The Noble Prize

In the obituaries respectfully delivered to mark his passing, the great works of the age have often been mentioned, Proust, Joyce, Musil and even Kafka, these finished-unfinished works, which nevertheless retain, in what one can barely call their failure, ‘a form of appearance of truth’, including, most of all, a concern to glorify, if not the author, then at least art itself by pushing traditional literature (even if one then calls it modern) to its furthest limit. But compare Sartre and Beckett, both having to contend with the false glory of the Nobel Prize for literature. This prize that, nobly, Sartre refused, one might say he did everything possible to be awarded it by the very act of writing Words, a book which, he believed, by the sublime power of its rhetoric, would henceforth make it impossible to hope for a finer work. The dream is a touching but childish one (entirely in keeping with Sartre’s own child-like nature). And the punishment for having wanted to write (and publish) a necessarily glorious text followed immediately, in the form of the award of the Nobel Prize, from which he derived additional glory by rejecting it. Nothing of the sort happened to Beckett: he had neither to accept nor refuse a prize that was for no particular work (there is no work in Beckett) but was simply an attempt to keep within the limits of literature that voice or rumble or murmur which is always under the threat of silence, ‘that undifferentiated speech, spaced without space, affirming beneath all affirmation, impossible to negate, too weak to be silenced, too docile to be constrained, not saying anything, only speaking, speaking without life, without voice, in a voice fainter than any voice: living among the dead, dead among the living, calling to die, to be resurrected in order to die, calling without call’ (and I quote — to end — these lines from Awaiting Oblivion because Beckett was willing to recognize himself in that text).

— Blanchot, ‘Oh All To End’ (trans. L. Hill)

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