Thursday, June 06, 2013

Holy Books of Guttersnipe Das: Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett
Published in French 1947
English translation by Patrick Bowles, in collaboration with the author 1955

I have a theory that people label books “difficult” primarily so that they can feel special for having read them.  We want to feel proud of ourselves.  Understandable, I suppose, but the shame  is that other people believe us -- and then are afraid to take down the books we’ve put on the lofty pedestal marked “difficult books”. 

That’s terrible, especially since many of the books labeled “difficult” just require a little more time, a change of perspective or attention – they are not as much “difficult” as they are “different”.  Molloy, for example.

I’ll let everyone else rhapsodize brilliantly on Beckett.  You can.  My humble intention is to is entice a few more people to read this book, a few people who might otherwise feel intimidated.  C’mon.  Give it a try.  Risk it.  Don’t surrender Beckett to the sole custody of the beautiful people.

A little advice, if you decide to read Molloy, despite feeling somewhat in over your head.

First, and perhaps most importantly: you must ignore the slight panic that arises the moment you notice that the second paragraph is 84 pages long and proceeds without a break.  Ignore the voice (if it is present) that say that you by no means have brain power sufficient to the task, that books of this sort are only for persons who have doctorates in literature and wear all black and subsist on thin cigarettes and espresso, and are unbearable.

The reason to read Beckett isn’t  because he’s the chief exhibit in the museum of existentialism.  Molloy is fun, and above all funny, and, if it is the very blackest humor – well, what could be better suited to the times?

As you proceed, you will find that there are clear breaks in the monologue, clearly expressed in the thought if not in the typography.  Beckett rambles in only the most precise way and, even when lost in the forest, the next step is clear.  I suggest that you not be shy either to reread or to proceed without full comprehension.  You’ll get the hang of it.  For me it took rereading the first ten pages three times – by then I’d found my way into reading Beckett and was having an excellent time.

I admit that, when my husband heard me laugh, and asked what I was laughing about, and I read a few lines aloud to him, he did look at me as if he were reconsidering his relationship choices.

This love scene, for example: “She bent over the couch, because of her rheumatism, and in I went from behind.  It was the only position she could bear, because of her lumbago.  It seemed all right to me, for I had seen dogs, and I was astonished when she confided that you could go about it differently.  I wonder what she meant exactly.  Perhaps after all she put me in her rectum.  A matter of complete indifference to me, I needn’t tell you.  But is it true love, in the rectum?”   

Or perhaps you’d rather consider “certain questions of a theological nature”.

“1. What value is attached to the theory that Eve sprang, not from Adam’s rib, but from a turour in the fat of his leg (arse?)?
2. Did the serpent crawl or, as Comestor affirms, walk upright?
3. Did Mary conceive through the ear, as Augustine and Adobard assert?
4. How much longer are we to hang about waiting for the antichrist?”

And so on. 

See what fun the so-called intellectuals are having, as they blow smoke into Beckett while maintaining a serious expression?  These are human truths, stripped down to the skin, to the bone, to the grave.  But please read Molloy and see for yourself.

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