleague of mine at a candidate's job talk the other day suggest that any emphasis on literature as an aesthetic phenomenon would automatically alienate students, have them view literature as something alien to their own lives--as though their own lives had no aesthetic component at all.
So yes, I work on the boring old canonical stuff, leaving me holding the conservative end of the stick. I believe, though, that reading this stuff--really difficult modernist poetry--makes you frightfully intelligent. It really just uses all of your brain at the highest level of literacy imaginable. To really get this kind of poetry, you have to have a highly developed cultural, musical, visual, verbal, problem-solving, connection-making intelligence. But the only way to get that is to read it. In other words, nobody has it before approaching this kind of poetry.
But, you may say, the nature of 9/11 is a historical, not a philosophical question. Likewise, one could say that the question of “whether (or why) global warming is happening,” is a climatological question; that the question of what will be the likely fallout of government intervention (or lack thereof) on behalf of teetering banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms is an economic question; or that the question of whether to buy from a grocery store or a farmers’ market is a nutritional question, perhaps informed by your own private budgetary considerations.I'm grateful for this argument and for this example in particular. I say that because I've engaged in this very line of thinking myself: though readers will not be surprised to learn that I essentially believe in the "roosting chickens" explanation (put very crudely), and that I do not believe 9/11 was an inside job, I nonetheless have occasionally found myself wandering onto certain websites that purport to present expert testimony on, say, the physics of demolition and realizing that I had no basis for deciding the matter. My concern here, of course, is not 9/11 per se, nor is it his, but rather this matter of trust. In particular, trust in the context of our highly technocratic capitalist society.
But all of these questions also come down to philosophical premises, and have philosophical ramifications. And, most importantly, the act of asking them and disputing them contains in that moment the opening to philosophical comportment. In fact, the conversation won’t even start to make any progress beyond “that’s-what-you-think,” until we do get to the philosophy—either by backing up or moving forward. "Who do you trust?" is an example of the sort of philosophy I mean. (It is exactly the sort of question Socrates asked; if you go to a specialist for shipbuilding or carpentry or cooking, why not for moral advice? But what makes a specialist and how do you know one?) If I am shown two different accounts of how and a building falls “into its own footprint,” then unless I am myself an engineering expert in demolition, I have to make a choice: do I believe expert A., upon whom Ted relies and who says that a building could well collapse straight down after being hit by a plane; or expert B., whom Dan cites to the effect that the only buildings that fall that way are those that are brought down by controlled explosives? What is it that disposes me to believe one or the other? And can I evaluate that disposition from outside?
I have tried to make an extended argument that Capital needs to be read as a deflationary text – meaning that, where other forms of theory tend to presuppose certain “givens”, on the basis of which they then conduct their analysis, Capital tries not to do this. It tries, instead, to show how the major tools in its analytical toolkit – including foundational categories like “society”, “history”, or “material life” – are actively produced by specific forms of human interactions, and therefore reflect the distinctive sensibilities that are primed by particular forms of collective practice.As David Harvey stresses, though many mischaracterize Marx as arguing such givens, his method is much more fluid. He is describing a process, the various aspects of which are themselves not fixed in place, so his method must remain in motion, and generally does. I admit that I am increasingly interested in what Marx may have missed, for example in the context of the all-important feminist critique of Marx's analysis (I hesitate to say "Marxism", though the critique is of that too); I tend to believe that Marx himself would have encouraged this. It is this very open-ness, this fluidity, which keeps me coming back to Marx himself and which means that a serious engagement with Capital especially is still very much in the works.
The core of Marx’s deflationary critique of political economy is that, as soon as a theory starts presupposing or treating as given the constitutive moments of its subject matter, it has failed to examine how that subject matter itself came into being. When it loses the ability to examine how the subject matter came into being, it naturalises its subject matter – it becomes blind to the contingency of the subject matter itself, and therefore cannot conceptualise how the subject matter itself could be abolished or transformed.
Normally Marx keeps this squarely in view. Sometimes... not so much.
We read Spectres of Marx and note that 'Hamlet' allows Derrida to think, and to think of Marx. 'Hamlet' supplies him with the metaphors that allow him to unpack Marx's own metaphors and allow us to see how these metaphors structure Marx, structure 'Hamlet' and could deconstruct (unstructure) our idea both of Marxism and the destructive reality of our capitalist present.And in a recent post at American Leftist about the recent split in the British Socialist Workers Party, Richard Estes comments on the differences between anarchists and Marxist-Leninists, and says:
One anarchist novelist recently said, I distrust any activists who don't read fiction. The remark struck a nerve with me, because I have had a similar experience with political activists generally, that the ones who were disinterested in various forms of cultural expression, like theatre, film and literature, were the most rigid and intolerant. There is a relativism in such creations that enhances one's perception of the world and one's place in it.Marrying these two paragraphs together, the experience of art reorients us towards the world, and one could say that imaginative literature, fiction, helps us to think about "the destructive reality of our capitalist present" whether or not it thinks it's explicitly about that, whether or not the writer is apparently on the "right" side. That, indeed, the relativism in such creations can help us to unpack and to structure reality, to work through the metaphors necessary to a political understanding of reality.