I’ll have difficulty outdoing myself as a boyfriend ever since I took Kiersten to see Waiting For Godot on Broadway last summer. Popping the question didn’t do it, I don’t think, not quite.
The point is My Intended adores Samuel Beckett. Ever since she took a seminar course on his fiction and drama, she’s had it bad. Almost to the point where, if she’s talking at great length, she has to resist the urge to sprinkle in “quaquaquaqua” midsentence.
I’m genuinely curious about Beckett’s work, and St. Patrick’s Day seemed like a fitting time for me to begin reading him. (And as I quickly discovered, the experience is noticeably improved with a glass or two of St. Brendan’s on the rocks.)
This is also coming off Joshua Ferris’ stu-friggin-pendous The Unnamed, which draws inspiration from Beckett, and The Unnamable happens to be one of that guy’s favorite all-time novels (as it is with Kiersten; I’m not much of a schemer, but I do know that I must prevent her and Joshua Ferris from ever meeting if I’m going to keep that little rock on her finger.)
Starting off with The Unnamable is like doing a cannonball into the deep end. Not only is it the final book of a trilogy, but its opacity makes Waiting For Godot seem like an episode of Full House. If Book-a-Minute ever “ultra condensed” The Unnamable, here’s what it would look like:
I’ll have more to say on that book next time, but for now, here’s a few things I learned about Mr. Beckett.
He’s most widely associated with living in James Joyce’s shadow. But while Joyce seems intent on convincing the world of his own genius, Beckett rather likes to assume he knows nothing whatsoever–which makes for very different literature.
When you’re feeling depressed, you need to make Beckett your friend. Not only was most of his life worse than yours (ever been covered in boils and rashes and stabbed by a panhandler? Maybe not at the same time…), but his attitude can be summed up with his famous quote, “There’s nothing funnier than unhappiness.”
If you’re familiar with Waiting for Godot, then you know that Beckett’s all about minimizing: reducing his subjects to their most basic parts. This isn’t to simplify things, but instead to complicate them.
Take setting, like a 19th century drawing room, with sofa, a chaise lounge, several lamps, and a piano: only so many things can conceivably happen in there (and Ibsen and Shaw had those mostly covered). But say you blast all that and have just a tree. And a rock. If you can think of that place as having fewer limitations, then you’ll understand why Beckett’s a minimalist.
Samuel Beckett says Fuck it, let’s start over–now, what do we apes really know?