Samuel Beckett

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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Considerations on Charles Juliet's conversations with the Irish playwright and writer

“Live and wipe your mind year after year \ While life drips wipe the cloth” (Samuel Beckett)

The Portuguese poet, writer and otorhinolaryngologist Miguel Torga (1907-1995), residing in Coimbra, recorded in his daily, on June 8, 1992, the following: “I got rid of the office. A thousand adverse circumstances combine dearly in this sense. And farewell to my old stronghold, where for so many years I fought as a man, doctor and poet. I donated the surgical material to the Hospital da Misericórdia where I operated for so many years, and the furniture to the Parish Council of São Martinho. And I stayed in those empty rooms empty like them. No past, no present and no future, with my own life abolished in time. As the porters removed the goods, I had the feeling that I was being stripped of flesh, making me humanly spectral. In the end, stunned, with the floor slipping away from under my feet, without even a bench to sit on, the phone still rang. On the other side of the wire, they asked me to add the tablet to the remains. I replied that yes, that I was going to be pulled out and would follow. And I asked, in a strangled voice, if they wanted me to send my corpse too” (daily, vol. XVI, p. 1.742-1.743).

Since mid-November 1986 I have occupied a room where I worked for more than 34 years – I will still work there, a few more months, a few hours a week; until June I will vacate it. Emptying the room was not – and is not being – for me as traumatic a process as the one experienced by Miguel Torga, although I confess that this “dismantling operation” is not so peaceful for the body and the mind. The papers went to recycling; theses and dissertations, for USP libraries; the computer belongs to the Faculty and will be there for incoming colleagues; a large part of the books accumulated in that workroom were donated to penal institutions in the state and to students of the Pedagogy course.

Texts that I will no longer read are going to friends and younger colleagues who are researching the subjects that involve them. I separated something for myself: books by loved ones who are no longer around here and who helped in my academic career, three or four classic works, one or two publications that might be of interest to my youngest daughter and… that's it. From the copies of the selected magazines, most of them badly treated by fungi, molds and dust, I extracted a few articles with an old stylus. One of them I will comment on and summarize, as I understand that it constitutes a relevant contribution to the theme to which it is dedicated.

In an old issue of New Cebrap Studies (July, 1989), there is a precious collaboration of the French poet, playwright and novelist Charles Juliet (1934) – “Meeting with Samuel Beckett” – winner of the 2013 Goncourt Poetry Prize, author of more than seven dozen books, translated into several languages. This article condenses the book by Charles Juliet, Meet with Samuel Beckett (1986), since Éditions Fata Morgana “limited authorization to 40% of the original text” (p. 62).

The French poet recounts the essence of four meetings he had with Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) between 1968 and 1977, revealing them in meticulous detail, with his silences, hesitations, gestures, small smiles... On October 24, 1968, Charles Juliet goes to the author's apartment and, after settling down on a small sofa, says that the Irish writer, aged 62 at the time, sat down on a stool and kept “his eyes fixed on the floor (…) I know it won't be easy to break it…” (p. 62).

Responding to questions, Beckett began to talk about the dark years he experienced after resigning from the University of Dublin. “He lived first in London, then in Paris. He had given up on giving continuity to a university career brilliantly begun, and he wasn't thinking of becoming a writer either. He lived in a small hotel room in Montparnasse and felt lost, slaughtered, living like a rag. He got up at midday, and had just enough strength to reach the nearest bistro for breakfast. He couldn't do anything. He couldn't even read”. He adds: “I had resigned myself to being an Oblomov (…) There was my wife… it was hard…” (p. 62).

He returned to Ireland in 1945 to visit his mother, whom he had not seen since the beginning of the war. She recounted that one night in March 1946, “at the end of the pier, in the storm (…) everything became clear to me” (p. 63). He would try to survive as a writer, he wanted to write. However, he would need to find the appropriate language. “When I wrote the first sentence of molloy, I didn't know where I was going. And when I finished the first part, I didn't know how I was going to continue. Everything was done that way. No drafts. She had nothing prepared. Nothing elaborate” (p. 63).

Charles Juliet transcribed that Beckett took a very thick notebook with a faded cover from a box and handed it to him: “It is the manuscript of En Attendant Godot. They are sheets with narrow lines, wartime paper, gray, wrinkled, of poor quality. I pass my eyes excitedly. In the last part, the back of the page was used; to read, however, it is necessary to turn the notebook upside down. In fact, the text is not retouched at all. While I try to decipher some passages, he murmurs: – Everything happened between the hand and the page” (p. 63).

He replied that he finds it difficult to write as he wants: “the previous work inhibits any continuation (…) Every time you have to take a step forward”. Juliet adds: “Long silence” (p. 64). Beckett is adamant: “writing led me to silence.” Another pause. “However, I must continue… I am facing a cliff, and I must advance. Impossible, isn't it? however, you can move forward. Gain a few miserable millimeters…”.

After writing, he said that he practically does not read anything, considering these two activities incompatible. He surprises when he declares that he “chose French as a language” because “it was new to him. She keeps a perfume of strangeness. It allowed him to escape the automatisms inherent in the use of a mother tongue” (p. 64).

The second meeting between Beckett and Juliet will only take place five years later, on October 29, 1973. It should have taken place earlier, but in the meantime the interviewee received the Nobel Prize and…he was invaded by everything and everyone! The meeting of both was scheduled in the Closerie des Lilas. He had just spent five weeks in Morocco. “He rented a car and visited the country, bathed, strolled through the Arab markets, slept on the beaches…” (p. 65). He commented that in recent times he has closely followed the staging of some of his plays, especially in Germany, and said that this interests him, “but it remains for the fun part” (p. 65). He lamented that in Cologne, where he rode Game over, “the scene indications were ignored, placing the play in an old people's home. This makes it grotesque” (p. 65).

Suzanne, his wife, was the one who contacted the editor Jérôme Lindon (1925-2001), in the Editions de Minuit, who published his work. He closely monitors the translations of his texts and confesses that most of the time he does not understand much of the theses and essays that deal with his work: he says that this is the result of “university dementia” (p. 65). He adds that he does not write to order and that he no longer suffers from insomnia (p. 65).

About his life, he declared that as a teenager he did not think about becoming a writer. “After finishing his studies, he embarked on a university career. First, he was a French assistant at the University of Dublin. After a year, however, he could no longer bear that life and literally disappeared. He ended up in Germany. It was from there that he sent his letter of resignation. (...) Came to France. He had neither money nor documentation. President Paul Doumer had just been assassinated (in 1932), and foreigners were being strictly controlled” (p. 66).

With the translation he made of Drunken Boat for an American magazine he managed to save some money and, in order not to be expelled from France, he returned to London. He tried to be a literary critic, but no newspaper took him on. “He went back to his parents' house. His father was disillusioned. He had been forced to drop out of school at the age of 15, to give up his studies, and it is easy to imagine that he could not understand his son's attitude. He was 26 years old and considered himself a failure. In 1933 he lost his father, and this loss affected him deeply. He inherits a small sum of money and marches to London, where he lives in a furnished apartment, living very poorly ”(p. 66).

In 1936, he visited Germany and, in the summer of 1937, arrived in Paris, where he settled, making friends with various artists and intellectuals, frequenting Giacometti and Duchamp (p. 67). He returns to Dublin in 1945 to see his mother, as mentioned in previous lines, and in 1946 he makes another return. During this stay, he begins to understand that he would be a writer: “I wrote molloy the day I understood my stupidity. So I started to write down the things I feel” (p. 67).

After 1950, his pace of work became intense: he wrote molloy, Malone Meurt, En Attendant Godot, L'Innommable, Texts pour Rien… He has great sympathy for this text and considers his writings after 1950 only “as tentative” (p. 67).

The third meeting, on November 14, 1973, took place again at the same time. Closerie des Lilas. Asked how the work was going, he replied that he always had something in progress: “even if it is big, it gets smaller and smaller” (p. 68). Charles Juliet adds: “Each day passes less than he writes” (p. 68). As for his work, he gradually distanced himself from his texts: “At the end of the day, you no longer know who is speaking. There is a complete disappearance of the subject. This is where the identity crisis leads” (p. 68).

Contrary to Joyce and Proust, who “never stopped tinkering and fiddling with something” in their manuscripts, Beckett walks “toward nothingness, compressing his texts more and more” (p. 69). In the opinion of Charles Juliet, there is a “poverty” in his universe, “both in terms of language and in terms of the means used: few characters, few adventures, few problems addressed and, nevertheless, everything important is said. with absolute rigor and uniqueness” (p. 69).

He discusses the war in Ireland, agrees, in this regard, with a phrase by François Mitterrand, for whom “fanaticism is stupidity” and briefly mentions the routine he establishes when he is in his country house, where he spends two or three weeks alone: “In the morning, write. In the afternoon, he takes care of small handicrafts, or walks around; sometimes he takes the car to go to more isolated places where he can be in peace” (p. 69).

The last meeting took place on November 11, 1977, late in the morning, in the bar of a large hotel, in front of his house. He comments that he had insomnia and that he thought of a play, lasting one minute, and talks about it with a certain spirit (p. 70).

Charles Juliet writes that he seeks to discern what constitutes the uniqueness of Beckett's work, commenting that, over the course of the last four centuries, “man seems to have devoted himself obsessively to giving himself and for himself a reassuring and comforting image. Now, this is precisely the idea that he, Beckett, set out to destroy” (p. 70). The Irish writer reminds his dialogue partner that he was preceded in this path by Leopardi, Schopenhauer, among others.

Asked if he had chosen “to surrender to a no-based approach,” Beckett responded in the negative; “Denial is not possible. Neither does the statement. It is absurd to say that something is absurd. For that would still be a value judgment. You cannot protest, you cannot give an opinion” (p. 70). After a long pause, the meeting ends, understanding that “it is necessary to remain there where there is neither pronoun, nor solution, nor reaction, nor possible positions taken… This is what makes the work so diabolically difficult” (p. 70).

Perhaps one of his epitaphs, contained in his complete poems, help translate this difficulty:

he no longer knows what they told him
he no longer knows what was said
they don't tell you anything else
nothing more is said
saying that there is nothing to say
nothing more to say

*Afranio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ (Duque de Caxias campus).

References


Charles Juliet. Encounters with Samuel Beckett. Translation: Vinícius de Figueiredo. New Cebrap Studies. Sao Paulo, no. 24, p. 62-70, July 1989.

Miguel Torga, daily (vols.IX to XVI: 15.01.1960 to 10.12.1993). Lisbon: Publications Dom Quixote, 2nd. ed. complete, 1999.

Samuel Beckett. Complete poetry (bilingual edition). Org. and trans.: Marcos Siscar and Gabriela Vescovi. Belo Horizonte: Relicário, 2022.


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