Rambling thoughts on the Beckett Centenary

Last Monday morning an old friend* from Miami called as I was walking out the door. “Sorry, gotta head out to work,” I told him.

“No!” he yelled. “No you don’t. That’s defeatist.”

“Yeah, well, surprise,” I said. “I done been defeated.”

He chose to ignore this. He launched into a lengthy excerpt from A Confederacy of Dunces. Then he heralded the upcoming Beckett Centenary, urging me, a fellow Beckett fan, to get on it. And then he released me back into my defeatist existence my morning commute.

I await commemorative events like this centenary with excitement that tends to mutate, as the press coverage appears, into dread, then lamentation, and finally, resigned disgust.

I mean, this collection of Beckett reminiscences in the weekend’s Guardian isn’t bad — and, now that smoking’s verboten, I might just borrow the fingernail-cutting strategy to repel idle chatterers in bars — but when cheesy puns on “Waiting for Godot” start headlining insipid Beckett retrospectives in the coming weeks, how long will it be before we feel the need to stick our own heads in a toilet bowl and start flushing?

My friend Bill (whom you may have met before) is the greatest Beckett devotee I know. He and I have been bracing, in email, for the inevitable centenary let-down. And he’s far more thoughtful and articulate about his mixed feelings than I am:

As soon as I saw [the Guardian piece] I realized why I was ready to be angry in advance of any actual Beckett articles: this year we’re going to get forty gabillion words about a man whose works are dedicated to stripping language down to the bare bones. You rarely find full sentences in his plays; most of his characters speak in fragments, and most of those fragments are meant to reveal lives that are empty and characters who are trying to explain themselves and comfort themselves with words. So how can all these forthcoming articles not seem glib? But I did begin to read the article you sent, and right off the bat got this: “One thing that he said was, ‘You know, Francis, my days are filled with trivia.'” If they keep bringing me gems like that I can direct my bile elsewhere.

Bill’s been having his own private centenary party lately, watching all 19 of Beckett’s plays on DVD.

Somehow I managed to delete his email on the subject, but I remember it included the phrase “tick-tock rhythms of monotonous daily despair,” which is, without a doubt, the shortest and best description, ever, of what Beckett’s work conjures up.

* Rick is beloved in the Maud Household for his voice mail dispatches from South Florida. Past highlights include: a report on the Broward County Library’s (unintentionally?) alarming Martin Luther King, Jr., display, in which King’s portrait hung on the wall behind two open-mouthed sharks permanently dangling from the ceiling in attack mode; details on the time he drove up next to an 8-horse trailer that’d reduced traffic on the Palmetto Expressway to a crawl, and spotted a lone giraffe inside; and recent notes from a stop at “the most sacred 7-11 in Kendall.” (The one near Miller Square, of course.)


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