A Terrible State
For a number of reasons, reading the letters of Samuel Beckett is an exercise in frustration. In her review of the two volumes of these epistles so far released, Marjorie Perloff called Beckett "irreverent but never cynical, and, above all, a brilliant stylist whose learning is without the slightest pretension or preciousity." This sounds good, but is wholly inaccurate. The aspidistra keeps flying; when it comes to Beckett even his bowel movements contain "astonishing wordplay." Dwight Garner even called Beckett "in fact one of the century’s great correspondents." This is a fucking lie.
We have almost none of Beckett's personal correspondence because of his explicit wishes. There is nothing than can be done about the absurd restrictions of dead men, but what is left over is both extremely precious and amazingly self-pitying. Sure, the collection does have the occasional high point, but most of what remains are simple exchanges about translations, and the Beckett that emerges is pedantic, maybe justly so, and whiny. (His favorite things to complain about were his translators and his anus.) It is a reminder that the only possible consequence of a lack of self-confidence is considerable annoyance on the part of those who must deal with you.
Instead of putting you through the trouble of bearing extended witness to his constant self-immolation, we have selected all the finer moments and arranged them in a condensed form. Enjoy. - A.C.
I know the smell you describe. The decay ingredient you omit, what you get in a cemetery. You like it because it is associated with your years of innocence. I dislike it for the same reason.
Can you recommend me an informative book on Dutch painting?
For me the position is really a simple and straightforward one, or was until complicated by the analysis, obviously necessarily. For years I was unhappy, consciously & deliberately ever since I left school, so that I isolated myself more & more, undertook less & less & lent myself to a crescendo of disparagement of others & myself. But in all that there was nothing that struck me as morbid.
You know all I wish for you.
I have had the old internal combustion heart & head a couple of nights, in the bed where I had it the first time almost exactly 11 years ago, but as little anxiety as then. Perhaps it is that the phase of impatience with one's own limitations has nearly exhausted itself. I feel now that I shall meet most of my days from now on here and in tolerable content, not feeling much at making the most of what ease there is to be had and not bothering very much about effort. After all there has been an effort. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is Dr. Johnson's dream of happiness, driving rapidly to & from nowhere in a postchaise with a pretty woman.
American girls are irresistible, the charm of the inorganic.
I am really indifferent about where I go or what I do, since I don't seem able or want to write any more, or let us be modest and say for the moment. I suppose the prospect of Mother being left alone should have restrained me, but it hasn't.
I wanted you to think of me sometimes when you had a drink. How else would I render it likely? Have many.
Impossible to do anything with the earth, half frozen, half muddy. I long to be digging, digging over as they say here. Went for a long walk yesterday, met no one, - yes, I did, a gravedigger coming out of a cemetery pushing a wheelbarrow. Halfway along, large dump, Brower-style inn, peasants talking their heads off, drinking wine till it was time for an aperitif. An old man comes in a terrible state, his wife has just had a fall, broken her hip. "She could hardly stand before," he said, "and now..." He was trying to get a car to transport her, so as not to have to pay for an ambulance. You had the feeling that he would have liked to finish her off with a shotgun. The innkeeper, not keen to take his car out, was all for the ambulance. The peasants were vying with each other to tell about times when some similar accident had almost happened to them. I could hear them from a long way off.
I suppose it is always gratifying to know that one is missed.
There is not much to be said for me as a friend and as a correspondent even less. I read your notes with great interest and am very touched by the strange effect my work has upon you. I feel more and more something that is almost if not quite loathing for everything I have written and simply cannot bear to go back over it and into it.
Do not envy me, do not pity me.
When I was ill I found the only thing I could read was Schopenhauer. Everything else I tried only confirmed the feeling of sickness. It was very curious. Like suddently a window opened on a fug. I always knew he was one of the ones that mattered most to me, and it is a pleasure more real than any pleasure for a long time to begin to understand now why it is so. And it is a pleasure also to find a philosopher that can be read like a poet, with an entire indifference to the apriori forms of verification. Although it is a fact that judged by them his generalisation shows fewer cracks than most.
I find it increasingly difficult to write - even letters.
Very grieved that you are so unhappy, though God knows it is hard to be anything else for more than a few minutes at a time, with the help of dope, or work, or music, or the other. Stick it out for the sake of these. And if you have found someone you'll be all right. These are silly words, but not so silly as the ones they ousted.
As night fell, my father, to amuse me, set fire to the broom.
Gertrude Stein's Logographs come closer to what I mean. The fabric of the language has at least become porous, if regrettably only quite by accident and, as it were a consequence of a procedure somewhat akin to the technique of Feininger. The unhappy lady (is she still alive?) is undoubtedly still in love with her vehicle, if only, however, as a mathematician is with his numbers; for him the solution of the problem is of very secondary interest, yes, as the death of numbers, it must seem to him indeed dreadful. on the road toward this, for me, very desirable literature of the non-word, some form of nominalistic irony can of course be a necessary phase. However, it does not suffice if the game loses some of it sacred solemnity. Let it cease altogether! Let's do as that crazy mathematician who used to apply a new principle of measurement at each individual step of the calculation. Word-storming in the name of beauty.
I feel like burying myself, burying ourselves, in this beetroot-growing hole. Let some hovel turn up that I can afford and I'll disappear into it. Too feeble to go looking anywhere else. And now I know the faces round here, and the dangers - what a spineless creature. With a tenth of your vitality and courage - no, useless, I would have locked them away. Having a bad day, of course. But that's the only kind I know now.
Can't get a verse of Milton out of my mind: "Unsuperable height of loftiest shade."