Beckett's Art of Mismaking

Beckett's Art of Mismaking

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0674504852

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Readers have long responded to Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays with wonder or bafflement. They portray blind, lame, maimed creatures cracking whips and wielding can openers who are funny when they should be chilling, cruel when they should be tender, warm when most wounded. His works seem less to conclude than to stop dead. And so readers quite naturally ask: what might all this be meant to mean?

In a lively and enlivening study of a singular creative nature, Leland de la Durantaye helps us better understand Beckett’s strangeness and the notorious difficulties it presents. He argues that Beckett’s lifelong campaign was to mismake on purpose―not to denigrate himself, or his audience, nor even to reconnect with the child or the savage within, but because he believed that such mismaking is in the interest of art and will shape its future. Whether called “creative willed mismaking,” “logoclasm,” or “word-storming in the name of beauty,” Beckett meant by these terms an art that attacks language and reason, unity and continuity, art and life, with wit and venom.

Beckett’s Art of Mismaking explains Beckett’s views on language, the relation between work and world, and the interactions between stage and page, as well as the motives guiding his sixty-year-long career―his strange decision to adopt French as his literary language, swerve from the complex novels to the minimalist plays, determination to “fail better,” and principled refusal to follow any easy path to originality.

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young Beckett such fi ne company. Beckett called Schopenhauer’s “an intellectual justification of unhappiness” because, for Schopenhauer, life is not accidentally painful, it is essentially painful, and it is even knowable as such. Schopenhauer describes this pain with all the sensitivity and subtlety of a poet, but he also traces it as would a philosopher: to a source. The source of suffering is the source of life, and to this thing he gives the slightly confusing name will. We suffer because we

Armory show where Duchamp had attracted so much interest with his Nude Descending a Staircase. It was announced that every artist was welcome to exhibit at the Independents show so long as the entrance fee ($6) was paid. Two days before the scheduled opening, R. Mutt’s urinal was quietly delivered to the Grand Central Palace with the required membership fee and a title: Fountain. Put to this extreme test, the Independents’ board of directors refused it. The ground given was that it was, in the

words of the president of the board, “by no definition, a work of art.” This was, of course, only the beginning. R. Mutt’s real identity was discovered. A gallerist took up its cause, and Duchamp’s Fountain assumed its sphinx-like position in debates on art, posing the riddle of 6 • B e c k e t t ’ s a rt o f m i s m a k i n g what defines the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (the answer is the same as for Sophocles: “man”). At the time of his death in 1968 Duchamp’s urinal was

matter” (LSB 2.617). There is no mention of whether this should be so because that is how the play works best, or because that is how the world most is. Of the same play Beckett wrote to a friend that while he was glad she had seen it in England, “the French production was more like what I wanted, nastier” (LSB 2.611). Democritus (for whom naught was more real than nothing) traveled widely, lived to a great age, went mis- or unrecognized by celebrated contemporaries such as Socrates, and had his

works as the anatomy of his melancholy then we see something compelling, but only narrowly—and focus on the life rather than the art. • • • A word on languages: the reader will find more foreign words and phrases in the following than ease of reading would counsel. Not only did Beckett read widely in four living languages (English, French, German, and Italian) and one dead one (Latin), he did more than half his writing in French, and the majority of the works that made his fame were first

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