Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Beckett’s Letters

Some Oranges


Ab initio I
thunder it: oh
my ahistorical angels

stark and marble-
white, leaning like
wheat sheaves bound

up and tousled
into a vague
unknotting assembly, muster’d

at the terminus
awaiting the festoons
of some late

arrival. Here they
come with wooden
broadswords and paper

hats, inviolable &
harrying, keen to
sniff the air.

There’s Sammy Rosenstock
peering up out
of a Duesenberg

Phaeton, making a
stab at social
mobility. Like any

abandon’d son, he’s
a talkative shit
and a daredevil.

And there’s Aegiale,
Aegle and Aetheria,
the three sisters

with the amber
tears, tsking it
up, dangling yellow

poplar leaves, shudder
and sob. We
all fall down.

Sheer scramble of late, the demands various, the nights short. I did poke a beleaguer’d snoot into The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 (hence “talkative shit”—Beckett’s epithet for Jacob Bronowski, who edit’d, a l’époque, along with Samuel Putnam and others The European Caravan—perhaps unsurprisingly then, Bronowski is now likely known for narrating the 1973 TV documentary “The Ascent of Man”). One is tempt’d simply to collect Beckett’s brilliant stingers, “the arrow that flieth by day.” On Proust (whose Du côté de chez Swann he finds “strangely uneven”):
Some of his metaphors light up a whole page like a bright explosion, and others seem ground out in the dullest desperation. He has every kind of subtle equilibrium, charming trembling equilibrium and then suddenly a stasis, the arms of the balance wedged in a perfect horizontal line, more heavily symmetrical than Macaulay at his worst, with primos and secundos echoing to each complacently and reechoing. His loquacity is certainly more interesting and cleverly done than Moore’s but no less profuse, a maudlin false-teeth gobble-gobble discharge from a colic-afflicted belly. He drank too much tilleul.
(In the same 1929 letter—to Thomas McGreevy—Beckett notes finishing François Mauriac’s 1925 Le Désert de l'amour, “which I most decidedly do not like”: “A patient tenuous snivel that one longs to see projected noisily into a handkerchief.”)

One wonders at (in the sense of “questions”) the copiousness of the notes—is this the untoward result of the ease of info-bupkes retrieval? If, say, Beckett mentions a night out drinking (“Pelorson collapsed spontaneously on the banquette” and Beckett observing “a terrible silence that will never be forgiven”) and mentions, too, that “the exquisite Thèrive,” present too, “left without paying for his beer,” is it wholly utile to read in agate that “André Thèrive (né Roger Puthoste [other pseuds: Candidus d’Isaurie, Romain Motier, Zadoc Monteil], 1891-1967) was a conservative and influential critic for the French newspaper Le Temps (1861-1942); he wrote on the crisis of the postwar novel, criticizing the tendency toward aestheticism, hermeticism, and snobbery . . .”? I mean, I like a niggling factoid much as any sub-sub-sub librarian, and maybe I’d not hoot so if the book didn’t weigh something equal to a muscleman’s dumbbell, and the Beckett bits didn’t float wide-eyed and wan amidst gobble-gobbles of the stuff. I like to lie completely supinated under a book when I read it, and without requiring an assistant to spot for me, or extricate me in case of mishap.

Samuel Beckett, Lessness VI
A one page manuscript setting forth the sentence order by numbers.
(Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library)