Sunday, December 17, 2006

When the Shillelagh Meets the Banlieu, the Shtetl, and the Heart of Darkness

The following comes from a piece in Salon about controversial Nobel laureates. I've always thought Samuel Beckett was The Man as far as playwrights are concerned. I have a great deal of admiration for those who can say so much with so few words, and Beckett was a masterful minimalist.

Of course, I'm also a great admirer of his more verbose Irish-American "cousin," Eugene O'Neill. In both cases, they exploited the English language for all it was worth. This piece proves Beckett was The Man in numerous other ways--plus, he had the best damned hair next to Seymour Cassell. Happy 100th, Samuel!


"Terrific. He'll have them on their feet. I can hear it from here."
-- "Director," Catastrophe (1982)


[T]here is a writer who embodies all the ideals the Nobel stands for: Samuel Beckett (Ireland 1969), whose centenary year this is. Unbeknown even to many of his closest friends until after his death, Beckett had been a member of the French resistance during the war and received the Croix de Guerre. This is all the more admirable in that Beckett was from a neutral, if not impartial, country. (Sinn Fein was not entirely unsympathetic to the Axis powers on the dubious principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.) Beckett was deeply committed to human rights; he firmly and totally opposed apartheid, and from a very early age was hostile to all forms of racism and anti-Semitism; he supported human rights movements throughout the world, including Amnesty International and Oxfam. He lent his prestige to freedom movements behind the iron curtain, worked on behalf of the campaign to free Vaclav Havel and was a vigorous opponent of censorship. Though hardly a saint, he also apparently gave away most of his Nobel Prize money to those who needed it. True to character, Beckett did all of this out of the public eye, with no finger wagging, no pious speeches; for he exemplified, to his roots, in his writing, in his life, the adage "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re"--discreet in form, strong in content. A noble laureate indeed.
-- George Rafael, "The Ignoble Prize" (2006)

"Act Without Words II" (10-minute film sans dialogue)


The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him. He’s not fucking me about,
he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation
or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I
don’t want to buy—he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy
or not—he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy
his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone
unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body
of beauty. His work is beautiful.
-- 2005 Nobel laureate Harold Pinter

Endnote: I've read a few Beckett stories in my time, but for my money, they don't have the same kick. My favorite Beckett play: Krapp's Last Tape. Runner-up: Rough for Theatre II.
Pinter quote from Samuel Beckett Resources and Links. While I'm at it, I love Pinter, too. He gives a fine performance in David Mamet's "Beckett on Film" adaptation of Catastrophe, although the true star of that show is Sir John Gielgud in his final performance--and he doesn't even say a word. Talk about a masterful minimalist! Image from Beckett Centenary Festival, video from YouTube.

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