Category Archives: Beckett

‘Have contemporary philosophers had any influence on your thought?’

‘I never read philosophers.’

‘Why not?’

‘I never understand anything they write.’

‘All the same, people have wondered if the existentialists’ problem of being may afford a key to your works.’

‘There’s no key or problem. I wouldn’t have had any reason to write my novels if I could have expressed their subject in philosophic terms.’

‘What was your reason then?’

‘I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m no intellectual. All I am is feeling. Molloy and the others came to me the day I became aware of my own folly. Only then did I begin to write the things I feel.’

— Beckett, 1961 interview

Simply the mess

What is more true than anything else? To swim is true, and to sink is true. One is not more true than the other. One cannot speak anymore of being, one must speak only of the mess. When Heidegger and Sartre speak of a contrast between being and existence, they may be right, I don’t know, but their language is too philosophical for me. I am not a philosopher. One can only speak of what is in front of him, and that now is simply the mess.

— Beckett, 1961 interview

The great tornadoes of intuition

We have waited a long time for an artist who is brave enough, is at ease enough with the great tornadoes of intuition, to grasp that the break with the outside world entails the break with the inside world, that there are no replacement relations for naive relations, that what are called outside and inside are one and the same.

— Beckett on Bram van Velde (via here)

A sin against speechlessness

Sam: ‘All writing is a sin against speechlessness. Trying to find a form for that silence. Only a few, Yeats, Goethe, those who lived a long time, could go on to do it, but they had recourse to known forms and fictions. So one finds oneself going back to vieilles compétences [know-how] – how to escape that. One can never get over the fact, never rid oneself of the old dream of giving a form to speechlessness.’

About his new work, he said [the problem is] ‘qui est qui. One would have to invent a new, a fourth person, then a fifth, a sixth – to talk about je, tu, il, never. Qui est qui. The logical thing to do would be to look out the window at the void. Mallarmé was near to it in the livre blanc. But one can’t get over one’s dream’. Avigdor said, ‘Because of energy.’ Sam: ‘And entropy. And between these two we know which one wins.’ Avigdor: ‘That’s being.’ I: ‘Being isn’t logical.’ Sam repeated: ‘A sin against speechlessness. When one tries to say it, one uses the old forms, one tells all kinds of stories.’

– Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett

In spite of, or rather along with, those exchanges, quips, questions, there were also entire evenings when he didn’t say a word. At such times it was not easy to break the silence; it would have been worse than interrupting an avowal. There’d be a murmur, a shift in position, and someone’s voice slowly breaking the artefact that silence had become. Even though Sam’s was not an aggressive directed against anyone, but rather a sinking into his own private world with its demons, or so we imagined, those present suppressed their acute discomfort and feelings of ineptitude when it happened. His intimate friends learned how to cope with his struggle – A. by talking about a wine he had tasted, the theatre designer Jocelyn Herbert by bringing in a chessboard. I coped by bringing up Dr Johnson, and Con Leventhal. His old friend from Dublin, by retelling a bit of Trinity College gossip. They, or we, coped by doing any of the ordinary things friends do, the more ordinary the better, to bring to an end the fleeting and rather frightening chill.

— Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett

Dear Seumas

I am very touched and flattered by your wishing to propose me for election to the Irish Academy of Letters.
To my deep regret I have to tell you that I could not accept membership.
I should be distressed if you were to think of me, because of this, as unfriendly or systematically aloof.
I could not belong and I could not be a credit to any academy.
It is not with a light heart that I forgo the honour, or the chance of the honour, of joining a company of writers presided by you.
Please give my very warm regards to Stella.
With best wishes
Your friend

Samuel Beckett

Down to the most grotesque details, beyond our strength

I feel myself moving away from ideas of poverty and bareness. They are still superlatives. […] There is not having and there is not being able to, perhaps too much of a tendency to think of them as standing together. The poor are able to, rather. Not even poor, that is what we have to bear, not even poor and yet not able to. If there were even one specific thing that we were not able to do, but we do not know what there is that could be done. But you are only too familiar with these elaborations; old no doubt as sadness. And that we cannot follow either, from weakness of mind. How weak it must be, not to be able to follow that! Treasures of poverty, maybe; but of impotence, no, we shall do without treasures. We shall always have enough to keep living, in ignorance and weakness, really without pride, enough to keep living, right down to the most grotesque details, beyond our strength. Not without joy, this observation that every effort is the story of a collapse, it is really restful. That there are superior minds (no irony) which know and are able to, I can readily grant. But when one is not gifted, really stupid and clumsy, what is one to go in for? Cunning? Art? Keeping quiet? Silence will come soon enough, not from pride, but from weariness of speech.

— Beckett, letter to Georges Duthuit, 1950

Vladimir: The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said?

— Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Then I started to go and as I went I heard her singing another song, or perhaps more verses of the same, fainter and fainter the further I went, then no more, either because she had come to an end or because I was gone too far to hear her. To have to harbour such a doubt was something I preferred to avoid, at that period. I lived of course in doubt, on doubt, but such trivial doubts as this, purely somatic as some say, were best cleared up without delay, they could nag at me like gnats for weeks on end. So I retraced my steps a little way and stopped. At first I heard nothing, then the voice again, but only just, so faintly did it carry. First I didn’t hear it, then I did, I must therefore have begun hearing it, at a certain point, but no, there was no beginning, the sound emerged so softly from the silence and so resembled it. When the voice ceased at last I approached a little nearer, to make sure it had really ceased and not merely been lowered. Then in despair, saying, No knowing, no knowing, short of being beside her, bent over her, I turned on my heel and went, for good, full of doubt.

— Beckett, ‘First Love

Most writers waste people’s time with too many words. I’m trying to reduce everything down to the minimum. My last work will be a blank piece of paper.

— Beckett