Notes on Beckett

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By JOÃO ADOLFO HANSEN*

Ruin, which has always been the main subject of modernity, is a central theme in the work of Samuel Beckett

To Celso Favaretto, from your old friend.
“Humanism is a term reserved for times of great massacres” (Beckett)
“…it is necessary to continue, I cannot continue, I will continue” (Beckett, The Unspeakable).

…here and now, still living in fascist Brazil in 2021, to celebrate the friendship of more than 68 years that has linked me to Celso Favaretto since I was 11, I write about an author who took modernity to the extreme of the ruin of historic ruins in the XNUMXth century . The ruin, which has always been the main subject of modernity, especially in those not many artists who are worthwhile because they grab things by the hair, wringing their necks, as they deserve, when they make the crap that is life anywhere in the world capitalist and out of nowhere the main subject of his arts.

Since he was young, Celso dedicated himself for years and years and years to the study and discussion of moderns and postmoderns, utopians and post-utopians, writers and poets and painters and musicians and theorists and philosophers and critics who took and take as their theme from their artistic and theoretical practices the many disparate legacies of Kant and Hegel and Marx and Freud and Saussure and Heidegger and Sartre and Adorno and Cézanne and Mallarmé and Oiticica and Caetano and the many others, all not mentioned, that today are also ruined ruins, such as the that I quoted. For that, Beckett.

Me – who in the 1980s, tired of being modern, but in no way wanting to be postmodern, decided to study ruined ruins by excavating very remote, very forgotten symbolic practices called pre-modern in disparate shards and pieces and gaps and ellipses and non-enlightenment psius more how ruined, only readable with carbon 14 there and here represented by bones and debris and dust and dust of names always and now more and more forgotten, like Donne and Gryphius and and Quevedo and Góngora and Gracián and Sor Juana and Caviedes and Vieira and Pascal and Bossuet and d'Urfé and Tesauro and Gregório de Matos and Guerra and a very extensive etc. – Always remembering that Flaubert, when he explained why he had written salammbo, said that it was necessary to be very sad to rebuild Cartago, I who, in the 1980s, unfortunately was not Flaubert, I who, in the 1980s, tired of being modern but not wanting to be postmodern, threw myself without bovaryism into the ruins from colonial Cartago with fierce joy, that of destruction – I, still alive and mired in shit now from Bolsonarista-milico-evangelical-FIESP-fascist Brazil of 2021, remember in my despair what the reader will already know: the fictions of Samuel Beckett transform the letter, letter, in garbage, litter, taking those who read them to the limits of meaning and meaning.

Silence and unspeakable, nothing mysterious, profound or transcendent in the reader's experience of remains, as they are just residues of a dramatization of material processes that take place in any body when language rubs against language and other things. Beckett's equation is suppressive: he writes to eliminate language and reach the supposed and certainly non-existent substance of the real. He never gets there, while he reduces his characters' time-space and bodies to the compositional elements of a voice that stutters and produces emptiness.

Em The Unspeakable (1953), the last book of the trilogy consisting of molloy (1951) and malone dies (1951), for example, it dissolves the units that underlie the organic representation. The fictitious place where the voice that counts is dramatized is not, properly, the physical-cultural space and the historical time of the so-called “social context” always posited or assumed reference-scenario of the actions of characters in the stories written as representation. The place is only a place of language, an atopic non-place, invented as a partial state in which larval forces continually update themselves, scarring the voice that narrates with the multiple lines of its divergent series, dissolving the imaginary unity of a supposed body in holes.

The experience of this state is that of the duration in which the voice repeats itself. The obsessive repetition of it can induce the reader to remember the state of hopelessness of the repetition of the actions of the damned of the Hell, of Dante; but Virgil as guide of the reader-character through space, nor any Beatrice-interpretation of the meanings of time, nor much less the Christian God or, in the place of his absence, any Cartesian-Hegelian-Marxist Reason such as transcendence of meaning-giving principles. The state of hopelessness has no beginning or end. The text begins through the lines of flight that furrow it, constituting the “here” position of the reader who reads by repeating the character who tries to eliminate language by continually displacing the meaning of repetition of its repetition. It is impossible to speak and signify and simultaneously make sense of the things that speech names and signifies. The character's voice is situated in a position either before or after the meanings he enunciates.

The meaning produced by what he says about what he says remains suspended and always unnamed and always unnamable: “I have to speak, having nothing to say, nothing but the words of others. Not knowing how to speak, not wanting to speak, I have to speak. No one forces me to do this, there is no one, it's an accident, it's a fact. Nothing can ever release me from that, there is nothing. Nothing to discover, nothing to diminish what remains to be said, I have the sea to drink, so there is a sea. Not having been a fool, that's what I would have been best at, doing my best, having been a fool, wanting not to be, believing I wasn't, knowing I was, not being a fool because I wasn't a fool" (Beckett, the nameless).

in your book Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians, Hugh Kenner recalled – regarding Moran, Beckett's character – the paradox of Epimenides the Cretan: “I, Epimenides, Cretan, say that all Cretans are liars”. And he remembered Beckett, heir to Joyce, heir to Flaubert. Or Beckett the deadlock comedian as Joyce is the inventory comedian and Flaubert the encyclopedia comedian. Flaubert, as we know, faced the narrative requirement of documentation, detail, metonymy, etc. treating the stupidity of communicating prejudices and shitty commonplaces of their bourgeois society with the stubborn stupidity of someone willing to listen to the shitty truths of sellers of encyclopedias and Bibles and the like, like journalists and politicians and financiers and economists and evangelical priests and Catholic pastors and vice versa and teachers and parents…

Like this Madame Bovary it is the laborious reconstruction of a cheap adultery soap opera made as an encyclopedia of futility and stupidity. And yet, with Flaubert, Bouvard and Pécuchet, the stories of two imbeciles investigating imbecile books on imbecile subjects, etc. Joyce starts where Flaubert left off and adopts two of his main procedures, which give the narrative the encyclopedic capacity to accumulate facts and information and focus on social matter through parody.

Thus, while Flaubert's horizon is contempt for the bourgeoisie and boredom with the encyclopedia of bourgeois stupidity, Joyce does not mock Dublin, but loves it. She does not affect indifference, like Flaubert, but would playfully invent the richness of the materials she transforms – as is the case of the Dublin speak. In finnegans Wake, makes an inventory of ancient and modern languages, showing the combinatorial power of the twenty or so letters of the alphabet, to make an inventory of speech experiences.

Beckett retakes the two. It seems impossible to push their magnificent competence further, and Beckett exploits their incompetence, writing works that feign their inability to make their title character appear. Or works that are merely about the fact that someone is sitting in bed writing a silly story. Beckett writes about the impasse – or from the impasse – of having nothing to say and no reason to say it – particularizing the mechanics of the body and objects of the body, reducing the action of the characters to their material conditions and processes. For a comparison, see for example Joyce (the character is Bloom): “Putting his feet on the parapet, he jumped over the beam at the entrance to the cellar, put on his hat, grabbed two points of the lower connection of the beams, he gradually lowered his body the entire length of his five feet nine and a half inches to two feet ten inches from the floor of the basement entrance and let his body move freely in the space as he separated himself from the beam, flinching in preparation. for the impact of the fall (Ulysses).

And now Beckett (the character is Watt): “Watt's way of advancing eastwards, for example, was to swing his bust as far north as possible and at the same time throw his right leg as far south as possible. and, continuing, turn the bust, as far as possible, towards the south and, at the same time, throw the left leg, as far as possible, towards the north, and again turn the bust, as far as possible, towards the north, and throw the right leg as far as possible towards the south, and turn the bust as far as possible towards the south, and throw the left leg as far as possible towards the north, and so on , again and again, many, many times, until he reached his destination, where he could sit down. Few knees could bend as well as Watt's when he made them go that way since, evidently, they were in perfect shape. But when it came to walking, they didn't bend for obscure reasons. As it were, his feet fell, sole and heel simultaneously, onto the ground, and left him to take flight through the free paths of the air, with evident repugnance. As for the arms, they seemed content to hang inertly, with absolute independence” (Watt).

***

In 1949, Beckett dealt with the incompetence of art, a core theme of his fiction, in three brief dialogues with the French art critic Georges Duthuit. The first of them, Tal Coat, establishes that the competence of art, however great it may be, always fails. Competence always takes the boring path of the possible, seeing what is possible to do and trying to do it without ever quite hitting the mark. Art advances step by step, by trial and error. “For us there is only trying”, as TS Eliot said.

Argument: the painter who, admitting that the general element of all art is partial failure, takes as his theme and procedure the very inability of painting to rival reality and, with that, invents another form of competence: “No painting is found fuller than that of Mondrian”, says Beckett, proposing that, when faced with art, there are two kinds of infirmities: (1) wanting to know what to do; (2) that of wanting to be able to do.

See the translation of the three dialogues:

Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit 1.Tal Coat

B. – Total object, complete with missing parts, instead of partial object.

Degree issue.

D. – More. The tyranny of the discreet destroyed. The world, a flow of movements participating in a living time, that of effort, creation, liberation, painting, the painter. The ephemeral instant of feeling returned, divulged, with the context of the continuum from which it was nourished.

B. – In any case an impulse towards a more adequate expression of natural experience, as revealed to attentive coenaesthesia. Either achieved through submission or through mastery, the result is a gain in nature.

D. – But what the painter discovers, orders, transmits is not in nature. How does one of these paintings relate to a landscape seen at a certain age, in a certain season, at a certain time? Are we not on a quite different plane?

B. – By nature I understand here, like the most naive realist, a composite of perceiver and perceived, not a datum, an experience. All I want to suggest is that the tendency and realization of this painting are fundamentally those of previous painting, striving to enlarge the state of a compromise.

D. - You overlook the immense difference between the significance of perception for Tal Coat and the significance of it for the vast majority of his predecessors, learning as artists with the same utilitarian servility as in a traffic jam and improving the result with a dash of geometry euclidean. Tal Coat's overall perception is disinterested, uncommitted to truth and beauty, nature's twin tyrannies. I can see the compromise of past painting, but not what you deplore in the Matisse of a certain period and the Tal Coat of today.

B. – I do not deplore. I agree that the Matisse in question, like Tal Coat's Franciscan orgies, has prodigious value, but a value akin to those already accumulated. What we have to consider in the case of Italian painters is not that they measured the world with the eyes of works contractors, one milestone means the same as another, but that they never moved from the field of the possible, however much they may have had it. enlarged. The only thing disturbed by the revolutionaries Matisse and Tal Coat is a certain order on the level of the feasible.

D.: What other plan can there be for the artificer?

B. – Logically, none. Yet I speak of an art turning away from it in disgust, tired of petty exploits, tired of pretending to be able, of having been able, of doing the same old thing a little better, of going a little further on a monotonous road.

D. – And preferring what?

B.: The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing to express with, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, along with the obligation to express.

D.: But that is a violently extreme and personal point of view which does us no good in the case of Tal Coat.

B. ...

D.: Perhaps that will be enough for today.

Masson

B.: In search of difficulty rather than in its clutches. The restlessness of someone who lacks an opponent.

D. – Perhaps that is why today he speaks so often of painting the void, terrified and trembling. His interest was, for a time, in the creation of a mythology; then with man, not simply in the universe, but in society; and now “inner emptiness”, the first condition, according to Chinese aesthetics, of the act of painting. It might seem, in effect, that Masson suffers, more acutely than any living painter, from the need to come to rest, that is, to establish the data of the problem to be solved, the Problem in short.

B. – Though little acquainted with the problems he has set himself in the past and which of them, by the mere fact of their solubility or any other reason, have lost their legitimacy for him, I feel their presence not far off, behind those veiled screens of consternation, and the scars of a competence that must be more painful for him. Two old diseases that no doubt should be considered separately: the disease of wanting to know what to do and the disease of wanting to be able to do it.

D.: But Masson's avowed purpose now is to reduce these infirmities, as you call them, to nothing. He aspires to be free from the bondage of space, that his eye may "play among fields without focal length, tumultuous, with ceaseless creation." At the same time he calls for liberation from the "vaporous" (ethereal). This may seem odd in someone by temperament more inclined to enthusiasm than to despondency. You will naturally reply that this is the same thing as before, the same seeking shelter from want of it. Opaque or transparent, the object remains sovereign. But how can Masson be expected to paint the void?

B.: He doesn't expect that. What good is there in moving from one untenable position to another, in seeking justification always on the same plane? Here is an artist who seems literally stuck in the fierce dilemma of expression. Still he keeps snaking. The emptiness he speaks of is perhaps simply the obliteration of a presence that is as unbearable to seek as it is to disturb. If this anguish of helplessness never manifests itself as such, it is on its own merits and for its own sake, although perhaps very occasionally admitted as a condiment for the “exploit” that it endangers. The reason is undoubtedly, among others, that it seems to contain within itself the impossibility of manifesting itself. Again a logical attitude. In any case, it could hardly be confused with emptiness.

D. – Masson talks a lot about transparency – “openings, circulations, communications, unknown penetrations” – where he can play freely, in freedom. Without renouncing the objects, boring or delicious, that are our daily bread and wine and fish, he tries to open a path between his sharings towards that continuity of being that is absent from the routine experience of living. In this he approaches Matisse (the one from the first period, it goes without saying) and Tal Coat, but with this remarkable difference, that Masson has to fight against his own technical gifts, which have the richness, the precision, the density and balance in the high classical way. Or, rather I should say, his spirit, for he proved himself capable, when the occasion called for it, of great technical variety.

B. – What you say certainly sheds light on the dramatic trance of this artist. Allow me to point out your interest in the amenities of ease and freedom. The stars are undoubtedly superb, as Freud underlined by reading Kant's cosmological proof of the existence of God. With such concerns it seems impossible to me that he could ever do anything other than what the best, including himself, have ever done. Perhaps it is an impertinence to say that he wants it. His extremely intelligent observations of space exude the same possessive spirit as Leonardo's notebooks which, when speaking of disguise, he knows very well that he will not lose any fragment. So, forgive me if, just as we were talking about the so distinguished Tal Coat, I once again evoke my dream of an art without resentment in the face of its invincible indigence and too proud to represent the farce of giving and receiving.

D.: Masson himself, having observed that the Western perspective is nothing more than a set of traps for capturing objects, declares that the possession of them does not interest him. He congratulates Bonnard for having, in his later works, “gone beyond the possessive space in every form and figure, away from limits and demarcations, to the point where all possession dissolves”. I agree that there is a great distance between Bonnard and that impoverished painting, “authentically fruitless, incapable of any image, no matter what it is”, to which you aspire and to which, who knows, perhaps unconsciously, Masson also tends. . But can we really deplore the painting that admits “the things and creatures of spring, resplendent with desire and affirmation, ephemeral no doubt, but immortally repeated,” not in order to benefit from them, nor to enjoy them, but in order that it may continue that what in the world is tolerable and radiant? Do we really have to deplore the painting that is a kind of strengthening, among the things of time that pass and hurriedly move away from us towards a time that endures and offers growth?

B- (Leaves crying).

Bram van velde

B. – French, first of all fire.

D. – Speaking of Tal Coat and Masson, you invoked an art of a different order, not only from them, but from any other performed to date. Am I right in thinking that you had van Velde in mind when you made this withering distinction?

B. – Yes. I believe he is the first to accept a certain situation and agree to a certain course of action.

D.: Would it be too much to ask you to explain again, as simply as possible, the situation and the way of acting that you conceive to be his?

B. – The situation is that of someone helpless who cannot act, in this case who cannot paint, from the moment he is forced to paint. His way of acting is that of someone who, helpless, incapable of acting, acts, in this case he paints, from the moment he is forced to paint.

D. – Why are you forced to paint?

B. – I don't know.

D. – Why are you helpless to paint?

B.: Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.

D. – And the result, you say, is a different art?

B. – Among those we call great artists, can I think of none whose interest does not reside predominantly in their expressive possibilities, those of their vehicle, those of humanity? The assumption that underlies all painting is that the territory of the craftsman is the territory of what is feasible. The much to express, the little to express, the ability to express much, the ability to express little, merge into the common anxiety to express all possible, as truly as possible, or as subtly as possible, to the best of one's ability. What…

D.: One moment. Are you suggesting that van Velde's painting is unimpressive?

B. – (Two weeks later). Yes.

D.: Do you realize the absurdity of what you propose?

B. – I hope so.

D. – What you say amounts to this: the form of expression known as painting, from the moment when for obscure reasons we are obliged to speak of painting, had to wait for van Velde to be freed from the erroneous apprehension with which worked so long and so perfectly, I mean, that his function was to express through painting.

B. – Others felt that art is not necessarily expression. But the numerous attempts made to make painting independent of its circumstances only succeeded in expanding its repertoire. I suggest that van Velde is the first whose painting is dispossessed, free if you like, of every circumstance in every form and figure, both ideal and material, and the first whose hands have not been tied by the certainty that expression is an impossible act. .

D. – But might it not be suggested, even by someone tolerant of this fantastic theory, that the occasion of his painting is his imprint, and that he is expressive of the impossibility of expressing?

B. – No more ingenious method could be proposed for returning him, safe and sound, to the bosom of Saint Luke. But for once let's be crazy enough not to turn away. All have prudently turned their backs on the final penury, turned their backs on the simple misery in which virtuous destitute mothers can steal bread for their starving offspring. There is more than a difference of degree between being cut off, cut off from the world, cut off from oneself, and being without these cherished amenities. The first situation is a predicament; the other does not.

D.: But you have already spoken of van Velde's trance.

B.: I certainly didn't.

D. – You prefer the purest opinion that here finally is a painter who doesn't paint, who doesn't intend to paint. Come on, come on, my dear friend, make some sort of coherent exposition and then go away.

B.: Wouldn't it be enough that I simply left?

D. – No. You started. Finish. Start again and continue until you're done. Then go away. Try to remember that the subject we are discussing is neither you nor the Sufi Al-Haqq, but a very concrete Dutchman named van Velde, erroneously known until now as painter artist.

B.: How would it be if I first said that I like to imagine that he is, imagine that he does, and then that it is more than likely that he is and acts quite differently? Wouldn't that be an excellent way out of all our afflictions? Him happy, you happy, me happy, all three bubbling with happiness.

D.: Do as you like, but finish.

B.: There are many ways in which the thing I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to say. I have tried it, as you know, both publicly and privately, under duress, through weakness of heart, through weakness of mind, with two or three hundred. The pathetic possession/poverty antithesis is perhaps not the most boring. But we start to get tired of it, don't we? The realization that art has always been bourgeois, although it can mitigate our pain in the face of the achievements of the socially progressive, is ultimately of little interest. The analysis of the artist's relationship to his circumstance, a relationship always considered indispensable, does not seem to have been very productive, which is perhaps the reason why he lost track of inquiries about the nature of the circumstance. It is obvious that for the artist obsessed with his expressive vocation, nothing and everything is condemned to become a circumstance, including, as is apparently the case with Masson, the search for a circumstance, and experiments with one's wife. of every man of the spiritual Kandinsky. No painting is as full as Mondrian's. But if the circumstance appears as an unstable term of relationship, the artist, who is the other term, is only less so, thanks to his proliferation of modes and attitudes. The objections against this dualistic view of the creative process are unconvincing. Two things are established, albeit precariously: the food, from fruit on the tray to elementary mathematics and self-pity and its way of solving. Everything that could concern us in the acute and growing anxiety of the relationship itself, as if it saw itself increasingly obscured by a sense of non-validity, of inadequacy, of existence at the expense of everything it excludes, of everything that closes the gap. ticket. The history of painting, and there I go again, is the history of its attempts to escape this sense of failure through more authentic, broader, less exclusive relationships between the representer and the represented, in a kind of tropism towards a brighter light. about which the best opinions keep varying, and with a kind of Pythagorean terror, as if the irrationality of pi were an offense to the deity, not the mention of his creature. My argument, since I'm on the bench, is that van Velde is the first to give up this aestheticized automatism, the first to profoundly resign himself in the face of the incoercible absence of relationship, the absence of terms or, if you prefer, the presence of unusable terms, the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail, like no one else dares to fail, that failure is his world, and his desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, life. No, no, let me finish. I know that all that is now required, even to bring this horrible matter to an acceptable conclusion, is to make this submission, this admission, this fidelity to failure, a new occasion, a new term of relationship, and the act which, incapable of to act, compelled to act, he does, an expressive act, even if only of himself, of his impossibility, of his obligation. I know that my inability to do so places me, and perhaps an innocent person, in what I believe is still called the unenviable situation familiar to psychiatrists. That's why there's this colorful plane, which wasn't there before. I don't know what he is, having never seen anything like him before. It seems to have nothing to do with the art, in any case, if my recollections are correct (Prepares to leave).

D.: Aren't you forgetting anything? B - I suppose that's enough, isn't it?

D.: I understood that your number should have two parts. The first was that you said what you…umm…thought. This I am willing to believe it did. The second…

B. – (Remembering cordially). Yes, yes, I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

***

In the first dialogue, Beckett proposes what he thinks of his art as a writer: “… I speak of an art (…) tired of insignificant exploits, tired of pretending to be able, of having been able, of doing the same old thing a little better, that of going a little further on a monotonous road”.

Duthuit asks: “– And preferring what?” And Beckett: "- The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express."

Duthuit states: "- But that is a violently extreme and personal point of view that does us no good in the case of Tal Coat."

Thus, according to Beckett, his writing would be done as an abstract and incalculable lack of skill that produces an art “lacking motive in every form and aspect, ideal at the same time as material”. Adorno, in the essay “Trying to understand end of game”, he writes: “After the Second World War, everything, including a resurrected culture, was destroyed, without realizing it; mankind continues to vegetate, after events which even survivors cannot really survive, in a heap of rubble which has rendered useless any reflection one can make on one's own ruined state”.

In this situation where critical consciousness has been and is being more and more replaced by cynical consciousness, the ideas of meaning e sense they became objects of derision and corrosive ridicule. Hamm says: "Are we starting to... to... mean something?" And Clov: “Mean something? You and me, mean something? Oh, that's good!”

Adorno proposed that end of game it is the end point of meaning in modern art made after Auschwitz, the end point also of the very possibility of proposing meaning. end of game reduces philosophy and art to “cultural garbage”. Thus: “The interpretation of end of game it cannot propose the chimerical purpose of expressing the meaning of the play in a form mediated by philosophy. Believing that it can only means understanding its unintelligibility, concretely reconstructing the sense that it has no meaning”.

Beckett proposes that the understanding of the play can simply be the understanding that it is incomprehensible because it has no structure of meaning. But evidently it can be proposed that there is meaning in the way the non-meaning is represented. Thus, for example: The first level of meaning corresponds to the very structure of the dramatic artifact produced as fiction;

another level may be the intention of the whole as a structure communicated by the author to the spectator; the third, still, can be the meaning of the words and utterances that the characters speak and the meaning of the progression of the action in the dialogues.

As is known, the piece is set up as a continuous citation of the reified residues of education, developing the theme of disgust radical with modern bourgeois society. Beckett parodies philosophy and artistic forms and, refusing interpretation, proposes that all things have lost all the qualities they had. As a consequence, life is extreme abstraction. History is excluded, because it dehydrated the power of consciousness to think of it as a power of memory and expectation. Therefore, the drama is the enactment of an empty and arid gesture in which the result of the story appears as farce and ruin. The play is the expression of the horror of knowing that there is no life beyond the arid and hollow and false life of the characters. And here, the humor, the dark humor. But laugh at what? Remember Hamm.

The character Hamm is a quote from Hamlet: “To croak or not to croak, that is the question”; “To stretch the shin or not to stretch the shin, that is the question”. And quote from Ham, the cursed son of Noah. And a joke: in English, ham actor = bad actor, ham. And also ham = ham. And the pun: “stay with Hamm, stay with home”. Hamm's theme is nostalgia, melancholy, the attempt to return to the past. His narrative composes a character haunted by the past and, even more, by a past possible, whose memory you want to manipulate. Hamm produces his melancholy with masochism, often telling the same story to his father, Nagg, and to Clov.

With the story of something past, Hamm also produces for himself the certainty of having existed. The story refers to a past moment when he would have had the power to help someone, a man who asked for help for himself and his young son before the cataclysm that crippled the world. Hamm masters every detail of the story, evidencing his ability to control the lives of the beggar and his son. His story is a demonstration of his power to be or have been magnanimous with the beggar, demonstrating his ability to take care of the child – who is probably Clov – when the father was incapable. In the present, Hamm is blind and confined to a wheelchair; thus, remembering the past is also a moment of self-criticism and remembering when he had power.

Hamm – Remember when you got here? Clov – No. It was too small, you told me. Hamm – Remember your father?

Clov – (Wearily) – Same answer. You've asked me these questions a million times.

Hamm – I like the old questions. Ah, old questions, old answers, there's nothing like them. It was I who was a father to you.

Clov – It was. (Stare at Hamm). You were a father to me. Hamm – And my house is your home.

Clov - Yeah. (Long circular gaze). This place was it for me.

Hamm – (With pride). Without me (points to himself), without a father. No Hamm (circle gesture), no home.

Clov – I'll leave him.

Hamm – Have you thought of something? Clov – Never.

Hamm – That here we are stuck in a hole. But what about behind the mountains? What if it's still green there? Huh? Flora! Pomona! Ceres! Maybe you don't have to go far.

Clov – I can't go very far. I will leave it.

Clov is raised by Hamm, presumably the beggar's son. He is the only character who moves in the play, but with difficulty. Nagg and Nell, Hamm's father and mother, half-emerge out of garbage cans and talk. The conversation is a parody of the so-called normality of life as a couple.

Nell – What is it, my pet? Love time? Nagg – Were you sleeping?

Nell - Oh no! Nagg - kiss me Nell – We can't.

Nagg – Try it.

Nell – Why this farce day after day? Nagg – I lost my tooth.

Nell – When?

Nagg – I still had it yesterday. Nell – (Elegiac) Ah! Yesterday!

 

And yet, for example Happy Days (Happy days, 1961). The play as a parody of marriage; Winnie, 50, chatty wife, and Willie, 60, brooding, bored, probably homicidal husband, at the end of the play. But not just parody.

Setting: dry grass, small hill in the center, gently falling towards the front of the stage and to the sides. In the distance, empty plain.

1st act. Winnie, blonde, bare arms and shoulders, cleavage, full breasts, pearl necklace, buried up to her waist, sleeps, her arms resting on the ground in front of her; on the left, a large black bag; on the right, folding umbrella. To the right, behind, Willie sleeps on the ground. An alarm clock rings. Winnie lifts her head, looks straight ahead. She rests her hands on the earth, looks up:

– Another heavenly day (…) Jesus Christ amen (…) For ever and ever. Amen. (…) Start, Winnie (…) Start your day, Winnie, (Winnie, buried up to her neck, hat on head, eyes closed (2o act). His head – which can no longer turn, tilt or lift – remains rigorously static throughout the entire act.)

Winnie – Hail, holy light (...) Someone is looking at me, still (...) Worrying about me, still (...) That's what I think is wonderful.

Beckett said that the strangeness was the necessary condition of the play and of Winnie's predicament in it: “In this play, you have a combination of the strange and the practical, the mysterious and the factual. That is the crux of both comedy and tragedy in it.” Winnie or the remains of a life buried in a premature grave. Thus, Winnie = archive of culture, archive of the end of things. The play as an examination of the remnants of Western culture and the collapse of all things.

Winnie, as the Unspeakable, doesn't want to go on, can't go on and will go on. Beckett said to the German actress Martha Fehsenfeld who played Winnie: "Think of her as a bird with oil in her feathers". Winnie avoids thinking about suffering through words and games with the objects in the bag: comb hairbrush lipstick toothbrush toothpaste glasses gun, saying: “things have a life of their own”. She starts to speak when a doorbell rings; if you stop talking, the bell rings again. What is possible for her is already past: “happy days”, “fleeting pleasures”, “happy memories”, “extraordinary verses”, etc. She speaks and interrupts the speech: “she IS an interrupted creature”. "Ah, the old style... the sweet old style".

In 1979 rehearsals, Beckett mentored actress Billie Whitelaw on the relationship between Winnie and her purse: “The purse is all she has – look at it with affection (…) From the beginning you should know how she feels about you. respect (…) When the bag is on the top right, you peer into it, see the things that are there and then take them out. Spy, take, deposit. Spy, take, deposit. You look more closely when you lift things than when you put them down. Each thing has its place.

Beckett had Billie practice Winnie's hand movements in a preying gesture: the hands extend upwards, in the shape of a claw, then descend, inside the bag, removing the objects.

Winnie cites Shakespeare, Milton, Gray, Yeats and other poets, contrasting the cultural value that poems once had in their time and in past times and their situation, where they are detritus like all the other things he talks about: the time and all the other things you refer to as “the old style” are gone. Winnie's insistence that things remain sounds desperate. Because there are only remains, that is, the tomb of marriage, culture, time and history. And so let's go on, we can't go on, but we have to go on nec spe nec metu.

*John Adolfo Hansen is a retired senior professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Sixteenth-century sharpnesses – Collected work, vol 1 (Edusp).

Originally published on threshold magazine v. 8, noo15, 2021.

 

 

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