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


Lack of perspective

You know what our problem is? I tell X. Lack of perspective. We’re like a drunk looking for his glasses. Or an animal tapped in a well. Isn’t that what we’ve been told in so many words, by so many people? If only we had perspective! I say. To have minds that opened up beyond ourselves, beyond our bedroom, beyond our flat. Over the sprawling broads, across the seas and into space, beyond space and into God himself.

Farm cider

Kingfisher farm cider in a music-free pub. Does it get better? I ask X. At last I can relax, at last I can think. A few sips in and it feels like I’ve gone to my reward, I say. I want to stay here forever. Unfortunately there’s only one pub that’s music-free and only one pub that serves Kingfisher farm cider. Fortunately we’re in it. Hoo, I’d forgotten how heady this stuff is, I say. What was it the publican said that time? I say. Sponsored by NASA. Best drink ever, I say. An epic drink. And no music! Does it get better? Like mountain air. Crisp and flat and pure and cold and dry. The very distillation of applehood. Dewy dawns in Edenic orchards! Some day I’ll write an ode to Kingfisher cider, I say, some day I’ll give it the ode it deserves.

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.


When will we understand?

When will we understand? I ask X. But there is no understanding, is there? I say We’d have to step outside of everything to understand, wouldn’t we? We’d have to step out of ourselves, out of our stupidity.

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