Monthly Archives: March 2011

The flute

In the morning they came up out of the ravine and took to the road again. He’d carved the boy a flute from a piece of roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him. The boy took it wordlessly. After a while he fell back and after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin. The man turned and looked back at him. He was lost in concentration. The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a travelling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.

— Cormac McCarthy, The Road

The search becomes the work

As in all of Beckett after the great crisis of 1945-50, when he gradually realised that the ‘dark he had struggled to keep under’, as he wrote to a friend, was actually what he had to write about rather than escape from, a voice searches for the right formulation, does not find it, and gives up, but the search becomes the work. To read such pieces is not to enter another world but to enact a desperate movement in the inner reaches of one’s being and to find, at the end, that the enactment of failure has led not to triumph but to a quite physical sense of release.


Fail better

Worse still (and heading worstward) what about ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, surely the most misread sequence in all of Beckett? He would have been horrified to see it appropriated as a catch-all stoic maxim (e.g. ‘OK, you’re destined to fail, but never mind, keep trying, keep failing in such a way that your failures come closer to success’). Beckett would have poured scorn on this sort of chocolate-box philosophy. The intended meaning is, directly and literally, ‘fail more fully, more catastrophically. Absolutize your failure.’ Not especially Guardian-friendly, is it?

— From a comment here.


There’s something else going on – an asceticism, but in a novel form. If Beckett suffered from depression, he was able to make it an instrument better than most. Which reminds me of George Steiner’s thought that Proust and Dostoevsky were artists who used their own illnesses as great perceptive instruments. It’s in Beckett’s rejections (that we start to see in the first volume of letters), for instance going from a positive to a negative on Jane Austen, that we start to see something like depression become a true instrument.

— From a comment here

Once when attending a conference featuring her work with fellow Brazilian novelist Nélida Piñon, she left the room, beckoning Piñon to follow her: ‘Tell them,’ Clarice [Lispector] said to her friend, ‘that if I had understood a single word of all that, I wouldn’t have written a single line of any of my books.’

Jenny McPhee

In writing, he has put himself to the test as a nothingness at work, and after having written, he puts his work to the test as something in the act of disappearing.

— Blanchot, ‘Literature and the Right to Death’ (tr. Davis)

What is the Language Using Us for?

What is the language using us for?
It uses us all and in its dark
Of dark actions selections differ.

I am not making a fool of myself
For you. What I am making is
A place for language in my life


What is the language using us for?
I don’t know. Have the words ever
Made anything of you, near a kind
Of truth you thought you were? Me
Neither. The words like albatrosses
Are only a doubtful touch towards
My going and you lifting your hand
To speak to illustrate an observed
Catastrophe. What is the weather
Using us for where we are ready
With all our language lines aboard?
The beginning wind slaps the canvas.
Are you ready? Are you ready?

— from ‘What is the Language Using Us for?’, W.S. Graham

X takes to his bed

X has taken to his bed again, he tells me. I lie there all day, he says. It’s all gone to shit. You’re shit, I say. You’re the cloud of shit that’s covering my life. I would have been a success without you. I could have done anything better than anyone if it weren’t for you, he says. I would have had gumption, get-up-and-go, a can-do attitude, all that.