Pop Beckett: Intersections with Popular Culture 9783838271934

When Samuel Beckett’s work first appeared, it was routinely described, by Adorno amongst others, as a clear example of E

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Dr Sam Slote, Trinity College Dublin

“Including work from established scholars and some of the most exciting emerging voices in the field, Pop Beckett explores the engagement with and echoes of Beckett’s work across a dazzling array of genres and contexts. This book makes a vital contribution towards understanding the continuing and sometimes unpredictable relevance of Beckett for our times.” Laura Salisbury, Exeter University

ISBN: 978-3-8382-1193-0


Pop Beckett

When Samuel Beckett’s work first appeared, it was routinely described, by Adorno amongst others, as a clear example of European high culture. However, this judgement ignored an aspect of Beckett’s work and its reception that is, arguably, not yet fully understood; the intimate relation between his work and popular culture. Beckett used popular cultural forms; but popular culture has also found a place both for the work and for the man. This collection of essays examines how popular cultural forms and media are woven into the fabric of Beckett’s works, and how Beckett continues to have far-reaching impact on popular culture today in a host of different forms, in film and on television, from comics to meme culture, tourism to marketing.

Stewart, Pattie (eds.)

“Samuel Beckett—the ‘moody man of letters’—can be found in the most unexpected places, from the Muppets to Game of Thrones. The essays in this superb volume patiently explore new tributaries of Beckett’s reception and examine his status as a pop, ‘mod’ icon. In so doing, they reveal new perspectives for understanding both Beckett’s works and his legacies, showing both how he engages with popular culture as well as how popular culture engages with Beckett.”

Pop Beckett

Intersections with Popular Culture Paul Stewart, David Pattie (eds.) SAMUEL BECKETT IN

COMPANY, vol. 6


Paul Stewart & David Pattie (eds.)

Pop Beckett

Intersections with Popular Culture

SAMUEL BECKETT IN COMPANY Edited by Paul Stewart 1

ISSN 2365-3809

Llewellyn Brown Beckett, Lacan and the Voice With a foreword by Jean-Michel Rabaté ISBN 978-3-8382-0869-5 (Paperback edition) ISBN 978-3-8382-0889-3 (Hardcover edition)


Robert Reginio, David Houston Jones, and Katherine Weiss (eds.) Samuel Beckett and Contemporary Art ISBN 978-3-8382-1079-7


Charlotta P. Einarsson A Theatre of Affect The Corporeal Turn in Samuel Beckett’s Drama ISBN 978-3-8382-1118-3


Rhys Tranter Beckett’s Late Stage Trauma, Language, and Subjectivity ISBN 978-3-8382-1135-0


Llewellyn Brown Beckett, Lacan and the Gaze ISBN 978-3-8382-1239-5


Paul Stewart & David Pattie (eds.) Pop Beckett Intersections with Popular Culture ISBN 978-3-8382-1193-0

Paul Stewart & David Pattie (eds.)


Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet über http://dnb.d-nb.de abrufbar. Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de. Cover picture: Paint-a-Box Street Art by Cathal Craughwell. © William Murphy, 2018. Source: Flickr.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (s. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

ISBN-13: 978-3-8382-7193-4 © ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 2019 Alle Rechte vorbehalten Das Werk einschließlich aller seiner Teile ist urheberrechtlich geschützt. Jede Verwertung außerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung des Verlages unzulässig und strafbar. Dies gilt insbesondere für Vervielfältigungen, Übersetzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und elektronische Speicherformen sowie die Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

Table of Contents List of Illustrations ..................................................................... 7 Paul Stewart and David Pattie Introduction ............................................................................... 9 John Pilling Sad Rags in Fancy Dress: Early Beckettian Burlesques .......... 27 Pim Verhulst Beckett and the Mass Medium of Radio: Bridging ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Culture in All That Fall ........................................... 45 Jonathan Bignell “Do You Really Enjoy the Modern Play?”: Beckett on Commercial Television ............................................................ 63 Stephen Dilks Going Underground: Publicity Campaigns on Beckett’s Behalf, 1955-1969 ...................................................................... 85 James Baxter Beckett’s ‘heavy news’: Considerations of the American Counterculture and Evergreen Review ...................................113 Paul Stewart Staining the Gutter: Beckett in Art Spiegelman’s Maus ........ 135 Ken Alba Beckett and Memes: Online Aftertexts .................................. 157 Mark Schreiber “Play it again, Sam!” Samuel Beckett, Popular Video Art and Video Games ................................................................... 183 Anna Douglass The Aesthetics of Failure in Beckett and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy ................................................................ 207


Hannah Simpson Waiting for GOdoT: Samuel Beckett and HBO’s Game of Thrones .................................................................................. 227 Selvin Yaltır Sociability in Beckett and the Coen Brothers: Idle Talk, ‘Pseudocouples’ and more ..................................................... 247 David Pattie God is in the House: Beckett and Cave ................................. 267 Paul Stewart

A Country Road, A Tree: An Interview with Jo Baker ........... 289

Contributors ........................................................................... 305


List of Illustrations Ken Alba Beckett and Memes: Online Aftertexts Figure 1—A typical example of a quote-mill reproduction of a Beckett quotation, from azquotes.com ..................................... 165 Figure 2—A quotation by Anne Rice attributed to Kafka, from azquotes.com ........................................................................ 167 Figure 3—Two Russian Blues as Vladimir and Estragon, from bekittns.tunblr.com .............................................................. 168 Figure 4—Trump and Putin as Vladimir and Estragon, from @SamuelBeckettPage .......................................................... 170 Figure 5—Three examples of Ranjit Bhatnagar’s twitterbot @f_lb_tt_r............................................................................. 173 Figure 6—The user icon for @f_lb_tt_r: off-centre Beckett with glitch effect ............................................................................ 175 Figure 7—A page from How It Is in Common Tongues. Note how the attributions take up almost as much space as the text itself. ....................................................................................... 179 Mark Schreiber “Play it again, Sam!” Samuel Beckett, Popular Video Art and Video Games Figure 1—Screenshot from “The Unnamable” (1999, dir. Jenny Triggs, YouTube) ................................................................. 190 Figure 2—Screenshot from “Play Without Words” (2007, Jack Parry, YouTube) .............................................................................. 193 Figure 3—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly) ................................................................................. 195


Figure 4—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly) ................................................................................. 195 Figure 5—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly) ................................................................................. 196 Figure 6—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly) ................................................................................. 197 Figure 7—Screenshot from “Beckett” (launch trailer The Secret Experiment, 2018)................................................................ 201 Figure 8—Screenshot from “Beckett” (launch trailer, The Secret Experiment, 2018)................................................................ 201 Anna Douglass The Aesthetics of Failure in Beckett and Getting Over It with

Bennett Foddy

Figure 1—From the beginning of Getting Over It ........................... 209 Figure 2—The player avatar navigating over the tree ....................... 201


Introduction Paul Stewart and David Pattie The impetus for this volume of essays devoted to Beckett and popular culture arose out of a certain uncanny feeling. As the following articles demonstrate, Beckett appears across a diverse range of popular culture and media in a variety of ways, but the uncanny feeling arose specifically with a quick succession of Beckett presences on different, and widely separate, occasions: Barry McGovern, a leading Beckett actor, playing the ‘dying man’ in a scene in Game of Thrones (which Hannah Simpson explores in her chapter); the presentation of Beckett’s relationship with Andre the Giant in a half-hour Sky Arts comedy, with David Threlfall as Beckett; a Beckett t-shirt bought in the Trinity College Dublin library gift-shop bearing the motto: “Dance First, Think Later. It’s the Natural Order”. No doubt there were numerous other occasions. Indeed, with the increased use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, Beckett (or a kitten quoting Beckett) is almost a daily encounter on-line. The uncanny element here is that which Freud described as moments of “involuntary repetition” (1919, 237), or a concatenation of apparent coincidences that we might normally pass off as mere chance, but, “unless a man is utterly hardened and proof against the lure of superstition he will be tempted to ascribe a secret meaning to this obstinate recurrence…” (1919, 238). Certainly Beckett’s presence in popular culture, and the presence of popular culture in Beckett, is obstinate in its recurrence and the present volume is an attempt to ascribe at least some meaning, or meanings, to this phenomenon. Describing the encounter with Beckett in popular cultural forms as being uncanny necessarily entails a certain ambivalence; we at once feel the strangeness of this encounter, yet there is also a familiarity to it, a certain sense of Beckett belonging to this new home to which he has been brought. However, it might be more accurate 9



to think of Beckett here in the plural. As we shall see, there is little use in trying to pin-down a single, monolithic Beckett within popular culture. Rather, we encounter several iterations, or avatars, of Beckett across a range of different media and in different cultural contexts. As Becketts emerge one can witness a process of doubling and re-doubling, which again has its uncanny counterpart. Adopting and adapting the work of Otto Rank, Freud recognizes the process whereby “doubling, dividing and interchanging the self” operates uncannily in Hoffman, and thereby notes how this doubling was initially a “preservation against extinction” or an “insurance against the destruction of the ego” (235). As Becketts double and multiply, it seems as if he is far from being in danger of extinction. Yet, as Rank argued, that which originally meant the preservation of the ego, with the initial doubling being of the mortal body into the immortal soul, becomes ultimately associated with the opposite: “From having been an assurance of immortality, [the double] becomes the ghastly harbinger of death”, as Freud puts it (235). So, whilst a proliferation of Becketts might seem to ensure his survival in a fragmented and fragmentary digital age, that process of doubling might also entail the death of Beckett as each iteration lessens or simplifies his works and a degree of ubiquity denudes what many might consider to be his uniqueness. However, this volume hopefully guards against, or problematizes, this ‘dumbing down’ paradigm as regards Beckett’s inclusion within popular culture, and indeed the inclusion of popular culture in Beckett. The assumption behind notions of ‘dumbing down’ rests on the binary opposition high and low culture, with the latter always the lesser term. It is this hierarchical opposition that P.J. Murphy rightly detects in S.E. Gontarski’s essay “Viva, Sam Beckett, or Flogging the Avant-Garde”. Writing during the world-wide centenary celebrations, Gontarksi wonders: “Are we in the midst of a global triumph of the avant-garde or simply witnessing its reduction to nostalgia or its assimilation into commerce and so into kitsch?” (2007, 1) Murphy here detects a “form of Adorno-type ‘degradation’ that somehow betrays the integrity (if not the ‘purity’) of Beckett’s aesthetic enter-



prise, that in the cultural logic of our late capitalism there has occurred a collapse of the distinctions between art and commodity” (2016, 12). Yet if one returns to Gontarski’s original essay, a more nuanced, and less binary picture might emerge. As a way to reinforce his contention that the Beckett centenary celebrations might have only amounted to a “series of ‘splendid evenings’ in the culture park” (3), Gontarski cites the following from Roland Barthes’ essay “Whose Theater? Whose Avant-Garde?”: “the bourgeoisie will recuperate [the avant-garde] altogether, ultimately putting on splendid evenings of Beckett and Audiberti (and tomorrow Ionesco, already acclaimed by humanist criticism)” (Barthes 1972, 69). The key-word here is “recuperate”, for Barthes very clearly argues that rather than an oppositional structure at work—with the bourgeoisie on one side and the avant-garde artist on the other—the avant-garde emerges from and will return to bourgeois, popular and commercial culture: the bourgeoisie delegated some of its creators to tasks of formal subversion, though without actually disinheriting them: is it not the bourgeoisie, after all, which dispenses to avant-garde art the parsimonious support of its public, i.e., of its money? The very etymology of the term designates a portion—a somewhat exuberant, somewhat eccentric portion—of the bourgeois army (Barthes 1972, 67-8).

Notions of ‘degradation’ as the avant-garde passes into popular culture are here contested by an economy in which the avant-garde and the bourgeois are deeply intertwined, and always have been. Indeed such oppositions as are assumed to exist between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, or ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ do not bear much scrutiny when one considers the specifics of cultural production. As many of the following chapters attest, it is important to pay due attention to matters of context, whether the contexts from which a text emerges, the dissemination of those texts, or in the subsequent creative uses made of those texts by others. Two of the examples with which this introduction began illustrate these points rather well.



The Beckett t-shirt, with its cartoon rendering of Beckett and its misquotation of Godot, might seem a clear case of Beckett being misrepresented and lessened as his works and legacy are re-formed through commodification. Yet the context of where the t-shirt was on sale rather complicates this picture. It was in the library shop of Trinity College, Dublin—Beckett’s alma mater—and just on the other side of the quad from where a substantial archive of Beckett material is housed. The t-shirt was spotted (and bought) by one of this volume’s editors whilst lecturing at the Samuel Beckett Summer School. This conjunction within the space of a few metres reveals the economy in which ‘popular’ and ‘academic’ Becketts circulate and suggests that, rather than a binary opposition, these two supposed poles exist in a continuum. The library gift shop is undoubtedly a commercial concern but, as its website states, its commercial activities are inextricably linked to the academic work of the university as it “provid[es] much important financial support to the university’s research” (https://www.tcd.ie/commercial/gift-shop/). If one browses the catalogue for the shop—which caters for the casual tourist and those wishing to pay 149 euros for a hand-cut emerald crystal decanter with a Trinity arch motif—the University is itself engaged in a far-reaching branding exercise, as are so many higher education institutions. The largest tourist draw to the library is not, of course, Beckett, but the Book of Kells, and this high-point of Celtic Christian illustrative art can be gift-wrapped and enjoyed as a pair of socks (6 euros) or a Monks vs. Viking chess-set (249 euros). Beckett is merely one of a number of instances in which artistic creation is commoditised in the service of academic funding. The act of buying that t-shirt places one not only as a consumer, but also as a commodity; a position underlined by Sky Arts “Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant”, as part of its Urban Myths series (2017). Much of the charm of the piece already depends upon the supposed clash of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, as the enigmatic author strikes up an unusual friendship with a boy who would become a champion on the WWF (World Wrestling Foundation) circuit, and famed for his role as Fezzik in The Princess Bride (dir. Rob Reiner,



1987). However, the ‘viewer as commodity’ is apparent in Sky’s pitch to possible advertisers: Sky Arts is a fantastic opportunity for brands to advertise on an extremely unique and interesting channel. As Britain’s only channel dedicated to the best arts programming across all genres, 24 hours a day, this really is an amazing opportunity for brands to be alongside captivating and creative content. (skymedia.co.uk)

Sky came to prominence due to its exclusive rights to live English Premier League football, as first negotiated in 1992, and which was used to ensure a taste for subscription television across a wide spectrum of the public. Sky Arts, as can be seen above, promises access to customers who might not be reached by advertising on other, more popular, Sky channels. It is in this commercial context and in the identification of a certain ‘niche’ market that a half hour comedy based on an aspect of Beckett’s life becomes a viable proposition. Of course, these two examples revolve around a concept of Beckett somewhat removed from the works themselves. His image and reputation are grounds enough on which to base a product, be it a television comedy or a t-shirt. This begs the question—addressed in the following chapters in a variety of ways—how the works themselves are imbricated in a vaguer, but possibly more pervasive, concept of the ‘Beckettian’, or indeed of Beckett as a “Postmodern icon”, to use P.J. Murphy’s sub-title of his and Pawliuk’s book Beckett in Popular Culture. It further begs the question as to how the academic community interacts with, or fails to interact with, these popular conceptions. In January 2019, three major Beckett scholars—Steven Connor, Laura Salisbury and Mark Nixon—made up the panel of experts on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, as hosted by Melvyn Bragg, himself a distinguished veteran arts broadcaster, both on radio and television. The basic premise of the programme is to investigate historical moments, philosophies, concepts, or works of art (literature included) with the aid of experts in the field and then to ex-



trapolate their significance into “our time”. Bragg guides the conversation with an eye on what listeners might already know and what they might want to know about the subject at hand. According to the BBC Trust, BBC Radio 4’s “service should appeal to listeners seeking intelligent programmes in many genres which inform, educate and entertain” (BBC 2016). One might quibble that Radio 4 is not precisely popular culture, but it is the second most popular of the BBC’s radio output and, as the remit above suggests, it is meant in part to inform and educate those seeking more challenging content; in effect to ‘popularise’ and disseminate more ‘intelligent’ programming. There is often a tension within the In Our Time format between the knowledge of the experts and the line pursued by the host, Bragg, and the Beckett episode was no exception, albeit treated with unfailing courtesy. A case in point was when Mark Nixon—editor of Beckett’s German Diaries—outlined Beckett’s engagement with the political and social realities of Nazi Germany during his 1937 trip. Bragg was under the impression that Beckett had just “breezed through” Germany, but conceded: “I got a different impression from my notes. I was obviously wrong there”. The notes, one assumes, were adhering to the line whereby Beckett was apolitical, more focused on aesthetic matters, or on a universal human condition rather than on the specifics of the quotidian world; a line which has been challenged very strongly in academia in recent years. Similarly, when asked about Beckett’s legacy, Salisbury offered J.M. Coetzee and Eimear Mcbride as prime examples before Bragg intervened and brought the conversation around to “People that people know well. What about Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter for instance?” Bragg wished to tie Beckett into a world with which his audience would be familiar, or to reinforce assumptions that the audience might have already held. The In Or Time episode as an attempt to popularise Beckett (in however relative a way) makes us very aware that there is no one Beckett as such and that academic conceptions of Beckett might not coincide with more widely held views. (It is beyond the scope of this book, but this raises serious concerns for the teaching of Beckett.)



Yet, on a more positive note, the programme was witness to a desire to bridge the gaps between those concepts, not in a top-down declaration of a monolithic Beckett as endorsed by the academy (not that there is such a consensus anyway), but in the manner of a dialogue in which popular ‘Becketts’ can and should play a role. Beckett and Postwar Popular Culture. Writing to Hilton Edwards at Radio Television Eireann on the 23 rd July 1961, Beckett was rather reticent about the still relatively new technologyI am very unfamiliar with TV and its possibilities and so hesitate to write for this medium. And if I did I’m afraid the result would be unacceptable in Ireland. (Craig, Fehsenfeld, Gunn & Overbeck 2014, p423)

It was not that Beckett entirely dismissed the idea of creating work for a popular medium. He had written for radio twice before (All That Fall in 1956, and Embers in 1959), and at the time the letter was composed he was at work on Words and Music, which was broadcast in 1962). Two unfinished radio texts (Roughs for Radio 1 & 2) were composed at roughly the same time, as was Beckett’s last radio play, Cascando (written in 1962 and broadcast on ORTF in 1963). His lone foray into cinema (Film, 1963) also belongs to this period; and two years after Film, Beckett had become familiar enough with the possibilities of TV to enable him to craft a script that made creative use of the limitations imposed by studio-based production (Eh Joe, 1965). Beckett’s partial accommodation to the technologies of popular culture was itself part of a wider cultural shift in Britain, the US, and Western Europe. After the end of WW2, the economies of the West took several years to recover; when they did, one of the main factors behind that recovery came from increases in average wages, and a concomitant increase in the availability of consumer



goods and services. Spectacular economic growth in the 1950s and 60s was fueled as much by the fact that, for the first time, large numbers of people had enough money to spend on new technologies like television, and enough time to build those technologies into their everyday lives. Older media (radio, print) also benefitted from the new prosperity; those that struggled, like cinema, did so only because they were unable to compete in a cultural market that was crowded with newer, more immediately accessible sources of entertainment. In other words Beckett’s rise to cultural prominence coincided with, and in some ways benefitted from, changing trends in what would now be referred to as the cultural industries. As several contributions to this collection demonstrate, his work could be disseminated through a variety of new channels, and those channels could also play their part in creating an image of the author. Godot’s troubled reception was itself enough to fix an idea of Beckett as an intractably difficult and (in the words of some British theatre goers of the period) decadent example of all that was wrong in the modern world. James Knowlson’s biography notes one of the more memorable responses to the first UK tour of the play (‘This is why we lost the colonies!’) (Knowlson 1996, p415). As Daniel Horowitz (2012) has pointed out, one of the effects of the changing media technologies was to call previous accounts of idea of culture into question. In this new landscape, it was far more difficult to argue that culture was inherently hierarchical, or the expression of the unchanging soul of a nation, or of humanity as a whole. Culture was now a marketplace, and a battlefield on which conflicts around class, ethnicity, political affiliation and sexuality would be fought. In retrospect, the publication of T.S. Eliot’s Notes Toward the Definition of Culture in 1948 marked the point at which a particular view of culture (as the organic expression of a system of shared beliefs) began to reveal itself as untenable. Eliot’s fundamentally conservative view of culture made sense in the immediate aftermath of a conflict that seemed to call the idea of Western civilization into question. It was harder to maintain at a time when the



routes through which culture could be accessed were multiplying, and where cultural outputs themselves seemed to be bound up in the operations of the market. Unsurprisingly, this new cultural world was treated by many 1950s critics as bewildering, homogenized, and fundamentally corrupted by the forces of commercialization. JB Priestley worried that the older, ingrained cultures of countries like England were surrendering to the forces of what Priestley called ‘Admass’- a compound noun, connoting both the overwhelming cultural presence of advertising, and a mass public willing to be seduced by it. Theodor Adorno was similarly worried about the impact of what he termed ‘the culture industry’- an extension of the forces of capitalism into the cultural sphere. For Adorno, mass cultural forms were inherently bound up in the operations of the market; in place of the complex challenges that art could offer, mass cultural forms offered something standardized, easily assimilable, and designed to satisfy the most basic wants and desires. An artist like Beckett was valuable because his work implicitly resisted the simplicities of mass art; Beckett was both the latest link in the chain of Western high culture, and the only artist who recognized that, in the wake of WW2, Western high culture was itself untenable. As noted above, Beckett himself began to create work for radio, film and television from the mid-1950s onward; at the same time, the cultural status of new technologies, and the popular cultural forms associated with them, began to change. Richard Hoggart, writing in 1957, might have inveighed against contemporary youth’s preference for American music and film over the culture of their communities, but elsewhere (in the French film journal Cahiers de Cinema, for example) exactly the same cultural artefacts were discussed as works of high art that used the tropes and conventions of a popular form. Such revisionism was not confined to critical writing about culture; the development of popular music in the 1960s can be thought of as an exercise in practical revisionism- genres and artists whose work could be classed either as more consciously artistic, or as closer to the lived reality of their audience, came to be treated with



the same veneration as the icons of Western high culture. By the end of the 1960s, the idea that popular culture could itself be a marker of value (albeit in a system that was constrained by capitalism), while not completely accepted, was at least beginning to gain credence. As it did, the idea of a monolithic mass culture, imposed from above on the unsuspecting public, began to change. Raymond Williams reframed culture as the material expression of social and political forces; Stuart Hall’s work suggested that popular cultural texts weren’t blindly accepted by their audience, but that they were the site of cultural struggle- and, as such (for a Marxist like Hall) at least potentially open to transformative or utopian interpretation. In other words, both in theory and in practice, the idea of popular culture was changing, even as Beckett took his first tentative steps toward popular cultural media. A hierarchical idea of the separation of artistically nourishing high culture, as opposed to the always already debased culture fed to the masses through print, television, film, music and radio, was gradually being replaced by the idea of culture as the ground on which the relative value of differing experiences of the world was fought out. This change was already well under way before the advent of postmodern critiques of contemporary culture in the 1970s and 80s; it also slightly predated the development of critiques drawn from the experiences of communities in subaltern positions (whether allied to the rise of feminist and gender theory, queer theory, colonial and postcolonial studies, and so on). All of these critiques have found their place in Beckett studies; but it is worth bearing in mind that the complex, shifting discourses these studies described were also discourses that affected our perception of the relative value of all cultural artefacts. In this complex world, the image of Beckett was subject to processes of interpretation that, it could be argued, were unique to the time in which he lived. We have moved from the idea of culture as hierarchy to the idea of culture as an interweaving network of practices and interpretations. Images and texts drawn from what Adorno would see as the most recondite (and therefore intrinsically valuable) high cultural texts are now transmissible through the chan-



nels that new media technologies have opened up; the ubiquity of the internet has served only to speed up a process that had already begun when Beckett was first finding a measure of fame. Beckett, therefore, occupies a rather paradoxical position in relation to popular culture; on the one hand, his work clearly derives from the traditions of the Western canon, in both prose and drama, but on the other he has become iconic (as the opening section of this introduction demonstrates) at a time when there are more channels available through which iconic images could reach a wider audience. He is an exemplar of the Western avant-garde and an endlessly recyclable popular culture trope, at a time when popular culture itself no longer carries the same connotations as it did at the end of the Second World War. The essays in this collection deal, in various ways, with the implications of this transformation; Beckett himself as marketable commodity, Beckett’s influence on the work of popular cultural writers and performers, Beckett’s presence in popular TV programmes and in memes, and Beckett as a presence in the complex cultural landscape that we inhabit. Taken together, they chart a transformation in the cultural positioning of an artist like Beckett. In the 1950s his work could be treated as the last word in wilful modernist obscurity, and as such, as the antithesis of commercialised mass culture. By 2015, the tennis player Stan Wawrinka had a Beckett quote (the ubiquitous extract from Worstward Ho- ‘Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ (Beckett 2009, 81)) tattooed on his arm. In the sixty-odd years between the 1950s and 2015, not only had Beckett’s cultural importance grown, but the routes through which his work could embed itself in culture had changed fundamentally. The essays in this collection, taken together, chart the development of those routes of cultural transmission.



Intersections with Popular Culture The present volume is arranged in broadly chronological order, moving from the use of popular culture in the works and their dissemination, to popular cultural appropriations and adaptations. It is part of the argument of this book that Beckett’s work has always been imbricated within popular culture. Indeed, to take just the example of cinema, the Cinematograph Volta—Dublin’s first cinema and one in which Joyce was among the prime movers— opened in December 1909; just three years after Beckett’s birth. At the other extreme, Atari’s first gaming console, the 2600 or VCS, was released in 1977; a full twelve years before Beckett’s death. Between those dates, popular media forms—be they magazine, television, radio, pop-songs of a bewildering variety, or more latterly the Internet— grew with remarkable speed and became the staple cultural forms for the majority, despite local and regional differences. All this, of course, is happening in parallel to, and intersecting with, Beckett’s own career. So, whilst it might be tempting to consider the use of Beckett in popular culture as a posthumous business of appropriation, the dates, and many of the following chapters, suggest rather more of a synergy. In “Sad Rags in Fancy Dress”, John Pilling traces the plethora of popular cultural references in Beckett’s earliest works. Although Pilling seems to offer almost an exhaustive catalogue of popular song in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, the point is rather that the surface has barely been scratched. Noting that pop music forms were in many respects designed as ephemera—here today and gone the next—Pilling argues that Beckett was drawn to “such eminently forgettable things [that are] never quite forgotten”. His chapter also enjoins readers to reconfigure the cultural context in which Beckett operated, allowing us to see Beckett in a world of Gilbert and Sullivan, Al Jolson, The Marx Brothers, and Marlene Dietrich falling in love yet again. In their two contributions, Pim Verhulst and Jonathan Bignell place Beckett in the business of the dissemination of his work



via the popular media of radio and television respectively. Equally importantly, both chapters address the cultural value attached to certain broadcasters and how they sought to gain further cultural capital from an association with Beckett. In return, Beckett might hope to gain a much broader audience for his work beyond the limited scope of theatrical performance. Verhulst focuses on the first BBC production of All The Fall, as aired on the Third Programme in 1957. He notes that the text itself mixes ‘low’ and ‘high’ cultural references (on the one hand Dante; on the other a ‘saucy’ sea-side postcard style of humour) and that the BBC had hoped that the play would be a ‘cross-over’ success and would find favour beyond the ‘elite’ of the Third’s audience. The failure of the play to do this allows Verhulst to consider whether Beckett’s first foray into mass media was actually as much a success as has often been thought and whether he did indeed manage “to strike a perfect balance between popular and minority culture”. Taking a “historiographic and contextual approach to the appearance of Godot on Sunday daytime commercial television”, Bignell opens up a rarely considered context for Beckett: ITV, the UK independent, commercial broadcasting network whose very existence depended on the advertising of mainly “mass-market commodities such as household cleaning products, petrol, cigarettes, toothpaste or confectionary”. Bignell draws on a variety of sources to recreate the milieu into which Beckett was placed, including church services and DIY programmes with which he shared the schedules. By so doing, it is possible to see “Beckett’s drama in the context of a time of dynamic and exciting instability in British culture, when the categories of the popular and the elite were being contested”. With the respective chapters of Dilks and Baxter, the cultural context shifts, as both contributors examine how Beckett was positioned in relation to the ‘underground’ or counter-cultural movements within the U.K. and U.S.. Dilks details how Beckett’s publishers—with Calder following the lead of Rosset—garnered Beckett’s supposedly reclusive image to their advantage by an active



approach, thus “increasing publicity and expanding sales by using newspapers, magazines, public lectures, dramatic readings, and highprofile exhibitions and forums”. The absence of Beckett in person nevertheless saw him become a cultural icon, especially through the work of collaborators such as Jack MacGowran, whose series of oneman shows (often billed as “evenings with Beckett”) and subsequent audio and visual recordings were immensely successful. Finally, Dilks argues that the efforts of Francis Warner to (unsuccessfully) build an underground Beckett theatre beneath the quad of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, saw Beckett being embraced at the highest levels of British academic and artistic life. At the same time he also “occupied a comfortable space alongside Beat generation writers, pornographers, selfproclaimed junkies, and others associated with backstreet subculture” as promoted by Rosset’s Evergreen Review. James Baxter’s chapter offers a more in-depth analysis of the Evergreen Review and its promotion of Beckett in the U.S. This Rossetled magazine, Baxter argues, “provides an unparalleled insight into the countercultural terrain in which Beckett was uneasily situated”. Rather as Bignell does for Beckett on ITV, Baxter places Beckett alongside other, perhaps more surprising, cultural products as he meticulously details and analyses the content of those magazine editions in which Beckett appeared or was advertised. Thus, Beckett is not only juxtaposed with Beats such as Kerouac and Ginsberg, but also the comic strips Barberella and Phoebe Zeit-Geist, and an article on the cultural impact of James Dean. Yet, as Baxter argues, Beckett’s position within this counter-cultural space was not always unambiguous, especially as the supposedly high-minded wish to defend art from censorship that initially motivated the magazine changed over time into a desire to titillate the audience with forms that were considered by some as pseudo-pornographic, and certainly questionable in terms of gender representation. Beckett within the realms of magazines and comics, and especially within the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, is the focus of Paul Stewart’s chapter. After assessing the shifting cultural value of the graphic novel in general, Stewart examines Beckett’s



overt presence in Maus and argues for a similarity in aesthetic and ethical concerns between the two authors, alongside an Adornoinspired reading of popular culture itself. However, as Spiegelman’s only direct quotation from Beckett is the highly memorable, yet highly contentious dictum “Every word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness”, Stewart traces the evolution of this dubious quotation as it arose from an ‘interview’ with John Gruen in 1964 which was then revised in a Vogue Magazine article of 1970, thus suggesting a ‘Beckett’ not of the works themselves, but one arising from popular cultural conceptions The dissemination of such dubious Beckett attributions has been accelerated by the Internet, as Ken Alba’s examination of Beckett and meme culture makes clear. Alba trawls the Net to focus on new contextualisations of Beckett in text and picture based memes as well as twitter-bot generated pastiches of Beckett works. These new contexts, or after-texts, destabilise a single authorial identity in ways that are reminiscent of the fragmentations within Beckett’s actual texts, Alba argues. Whilst this might be regretted by some, Alba contends that Beckett’s diverse Internet presence allows us to re-imagine Beckett’s actual texts as themselves being a “network … with each text linked by the memes, the motifs, the language moves, that unify them”. Mark Schreiber extends the volume’s assessment of Beckett in digital media with an analysis of audio-visual, YouTube and video game adaptations of, and reactions to, his works. Rather than seeing these adaptations as somehow anomalous appropriations of Beckett, Schreiber argues that such adaptations attest to “the extreme potency of Beckett’s writing for multi-media, multi-genre, multi-dimensional re-imaginations and re-workings”. He traces an aesthetic trajectory from Beckett’s earliest concerns with the possibilities and difficulties of linguistic expression, through his painterly concern for image and work in early video forms, to suggest that this aesthetic is perfectly suited to the strengths of modern digital media. Anna Douglass deepens our understanding of Beckett in the digital age by exclusively considering the video game. By focusing on



the “aesthetics of failure” in Beckett and the game Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, Douglass argues that failure is a fundamental basis of the video game experience. However, in the majority of games, failure is provisional (one can get past the level on which one is stuck as long as one practices or acquires the right tools), whereas Foddy deliberately incorporates absolute failure into Getting Over It, whereby all the progress that has been made can be utterly lost. Although Beckett and Foddy work in different media, and decades apart, both artists see failure “not as merely an outcome to be avoided, but as an inevitability and an experience worth enduring”. Douglass highlights the experiential quality of Beckett and Foddy for the audience and gamers respectively; an experience that gives rise to frustration shading towards loathing, but also to a strange form of compulsion. New media contexts for Beckett, and the often negative reaction to such appropriations, forms the basis of Hannah Simpson’s detailed analysis of the appearance of Barry McGovern in an episode of Game of Thrones; an episode that bears the unmistakable traces of Beckett’s oeuvre. Crucially, Simpson goes on to argue that a purely post-modern collapsing of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture needs to be supplemented by Henry Jenkins’s “theorising of fandom and fan-writing as an alternative model that likewise interrogates the dynamics of authorial mastery and forms of cultural engagement in a more medium-specific context”. The Beckett academic, or “industry authority” as Simpson coins them, should be included within such a category of the fan-writer, hence leading to an awareness of the privileged position such Beckett scholars enjoy and a “more clear-sighted perspective on their own impact on the interaction between Beckett and popular culture”. The similarity of “affectless conversations” coupled with transgressive violence in Beckett’s novels and the films of Coen Brothers is the basis for Selvin Yaltır’s chapter. Drawing on Blanchot’s concept of the “everyday”, Yaltır draws compelling parallels between the Coens and Beckett in how the repetition of apparently banal conversations focusing on the most mundane of aspects creates an aura of “mystification”, or a sense of significance that is



never properly articulated. Intertwined with such mundane banter, violence erupts as a possible form of revelation. Yaltır’s method, which is finely tuned to the cadences and affect of speech, itself becomes an attempt to properly articulate the significance of what is often perceived to be a ‘Beckettian ring’ to the Coens’ dialogue. By extension, the chapter offers one method through which other illdefined but instinctively felt Beckett influences on contemporary works might be approached. David Pattie assess the intersections between Beckett and popular music, via the oeuvre of Nick Cave. Although the differences in the media adopted by Beckett and Cave couldn’t be more divergent, Pattie argues that both artists’ work “is heavily inflected by the performative rhetoric of faith”, without necessarily any truth value attached to the religious itself. Using Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and a notion of “haunted longing” derived from it, Pattie outlines a shared aesthetic between Cave and Beckett; an aesthetic marked by the impossibility of transcendence coupled with the constant need to attempt some form of the transcendental. Forming an end-piece to the volume, Jo Baker, the author of A Country Road, A Tree—a novel based on Beckett’s war-time experiences—discusses her own experiences of ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural value within the business of publishing and how Beckett might be viewed in such a context. As interviewed by Paul Stewart, Baker engages with the literary and popular heritage of Beckett, how the institutions of Beckett scholarship and cultural value associated with him were negotiated, and how her ‘appropriation’ of such an iconic figure was reacted to, for better or worse.

References Barthes, Roland. 1972. “Whose Theater? Whose Avant-Garde?” Critical Essays, translated by Richard Howard. 97-70. Evanston: Northwestern UP.



BBC. 2016. “Radio 4 Service Licence” http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/regulatory _framework/service_licences/radio/2016/radio4_apr16.pdf. Accessed 10 March 2019. Beckett, Samuel. 2009 Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/ Worstward Ho/ Stirrings Still London: Faber. Craig, George; Fehsenfeld, Martha; Gunn, Dan; Overbeck, Lois 2014. The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol III: 1957-1965 Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Freud, Sigmund. 1919. “The ‘Uncanny’”. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XVII (1917-1919): On Infantile Neurosis and Other Works. Translated by James Strachey and Anna Freud. 217-256. London: Hogarth Press. Gontarski, S.E. 2007. “Introduction; Viva Sam Beckett, or Flogging the Avant Garde.” The Journal of Beckett Studies 16, nos. 1 & 2: 1-12. Horowitz, Daniel 2012. Consuming Consuming Pleasures: Intellectuals and Popular Culture in the Postwar World. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P. In Our Time. 17 January 2019. “Samuel Beckett”. Produced by Simon Tillotson. BBC Radio 4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00021q7 Knowlson, James 1996 Damned To Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury. Murphy, P.J. and Nick Pawliuk. 2016. Beckett in Popular Culture: Essays on a Postmodern Icon. Jefferson N.C.: Mcfarland. The Princess Bride. 1987. Directed by Rob Reiner. Twentieth Century Fox. Sky Arts. https://www.skymedia.co.uk/channels/sky-arts/. Accessed 15 May 19. Trinity College, Dublin. Gift Shop. www.tcd.ie/commercial/gift-shop. Accessed 23 April 2019. Urban Myths. 26 January 2017. “Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant” (Series 1 Episode 2), directed by Ben Palmer. Sky Arts

Sad Rags in Fancy Dress: Early Beckettian Burlesques John Pilling Never wholly free from aspersions that his real forte was backing into the limelight, Beckett liked to insist—as in a letter to Alan Schneider—that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ were much of a muchness so far as he himself was concerned (Beckett 2011, 594). Unable successfully to avoid the fact that he, too, was box office in the quid pro quo way his writings were— ‘getting known’ having become more of a fact than the irony enshrined on Krapp’s tapes—Beckett seems to have increasingly consoled himself with the thought that at least he would not always have to be around to deal with the demands which fame seemed determined to confer on him. He could largely adopt the high-minded view that reputations were made and unmade by nothing more discriminating than ‘market forces’ and merely momentary imperatives. “I am exhorted”, he had reflected ruefully in Proust, “not merely to try the aperient of the Shepherd, but to try it at seven o’clock” (Beckett 1965, 17). How very trying he found this kind of thing is even present where we might least expect to find it, for example in the travestied advertising slogan “smoke more fruit”, line 18 in the 1931 poem “Enueg II” (Beckett 2012, 9). Advertising is not my theme here, but Beckett was never wholly immune to advertisements for himself, or at least for his ability to make much of little, and almost always more than the little seemed capable of contributing to some ‘higher’ purpose. A number of cases in point involve what Beckett tried to make out of the popular music of his time, the kind of thing you might find yourself humming in an idle moment, or whistling to keep your spirits up whilst waiting for a bus or a train (or someone called Godot) seemingly determined not to arrive. Disposable culture, before the idea that what could be disposed of was just another cultural manifestation. Stuff which, precisely because of its once having been fashionable, runs the very real 27



risk of being one day utterly forgotten. Music ‘for a while’, as it were, music which never supposed, or was never produced with the idea that, its posterity would last. Something to pass the time which, as Beckett’s people know only too well, would have passed anyway. Where I look for it—prior to broadening the focus to include the novel which Beckett had hoped might be a hit, but which failed to sell enough copies to avoid being remaindered (Murphy, and not once but twice)—is where Beckett began, or very close to his creative point of origin: the ultimately jettisoned novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women (hereafter Dream), written in 1931-1932. All the examples cited reflect Beckett’s fascination with metamorphosis, especially in his pre-war, predominantly ‘English’, career. (For a surprisingly Beckettian contemporary response to what Arsene in Watt calls “the reversed metamorphosis. The Laurel into Daphne. The old thing where it always was, back again” [Beckett 2009c, 36; my emphasis], see Lemire 2019 and the annotated entry in the References below.) “Is there”—Beckett (or “Mr Beckett”) asks himself about halfway through Dream—“as much as the licked shadow of a note there that can be relied on for two minutes? Is there? There may be” (1992, 115). The “note” here, or rather “there”, is pitched typically in the form of a question not obviously answerable by anyone other than the questioner, and becomes in any case a note prolonged (or sustained) for a second or two more than might be expected. This perhaps lends a modicum of credence to the notion that indeed “There may be” more to this than meets the eye, or meets the ear, given that there is no obvious way of determining whether this makes it a kind of metaphorical footnote, or whether it is meant to be ‘heard’, more like a “note” played on an instrument than a “note” of the kind which might end up in a notebook. The double dealing here typifies how Dream is always keeping its options open, so much so that as a totality its component parts threaten to split asunder, reducing it to fragments: an outcome which may only be a ‘Question of degree’ (as ‘B’ would say to ‘D’, Disjecta, 138), but which comes to seem equally a ‘Question of kind’ in the longer run. Another way of saying this is to register that instrumentality of any utilitarian kind is



absolutely absent from Dream: a text trying hard to be as “ramshackle” as possible (Beckett 1992, 139). In musical terms, just about everything in the novel is a false note, and of course Beckett was writing within earshot of studying Twelfth Night during his first two years as an undergraduate (in French and Italian) at Trinity College Dublin. Like Orsino at the outset of that play, Beckett could not resist the ‘charm’ of succumbing to fatigue before he had really got going, such that any harmony which might eventuate could be disavowed as “surfeit”, sickening the appetite in so doing. There are numerous instances of musical reference scattered here and there in Dream, as for example the spectral survival of an old song from Napoleonic times (apparently first published in Dublin in 1791), “The girl I left behind me”: a catchy ditty, once heard hard to forget, but sufficiently trivial in the Beckettian scheme of things for him to turn it inside out, so to speak. Here, leaving the original behind, it is the girl who is leaving: the Smeraldina, on a boat from Dun Laogháire’s Carlyle Pier (5), with Belacqua the boy (for once, as it were, not the “principal boy” [38]) left behind. Later in the novel this same song—Dream being rather dream-like in its “never one without two” scenarios (11; 203; etc.)—gets back to where it ‘should’ be and rights itself. But later, with Belacqua returning to Paris from near Vienna, Beckett speaks of “the girls he left behind him” as if intending to suggest that the Smeraldina would have been hard put to tolerate quite so many of them, most of them no doubt wholly imaginary conquests of little or no substance. The Smeraldina, it should be said, has typically arrogated to herself a freedom which she would hardly be keen to extend to Belacqua, having halfencouraged other suitors in his absence, and having chosen to turn a blind eye to her father’s frequent recourse to the brothels in Kassel, often with her intended in tow. Girls, we are almost obliged to infer, have to leave girlhood behind, and will themselves have to be left behind, whether they be “fair” or “middling”, and especially if they aren’t the sort of girl you can take home to mother with any confidence, although the Smeraldina seems to have passed that test without undue effort. In any event it is “always a question here below”



(123; 185-186), although we are not told this in so many words, of moving on, from one place to another, and from one relationship to another. Beckett was from the outset fond of old, and often somewhat frowsy, touchstones to which he could give, if not so much a new lease of life, then a different kind of liveliness, one more closely keyed in, perhaps, to the harsher realities of life as it had to be lived, rather than life as it might be more pleasant to live it. The field of popular song was almost limitless in this connection, orientated as it tended almost exclusively to be towards love, love and more love— ‘love love love’ as thuddingly prominent in the 1936 poem “Cascando”: love endlessly speaking its name without ever really articulating what mattered most, or simply subsiding into one of those things that had seemed to matter for a time, only to fade into the background. This is one reason why the love letter from Jem Higgins to the Alba reads, and indeed re-reads, better than the letter sent by the Smeraldina from Kassel to Dublin, even though Beckett decided that the latter would still be recyclable, or could earn a kind of repeat fee, as “The Smeraldina’s Billet Doux” in the short story collection of 1934, More Pricks Than Kicks (Beckett, 2010). Jem Higgins is a Jack the Lad of the rough-hewn sporty type, no doubt at his happiest in the scrum for Bective Rangers—his position is ‘hooker’ (“I lead the forwards you know”, 154)—but smitten with the infinitely more sophisticated Alba, a blue-stocking with the beginnings of a drink problem. Jem is the first to admit that he has few expressive skills—he is much less of a ‘gem’ than she is— and is therefore more than ready to resort to the tired old platitudes of popular songs in his attempt to make some kind of impression on a suit he half-knows is a hope forlorn. Some of these platitudes (“Body and Soul”, for one) are not all that old (1930 for the Green and Heyman hit which is still a classic of jazz today), with Irving Berlin’s “I’ll be loving you always” of 1926 obviously also having had many a spin on the Jem Higgins gramophone, as if ‘always’ really meant always, despite the very nearly unavoidable implication that it almost never does. Where Jem might have picked up yet more ro-



mantic lumber—“never again to part” and “never knew what love could be…”—perhaps matters less than our registering that “never” (like “always”) is an absurdly absolute claim of total commitment in an interpersonal area inevitably fraught with difficulty and frequently involving more effort than turns out to have been justified. What Jem principally has in mind—which he would no doubt sooner conceal, but which his taste in music dooms him to disclose—comes by way of another song title: “if I had my way” (152). The song had words by Lou Klein and music by James Kendis; it was first recorded in 1913, but had been re-recorded in 1931, in good time for Dream, by the extremely popular Mills Brothers. Popular music, historically at least, was never exactly backwards in coming forwards, but has understandably always been careful to finesse its real-life impulses into more easily accepted clichés specially crafted to avoid the imputation that they might deprave or corrupt. The strategy here is part of a thoroughgoing ‘revaluation’ of words no longer meaning what their wordsmith intended them to mean. The whole point of Beckett invoking, for example, “Just a song at twilight” (202; another doublet of a kind, since it is also known as “Love’s old sweet song”) is to imply that this is a song no longer so very sweet and not quite as it might have seemed to be “of old”. This is, aptly enough given one of its titles, a much older song (1884; music by James Lynam Molloy, lyric by G Clifton Bingham) than any of the hits remembered or half-remembered by Jem Higgins. And so is the ditty whistled by the consumptive postman, “Roses are blooming in Picardy” (Haydn Wood and Fred Weatherly, 1916), a surprisingly positive and bizarrely inappropriate survival from the mud and slaughter of Flanders, So, too, “Dick Deadeye”— every element in which would have appealed to Beckett—whistled up from Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1878 operetta H M S Pinafore. (I return to ‘G and S’ later.) This group of examples suggests that all that really mattered to Beckett was that there should be somebody out there—at least one member of the general public—who would pick up the allusion, which was bound to be the case if the material was popular enough or current enough. It was a strategy which could



only go wrong, or could only have gone wrong, if the novel failed to strut its stuff in its fanciest dress. In the event, one of many ironies which this most ironic of novels could not anticipate, Dream was never going to get the opportunity to test out the general public’s capacity to hum along with it: no publisher was to take it on. This Beckett could not know in advance, but there was little enough danger of going far astray, he must have thought, in twice linking the character he had christened ‘the Alba’ with a song written by Buddy de Sylva and made famous by Al Jolson in a 1920 rendition which made Jolson its co-writer: “Avalon”. This, we are told in Dream, is “a sad rag and old” (54), a more complex description than its rather brutal monosyllabic simplicity may suggest. For although the idea of Avalon, or the Isle of Avalon, inscribes itself in the folk memory as foundational in the medieval myths of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and from that point of view is not only ‘old’ but also not likely to be easily forgotten, the melody of the song is probably what had most stuck in Beckett’s mind, and perhaps in the public mind also, since there had been a celebrated legal action (resolved ultimately by an out of court settlement) brought because of its resemblance to a famous Tosca aria by Puccini, “E lucevan le stelle”: the stars that the imprisoned Cavaradossi sees still shining, inspiring hope but in ironic counterpoint to the singer’s desperate situation. “Avalon” was a crossover before such things were even called crossovers, and it was more than likely the slight whiff of fraud attaching to this hybrid—a form to which Beckett was always instinctively drawn (think of hinnies in All That Fall)—which gave it an extra attraction. “Avalon” was even more useful for Beckett’s purposes if there was still anyone out there who could recollect its melancholy lyric; it was indeed “a sad rag” in the drift of its narrative, and with a refrain, rather more governed perhaps by the requirement to rhyme than by any ‘real’ emotional impulse, bolstered by the added ‘spin’ that the lyric is proposing to do something that poor Cavaradossi cannot do, much as he would like to: “I think I’ll travel on”. The further catch in this connection was not just the rhyme, no better and no worse than such things typically are, but the way it was



served up by way of bright major chords opposed in an unexpectedly contrapuntal spirit to the tragic minor base purloined (or at least on semi-permanent loan) from Puccini. Of the popular, or once popular, songs which Dream chooses to re-animate, probably none is now more familiar than “Falling In Love Again”, especially as rendered by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film The Blue Angel. The film has largely obscured the novel (by Thomas Mann’s brother, Heinrich: Professor Unrat) on which the film was based, but the song has for many become what is most often remembered from the film. The super-cool, eroticised performance of Dietrich, whose sexuality is at once obvious and in its way clandestine, made Friedrich Hollander’s song—might it even have been something of a success with or without Dietrich?—into a smash hit unlikely ever to be improved by imitation. The song’s qualities were of course significantly affected by being so very much a demonstration of what could be achieved in the new medium of the ‘talkies’, a development Beckett seems to have subsequently considered a climb-down from the ‘higher’ medium of silent film. Not that any of this can be supposed to have been of much concern to him anyway: the German dimension ‘fits’ with Dream’s settings in Vienna and Kassel; ‘fits’ the way in which Dietrich intones that she can’t help herself, that she can do “nothing” but love her man (“sonst gar nichts” in the original, and positively dripping with emotion as the eyes of the chanteuse fix those of the audience); and ‘fits’ the possibilities of ‘nix’ as advertising precisely the kind of ‘nothing’ which this confection really is, however ‘moving’ you may happen to have found it, and for however long. All these elements combine to create a virtually perfect Beckett vehicle for at one and the same time both falling in love with the song all over again (cf. “saying again” in the 1936 poem “Cascando”; my emphasis), and seeing right through its flimsy sentiments and full-on appeal to one’s worst sentimental and/or erotic instincts. Dietrich, director von Sternberg, some fishnet stockings and an instantly memorised melody are a guarantee of satisfaction, even when you have subsequently to ask yourself what sort of satisfaction is being commodified, and quite possibly cheap-



ened in the transfer from celluloid to movie house. So popular is the product that Beckett doesn’t even need to emphasise where its strong and weak points are, or to start talking about sad rags; “sonst gar nix” will do the job all on its own. At quite the other end of the spectrum from Marlene Dietrich is what seems to be a distancing of the Belacqua/ “Mr Beckett” team from a film which, unlike The Blue Angel, cannot really be said to have outlived its time: The Cocoanuts, the first film (released 1929) to feature the Marx Brothers. It derived from a Broadway musical with songs by Irving Berlin, which also does not seem to have been a riotous success. In saying, or in having Belacqua say, “and I do not care for cocoanuts, I never did care for cocoanuts” (80), Beckett may possibly be registering a certain amount of disapproval of the highjinks that this famous comedy team were masters of, his own clear preference being for solo (and silent) acts like those of Harold Lloyd and above all Buster Keaton, later to ‘star’ in Beckett’s, very nearly silent, Film. If this notion is maintained it may add an extra dimension to the self-admonition “Let us off the tutti chords now and tell us frankly […]” (68), when of course being frank is really alien to the whole ethos of Dream. The technical musical term “tutti” is cunningly designed to make ‘frankly’ look about as bogus as what comes next: “[…] and tell us frankly shutting your eyes like Rouletabille what you think of our erotic sostenutino” (68). The allusion here is not to a film or a musical, but to a detective made popular by the French novelist Gaston Leroux, who seems to have been pretty much the Poirot/Maigret/Columbo of his day. The pressure keeping this complex going—small enough but prolonged enough for a ‘sostenutino’ or pedal point worth at least a moment’s notice—prepares the ground against which the next derogation from public taste can figure. The suggestion in the very next sentence that all this palaver cannot much matter to ‘superior’ literary folk—“Crémieux hold your saliva and you Curtius”—rounds off the fancy footwork by referencing two eminent contemporary literary critics, Benjamin Crémieux (1888-1944) and Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956), one of French origin, the other German, both of whom had relatively recently writ-



ten on Marcel Proust: Crémieux in 1924 and 1929, and Curtius in a 1928 essay later collected in: Französischer Geist im Zwanzigsten Jahrhundert (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1952, 274-355). (It is Curtius whom Beckett has particularly in his sights in his put-down of “the Heidelberg laboratory” in his book-length essay Proust [1965, 85].) The ‘fun’ Beckett is having here is of the recondite kind which is precisely not what ‘the general reader’ typically chooses to engage with, though perhaps he hoped in this instance that the closeness of these names to such words as ‘cream’ and ‘courteous’ might keep otherwise befogged readers going, in the event any of them had got even this far in his novel. Better still—though ‘better’ was never to be ‘quite the word’ (Dream, 170)—in the event it ever got into the public domain. Over and above whatever fun might just possibly have been in store for such a reader, it is perfectly clear—amid much that is either by accident or design miasmal and murky—that Beckett is seeking to turn any conventional hierarchy of genres in any field of art upside down, or at least to call in question anyone’s right to sneer at something they either can’t understand, or can’t be bothered to understand, or—though he himself is hardly to be trusted in this regard—believe to be beneath them. Beckett is also of course quite happy to belong, or to seem to belong, to this latter group when he chooses to do so, in what is Dream’s almost reflex tactic of playing both ends against the middle, and then effectively applying the law of the excluded middle anyway. It is a game which no-one wins, ‘a game that must be lost’ in the phrase borrowed from Beaumont and Fletcher for a jotting in the “Whoroscope” Notebook, an “old endgame lost of old” in the words of Fin de Partie/Endgame (Beckett 1990, 132). The principal purpose of it, seemingly, is to keep playing.

*** I suspect that one of the great advantages for Beckett of what we now call ‘popular culture’ was that it did not have to manifest itself in any specific manner to offer a potentially useful, and indeed potentially infinite, resource to be called on whenever and wherever he felt he needed it, something which could then be very



swiftly forgotten about in favour of something that might be more long-lasting. The materials in question did not have to be musical, cinematic or from popular fiction, as is rather attractively illustrated in a moment rarely commented on in discussions of the novel Murphy, but to my mind one of the best-judged narratorial interventions in that novel. It comes as Celia sees Murphy alive for the last time, though of course only the narrator can ‘know’ it is the last time, and it brings the first part of chapter (‘section’) 8 to an end: When all the other circumstances of this departure had become blurred in her mind she continued to see, at the most unexpected times, whether she would or no, the hand clutching the spike of railing, the fingers loosening and tightening, higher than the dark head. He retraced his steps, hissing. Celia thought he was coming back for something he had forgotten, but no. As he passed the door, going towards Pentonville, she called down good-bye. He did not hear her, he was hissing. His figure so excited the derision of a group of boys playing football in the road that they stopped their game. She watched him multiplied in their burlesque long after her own eyes could see him no more. (Beckett 2009b, 90)

It is quite legitimate to admire this for its own sake (if we choose to think of it as Beckett demonstrating his skills in ‘fine writing’), and no doubt it does not very much matter if the reader does not know firstly, that it was written on 5 November 1935—a fact which only takes on significance against the next actual date cited below—and secondly, that it derives from a real-life encounter in Gertrude Street, London SW10, where Beckett came across a mutual acquaintance of himself and Thomas MacGreevy playing cricket in the street with a bunch of so-called street-urchins: so called, at least, in an unpublished letter to MacGreevy of 22 September 1935. Beck-



ett must have been sufficiently surprised to retain a trace memory of what he had witnessed and to adjust the image of this encounter some seven weeks later, having reached what would become chapter eight of his novel. But the real reason why he gave this real-life aperçu another outing, as it were, was probably to set up a scene against which the “He did not hear her” motif will echo and re-echo. The first instance of this occurs six pages later, with Celia out in the park, watching a child playing with two kites: The child knelt down in the rain, dismantled them, wrapped the tails and sticks in the sails and went away, singing. As he passed the shelter Celia called good night. He did not hear her, he was singing. (96)

One remembers this largely because of its proximity to Murphy’s departure. But it is as well that we do so, since in the final tableau: Gradually she saw other kites, but above all the tandem of the child that had not answered her good night, because he had been singing. […] He did not sing as he departed, nor did she hail him. (175)

In moving from cricket to football to kite-flying—no wonder Beckett was so fond of invoking Mein Reich ist in der Luft, which he had come across reading Romain Rolland’s book on Beethoven— via hissing, singing and ultimately silence, Murphy is behaving a little as music will, calling upon eminently ordinary activities/notes and co-ordinating them into a kind of network of references, configurations dreamed up to function conjointly as a “concert of effects” (Beckett 1992, 12), however ineffective they might ultimately prove to be. Deprived of a theme-and-variations structure in its music, would not “the popular sensibility” (Beckett 1992, 127) switch off,



tune out and drift away, and understandably so? It was Beckett’s ability to employ precisely such a structure which at least in part meant that eventually (in 1938) there was actually a publisher, George Routledge & Co, prepared to take a punt on Murphy. In Dream Beckett had fancied himself “very strong on architectonics” (1992, 178), and had proceeded with a book which was effectively all variation and no theme, and which was always in very real danger of falling apart. He had sent it to upwards of a dozen publishers in 1932, but it was never destined to see the light of day in Beckett’s lifetime. Not until 1992 was the public able to access, or at least to read, a novel in which it could still, if it chose, find its face mirrored in dozens of mixed-up ‘bits and scraps’ (a recurrent motif in How It Is), even if it could not be said to have composed itself into any kind of even half-hummable tune. With Dream Beckett had gone too far, and presumed too much upon the gentle reader’s tolerance, as he must surely have known when the rejection slips started to come in. Hence perhaps his slightly puzzled regret when exactly the same happened as Murphy did the rounds. With Murphy at least he had, he chose to think, come up with something coherent, if much too conventional for he himself to warm to. In Murphy also there was a tincture of ‘music’ of one kind or another to tickle the sensibilities, and more particularly the sensitivities, of those tasked with keeping the public fragrant and wholesome. But there were other problems, and Murphy, too, nearly bombed. Unfortunately, we shall never know, and can only speculate, how often the refrain “sonst gar nix” proved either a source of consolation or an irritating ear-worm, in the “situations irksome beyond endurance” (Beckett 2009b, 4) which were to plague Beckett for most of his fifty years of creative life. In a letter of 7 September 1933 Beckett suggested to his friend Thomas MacGreevy that if people could read Saki (the pen-name of H H Munro, best known for his witty and sardonic short stories), they could surely cope easily enough with something like “Dante and the Lobster”. But the public voted with its feet, as it always does. So, as in Beckett’s favourite tag from the Brothers Grimm, it goes in the world; or so it went then in



any event. But it took time for the meat to become more visible on the bone, like the echoes floating gently off into the ether by way of a most un-Mignon-like figure in the shape of—indeed, very much in the shape of—Anna/Lulu towards the end of First Love (1946), where the point of reference for the “orange trees, or lemon trees, I forget” (Beckett 2009a, 72) is the famous song sung by the mysterious Mignon, and set both by Schubert and Hugo Wolf, in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. You have to, as it were, know this hinterland to get the point of it figuring, or disposed to bid us farewell, as it first occupies, and then recedes from, the foreground, leaving us quite as perplexed as Goethe intended his readers to be. And there was Beckett—unless it was “Mr Beckett”?—early in Dream (13), trying to kid us how tired it made him when he felt obliged to supply “[t]he background pushed up as a guarantee”, when all along he was like a swan peddling away like billy-oh, invisible to our scrutiny, simply and solely to stay within frames of reference keyed in to “one category, yours, that furnished by your stases” (35): My work is a matter of fundamental sounds (no pun intended) made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else. If people want to have headaches among the overtones, let them. And provide their own aspirin. (Beckett 2014, 82)

“Never one without two”, however; as, in its way, exemplified in the case of a bold travesty of a phrase from Hamlet’s description of Claudius in Shakespeare’s greatest play, turning the king from a “thing” to something even less substantial, of no more account than a jongleur or troubadour. This was the achievement of the librettist W S Gilbert—nowadays not so much thought of (as he might once have been) as the balladeer of The Bab Ballads, but (with the composer of operetta, Arthur Sullivan) as the ‘other half’ of ‘G and S’—depicting “A Wandering Minstrel I” in The Mikado as


JOHN PILLING A thing of shreds and patches, Of ballads, songs and snatches, And dreamy lullaby…

These lyrics are not wholly unfamiliar even today, not least perhaps because Sullivan set them to an immensely catchy melody you can still occasionally hear if you tune to an appropriate point on the dial. One does not often picture Samuel Beckett in these territories, ostensibly too remote from any cultural baggage he was typically content to carry, although Beckett was in fact a great devotee of ‘G and S’, and liked to think of himself (like his creature Molloy) as ‘no enemy of the commonplace’. It was even an awareness of his own nostalgias which prompted “Mr Beckett” in Dream of Fair to Middling Women to round on the reader beguiled by the idea of “the Welsh Hills” as relief from the “low eminence” of Irish bogs viewed through “a veil of tears” (i.e. rain) with a brusque dismissal of all such attractive delusions: “Don’t cod yourselves. Those are clouds that you see, or your own nostalgia” (240). In private Beckett was a good deal less hostile to nostalgia than we might want him to have been, indeed he was more than happy to indulge his propensity to be sentimental when it suited him. But he was happier still to strike the more ‘Beckettian’, more curmudgeonly, note of the “dry old stick of a traveller” when confronted by anything which might seem to be offering itself as a “romantic landscape” or mind-scape (Beckett 2011, 87). He was, however, typically given to allowing himself some wriggle-room or leeway in this connection when it came to a cultural field like music, in which his own skills as an amateur but more than averagely competent pianist led him to practise Scarlatti duets with his brother Frank, and subsequently to venture solo on the more straightforward Haydn piano sonatas. Interests unembarrassedly ‘highbrow’, to be sure, but supplemented in Beckett’s youth and young manhood by the often more homegrown and homespun pleasures of the pub and the parlour as the pleasure palaces and domestic refuges of what we now tend casually to equate with ‘the Edwardian age’. Insofar as this ambience



lasted at all (Edward VII died in 1910), it seems to have remained in rather more vigorous health in Dublin and its environs than in most other places known to Beckett (Paris, London), although it would have been obviously almost impossible for someone like Beckett to buy into it, as Joyce had famously been prepared to do in his great Christmas story “The Dead”, a story apparently first conceived in 1906, the very year in which Beckett was born. He could not let something like this pass without exposing it to the kind of colder eye embodied in his own creative riposte to it: “A Wet Night” (More Pricks Than Kicks). Both “The Dead” and “A Wet Night”, though very different from one another in almost every other respect, privilege the performative aspects of music over its significant or substantive content, and it was precisely in the performative arena of his first full-length novel of 1931-32 (Dream) that Beckett felt able to give freest play to his critical as well as, and indeed alongside, his creative faculties. Here was a perfect opportunity to call on what were effectively crossover influences and reference points deriving from a community of culture from which he was never slow to detach himself, though unable wholly to avoid occasionally dipping his toe in the current as it passed him by. What survives of these reluctant registrations of the ‘real’ temperature of the water in Dream, as distinct from (or as transposable into) items which might promote a story not going anywhere very much, have been my primary focus here, mindful as I am—and as Dream often requires one to be— that Beckett’s sense of himself was much more a matter of “au revoir to all that” (Beckett 2012, 14) than of unambiguously welcoming what it could offer at the creative level. For all practical purposes Beckett’s default position of looking out, as it were, was as sketched in the “UND” section at the centre of his novel: “Almost it seemed as though he were doomed to leave no trace, but none of any kind, on the popular sensibility” (127). And it has to be said that by jettisoning Dream, which was guaranteed not to intersect with “the popular sensibility” of Beckett’s time, or perhaps anyone’s time, he brought precisely this doom upon himself. But not without leaving a few bruises on that sensibility in



manipulating some of the “shreds and patches” which he had not quite managed to shake off as he went along. These were apparently the traces Beckett could not help but hear, in whatever version he heard them, not what he would later (in a hommage on behalf of the painter Avigdor Arikha) think of as “deep marks”, but quite the opposite: light flicks and squibs, eminently forgettable things never quite forgotten (1983, 15). Things in part primed—like a good deal of Dream—to flare up and fizzle out: indices of the ephemeral, either of fashion that went out of fashion, or of what was much ado about nothing in the first place, though still available to be retrieved (when required) from “the ignorance of having been” (Beckett 2012, 119). References Beckett, Samuel. 2012. The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett. Edited by Seán Lawlor and John Pilling. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1990. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1992. Dream of Fair to Middling Women. Edited by Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier. Dublin: Black Cat Press. –. 1983. Disjecta: miscellaneous writings and a dramatic fragment. Edited by Ruby Cohn: London: Calder. –. 2009a. The Expelled, The Calmative, The End and First Love. Edited by Christopher Ricks. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2011. The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1941-56. Volume II. Edited by G. Craig, M.D. Fehsenfeld, D. Gunn and L.M. Overbeck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. –. 2014. The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1957-1965. Volume III. Edited by G. Craig, M.D. Fehsenfeld, D. Gunn and L.M. Overbeck. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. –. 2010. More Pricks that Kicks. Edited by Cassandra Nelson. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2009b. Murphy. Edited by J C C Mays. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1965. Proust and the Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. London: Calder. –. 2009c. Watt. Edited by C J Ackerley. London: Faber and Faber.



Berlin, Irving. 1925. “I’ll be Loving You Always”. Concord Music. Blue Angel, The (Der blaue Engel). 1930. Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Universum Film. The Cocoanuts. 1929. Directed by R. Florey, J. Stanley. Paramount Pictures. De Sylva, B., Jolson, A., Rose, V. 1920. “Avalon”. Re-mastered 2013, Bacci Bros Records. Gilbert, W. S., A. Sullivan. 1878. HMS Pinafore. G. Schirmer Inc. –. 1885. The Mikado. G. Schirmer Inc. Heyman, E., F. Eyton, J. Green, R. Sour. 1930. “Body and Soul”. Druropetal Music, Range Road Music, Inc., WB Music Corp., and Quartet Music Inc. Hollander, F., S. Lerner. 1930. “Falling in Love Again”. Frederick Hollander Music and Samuel Lerner Publications. Klein, L., J. Kendis. 1913. “If I had My Way”. James Kendis Music Co. Lemire, Tim, 2019. ‘A Fittingly Absurd Quiz for Samuel Beckett’s 113th Birthday’. New York Times ‘Sketchbook’ section, 12 April. Molloy, J. L., G. Clifton Bingham. 1884. “Just a Song at Twilight / Love’s Old Sweet Song”. Boosey and Company. Puccini, Giacomo. 1900. Tosca. Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. G. Schirmer Inc. Wood, H., F. Weatherley. 1916. “The Roses are Blooming in Picardy”. Chappell and Co.

Beckett and the Mass Medium of Radio: Bridging ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Culture in All That Fall Pim Verhulst From references to Charlie Chaplin in Murphy, accompanied by a doodle of the tramp sporting his signature bowler hat in the manuscripts of the novel, to the music hall and vaudeville elements of Waiting for Godot, also invoking the slapstick routines of Laurel and Hardy and the hat joke from the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, much of Beckett’s early work, at least from the 1920s until the 1950s, is sprinkled with references to pop culture. Even an austere play like Endgame, seemingly cut off from the outside world, is not without them. In a letter to Pamela Mitchell of 28 September 1956, Beckett described it as a comical skit, punning on a docile married couple trope dating back to at least the 18th century, when he called Nell and Nagg “a moribund Darby & Joan amputated at the groin and living in garbage-cans” (Beckett 2011, 657). This striking image of a binned old couple went on to live a life of its own in advertising, but in Beckett’s work popular references began to wane after the 1950s. The radio play All That Fall, written during the final stages of Endgame in 1956, comes almost at the end of this period, making it all the more remarkable for its generous embrace of lowbrow culture and its overall accessibility. Critics have long noted this exceptional status in the Beckett canon, but its somewhat uncharacteristic indulgence in the popular, and especially the co-occurrence of this trait with learned and obscure references, has not been fully accounted for. Recently, Erik Tonning suggested that Beckett “deliberately set out to be clearer and more accessible” in his first radio play, writing it “with an idea of appealing to the [BBC] Third [Programme]’s mass audience at least partly in mind” (2017, 68). The result, in Tonning’s view, was a “thinking person’s comedy” that still left “plenty to ponder” for serious listeners (69). This qualification may be too positive, howev45



er, for it implies that Beckett managed to strike a perfect balance between popular and minority culture. He tried to incorporate a systematic contrast between high and low cultural references into the up/down-dichotomy that permeates the radio play, deriving from the Psalm verse that underlies its title: ‘The Lord upholdeth all that fall and raiseth up all that be bowed down” (145:14). But, judging from the earliest critical responses to the broadcast, listeners did not all agree that the medium and its stratified audience had been woven seamlessly into the texture of his radio play. Instead of consolidating the accepted view of All That Fall as a resounding success, this chapter investigates to what extent it can also regarded as a partial failure, betraying a concern or anxiety on Beckett’s part to reconcile a form of mass entertainment with the ‘highbrow’ and ‘elitist’ reputation of the BBC Third Programme. Radio Audiences and the BBC Third Programme By the mid-1950s Beckett had become familiar with a variety of theatre audiences, from the plays he went to see at the Abbey in Dublin as a student, to productions in Germany, England and France over the years that followed. He had also gained experience as a playwright, especially with Godot and Endgame, soon taking on the role of director. A radio audience would be quite different. First of all, it was considerably larger and, therefore, potentially more diverse. Clas Zilliacus, who investigated the BBC’s Audience Research Reports for All That Fall, notes that about 0.4% of the adult population listened in to the first broadcast, which corresponds to approximately 150,000 people, a crowd that would have “filled the Royal Court Theatre every night of the week for one year” (1976, 25). Moreover, this mass audience listened together but apart, in the comfort of its own home, not collectively in the space of a theatre and not in the immediate presence of the spectacle put on show. This marked radio drama as both a public and a private experience, making it difficult for Beckett—but also for broadcasting services—to gauge the audience and its expectations or reactions.



What further complicated matters was the postwar reorganization of the BBC into three networks, replacing John Reith’s vision of “a national, unifying radio service which attempted to do away with cultural divisions by treating its audience as a homogenous entity” (Whitehead 1989, 7). The distinction between National and Regional programming already allowed for some distinction to be made between ‘education’ and ‘entertainment’ in prewar times, but it was not until the immediate aftermath of World War II that the Home, Light and Third services allowed for true diversification. At least this is how it might have worked in theory, for it would be wrong to think that each network, and especially the more arts-and-cultureminded Third Programme, could operate entirely independent from the others, or from the dictum of listening figures. William Haley, who succeeded John Reith as Director-General, explained the logic behind the new structure as follows: I have always believed [...] that every civilised nation, culturally and educationally, is a pyramid with a lamentably broad base and a lamentably narrow tip. And [...] I devised these three programmes with the idea that we would have a Light Programme which could cover the lower third of the pyramid. We would have a Home Service which would take more than the middle Third, take everything up to the tip. And then we’d have a Third Programme. Now it has been said that this was stratifying or segregating listeners into classes. Well, it was in a way, but that was only the start; it was not meant to be a static pyramid. And my conception was of a BBC through the years—many years—which would slowly move listeners from one stratum of this pyramid to the next. (Carpenter 1997, 9)

The idea was to stimulate the more popular tastes of Home or Light audiences by gradually luring them away with palatable snippets from works broadcast in their entirety on the Third. Already in 1949, Harman Grisewood, then Controller of the Third, warned that such a tactic would be detrimental to the network’s integrity,



arguing that “the main threat to culture was not the lack of ‘diffusion’ amongst the population as a whole [...], but, on the contrary, that the very involvement of ‘the masses’ was leading to popularization and the debasement of culture” (Whitehead 1989, 51). His fear was that the top of the pyramid would flatten instead of broaden, since the lower parts would inevitably hold sway over the peak. Haley eventually admitted that his plan to “get the base smaller and smaller, and the middle and peak larger and larger” in practice “never really worked out”, mainly because “the measure of success was always the listening figure” (Carpenter 1997, 9). Unless the Third’s audience grew over time, it would fail according to this pyramidal logic. As “the size of the audience actually declined during the first year of the Third Programme, and then remained roughly static” (Whitehead 1989, 51), there was a continuous pressure to get more listeners, despite the BBC’s public assurance that this would never be a concern. Although Haley was no longer Director-General, his system was still in place when Beckett came to write All That Fall in 1956, so it is worth exploring the radio play in light of that context and the tensions it created. While it is unclear to what extent Beckett knew about the BBC’s network structure and the philosophy behind it, having lived in Paris at the time for more than a decade, he did meet with several staff members who were ideally placed to fill him in— Cecilia Reeves, the BBC’s Paris studio’s representative in the Avenue Hoche; her secretary, Suzanne Poulain; producer Donald McWhinnie; and the new Controller of the Third, John Morris. Morris shared the opinion of Grisewood that the highbrow “minority, especially when it contains most of those upon whom the cultural vitality of the country depends, has just as much right as any other to have its tastes catered for” (Whitehead 1989, 53). It thus seems likely that Beckett’s decision to draw extensively on lowbrow elements in All That Fall is more due to his own view of radio as a popular medium than to any meddling by Morris. Still, it is interesting to note that the pyramidal organization of the BBC’s three networks finds a reflection in the structure of the radio play.



Gustav Freytag, a German novelist and playwright, popularized a representation of the classic five-act drama, which Beckett follows closely in All That Fall (Van Hulle 2010, 126). It is known as “Freytag’s pyramid” because it breaks down the standard dramatic plot into five basic components and maps them onto the image of a pyramid: a. Introduction, b. Rise, c. Climax, d. Return or Fall, e. Catastrophe. The two main parts of the drama are united by its pinnacle: “the climax of the play, is the most important place of the structure; the action rises to this; the action falls away to this” (Freytag 1900, 105). The five components roughly correspond to Maddy’s entrance (introduction); her way to the station and the impending arrival of the train (rise); the actual arrival of the train and her encounter with Dan (climax); their way home away from the station (fall); and the final scene with the boy, Jerry, who reveals the cause of the accident (catastrophe). In addition to the interplay between rising and falling, echoed throughout the radio play, it is telling who Beckett positions at the top of the pyramid with regard to the contrast between high and low culture in All That Fall. Just before the train pulls in, Mr Tyler assures Miss Fitt that it has not yet arrived by pointing at the signal: “follow the direction of my index. [MISS FITT looks.] There. You see now. The signal. At the bawdy hour of nine. [In rueful afterthought.] Or three alas! [MR BARRELL stifles a guffaw.] Thank you, Mr Barrell” (Beckett 2009, 17). Unlike Mr Barrell, Beckett’s readers did not all get the playful allusion to Romeo and Juliet, which he had to explain as follows to his Danish translator Christian Ludvigsen: “‘Bawdy hour etc’—obscure joke. cf. Shakespeare’s ‘bawdy hour of noon’. Image of erection on way up (hour hand at nine) and on way down (hour hand at three)” (Beckett 2014, 59). Even if they did manage to identify the quote as Shakespeare’s, many of the Third’s listeners would certainly not have understood the gist of the joke either. Nevertheless, presenting Shakespeare as the prime example of an author who managed to combine the lowly with the exalted, making him popular across a wide section of society, in his own time and the centuries that followed, reveals something about the model Beckett had set himself for All That Fall



and its diverse radio audience. This Shakespeare reference, however, is a rare occasion where high and low meet in the radio play. Most other instances land on one or the other side of the divide. Elements of High and Low Culture in All That Fall The ‘literary’ elements of All That Fall have received much scholarly attention already and need not be dealt with here at great length. Several of these are namedropped, for example “Dante’s damned” from Canto XX in the Inferno, who walk with “their faces arsy-versy” (Beckett 2009, 24). Another example, though slightly sentimental, is Theodor Fontane’s realist novel Effi Briest (1895), which Dan mentions when urging Maddy to hasten home and read to him, because be thinks “Effie is going to commit adultery with the Major” (21). Only those familiar with German literature may have been able to pick up the allusion, as the novel was not translated into English until the 1960s. Another exponent of German culture is Jacob Grimm, whom Beckett mentions in a less-well known capacity than the fairy tales he is famous for writing with his brother Wilhelm. When Dan tells Maddy he was in the men’s, “or Fir as they call it now”, he conjectures that the word must derive from “Vir Viris [...], the V becoming F, in accordance with Grimm’s Law” (27). This requires a grounding in linguistics to be identified as the First Germanic Sound Shift, which Jacob Grimm described with the Danish philologist Rasmus Rask. Even though it is presented as a quotation, Maddy’s half-remembered line from John Ford’s The Lover’s Melancholy (Fletcher 1978, 77)—“Sigh out a something something tale of things, Done long ago and ill done” (Beckett 2009, 5)—is quite obscure and Beckett himself erroneously assigned it to John Marston or one of the other “Elizabethan songbirds” in his correspondence (Beckett 2014, 19). Finally, it requires a true Beckett connoisseur to understand “the lecture by one of these new mind doctors”, who spoke of a little girl having “never really been born” (Beckett 2009, 28), as a biographical reference to the Jung talk that Beckett attended



in 1935, which is commonplace now but few people would have known about in the mid-1950s (Knowlson 1997, 218). Biblical references are also abound. Most of the obvious Christian symbolism, like Mr Barrell “crucifying his gearbox” (Beckett 2009, 11) or Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a hinny (29), connecting to the main theme of sterility, would have been readily understood by most, but some of the more covert references, though not strictly highbrow, were probably no longer familiar enough for everyone to pick up, except older listeners perhaps. Apart from the already mentioned Psalm verse that inspired the title of the radio play, there is the reference to the Pharisees in Matthew (15:14)—“if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”—in Dan’s comment to Maddy: “Are you in a condition to lead me? [Pause.] We shall fall into the ditch: (Beckett 2009, 189). This is followed by another reference to Matthew (10:29-31)—“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? [...] Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows”—when Maddy observes “It’s like the sparrows, than many of which we are of more value, they weren’t sparrows at all” and Dan laconically retorts: “Does that put our price up?” (Beckett 2009, 197; Bryden 1998, 109). Hymns, another form of religious culture expressed in the radio play, are situated slightly more towards the popular end of the spectrum than Biblical references, while not exactly lowbrow either. Maddy attempts to sing “Lead, Kindly Light” while Miss Fitt hums the tune, wondering “Wasn’t it that they sung on the Lusitania? Or Rock of Ages? Most touching it must have been. Or was it the Titanic?” (Beckett 2009, 16) Maddy is wrong on both counts, as the hymn rumoured to have sounded on the Titanic while the ship went down is “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. Arguably the most popular song in All That Fall was omitted from the published text. Instead of “The Dark Miss Fitt”, the epithet that Beckett originally used for her in the manuscript was “Rosalie the prairie flower” (BDMP9, EM, 23r). It is the title of a Christian popular song written by Fanny Jane Crosby, an American mission worker, set to music by George F. Root. As the song has it, Rosalie was a beautiful girl, with “blue eyes beaming”



and “flaxen hair”, who lived in a cottage on the prairie. Until “the summer faded and the chilly blast / O’er that happy cottage swept at last”, wiping out her angelic presence: For the angels whispered softly in her ear, “Child, thy father calls thee; stay not here”; And they gently bore her, robed in spotless white, To their blissful home of light.

The last lines of the song are barely recognizable in the published text, when Miss Fitt tells Mrs Rooney: “Left to myself, with no one to check me, I would soon be flown home...” (Beckett 2009, 14). The musical reference that the radio play is probably most renowned for now, in academic circles at least, is Franz Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden”, but that is hardly a pop culture ditty— although the song version, based on a poem by Matthias Claudius, is more widely known. An unmistakably lowbrow element is the radio play’s heavy reliance on sexual innuendo and double entendres. Not that sex is completely alien to Beckett’s work—think, for example, of the escapades with Anna in First Love or with Sophie in Molloy (see Stewart 2011)—but those are absurdly funny, whereas All That Fall rarely surpasses the cheap and tasteless. It starts early on in the text, when Maddy warns Mr Tyler “You’ll tear your tube to ribbons”, as he sets off on his bicycle with a flat tire (Beckett 2009, 8). Such occasions are often mixed in with situational comedy, like the scene where Mr Slocum desperately tries to lift the corpulent Maddy into his limousine, which is probably the best—or should I say the worst?— example. Unable to mount it by herself, Maddy instructs him suggestively: “you’ll have to get down, Mr Slocum, and help me from the rear”. His response—“I’m coming, Mrs Rooney, I’m coming, give me time. I’m as stiff as yourself”—is equally saucy, and Maddy keeps the banter going: “Stiff! Well I like that!” (9) James Knowlson (2016) has shown that Beckett is playing on the pre-politically correct and highly suggestive ‘big bottomed brigade’ postcard tradition, popular-



ized in the 1930s by Donald McGill, Tom Browne and James Banforth. Particularly striking is the postcard on which an older man is trying to open the top of a sealed jar and is overheard by the milkman at the door saying: “Stiff! Of course it’s stiff. We aven’t ‘ad it off for years!” Mr Slocum is indeed ‘slow to come’ as the scene takes a painfully elongated minute, full of grunting and groaning and sighing and heaving, to reach its climax in the BBC recording. This popular cliché of lessened sexual appetite in old age is then linked to the more Beckettian themes of impotence and infertility, though still with the help of questionable jokes. When Mr Slocum catches Maddy’s dress between the door of his car, she objects “What will Dan say when he sees me?”, to which Mr Slocum reacts: “Has he then recovered his sight?” (Beckett 2009, 10) Dan being blind, this is obviously impossible, but Maddy’s explanation—“No, I mean when he knows, what will he say when he feels the hole?” (10)—does not make sense either, as Dan is no longer aroused by his wife. Mr Slocum—that “dry old reprobate” (9)—clearly is, but his only hope at discharge is to blow his “horn” on arrival at the station (10), signalling Tommy to come down and help Mrs Rooney out of the car. The name of the porter, together with his friend Jerry, introduces another element of popular culture, invoking the “Tom and Jerry” duo from Pierce Egan’s 19th-century novel Life in London, or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (1820). A bestseller in its own time, first as a serial then as a book, it also became a hit theatre show in William Moncrieff’s adaptation, in London and New York, advertized by a Tom and Jerry cocktail mixing brandy and rum with eggnog, invented by Egan himself. It is hard to say how popular the original still was in the 1950s, or to what extent Beckett knew it, but Tom and Jerry soon became a pop culture trope, immortalized by the American Hanna Barbera cat-andmouse cartoon of the 1940s, which adopted the nicknames of British and German troops that had both become part of popular parlance during World War II. One of the more interesting aspects about the novel is that Tom and Jerry’s “rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis” offer readers a unique glimpse into both high and low ur-



ban culture’, illustrated by the original frontispiece that shows “the king on his throne at the top of the column to the lowest members of society at the base”. Despite being a popular work of fiction, it also impacted on British intellectual life, “delineating a social landscape that was to prove the territory for both the fictions of Charles Dickens and the commentaries of Henry Mayhew.” 1 As opposed to metropolitan London, All That Fall is set in the fictional Irish countryside of Boghill—modelled after Foxrock and Leopardstown—but the two boys also serve as markers of class distinctions in the cross section of Dublin suburban society that it depicts. For example, when Tommy announces Mr Slocum as “Old Cissy Slocum”, Maddy puts him in his place: “That’s a nice way to refer to your betters. Cissy Slocum! And you an orphan!” (Beckett 2009, 12). In addition to the conventionality of the characters and their motivations, bordering on the stereotypical, two other traits that mark All That Fall as drawing on popular fiction are its heavy reliance on narrative development and (melo)drama. The story builds up to a sensational denouement, announced by Jerry at the very end to let its gravity resonate in the “Tempest of wind and rain” that ensues (32). The fact that a child informs Maddy of another child’s death matter-of-factly, without realizing the severity of the situation or the effect it will have on her, heightens the drama. For the attentive listener, the many instances of dramatic irony and foreshadowing that Beckett inserted throughout the radio play, showcasing all the tricks of the trade, reach their full force in this final scene. Apart from the mother on the platform urging “Dolly” to hold hands tightly because “one can be sucked under” (Beckett 2009, 17), there is also Maddy’s repeated invocation of “Little Minnie” (5, 7), her daughter who probably died in childbirth. The final revelation of the incident’s cause provides narrative closure, but it also raises the important 1

See the British Library’s feature on the novel, “Tom and Jerry’s Life in London”, as part of its “Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians” website: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/ tom-and-jerry-life-in-london.



question as to whether it was an accident or a crime. The answer hinges on the meaning of Dan’s comment to Maddy ”Did you ever wish to kill a child? [Pause.] Nip some young doom in the bud” (23), as well as the discovery of “a kind of ball” (31) at the scene, which Jerry returns to Dan in the end. By introducing these two pieces of potentially incriminating evidence, Beckett is drawing on his extensive familiarity with detective fiction (Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon) to create narrative suspense. A crucial difference with the whodunnit genre, however, is that the clues scattered throughout the narrative do not help solve the mystery. Beckett deliberately left it open-ended, as he explained in a letter to Kay Boyle on 6 October 1961: The question as to what Willie is “after”—Winnie or the revolver—is like the question in All That Fall as to whether Mr Rooney threw the little girl out of the railway-carriage or not. And the answer is the same in both cases—we don’t know, at least I don’t. All that is necessary as far as I’m concerned—technically & otherwise—less too little, more too much—is the ambiguity of notice [...]. To test the doubt was dramatically a chance not to be missed, not to be bungled either by resolving it. (Beckett 2014, 435-6)

The comment suggests that he is deliberately playing with genre conventions, only to subvert them with the unsolvable uncertainty more readily expected from highbrow modern and postmodern fiction. However, by flaunting his trademark penchant for the word ‘perhaps’, in a radio play that is saturated with lowbrow elements, Beckett also—perhaps unwittingly—inserts another pulp fiction device, that of the cliffhanger, which is expressly designed to leave readers and listeners yearning for more.



The Mixed Reception of All That Fall In spite of Beckett’s attempt to please as wide an audience as possible—or perhaps precisely because of that—the early critical reception of All That Fall was rather mixed. In view of the Third’s constant criticism for being too ‘highbrow’ and ‘elitist’, expectations for the radio play were high among BBC staff. They hoped it was to be an original commission that would manage to trickle all the way down to the base of Haley’s pyramid and make appearances on the Home and Light services, just like Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood had done before it. Produced by Douglas Cleverdon from the Features department, it was until then the Third’s greatest popular success, and now Beckett’s radio play, a product of the Drama department, was clearly being groomed for the role of successor. Under Milk Wood was a recurring point of reference in the congratulatory memos that BBC officials exchanged among themselves, and in his first review for the BBC’s weekly magazine, The Listener, Roy Walker repeated this comparison: “All That Fall” is certainly—this is now being said on all sides— the most important piece of pure radio drama since “Under Milk Wood”. I burn my boats and admit that I rate it higher. Mr. Beckett’s work comprehends a wider and deeper range of experience, goes further in making the blind man’s theatre of radio an art form in its own right, is no less eloquent and evocative in monosyllabic brevities than was Thomas in his polychromatic 125-word periods. (1957a: 163)

However, despite these comparisons and hopes, Beckett’s radio play did not migrate quite as easily across the BBC’s three networks. In addition to its premiere on the Third (25 January 1954, with repeats on 27 January, 20 February, 17 and 20 April), Under Milk Wood was also aired on the Home Service (28 September 1954), where it was preceded by John Lehmann’s discussion of the book in “Talking of Books” (14 March 1954), and a broadcast review by



John Ormond Thomas (28 March 1954). It even made ripples on the Light Programme, with Marjorie Juta giving a talk about her “childhood home in the Welsh village which lies ‘Under Milk Wood’” as part of “Woman’s Hour” (24 March 1954) and “Home for the Day” (25 April 1954)—both popular shows. It was also discussed in “The Younger Generation: Review” (2 March 1955), a programme letting young people discuss the current films, books, plays and music they liked. All That Fall, by contrast, only went out on the Third (13 January 1957), where it did get an impressive three repeats in a short period of time (19 January, 23 February and 19 March 1954), but it never found its way to the Light and did not feature on the Home until 25 January 1967, ten years after its original broadcast, when Moira F. Doolan adapted it for “What it is to be Human”, a programme “illustrating problems we may meet in everyday life”. While this could be seen as a belated recognition of All That Fall’s popular appeal, it also suggests that the radio play had to be substantially edited before it could fit that mould.2 The various reviews of the production provide insight into why the radio play failed to cross the BBC’s network borders and reach a wider audience. The problem did not lie in the acting, as this was unanimously praised, but the critical opinions diverged on almost every other aspect of the broadcast. Philip Purser (The Spectator, 18 January 1957) lauded Beckett as a “great entertainer”, admiring All That Fall for its “lines of splendid rudeness”, but for T. C. Worsley (New Statesman and Nation, 26 January 1957) there was “none of the comic bite”, because it had “less both of the grim humour and of the rhythmic compulsion, which did something to reconcile us to the bleak desolation which lay at the heart of ‘GODOT’”. 3 Julian Jebb 2


The information in this paragraph was retrieved from https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/. Unless otherwise stated, all information on broadcast reviews is taken from the press dossier included with the Samuel Beckett papers at the BBC Written Archive in Caversham (BBCWAC/Rcont1/Script writer/Beckett/ File1/1953-62).



(The Tablet, 19 January 1957) welcomed the fact that there was “considerably more incident and straight plot” than usual in Beckett’s work, as well as a “continued development rather than the immediate expression of character”. But Julia Monks (The Irish Press, 21 January 1957) could discern “no ‘story’, no easily-discernible theme”, and for Archibald Kenyon (Yorkshire Post, 18 January 1957) there was “no conflict of purpose and character [...] except in an elusive Celtic form with hints of mysticism under very common stone”. The Times Education Supplement (25 January 1957) put the question as follows: “Plot? Is it a plot when an Irishwoman goes to the station to meet her husband and the train is late?” Yet the review goes on to conclude: “Perhaps the plot lies in the reason for the train’s lateness”. As we have seen, this underlying part of the story has to be inferred, which not all listeners appreciated. Kenneth Hughson (The Socialist Leader, 26 January 1957) derided the open ending: “Thus the play ends—and, before I say more, will any reader who heard this production and understood what it was getting at please send his conclusions to the Editor for my enlightenment?” One of the few critics who tried to engage with it is Ian Low (News Chronicle, 25 January 1957), who was “left with the uneasy feeling that the old man had something to do with it”. Only the highbrow reviews elaborated on the whodunnit element. Assuming that “we are not meant to suppose that the blind man actually attacked the young girl and flung her out of the carriage”, the TLS offers a most peculiar alternative: The reader or hearer of the play is left to imagine in numb horror and pity what the blind man, in the obscenity of his fancied solitude, may have said or done to make the little girl, of whom he was unaware, fling herself in terror out of the moving train. (qtd. in Federman and Graver 1979, 152)

The Sunday Times literary editor, J. W. Lambert, even wrote to Beckett for clarification, who replied laconically: “Did old Dan push out the child? I have wondered extensively about this and can reach no conclusion” (Beckett 2014, 63n4).



Some critics regarded All That Fall as a successful mixture of popular and highbrow culture, for example Roy Walker, who in another review for The Tribune described it as “a dirge that is something like Harry Tate’s music-hall sketch ‘Motoring’ re-written in a mood of black despair by Eugene O’Neill”. Richard Church (Truth, 25 January 1957), even saw in it the means to fulfil Haley’s emancipatory vision and edify the “countryman; a hedger, or a farm-hand; a farmer or a village shopkeeper, who has been educating his aesthetic taste for years by means of the British radio” and “looks upon the Third Programme with pleasure and gratitude”, commending All That Fall because it dealt with “the living and dying of country people all over the world”. Standing in the way of this goal, for Church, was that “the needs of sound radio call for an emphasis upon symbolism”, which “this play by Mr. Beckett, like those by the poet Louis MacNeice, carries this natural proccess in art almost to excess”. A similar point of criticism is raised by the Daily Worker critic (11 January 1957), who takes issue in particular with the “use of biblical symbols so crashingly obvious that I felt as if I was being bludgeoned on the head”. In particular, the radio play is criticized for attacking institutionalized religion without offering an alternative: “Beckett’s characters occassionally say something poetic, even charming, in the course of their ditherings. But when I hear musical Irish voices making poetic remarks, I wish they were doing it, so to speak, in aid of something”. Despite Beckett’s attempt to integrate elements of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, many listeners experienced the result as unbalanced, or downright “‘high-brow’ nonsense”, as G. A. Olden so bluntly put it (Irish Times, 18 January 1957). This sentiment is perhaps best captured by Jebb, who states that “the play is marred by a confusion of levels”, making the result “dreadfully obscure”. Similarly, the Times Education Supplement was left with the frustrating impression that “one had been listening to three of your plays that were in some way mutually exclusive”. One of the more interesting commentaries in this respect is that of Worsley, who invokes F. R. Leavis’s book Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930) when dismissing All That Fall’s



obscurantism and “failure in communication” as “the ultimate of minority culture”. Worsley is not against plays being written for a specialized audience per se, as long as they find their way to a wider one. On this count he is hesitant about Beckett’s achievement, again using Dylan Thomas as a point of contrast: I have sometimes wondered lately whether the Third should be judged, at least ideally, by the number of its productions which in due course could be reasonably transferred to the Home. “UNDER MILK WOOD”, which the Third had the enterprise specially to commission, is an example of such a “minority” taste which has become a majority one. No less surprising was the idea of commissioning a play from Mr. Samuel Beckett on the strength of his “WAITING FOR GODOT”—another minority piece (first put on by the Arts) which has has made some headway with a wider audience. But I doubt whether the radio play they got, “ALL THAT FALL”, will have quite the same general appeal.

For Worsley, this was obviously something to be lamented. Roy Walker, on the other hand, defended such freedoms from general appeal precisely because they were “not Home Service freedoms”, which prompted him to ask the following two important questions in his second review for The Listener: “Is not real freedom to experiment in radio drama bound up with the survival of the Third Programme as an independent channel? And are listeners to have no say about this until presented with a fait accompli?” (1957b, 359). Walker alludes to the budget cuts that were about to be imposed on the network in 1957. To give listeners a voice, a Third Programme Defence Society was founded, rallying support from working class devotees as well as (inter)national intelligentsia like T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Albert Camus and Jean Cocteau. All That Fall was written and produced in the midst of this debate and thus offers a fascinating illustration of how an author can stretch his poetics to



accommodate the audience concerns as well as the cultural politics of a broadcasting service, while at the same time trying to maintain his artistic integrity. In this respect, it is slightly ironic that a radio play whose mixture of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture at first seemed perfectly fit to vindicate the BBC’s three-network structure and the pyramidal logic that governed it, eventually helped consolidate the case for the Third’s special status as a supplier of highbrow literature on the wireless. This historical context helps to understand the peculiar status of All That Fall, not just in the Beckett canon as a whole but also compared to the later radio plays, which focus more exclusively on the aesthetics of the medium and appear less compromising to popular tastes.

References Beckett, Samuel. 2009. All That Fall and Other Plays for Radio and Screen, preface by Everett Frost. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2011. The Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol II: 1941-1956, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Lois More Overbeck, Dan Gunn and George Craig. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. –. 2014. The Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol III: 1957-1965, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Lois More Overbeck, Dan Gunn and George Craig. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Bryden, Mary. 1998. Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Carpenter, Humphrey. 1997. The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3, 1946-1996. London: Phoenix Giant. Federman, Raymond and Lawrence Graver. 1979. Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage. London, Henley and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Fletcher, John and Beryl S. Fletcher. 1978. A Student’s Guide to the Plays of Samuel Beckett. London: Faber and Faber. Freytag, Gustav. 1900. Technique of the Drama: An Exposition on Dramatic Composition and Art. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co. Knowlson, James. 2016. “Beckett Studies: 40 Years On.” Paper presented at the 2nd conference of the Samuel Beckett Society (‘Beckett and Modernism’), University of Antwerp, 27 April 2016.



–. 1997. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury. Stewart, Paul. 2011. Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Tonning, Erik. 2017. “Mediating Modernism: The Third Programme, Samuel Beckett, and Mass Communication.” In Beckett and BBC Radio: A Reassessment, edited by David Addyman, Matthew Feldman and Erik Tonning, 59-79. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Van Hulle, Dirk. 2010. “Beckett and Shakespeare on Nothing, or, Whatever Lurks Behind the Veil.” Limit(e) Beckett 1 (2010): 123-36. Walker, Roy. 1957a. “Shagreen Shamrock.” The Listener, January 24, 1957, 163. –. 1957b. “Third Freedoms.” The Listener, February 28, 1957, 358. Whitehead, Kate. 1989. The Third Programme: A Literary History. Oxford: Clarendon. Zilliacus, Clas. 1976. Beckett and Broadcasting: A Study of the Works of Samuel Beckett for and in Radio and Television. Åbo: Åbo Akademi.

“Do You Really Enjoy the Modern Play?”: Beckett on Commercial Television Jonathan Bignell Television was the key popular medium of the second half of the twentieth century in the UK, and Beckett’s work was consistently aired by the BBC, the British non-commercial TV broadcaster that had already featured his work on radio since the mid-1950s (Bignell 2009). Beckett had a consistent presence in the mass media; in that sense radio and television created a ‘pop Beckett’ simply by making some of his work accessible to a diverse national public. The BBC had been the sole national radio network since 1922 and began a television service in 1936, with a remit to make programmes that offered variety and interest for all sectors of the national audience. Its licence to broadcast, awarded by government, gave it autonomy as long as it acted as a public service and carried out a duty to inform, educate and entertain (Scannell 1990). As well as making news, sport, comedy and music programmes, the BBC commissioned new plays and adapted literature and drama, including work by Beckett. His radio drama All That Fall was broadcast in 1957 and published in the same year (1957a), and many of his original and adapted works appeared on radio thereafter (Addyman et al. 2017). However, these dramas were aired on the Third Programme, a BBC radio channel established in 1946 specifically for arts and culture (Whitehead 1989), leaving the territory of dance music, comedy, drama serials and news to the BBC’s Light Programme and Home Service radio channels. On radio, Beckett’s work was associated with demanding, elite culture rather than provision of what is now called ‘popular culture’. Nevertheless, Beckett’s drama was also on BBC television quite often, thanks to support from BBC producers and directors including Michael Bakewell, Barbara Bray, Martin Esslin and Donald McWhinnie, each of whom knew him personally and had great respect for his work (Knowlson 1996). But it was never popular in the 63



sense that a lot of people liked it (Bignell 2009, 180-182). Popularity has several meanings in a television context (Bignell 2010), but in an industrial and commercial sense the term can refer either to sheer viewer numbers (the ratings for a specific programme), or to a broadcaster’s performance relative to its competitors (the audience share that is attracted to one broadcaster’s output rather than another’s at a specific moment). To take the example of the first of Beckett’s theatre plays adapted for television, Waiting for Godot (1957b) was broadcast on BBC TV in 1961 but attracted only 5 per cent of the UK population, compared to 22 per cent who watched the commercial ITV channel that evening instead (BBC 1961). Not surprisingly, perhaps, Beckett’s play was not a ratings hit. Popularity can also refer to the value attached by viewers to TV programmes, and here too Beckett’s work did not fare well on the BBC. The BBC’s Audience Research department not only collected data about the number of viewers watching its programmes by surveying a representative sample of viewers and multiplying the results to reflect the whole national audience, but it also allocated a score for appreciation based on the reactions of its sample viewers. This Reaction Index for the BBC’s Godot was 32 out of 100, well below the average of 66 for BBC plays in early 1961 (BBC 1961). Two of Beckett’s theatre plays were adapted for the BBC’s Festival (1963-4) and Thirty Minute Theatre (1965-73) TV anthologies in the 1960s and 1970s, each of which were seasons of prime-time evening dramas in which an adaptation of a different theatre text was screened each episode. When Krapp’s Last Tape (1959) was on BBC TV in 1963 as part of Festival the audience was small and viewers’ reactions were generally unfavourable. Only 8 per cent of the UK population was watching and the Reaction Index was again a dismal 32 (BBC 1963). Beckett’s work was not building up an expanding audience nor one that became more enthusiastic about his plays. Beckett’s first drama written specifically for the TV medium, Eh Joe (1967), was screened in July 1966 on BBC2, the BBC’s recently launched second channel that offered alternatives to the mainstream schedule. It aired experimental satire, opera, wildlife docu-



mentaries and science fiction, for example, to complement the output of BBC1. The audience report on Eh Joe (BBC 1966) estimated its viewership as 3 per cent of the national audience, and the Reaction Index was 49, some dozen or so points below the figures achieved by BBC’s more conventional dramas. One of the sample viewers of Eh Joe commented, for example, that “I like plays with proper sets, not a bed and a couple of doors covered by curtains” (BBC 1966). Even so, the BBC remained Beckett’s main patron, pursuing its public service mission despite such criticisms. Although the BBC’s Beckett plays gave him an ongoing profile in popular culture inasmuch as he regularly featured in the broadcast media, his work did not achieve much popularity. But it is not generally known that extracts from Beckett’s work and features about his drama, if not complete plays, also appeared on Independent Television, the commercially-funded British television channel set up in 1955 to rival BBC (Johnson and Turnock 2005). ITV was funded by advertising, which meant that its success depended on making programmes that drew substantial audiences for the thirty-second commercials for consumer goods that were inserted into its programmes approximately every fifteen minutes. Popularity was fundamental to the channel’s very existence. The advertising was mainly for mass-market commodities such as household cleaning products, petrol, cigarettes, toothpaste or confectionary. ITV was not a single company, but a federation of regional broadcasting franchises in different parts of the country. There were different ITV companies serving London, the Midlands, the North, Wales and Scotland, for example. In the most lucrative advertising market, the London area, there was one franchise holder for weekdays and another for weekends. Each franchise holder made programmes for the parts of the day’s TV schedule that were available only to its own regional audience, and also competed to get its programmes into the parts of the day given over to the national ITV schedule. The most desirable parts of the day for advertising were evenings, because that was when the largest numbers of potential viewers were at home and available to watch. In those prime-time



hours, when most of the programmes were broadcast to the whole nation rather than just one region, only a limited number of programme slots were available. Below, this chapter focuses on a specific instance when Beckett’s work appeared on ITV in the relatively neglected Sunday daytime schedule, but it was there as part of ITV’s national output. The channel relied on imported American thrillers and Westerns, genres with plenty of action and fast-moving storylines, as well as British-made programmes in popular genres, like the hospital drama Emergency Ward 10 (1957-67) the live variety (vaudeville) spectacular Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-67) and the game show Take Your Pick (1955-68), for example. However, companies holding ITV franchises had to demonstrate their success at fulfilling their public service remit in order to have their lucrative contracts renewed. Despite its primary remit to make money for its shareholders, requiring ITV companies to get as many viewers as possible with popular programmes, the channel had the same legal duty as the BBC to cater to a range of different audiences, and to offer a range of types of programme that would provide news, current affairs, religious programmes, documentary and serious drama as well as the entertainment that would attract large audiences. From a purely economic perspective, as BBC’s experience with his plays showed, Beckett’s work was not likely to be an attractive weapon in ITV’s campaign to win large national audiences with accessible, entertaining programmes. The Pilkington Report (1962), an inquiry into ITV’s performance over its first five years of existence ordered by the British Government, critiqued ITV for the downmarket programming that it used to attract large audiences for its advertisers. Making serious drama and programmes about the arts was a means to counter these criticisms, enabling ITV to assert the channel’s cultural credentials in competition with the BBC. Broadcasting cutting-edge contemporary drama was also a way for individual ITV franchise-holders to compete with each other on grounds of programme quality (Gardner and



Wyver 1983). Beckett was among the dramatists that ITV tried to bring onto the commercial channel. In 1960, BBC and ITV competed to make a television version of Godot. Michael Barry, the BBC’s Head of Drama for TV, wrote a memo to the Controller of Programmes in which he warned that ITV was seeking broadcast rights to several works by contemporary playwrights that the BBC also planned to adapt (Barry 1960). In the context of intense competition between the BBC and the relative newcomer ITV that challenged the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves, legal rights to broadcast a new drama for television or a new adaptation of a theatre text would always be exclusively granted to one broadcaster and not the other. Alongside approaches to Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, M.F. Simpson and Arnold Wesker, Barry had discovered that ITV was also courting Beckett. Barry reported that there had been “an offer by one of the contracting companies”, in other words by one of the regional ITV franchise holders. Barry offered Beckett’s agent a relatively substantial fee of £200, later raised to £250, to secure Godot for the BBC. The BBC managed to retain Beckett and made the 1961 drama discussed above. The desire for prestige and competitive advantage, as well as the aim to make good programmes, led to ITV companies courting contemporary playwrights and seeking out high-profile cultural work to present in television form. A few years after ITV failed to sign Beckett up to allow a television adaptation of Godot, however, ITV did make two programmes about the play and included performances of extracts from it. Modern plays The commercial ABC TV company, an ITV franchise holder now perhaps best known for the pop spy-adventure series The Avengers (1961-9) and the talent show Opportunity Knocks (1964-8), also made the series The Present Stage for the national ITV commercial network in 1966, with two episodes about Waiting for Godot. The actual programmes do not survive in any archive, but this is not very surprising



(O’Dwyer 2008). Even though videotape was being used to make programmes from 1958 onwards, when both the BBC and ITV acquired the Ampex telerecording machines first introduced in the USA in 1956, few programmes were made on tape—most were broadcast live—and even fewer were preserved. One reason was that the reels of tape were expensive and producers routinely wiped the master copies and re-used the tape for another programme. There was little point in keeping programmes anyhow, because the contracts governing programme ownership normally stipulated that programmes could be shown only twice. New legal negotiations had to be undertaken to retain rights to rebroadcast programmes in numerous repeats, such as is done today. Only programmes with strong export potential that would give them a long life and significant economic value, or with a high cultural profile that might make them seem of historical importance, were archived. The BBC’s Eh Joe, for example, was made on videotape in the same year as The Present Stage and preserved because of Beckett’s status, but in the mid-1960s this was exceptional. The Present Stage was not a high-profile or potentially lucrative programme for ABC, so it joined the huge number of videotaped programmes that are now considered ‘lost’. Nevertheless, it is still possible to discover quite a lot about how The Present Stage showcased Beckett to ITV’s popular audience in the summer of 1966. This chapter has already discussed the institutional context of the programme and how it relates to its producers’ intentions in the context of competition with the BBC and between ITV’s regional franchise holders. Published sources such as ITV’s publicity material, and the book on which the series was based are discussed below to illuminate the aims of the series and its approach to Beckett’s drama in particular. The on-screen contributors to the programme, notably the theatre director and actors working on extracts from the published script of Godot, had particular backgrounds and skills that would have shaped how the play was interpreted and realized. All television programmes are also framed by the schedule of other programmes in which they are embedded and to which they relate in a variety of ways. Below, this chapter considers



how the programme preceding The Present Stage might have contrasted with, but also shared qualities with, the presentation of contemporary drama for viewers at the time. While a detailed audio-visual analysis of The Present Stage would be invaluable, much can be learned about the significance of its programmes about Godot from other sources. Indeed, this paratextual, historiographic approach is important and interesting in itself, as work on the reception of Beckett has shown (Nixon and Feldman 2009). The TV Times listings magazine ran a feature announcing the series (Anon. 1966b), which opened by asking “Do you really enjoy the modern play like Look Back in Anger or Waiting for Godot?” The implied answer was no, and the series was promoted as a means for viewers to gain access to material that was off-putting or even incomprehensible. As we have seen, the BBC’s experience with Beckett was that his work was felt by viewers to be challenging and puzzling. John Kershaw, the ITV series’ creator, commented: “I am hoping that this series will make modern drama interesting to people who perhaps never get the chance to go to the theatre.” ABC’s policy was to use its weekend daytime hours to offer something that would appeal to each member of a household, often targeting particular age-groups, genders or specific leisure interests. One such audience segment was people aware of contemporary drama and interested in it, but who were confused by how to make sense of the plays they saw or read about in the press. The weekend daytime schedule included several hours of informal educational programmes for adults, religious services on Sundays, and children’s programmes, sports coverage, drama and entertainment. The Present Stage was made for the mixed roster of Sunday programmes and was a contribution by ABC to the national ITV output. Although ABC held the ITV franchise for the Midlands of Britain, with offices in Birmingham and Manchester, it also maintained a base near London so that actors and celebrities from the capital could easily get to its studios to make programmes. This was to be significant for the personnel making the programmes about Godot. There was a widespread mythology enfolding a supposed rev-



olution in theatre centred around the London stage (Russell Taylor 1969). London had the predominant place in British theatre culture, but of course only a minority of the British population could see live performances there, for reasons of affordability as well as geography, and probably also a sense of social exclusion. It was these problems of access that Kershaw aimed to remedy by means of The Present Stage when he referred to “people who perhaps never get the chance to go to the theatre”. There was an aspect of public service to this, in which one of the socially valuable functions of television broadcasting was understood to be its role in broadening viewers’ cultural horizons and deepening their knowledge. Elite expertise and specialist knowledge could be made available to everyone, and despite the implicit paternalism of this view it gave rise to ambitious and distinctive programmes. In 1966, almost all British homes would have owned one television set, positioned in the main living room and acting as the focal point of most families’ everyday leisure time. In June and July, warm weather would have meant that activities like gardening, visiting parks and meeting friends competed with The Present Stage and the programmes around it for potential viewers’ attention on Sundays. However, shopping, the major household activity on Saturdays, did not distract potential viewers because British shops (and cinemas, theatres and restaurants) were all closed by law on Sundays until the evening. This enforced relaxation on Sunday daytimes created potentially positive opportunities for familial bonding and developing leisure pursuits and hobbies, but it also gave Sundays an empty, desultory aspect. Programmes about Beckett’s drama in Sunday daytime would be perceived very differently from similar programmes on weekday evenings, because of the different relationships between television and the activities of the household at that time in the week. ABC had staked a claim to serious drama on Sunday evenings before Godot appeared in its daytime programmes. The Armchair Theatre (1956-74) series of specially-commissioned dramas for television was the most prominent drama slot on television, at least until the mid-1960s (Macmurraugh-Kavanagh and Lacey 1999). Its



producer, Howard Thomas, was a highly-regarded ABC executive with a background in the cinema business, who led Armchair Theatre’s development of drama written specifically for the television medium (Thomas 1959). Each week a new play was shot in the studio with actors performing live in story sequence, like theatre, though without a live audience. Three or four electronic video cameras pirouetted around the performers and the cameras’ different points of view were cut together during the broadcast. ABC commissioned notable playwrights to write for Armchair Theatre, like David Mercer, Alun Owen and Harold Pinter, and its writers also adapted existing theatre texts by Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg. The plays were screened in prime-time on Sunday evenings, and were regularly featured in the national press because of their daring contemporaneity in language, subject and form. They were high-profile productions and gained large audiences for ITV. For example, the Associated-Rediffusion (A-R) ITV company serving London on weekdays commissioned a television version of Pinter’s The Birthday Party (1963), broadcast nationally in 1960 just two years after its stage premiere, in the regular series Play of the Week. The drama was very popular, gaining an audience of 11 million, placing it among the most-watched programmes of the week (Billington 2007, 110). ABC made Pinter’s A Night Out (1963) for Armchair Theatre in 1964, and A-R and another ITV company, Granada, commissioned five original drama and adapted theatre plays from Pinter in the years preceding The Present Stage (Bignell 2018). While there is no guarantee that Godot would have attracted audiences as large as those for Pinter’s plays, which are less demanding formally than Beckett’s, if A-R had been able to lure Beckett away from the BBC his work would perhaps have complemented ITV’s largely successful strategies to make contemporary drama popular. The plays featured in The Present Stage had been landmarks of British theatre in the decade preceding the series, and each had been published in inexpensive editions, in the Methuen Modern Plays series, Penguin paperbacks, Faber paperback or a Samuel French acting script. Alongside Waiting for Godot the series dealt with John



Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1957), Arnold Wesker’s Roots (1960), The Fire Raisers (1962) by Max Frisch, The Bald Prima Donna by Eugene Ionesco (1958) and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (1960). These were plays that were easily obtainable to read, had made a public impact mainly through reviews in newspapers and were available for production by amateur theatre groups. The plays were already ‘modern classics’ and although they may have seemed inaccessible because of their form, language or themes, they were not unavailable to people who wished to find out about them. Interesting a potential viewer and making the link between the viewer and the theatre text or performance was the aim of Kershaw’s series. The Present Stage was a form of popularisation. The roster of personnel making The Present Stage reveals that the programme was an odd hybrid. It was produced by Pamela Lonsdale who normally made religious programmes, and she adopted a somewhat lofty and proselytising tone when TV Times reported her annoyance about the potential audience’s attitude to contemporary dramas: “These people immediately label them as a lot of rubbish with no beginning, no end and no plot. Even my own mother has done it” (Anon. 1966). Clearly the challenge for the production team was to find an appropriate tone, form and mode of address to an audience who they assumed would be initially reluctant to engage with their work. The role of director was taken by Wojciech Szendzikowski (known as Voytek, a nickname given him by the theatre director George Devine), who was émigré avant-garde stage, film and television designer. He designed over 40 Armchair Theatre productions, and Roman Polanski’s film Cul-de-Sac (1966), for example. Voytek was not as skilled as a director, and the need for The Present Stage to make space for impromptu performance extracts from six different plays across its run of episodes meant that there were limited opportunities for visual stylisation. The concept for the realisation of The Present Stage was much like a drama workshop, in which the skills of the actors and the ideas introduced by Kershaw could be tried-out in an informal spirit of inquiry.



For each play, there were two TV episodes in The Present Stage. The first was about that week’s play’s form and themes, and the second aimed to explain how the play works dramatically, using a consistent company of performers to bring moments of the drama to life. Of course, the possibility of making the programme depended on having rights to quote and perform extracts from Beckett’s text. Beckett often refused permission to perform cut, altered or adapted versions of his plays, and this stance was vigorously enforced by his literary agent Curtis Brown (Bignell 2015). However, Beckett did agree to the use of extracts in programmes with an informal educational agenda, including The Present Stage. Coincidentally, the BBC made a midweek arts series in the same year, The Theatre Today (BBC 1966), which featured extracts from Godot in its 17 March episode, for example, and the two-minute piece of Godot on videotape was then re-broadcast as part of another BBC series, Seeing and Believing, on 15 May 1966 (Anon. 1966). The Curtis Brown agency agreed to this use of extracts and charged the BBC £3 per minute each time the clips were shown. Seeing and Believing was another of the Sunday daytime programmes, transmitted live from a London church on the BBC1 channel from 11.00-11.30 am. It was a religious series, with a topic around which discussion and illustrative extracts were organised, and that week the theme was waiting, for which the Godot extract would have seemed appropriate. The director working on screen with the actors in The Present Stage was David Jones, whose career spanned prestigious publiclyfunded theatre work and the most high-profile television arts programmes of the mid-1960s (Billington 2008). His track record and links with significant writers, actors, producers and directors fitted him very well to interpret and explore the dramaturgy of contemporary British and European plays for a diverse audience. A Cambridge University graduate, Jones was an assistant to the BBC producer Huw Wheldon from 1958-64 on the arts programme Monitor (BBC 1958-65). The series profiled past and present cultural figures and included short documentary features filmed by rising young directors including Ken Russell and John Schlesinger. Jones succeeded



Wheldon and produced Monitor in the 1963-64 season. Monitor is rightly regarded as a high-point in BBC’s mission to inform and educate mass television audiences about a wide range of cultural production, in art, music, cinema, literature and theatre. Jones’s work behind the camera on the programme would have proven his credentials to ABC when planning The Present Stage. Jones complemented his work at the BBC with theatre directing, including Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in a trio of short plays he directed at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1961 alongside T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes (1932) and W.B. Yeats’s Purgatory (1939). Jones had an abiding interest in the progressive, experimental drama being done in London, and developed a relationship with Harold Pinter that began when Jones played McCann in an amateur production of Pinter’s The Birthday Party in 1959 (Billington 2008). At this time the Royal Shakespeare Company did not have its own venue in Stratford-upon-Avon but worked at the Arts Theatre and then the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End. Jones became the RSC’s Artistic Controller in 1964, working with the company’s Artistic Director, Peter Hall, who directed Godot in its British premiere at the Arts Theatre in 1955. Jones’s role was to curate seasons of new writing and existing plays by European authors (Anon. 2008). His task of working on the challenges posed by staging Godot and the other plays in The Present Stage exploited his broad practical knowledge of modern drama as performed in the vibrant London theatre culture of the period. The actors in the Godot episodes were Valentine Palmer, Barry Stanton, Paul Hardwick and Derek Smith. Hardwick had appeared on television in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard on BBC in 1962, and an RSC version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in 1963, each performed on stage at the Aldwych Theatre, and he probably knew David Jones. Similarly, Smith had been in the television adaptation of the RSC’s The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare on BBC in 1964 and was part of the same London theatre milieu. By contrast, The Present Stage was not prestige drama in evening prime-time, like the BBC’s screenings



of Shakespeare, its adaptations of Beckett’s Royal Court Theatre successes or ITV’s commissions for Armchair Theatre or Play of the Week. Nevertheless, the performers working on extracts from Godot were experienced, highly-trained and professional, as required by the series’ exploration of plays by six different writers in just a few hours of screen time. The Present Stage TV series was based on the eponymous book by Kershaw (1966), which was structured in much the same way, with two short chapters about each play. Kershaw first explained his view that audience involvement and engagement with actors’ bodily and gestural movement enliven drama in ways that the literary study of plays or the analysis of deliberately alienating styles of performance cannot. He emphasised how theatre space could be used to create non-Naturalistic fictional worlds, paralleling the use of back-stage action versus front-of-stage direct address to the audience in Shakespeare’s theatre with the use of deep focus, background action and close-up in contemporary television and film. The relationships between framing, bodily expressivity and the dynamics of audience attention that Kershaw stresses seem to lend his approach to uses of the television medium that explore its potentialities in themselves, as well as in their aptitude for adapting and representing theatre drama. Kershaw’s analyses of Beckett began with the assertion that Godot was undoubtedly the most important play of the previous ten years. He described the structure of the play and its plot, inasmuch as it has one, and outlined some of the allusions and verbal tricks that Beckett uses in the text. Kershaw was particularly interested in the biblical resonances of the language, and the use of vaudeville comedy alongside philosophical, existential questions. Farce, he argued, “helps Vladimir, Estragon and us to bear the wretchedness of how we live and what we face. Laughter is distracting and, at the same time, a most powerful underliner” (1966, 119). The analysis is relatively simple, but wide-ranging, and a lot of space in the book, and thus presumably a lot of time in the television series, was given over to presenting relatively lengthy passages from the play. The subtle



patterns of Beckett’s verbal imagery, and the changing pace in the delivery of exchanges between Vladimir and Estragon, were used to invite audiences to feel and appreciate mood, tone and characterisation rather than to offer an interpretation of the play’s overall meaning. The book of the series was reviewed for Modern Drama in 1967 by Malcolm Page, then a young lecturer at Simon Fraser University in Canada. As befits a popularising text published to accompany a television series, Fraser described the book as “a fairly elementary introduction to drama of the last 10 years” (Fraser 1967, 325). Interestingly, he described Godot (with The Bald Prima Donna) as a French play, alongside its three British and one German companions. For Page (1967, 326), Kershaw’s discussion of Godot was one of the weaker parts of the book, and he called the two Beckett chapters “inconclusive” and decided that Kershaw “seems unsure why he admires Beckett and Frisch”. Indeed, in his conclusion to the book, Kershaw offers only relatively anodyne analysis of contemporary theatre as a whole. He suggests that “we are beginning to live, now, not by rules we inherit but by values we discover for ourselves” (1966, 131). In refusing former ideologies, social conventions and conventions of representation, Kershaw suggests, “art can extend and deepen human experience” (1966, 133). This was scarcely a controversial view in 1966, and the substance of Kershaw’s study is much less significant than the fact of his having three full hours of national television to develop his case by a combination of lecture and practical demonstration. The medium was more important than his message. Aspiration and self-improvement The public service ethos of British broadcasting included the requirement for broadcasters to inform and educate, as well as entertain. For example, BBC radio had been broadcasting to schools since 1924, and television had been used to make educational programmes, connected directly to curriculum subjects, since 1957.



Rather than the BBC, it was the ITV franchise holder for London on weekdays, Associated-Rediffusion, that started the initiative though there were few schools that had access to television sets on their premises. There were no programmes about Beckett’s work in the schools broadcast output, though there were productions of dramas from Ancient Greece to the early twentieth century (Wrigley 2018). But both BBC and ITV discussed Beckett’s work and presented extracts from his plays in the parallel, informal provision of cultural programmes that they screened outside of educational broadcasting as such and outside the most popular timeslots. Sunday daytimes were neither the valuable prime-time evening period, the popular children’s viewing periods of weekday afternoons after school ended, nor the Saturday afternoon period when live football games were shown. Sunday daytime was a neglected part of the schedule in which a varied and interesting miscellany of content appeared. On Sundays, ITV programmes began with a church service at 11.00 in the morning, followed by two programmes aiming to help viewers learn French and Russian. This instructional tone continued, but now more befitting the embourgeoisement and increasing prosperity of the period, with The ABC of Do It Yourself in which skilled handyman Barry Bucknell showed viewers how to do home improvements. As the title of the series suggests, it was intended as a primer or instructional guide to the common tasks that a householder in 1966 might face. It was assumed that the viewer had the relatively small amount of surplus income and leisure time required to make improvements to his (or, less plausibly in those days, her) domestic space. In the introduction to the accompanying book to the series, published in association with ABC TV as a paperback at the price of 3s 6d, Bucknell (1966, 5) aligns himself with the ordinary man: You may have become involved with do-it-yourself activities for a number of reasons. It may well be a form of relaxation doing something which is creative and which is quite different from your normal occupation. It is of course quite likely that you were


JONATHAN BIGNELL forced into it by economics, that you just have to do it yourself to save money. There is always the possibility that your wife chivied [sic] you into it, or you may have been shamed into it by the efforts of your neighbours.

Bucknell began the series by introducing viewers to the range of basic tools that the home handymen might require. Then in each episode, he addressed a common type of do-it-yourself challenge, such as repairs to household electric lighting, plumbing, curing damp in plaster, painting and decorating, hanging wallpaper and laying linoleum flooring. Bucknell himself demonstrated each task, addressing the viewer and talking about the job as he carried it out, with the studio cameras providing close-ups of particular details and techniques. Like other TV programmes in ITV’s Sunday informal educational schedule, The ABC of Do It Yourself recognised common problems, needs and desires, and imparted technical skills and professional competencies communicable to ordinary viewers. Television was a means to identify and recognise problems and offer practical ways to address them. It was this attitude that underlay the approach that Kershaw took to the appreciation of contemporary drama in The Present Stage. ITV’s first half-hour programme on Waiting for Godot was at 1.45 pm on 26 June 1966, when most viewers would have watched while they ate their traditional Sunday lunch of roast meat, potato and green vegetables. It followed Bucknell’s evaluation of a range of different kinds of floor covering including linoleum and vinyl tiles, and a demonstration of the techniques for laying carpet. The following week’s episode of The Present Stage on 3 July, including extracts from Godot, was preceded by Bucknell’s advice on making concrete paths, and laying crazy paving for a garden patio. Viewers might have chosen to watch the competing programme on BBC1 that afternoon (there was no broadcasting on BBC2 at that time of day), but detailed ratings information is not available to us now. However, the rival channel’s Gardening Club (1.30 pm) with advice about growing tomatoes, followed by Farming (1.50 pm), about beef production in



Yugoslavia, probably did not present a serious challenge to The Present Stage. Attentive viewers might have noted that the day after the second Godot episode, Beckett’s Eh Joe could be seen on the BBC. It would have been inconceivable, however, that any reference to a competing channel’s programmes would be made to help ITV’s viewers make this connection. Moreover, Eh Joe was not prominent in the BBC schedule, being screened at 10.20 pm on the minority BBC2 channel. Nevertheless, the coincidence of the BBC screening Beckett the day after The Present Stage potentially drew additional viewers to Beckett’s work. Moreover, in a broader sense, ITV’s programmes on that Sunday afternoon looked forward optimistically to the future. Bucknell concluded the published version of The ABC of Do It Yourself with some observations on how new materials, especially plastics, were transforming the British household and the infrastructure and decoration with which Bucknell was especially concerned: if you enjoy doing it yourself, it not only pays to keep a close watch on all modern developments but with the increasing range of materials which open up exciting new design possibilities, it is also worth while developing a flair for artistic design. This comes with familiarity.

The value of The Present Stage was, in much the same way, to inform the viewer about new ways of doing theatre, and the new techniques that staging contemporary plays could demand. For Bucknell and Kershaw this was partly a matter of understanding how the structure and components of a kitchen tap or Waiting for Godot worked in a practical context. It meant taking the play or the domestic appliance apart to see how it worked, then putting it back together. But moreover, it meant learning to exercise taste, how to appreciate design and style, and how to take part in a culture that might initially seem alien or forbidding. With Kershaw or Bucknell as their guides, ITV viewers in 1966 were being given access to activities and experiences that were hitherto barred to them. Going to see a con-



temporary play and being able to discuss it, or removing outdated Victorian features from a house in order to install modern panelling, were more comparable than they might at first appear. Bucknell (1966, 156) explained how newly found expertise could become a naturalized aspect of a more confident and independent social self: When you’re doing your own decorating and your own construction you naturally become more critical of bad design and more appreciative of good design. Your appreciation of simplicity, harmony, balance and dramatic effect is increased and you become better qualified to make your own decisions on design. This means that with the knowledge of the basic principles of do-ityourself, with the modern materials and techniques at your disposal, and with an eye for design, the satisfaction known to centuries of craftsman should be within your grasp.

By drawing attention to the ways in which a theatre play might be performed, albeit in the context of a television studio, using the technical resources and alternations of point of view that the multi-camera video environment made possible, a secondary agenda for Kershaw was to bring a wider range of playwrights to the television medium. Having interviewed Kershaw prior to the broadcast of the first episode of The Present Stage, TV Times (Anon. 1966, 7) reported his concern that playwrights were not taking advantage of opportunities that television offered for presenting their works. In addition to the general audience for Sunday daytime television on ITV, Kershaw hoped that the much more limited constituency of working playwrights might be inspired to offer their theatre ideas for adaptation, or perhaps craft original television drama. This is a particular variant of the discourse of empowerment, opportunity and acquisition of skills that public service broadcasting on Sundays in Britain adopted. This chapter has taken a historiographic and contextual approach to the appearance of Godot on Sunday daytime commercial television. By analysing matters of scheduling, audience address,



paratextual materials and relationships between Beckett’s play and adjacent, comparable texts the chapter has evaluated what it meant for the ITV commercial channel to make programmes about Beckett’s drama. Although it may seem incongruous, Godot did relate in various ways to the televised church services and home improvement advice that framed it on ITV in 1966. Moreover, the commercial network evidently cared whether its viewers understood cutting-edge drama by Beckett, Ionesco or Pinter. Although The Present Stage was not a high-profile, prime-time, mass audience programme, it recognised Beckett’s significance for British arts culture at the time, and connected with other ways in which Beckett was visible on television. These included the more well-known television dramatizations of his theatre work, plays he wrote specifically for television, and arts coverage of Beckett at a time when he was a living, internationally recognized writer making new work. By moving outwards from the example of The Present Stage, it is possible to place Beckett’s drama in the context of a time of dynamic and exciting instability in British culture, when the categories of the popular and the elite were being contested. Curiosity, aspiration and a desire for self-improvement were implicit in how ITV addressed its Sunday viewers in the summer of 1966, and Beckett was a part of that initiative. In a small way, The Present Stage’s focus on Beckett’s work contributed to a cultural revolution.

References Addyman, David, Matthew Feldman and Erik Tonning (eds.) 2017. Samuel Beckett and BBC Radio: A Reassessment. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Anon. 1966a. BBC Copyright Department memo: The Theatre Today, March 17, Samuel Beckett Copyright File 1, 1965-69, BBC Written Archives Centre, RCONT 18. Anon. 1996b “And now—how to enjoy plays”. TV Times. April 16, 1966. 7.



Anon. 2008. David Jones: theatre, television and film director. The Times, September 24. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/david-jonestheatre-television-and-film-director-bqd7wt527ng. Barry, Michael. 1960. Memo to Controller of Programmes: TV, August 23, 1960, Samuel Beckett Drama Writers file 1960-74, BBC Written Archives Centre, T48/74/1. BBC. 1961. Audience Research Report on Waiting for Godot, June 26, 1961, BBC Written Archives Centre, R/9/7/52. BBC. 1963. Audience Research Report on Krapp’s Last Tape, November 13, 1963, BBC Written Archives Centre, R/9/7/63. BBC. 1966. Audience Research Report on Eh, Joe, November, 1966, BBC Written Archives Centre, T5/1296/1. Beckett, Samuel. 1957a. All That Fall. A Play for Radio. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1967. Eh Joe and Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1959. Krapp’s Last Tape and Embers. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1957b Waiting for Godot. London: Samuel French. Bignell, Jonathan. 2009. Beckett on Screen: The Television Plays. Manchester: Manchester UP. –. 2015. “Performing right: legal constraints and Beckett’s plays on BBC television”. Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui, 27 (2015): 129142. –. 2018. “‘Random dottiness’: Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter in 1958”. In Beckett Influencing / Influencing Beckett, edited by Nicholas Johnson, Anita Rokoczy and Mariko Tanaka. Budapest and Paris: Károli Gáspár University Press / L’Harmattan. –. 2010. “Television and the popular: viewing from the British perspective”. Journal of Literary Theory, 4:2 (2010): 181-198. Billington, Michael. 2007. Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2008. Obituary: David Jones. The Guardian, September 23, 2008. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2008/sep/23/theatre.televisi on. Bucknell, Barry. 1966. The ABC of Do It Yourself. London: TV Publications. Eliot, T.S. 1932. Sweeney Agonistes: Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama. London: Faber. Frisch, Max. 1962. The Fire Raisers. London: Methuen.



Gardner, Carl and John Wyver. 1983. “The Single Play: From Reithian Reverence to Cost-accounting and Censorship”. Screen, 24:4-5 (1983): 114-124. Ionesco, Eugene. 1958. The Bald Prima Donna. Trans. Donald Watson. London: Samuel French. Johnson, Catherine and Rob Turnock. 2005. “Introduction: approaching the histories of ITV”. In ITV Cultures: Independent Television Over Fifty Years, edited by Catherine Johnson and Rob Turnock, 1-12. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Kershaw, John. 1966. The Present Stage: New Directions in Theatre Today. London: Fontana. Knowlson, James. 1996. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury. Macmurraugh-Kavanagh, Madeleine, and Stephen Lacey. 1999. “Who framed theatre?: The ‘moment of change’ in British TV drama”. New Theatre Quarterly, 57 (1999): 58–74. Nixon, Mark and Matthew Feldman (eds.). 2009. The International Reception of Samuel Beckett. London: Continuum. O’Dwyer, Andy. 2008. “European television archives and the search for audiovisual sources”. In A European Television History, edited by Jonathan Bignell and Andreas Fickers. 257-263. New York: Blackwell. Osborne, John. 1957. Look Back in Anger. London: Faber and Faber. Page, Malcolm. 1967. Review of The Present Stage. Modern Drama, 10:3 (1967): 325-326. Pilkington, Hugh. 1962. Report of the Committee on Broadcasting. London: HMSO. Pinter, Harold. 1960. The Caretaker. London: Methuen. –. The Birthday Party. 1963. London: Methuen. Russell Taylor, John. 1969. Anger and After: A Guide to the New British Drama. London: Eyre Methuen. –. A Night Out. 1963. London: Samuel French. Scannell, Paddy. 1990. “Public service broadcasting: The history of a concept”. In Understanding Television, edited by Andrew Goodwin and Gary Whannel. 11-29. London: Routledge. Thomas, Howard (ed.) 1959. The Armchair Theatre. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Wesker, Arnold. 1960. Roots. Harmondsworth: Penguin.



Whitehead, Kate. 1989. The Third Programme, A Literary History. Oxford: Clarendon. Wrigley, Amanda. 2017. “Tragedy for teens: Ancient Greek tragedy on BBC and ITV schools television in the 1960s”. In Ancient Greece on British Television, edited by Fiona Hobden and Amanda Wrigley. 84108. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Yeats, W.B. 1939. Last Poems and Two Plays. Dublin: Cuala Press.

Going Underground: Publicity Campaigns on Beckett’s Behalf, 1955-1969 Stephen Dilks In 1966, Grove Press ran an advertising campaign for the Evergreen Review with a photograph of a famous person and the tagline, “[Famous person] is now appearing at your local newsstand”. At the foot of the series of advertisements, the copy invited the reader to “Join the Underground. Whisper Evergreen to your local newsdealer. If he doesn’t have it, raise your voice” (Lilly 1966). Channeling the views of a generation that was protesting for civil rights and sexual liberation by subverting traditions and styles associated with ‘respectable’ culture, the campaign used a head-shot of Samuel Beckett alongside “Barbarella, the luscious heroine of the French comic strip for grown-ups” who “has been banned in her native land.” The immediate purpose of the 112,000 dollar campaign was to draw attention to the newly formatted Evergreen Review, which was now an eight-and-a-half by eleven inch glossy magazine with numerous cartoons and photographs, and with “more sexual material” and “pungent political commentary”(Rosenthal 2017, 79). By extension, of course, the campaign attracted attention to Grove’s extensive catalogue, especially its controversial series of Evergreen Books, but also its Evergreen Theater series and its nascent film series, which included Beckett’s Film and would eventually feature the multi million dollar blockbuster, I am Curious (Yellow). Full-page advertisements appeared in Book Week, Cavalier, Esquire, New Republic, New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Playboy, Ramparts and Village Voice, and were reinforced with posters in subway stations and 300,000 direct mailings. The impact on sales was considerable, increasing circulation from 30,000 to 90,000 within the first six months of 1966 and to 150,000 by the end of the year. As Advertising Age reported in July 1966, those buying the magazine were not exactly hippies and beatniks; they were, rather, thirty-something professionals interested in being asso85



ciated with the countercultural underground. The vast majority of those who responded to a survey by Marketing Data Inc. were middle-management males with two kids, a house, and a late-model car (“Evergreen” 1966). This audience of “weekend rebels” was perfectly suited to Beckett, to an author who had been positioned in the post-war literary marketplace as a success who hated success, as a popular figure who loathed popularity, as a public icon who refused publicity. Beckett’s “underground appeal” (“Evergreen” 1966) to those in respectable professional positions would eventually lead to plans for an “underground venture,” a high-profile, international fund-raising effort for a subterranean Samuel Beckett Theatre designed by Buckminster Fuller and built on the grounds of St Peter’s College, Oxford (Knipe 1970). Based in Greenwich Village, at the heart of New York City’s bohemian counterculture, Grove Press set out to push the boundaries of good taste and legality, especially sexual, but also political, putting content that had previously been smuggled and traded behind closed doors on prominent display alongside mainstream books and magazines. Ambitious professionals could buy Grove products at their local newsstand, reading subversive, avant-garde, antiestablishment material on the way to a “well-paying job” or on the way back to “a wife and children” and a “home in the suburbs” (“Evergreen” 1966). Through its Evergreen series of paperbacks, introduced in 1955, Grove had set out to make avant-garde texts accessible to the “large number of people who would like to buy Grove Press books” (“Grove Press Ranges” 1955). But cost-cutting was only one part of the strategy. Grove had also announced itself as a leader of the cultural revolution, as an alternative to “the respectable, buttoned-up publishers [Rosset] called the ‘redcoats’” (Rosenthal 2017, 72). In addition to publishing “little-known authors whose works the established companies wouldn’t consider” (75), Rosset actively sought out writers who were politically and sexually provocative. This brought many more submissions than they could publish in book form, spurring the creation of the Evergreen Review. Launched in 1957, the magazine rapidly became “the unofficial publisher of the



Beat generation” (Rosenthal 2017, 78), a major weapon in Rosset’s defense of free speech, and, as the advertising director for the Review put it in a mailing on August 20, 1966, a conduit for “Notes from the Underground” (Lilly 1966). In its original trade book format, the magazine repeatedly called attention to censorship (cover of Review number 14—May 1960), using the cover of issue number 25 to announce a “Statement in Support of the Freedom to Read” (Review June 1964). Grove also attracted attention by fighting high-profile court battles in defense of the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer; using the Review to proclaim his reputation as “America’s Maverick Publisher” (Rosenthal 2017) and to promote uncensored, unexpurgated versions of controversial texts including Simone de Beauvoir’s translation of Marquis de Sade, Cocteau’s Opium, Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, and the anonymous pornographic Victorian text, My Secret Life. Both Evergreen Books and the Evergreen Review quickly established themselves as sources of material other publishers avoided. And they were deliberately provocative: for example, “Phoebe Zeit-Geist,” written by Michael O’Donoghue with drawings by Frank Springer, featured a naked and manacled woman who was passed from one rogue to another in an underworld of drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Gloating about the offence to mainstream morality, but also appealing directly to the reader who “earns more than Esquire’s, is better educated than Time’s and holds down a better job than Newsweek’s average reader” (Calder archive 1966), the advertisements in the “Join the Underground” campaign announced that the cartoons “got Evergreen kicked out of West Germany”. Rosset boasted that “the individual voices of our editors remained intact” and “the individuality of the creators—the writers and artists—was also prized and nourished, not feared and eviscerated, as it so often is by editors at conglomerate-controlled publishing firms” (Rosset 1998, 12). In light of his resilient persona as a reclusive author who was averse to all forms of publicity, we might be surprised by the association between Beckett and an attention-hungry publisher who was one of the pioneers of post-war pop culture and who was at the



centre of America’s political and sexual revolution. However, Beckett came of age as an Irishman during the process that purged his country of the British establishment. While he did not participate in Ireland’s military or political acts of rebellion, he was a cultural rebel. His earliest characters, Belacqua and Murphy, were strict nonconformists who challenged received codes of conduct and experimented with alternative lifestyles. As a young author, Beckett was attracted to transgressive magazines and would maintain a strong relationship with Eugene Jolas’s transition during its “revolution of the word” phase in 1927-1938. Along the way, he published an argument against “Censorship in the Saorstat,” railed against obedience to “convention” in “Recent Irish Poetry”, proposed a “rupture of the lines of communication” (Beckett 1984, 70), and contributed quirky, experimental, contrarian poems and prose to avant-garde magazines including This Quarter, European Caravan, New Review, and The Dublin Magazine. Beckett’s engagement with the publishing underground is evident from his association with Merlin, a rough-and-ready magazine considered by the authorities as “not a legitimate business” because it published too infrequently and was in violation of the law requiring every business in France to have a French manager (Campbell 1995, 56). Spurred by his frustrating experiences with mainstream publishers in the 1930’s, and with a proclivity for independent businesses of the sort established by his father, Beckett gravitated towards this non-corporate, upstart company, contracting with them to publish extracts from Watt and Molloy. He then agreed to publish Watt with Maurice Girodias, the “second-generation Anglo-French pornographer” who ran Olympia Press, a backstreet publishing house that specialised in “unconventional literature” with a focus on “straight pornography” and “erotic works” (Calder 2001, 97). Girodias had lost a battle to issue a French translation of Tropic of Capricorn; but, as Justin Beplate puts it, he saw himself as a “crusader in the fight against censorship” and “modern bourgeois extremism” (Nixon 2011, 101). In the long-term Beckett would achieve stability with his publishing companies, especially through the September 1955 con-



tract with Faber and Faber for world rights to his plays in English. But the companies owned by John Calder, Jérôme Lindon, and Barney Rosset were decidedly sketchy when he signed initial contracts. Les Éditions de Minuit was struggling to stay afloat in the wake of World War Two; Grove Press was a re-print company run out of a tiny office; and John Calder was little more than a distributor for Evergreen Review and Evergreen Books. With these entrepreneurial, noncorporate publishers at his back, Beckett became a key element in “an experiment to win a wider audience for new writing” (as Barney Rosset put it in a public relations letter to booksellers in January 1958—Lilly), testing the bounds of respectability while creating a public space for marginal literature. Beckett’s “principle of individuation” (Beckett 1984, 70) and his stubborn refusal to play the publicity games of mainstream publishing lent themselves to a marketing strategy that positioned him in the popular imagination as a ‘hip’ author. His intellectual and social pedigree was made more interesting by his immersion in the seedier side of the avant-garde, making him a viable icon of respectable counterculture, perfect for elite college classrooms, chic bars and cafés, the morning commute, and the hours of unbuttoned relaxation. In 1966, Beckett’s face became central to the campaign that inspired thousands of “sold out types” to “join the underground”, establishing him as a pioneer in an underground movement of respectable, but experimental, antiestablishment authors (“Evergreen” 1966). Publicity campaigns on Beckett’s behalf began to take shape after he contracted with Les Éditions de Minuit in 1950. Lindon marketed Molloy as “Le Plus Grand Événement Littéraire de L’Après-Guerre” (“the biggest post-war literary event”), celebrating Beckett as “un grand écrivain français,” but he did so in very limited ways, only advertising locally and with little passion. As Shane Weller reports in “Beckett’s Last Chance: Les Éditions de Minuit,” only 692 copies of Molloy had been sold by the end of 1952, and Malone meurt, published in 1952, sold only 241 copies in its first year (Nixon 2011, 118). At this stage in his career, Beckett truly was part of a literary underground in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Saint-Michel; most



people, including Barney Rosset, found out about his publications through word-of-mouth. When Lindon signed Beckett in 1950, his company was on the verge of bankruptcy and could hardly afford advertising. In addition, his hands were tied by the attitude that came to define Beckett’s authorial image: “Beckett feared publicity concerning not only his name and his work, but also his person” (Nixon 2011, 117). As Weller suggests, Lindon eventually figured out that he could turn “Beckett’s position on publicity to his advantage, promoting him as an enigmatic figure” (Nixon 2011, 118). But advertising on Beckett’s behalf remained low-budget and low-key. The success of Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone changed everything for Beckett, but it did not change Lindon’s restrained approach to marketing. In the four months before the performances began in January 1953, the Minuit edition of Godot sold just over 100 copies. With minimal marketing, sales in French were mainly boosted by performances, averaging over three thousand per year between 1953 and 1960. Lindon certainly launched Beckett by supporting him during the crucial period between 1950 and 1953, but his continued use of a publicity photograph he had been given by Beckett in 1952 indicates his passivity. It would be five years before he commissioned a second photograph, by Philippe Charpentier. When Rosset, and then Calder, joined forces with Beckett, they were much more active, increasing publicity and expanding sales by using newspapers, magazines, public lectures, dramatic readings, and high-profile exhibitions and forums. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the public relations campaign by Rosset and Calder produced some of the most iconic images of Beckett, including the Brassai photograph that replaced the Charpentier head-shot. Rosset used the Brassai image to publicize the Grove catalogue and Three Novels in 1958, establishing the “floating head” portrayal of Beckett that would be perfected by John Haynes (Dilks 2006). These efforts entered a different sphere when Jack MacGowran began his Caldersponsored and Beckett-approved one-man performances of Beckett’s prose, with his carefully cultivated representation of a character caught between indigence and respectability. MacGowran’s “Beck-



ett” became an international phenomenon, capitalising on the interest in Beckett’s theatre by turning extracts from his prose into dramatic performances. These performances culminated in the years before the Nobel Prize award with American, British, Commonwealth, and Irish recordings and publications that were based on the scripts for “End of Day” and “Beginning to End”. Francis Warner’s campaign to raise funds for his “underground venture” at St Peter’s College, Oxford, brought these efforts together, turning a number of public relations campaigns on Beckett’s behalf into a high-profile, widely reported series of feature articles and newspaper columns that established his international reputation as the respectable, acceptable, widely recognisable face of the experimental avant-garde. Even though it was eventually abandoned, Buckminster Fuller’s ‘submarine’ concept for the Samuel Beckett Theatre project at Oxford symbolizes Beckett’s positioning in the public imagination as a silent rebel who deserves acclamation at the heart of the establishment. As Beckett became increasingly popular in the wake of the success of Peter Hall’s Waiting for Godot in London in 1955, Alan Simpson’s production at the Pike Theatre in Dublin, also in 1955, and Herbert Berghof’s version in New York in 1956, a number of professional acquaintances stepped forward to boost his public profile. In the build-up to the Nobel award in 1969, public relations efforts by the publishers were enhanced by Barbara Bray, Donald McWhinnie, and others at the BBC, plus directors and actors including George Devine, Patrick Magee, Alan Schneider, and Billie Whitelaw. Academics and journalists also supported Beckett’s cause, with Ruby Cohn, Hugh Kenner, Lawrence Harvey, Harold Hobson, and Kenneth Rexroth boosting his intellectual cache in academic and popular forums. We should also acknowledge the paid work ‘Con’ Leventhal did for Beckett, especially after he moved to Paris in July 1963 to become Beckett’s personal secretary. But Calder, MacGowran, Rosset, and Warner are exemplary because they made Beckett central to projects designed to protect Beckett’s private life while increasing public investment in his life and work beyond Godot. Through Calder and Rosset, we see how Beckett’s publishers used



strategic communications to market his prose in countercultural contexts; with MacGowran, we see how Beckett and his publishers collaborated in the development of performances designed to expand popular interest in his prose and drama beyond his most famous play and beyond Broadway and the West End; and with Warner we see how a specific effort to celebrate Beckett’s legacy at Oxford University extended Rosset and Calder’s media campaign by boosting his status as an icon of a form of pop culture that was edgy enough to be marketed as part of the ‘underground’, but that was respectable enough to be supported by Prince Charles. The primary author at Grove since 1953, Beckett always received special attention. Rosset was a flamboyant, independently wealthy, literary entrepreneur who, as Chris Ackerley and Stan Gontarski put it, ran “the most aggressive, innovative, audacious, politically active, and often reckless publishing concern in the United States” (Ackerley 2004, 237). As Rosenthal points out, “For Barney, Beckett was his greatest hero and the most important writer he ever published. His admiration was such that over the years he issued every one of his texts through Grove, making sure to keep all of them in print, regardless of sales” (Rosenthal 2017, 66). Rosset was sole proprietor at Grove and, like Beckett, he could follow his own lights, using his privilege to dabble with subversion. He jumped at the chance to commission an English translation of Godot. Acting solely on his own instincts, he skirted Rosica Colin’s simultaneous effort to become Beckett’s sole American agent (Craig 2011, 380381), travelling to Paris in May 1953 specifically to see Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone, contacting Beckett through Sylvia Beach, and, by the end of June 1953, engaging in direct correspondence with Beckett (Craig 2011, 384-387). Rosset quickly negotiated a contract for the English translation of En Attendant Godot, giving Beckett 150 dollars “plus a royalty of 2.5% on the published price of all copies sold of Grove Press’s regular trade edition” (Saunders 1953). In his first personal letter to Beckett, Rosset promised Grove would “do what we can to make your work known in this country” (Rosset 2017, 62-63). Rosset’s first innovation on Beckett’s behalf was the



decision to publish Godot as a dollar paperback at the same time as the hardback version sold for $4.75. When he made a similar move with Molloy in February 1956, the author wrote “By all means a paper bound edition, I am all for cheaper books” (Craig 2011, 602). It is not overstating the case to say that the arrival of Godot in his Manhattan-based publishing house boosted Rosset’s ability to develop a list of homegrown and international authors and, thus, to transform the American publishing industry in the years between 1953 and 1969. As Steven Brower and John Gall put it in “Grove Press at the Vanguard” in the March/April 1994 edition of Print Magazine, The legacy of Grove Press is well known within literary circles— how Barney Rosset bought a fledgling but failing publishing company in the early 1950s and changed the world of letters in America, and perhaps the very culture as well; how during the early years of post-World War II disillusionment and materialism—the era of the gray-flannel suit and suburban expansion, the Korean conflict, and the rise of McCarthyism—Grove Press brought to national prominence the writers, art, and artists of the avant-garde. Grove offered many readers their first introduction to the European dramatists of the Absurd, the French Surrealists, the San Francisco and New York ‘Beat’ poets, and the New York Abstract Expressionists. Such groundbreaking works as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby and Naked Lunch by William Burroughs represented a literary vanguard. Grove went on to champion African American, ethnic, and Third World literature, the politics of the New Left, while at the same time fighting some of the earliest and most important anti-censorship battles, setting legal precedents that still stand today (Brower 1994, 60).

It is highly unlikely this pioneering work would have happened if Rosset had not boosted the public profile of Grove Press, and then Evergreen Review, by contracting with Beckett, making the ostensibly silent and absent Irishman central to his marketing strate-



gies and a foundational support for his expanding empire. Again, Rosset was blessed with enough inherited money to make his own publishing decisions, but he quickly reached the point where Grove paid for itself, allowing him to support a long list of new and controversial writers. Rosset’s efforts to increase Beckett’s popularity in the American marketplace continued apace, especially after he launched the Evergreen Review. Volume 1, number 1 of the review featured “Dante and the Lobster” and reprints of poems from Echo’s Bones: a cover photograph of a seductive adolescent girl reinforced Beckett’s appeal to the ‘hippy’ youth who had answered Meyerberg’s call for “intellectuals” during its New York run in 1956 (Jordan 1994). His clear intention was to build a solid audience for his flagship author by associating him with the sexy icons of underground culture and the most cutting-edge politics of the day. For example, the third number in 1957 included the first accurate printing of “From an Abandoned Work” (the version in Trinity News in June 1956 had introduced errors that Beckett corrected for Rosset) and put Beckett in the same context as the nascent youth revolution, connecting him with the controversy over free speech and censorship generated by Volume 1, number 2, with its focus on the “San Francisco Scene”. As Ken Jordan put it in his introduction to the Evergreen Review Reader, this second issue “brought the Beats and Evergreen Review to the forefront of the American stage” (Jordan 1994). Two issues after calling widespread attention to Beckett’s prose in volume 3 of his review, Rosset scored another marketing coup: the Summer 1958 (number 5) issue featured a premiere publication of Beckett’s latest play, Krapp’s Last Tape. Rosset took the opportunity to align Beckett with the most iconographic and rebellious figure in US culture in the nineteen-fifties, placing his name on the cover between James Dean and a naked mannequin. In Fall 1960, Rosset published “From an Unabandoned Work”, again in Evergreen Review (number 14). A brief excerpt had appeared in X: A London Magazine in 1959 (number 1), but the Evergreen printing was the first substantial extract from a new novel by Beckett since January 1950, when he completed L’innomable. The magazine cover calls attention to the contradiction



between a postage stamp proclaiming “freedom of the press” and a post-office cancellation stamp encouraging customers to “report obscene mail to your postmaster” (Rosset 1994, 102). The implication is, of course, that Becket decided to “unabandon” his text in order to protest US obscenity laws. Again, in May-June 1963, Rosset put the first English version of Cascando in a political context. This time he connected Beckett with the American movement for civil rights, advertising Cascando on a cover showing an activist holding a large sign with the word “NOW” (Rosset 1994, 218). Rosset’s persistent effort to associate Beckett with the most current cultural and political issues is evident from an advertisement he crafted to publicize the February 1966 issue of Evergreen Review (volume 10, number 39). Barbarella, “the luscious heroine of the French comic strip for grown-ups...banned in her native land” is juxtaposed with a photograph of Beckett with the caption “Samuel Beckett is now appearing at your local newsstand”. The issue contains the first American printing of “Imagination Dead Imagine” (first published in English in The Sunday Times on November 7, 1965) and uses a cover with a jokecartoon of a ballerina who has discovered she is without underwear at the moment she performs a high-kick in front of a packed house with a clear view up her skirt. This titillation was clearly designed to associate Beckett with those who embraced free expression, progressive politics, and open sexuality. The idea that Beckett was “coming to a newsstand near you” was clearly a play on the fact that he was notorious as a famous writer who did not appear in public. By 1956, Rosset was earning a profit of over 2000 dollars a year from book-sales and performance rights for Waiting for Godot and this increased steadily as he added Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Watt, How it is and other prose texts to his list. But, as we have begun to see, Beckett was worth more to him than the sales of books and the return on performance rights (he only received 1% from performances of the English version of Godot, which gave him $656.39 from the first six-week run of the play in New York; by contrast, Beckett received $6901.51 for the run). The association with Beckett gave Grove and its offshoots high-brow credibility and,



thus, an entrance to new markets, however risky. Beckett’s name and image featured prominently in advertising and publicity for Grove, appearing, for example, on the front cover of the Fall 1958 Grove catalogue. As already noted, this effectively associated him with an emerging pop culture including the full range of Beat Generation artists, plus such controversial figures as Jackson Pollock (number 3), James Dean (number 5), and Henry Miller (number 10). Even when his name did not appear on the front cover and in the index, Beckett’s books were advertised prominently: in the case of Volume 4, number 11, the entire back-cover was dedicated to an ad for Three Novels and included two photographs of Beckett. When Grove sent press releases about Evergreen Books, Beckett dominated the list, with four Beckett titles on a list of eighteen and no other name appearing more than once (SUL “Grove History” 1958). Again, under the sub-heading, “Contemporary Fiction,” in the Fall 1958 “list of Evergreen Books,” the list of fourteen paperbacks included four by Beckett. Rosset’s decision to feature Beckett so prominently in his publicity materials helped turn Beckett into a cultural icon in the American marketplace. A list of reviews for the 1956 edition of Malone Dies suggests how widely Rosset cast the net on Beckett’s behalf. Listing thirty-two reviews published in the final three months of 1956, the document indicates that the book garnered attention in cities across the nation, from Houston to Malibu to Minneapolis to New Haven to Tulsa. When Grove published Watt in 1959, Rosset sent review-copies to 115 literary editors across the country, in cities including Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC. In addition to geographic range, he reached out to a number of different kinds of publication, with academic journals including the New Mexico Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and the Sewanee Review, as well as middle-brow and low-brow publications including the Reader’s Digest, The Nation, Esquire, and Library Journal. Further, review copies were sent to the Veterans Administration, the American Baptist Publications Society, the Department of the Army, and U.S.I.A Overseas Libraries. An advertising schedule



for Beckett’s texts from Spring 1960 demonstrates Rosset’s efforts to broaden the readership for his controversial list. The schedule amounts to a campaign of one-page and full column ads in the Manhattan-based press. Ads appeared in The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review, the New York Herald Tribune, Theatre Arts, Harper’s, the Saturday Review, the Atlantic, and The New Yorker. Even though his work was publicised far and wide, and even though photographs of him had become ubiquitous by 1966, Beckett’s reputation as an “unknown celebrity” who did not engage in mainstream marketing was firmly established. His decision not to do public readings of his work tied the hands of his publishers and producers, but it also gave them a unique selling proposition. Instead of putting him on stage and behind desks in bookstores, pen-in-hand, Beckett’s publishers protected and projected his underground status, making it central to the Beckett brand. They marketed his work by organizing ‘evenings with Beckett’, hiring actors for dramatic readings and inviting scholars to provide biographical and intellectual contexts. This strategy had begun in 1955 with evenings planned to boost interest in the London premiere of Godot. The Directors, Donald Albery and Peter Glenville, organized a series of public meetings at the Arts Theatre. On October 3, 1955, for example, there was a “public inquiry” asking the question, “Is Waiting for Godot Good Entertainment?” The promise of the evening was to “Resolve the Problem/ Do we—or Don’t We/ Wait For Godot” (Calder 1958). After the play moved to Dublin on October 28, 1955, Con Leventhal, who became Beckett’s personal secretary in July 1963, hosted a post-play conversation on stage at the Pike Theatre. True to his promise when he signed the author in 1953, Rosset took every opportunity to boost Beckett. For example, he organized an ambitious event in New York in October 1956. Dedicated to “The Poetry and Prose of Samuel Beckett”, Rosset’s promotional tribute took place at 6:30 on Tuesday, October 23, 1956 at The Poetry Center at the 92nd and Lexington YM-YWHA with readings by Alvin Epstein and Albert Dekker. Rosset greeted the audience with a description of Beckett’s rise from “obscurity”, explaining, “Tonight we will not read



from Godot but we will go back into Beckett’s earlier work along with the more recent,” the purpose being to “establish the background from which Godot came,” and to show that the other writing can “also stand on its own merits as interesting and good work” (“Y Program” 1956). The programme narrative describes a first stage of growth from the status of a “divine amateur” to the status of “a comparatively unknown writer” whose work had “been published in Paris to some high critical acclaim.” It then argues there had been a second stage of development, bringing him from the status of a writer celebrated for “A successful London production […] followed by a record run at the Pike Theater in Dublin” and “The Broadway Godot,” which “went far to establish Beckett in this country, as we know” (“Y Program” 1956). As public demand grew, Rosset and Calder fended off demands for him “to speak or read to an […] audience,” returning to a consistent mantra that had been formulated by Lindon in 1953: “Mr Beckett does not do any lecturing, or public reading” (Rosset 1965). Calder organised a series of Beckett-centred public events in London and the provinces, using them as the basis for a series of lectures and performances in celebration of Beckett’s sixtieth birthday in 19651966. The readings formed the basis of No’s Knife, a widely advertised collection of Beckett’s prose published by Calder, and the tributes culminated in Calder’s publication of Beckett at Sixty in 1967. Known as John Calder (Publishers) Ltd. between 1950 and 1964, changing its name to Calder & Boyars in 1964 and back to its original name in 1975 (when Calder and Marion Boyars were divorced), Calder’s company attracted attention by distributing the Evergreen Review in Britain and by publishing controversial books from the Grove Press catalogue, including Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1963) and Tropic of Capricorn (1964), and Herbert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1966). Calder thus became a London-based version of Rosset, making a name for himself as a renegade publisher who challenged the rules of obscenity and decency enforced by the Lord Chamberlain. Like Rosset, Calder sat on an inherited fortune; and, also like Rosset, he tapped into the rapidly growing market for radical and morally ques-



tionable writing that was part of the youth revolution of the late nineteen-fifties and the nineteen-sixties. He thus became “the most fashionable publisher, one of the most talked about” (Aster 1999, 29). Again like Rosset, Calder treated Beckett as his primary author, introducing Beckett’s non-dramatic work to Britain and the Commonwealth by distributing his books through universities and offbeat bookshops. Pairing avant-garde formats with hip advertising, he deliberately appealed to young, anti-establishment intellectuals and members of the professional class. Like Rosset, Calder catered to the middle-class desire for recreational immersion in an alternative imaginative realm. When Faber decided not to sign a contract for Beckett’s novels on the grounds that they violated the Lord Chamberlain’s strict definition of obscenity, Calder stepped in, signing for the rights to Beckett’s prose and poetry in Britain and the commonwealth in 1956. He negotiated with Les Éditions de Minuit to publish English translations of the French novels, publishing Malone Dies (1958), Three Novels 1960), Poems in English (1961), Watt (1963), Murphy (1963), How it is (1964), Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit (1965), and Molloy (1966). Using the publicity generated by the more controversial texts, the publishing house set out to promote Beckett as its flagship author. Calder’s strategy is clear from a note he included in The Waterstone’s Guide to Books (1990), defining his niche in “Creative literary publishing” in terms of “a missionary belief” designed to gain “the confidence and affection of his writers” so “he has a good chance of keeping his authors once they are established and profitable”. He goes on to describe the crucial part of the plan: “to find at least one really unusual and important [author] whose name will become synonymous with the imprint” (Aster 1999, 37). Beckett was his “lucky genius, friend and guru”, and he used the author as the linchpin of his marketing strategy. This strategy is evident from a “Sketch of Plan for Beckett Symposium” he composed in 1960. Planning to recruit academic and commercial advocates, he lists “possible contributors” who had already committed themselves to Beckett’s cause and who might be enlisted as spokespeople:



“Maurice Blanchot, Ruby Cohn, G. W. Stonier (?), Harold Hobson, Hugh Kenner, Austyn Wainhouse, and Patrick Bowles” (Calder archive 1960). As Beckett’s sixtieth birthday approached, Calder put his plan into action, beginning by orchestrating a March 1964 “afternoon of readings and debate under the chairmanship of Martin Esslin”, with readings by Jack MacGowran and Patrick Magee at the Criterion Theatre, London and a declared purpose to “introduce [Beckett] to new readers” (Calder archive 1964). There are many actors who established a name for themselves as ‘Beckett actors’, not least Patrick Magee, whose performance as Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape remains definitive. Billie Whitelaw is also a leading performer, especially with her versions of Maddy Rooney in All that Fall, Winnie in Happy Days, and Mouth in Not I. But none was as persistent in promoting Beckett’s status as Jack MacGowran. MacGowran dedicated a decade of his life to the development of a one-man show that was initially called “End of Day” in 1962, before being turned, under Beckett’s supervision, into an international tour as “Beginning to End” in 1963. Recordings by the BBC (1965) and RTE (1966) were followed by commercial releases entitled “MacGowran Speaking Beckett: (Claddagh 1967 and 1970). Jordan Young describes MacGowran’s show as “one of the most highly-acclaimed one-man shows in the history of theatre” because it “changed forever the public perception of Beckett from a purveyor of gloom and despair, to a writer of wit, humanity and courage” (Young 1987, dust-jacket). A close friend of the author, MacGowran was a member of the Abbey Players when he established his reputation by playing Clov in the London production of Endgame in 1958. While he acted in many roles before his untimely death in 1973, MacGowran established himself as the male Beckett character. With Beckett’s direct input, he perfected the role of a ‘Beckettian’ tramp in clothes that were once respectable speaking in a voice that hovers between the bardic and the guttural. Boosted by Calder, and authorized by Beckett, MacGowran was central to the expansion of the audience for Beckett’s work from the centres of high culture in London’s West End and New York’s off-Broadway to the world of pub-

GOING UNDERGROUND 101 lic broadcasting, through radio, television, long-playing records, and on stages in small towns across the provinces of Britain and Ireland. Beginning to End: A Television Exploration of the World of Samuel Beckett was broadcast on the BBC Monitor program on February 23, 1965 and August 8, 1967, with an edited version aired on RTE in September 1965. Beginning to End: A Selection of the Works of Samuel Beckett, was released in 1968 by Gotham books as a limited edition script illustrated by Edward Gorey. The shows were the product of a long collaboration between Beckett and MacGowran that began after they worked on the BBC version of All That Fall in 1957. In 1961 they made a first presentation of “End of Day” for the BBC, with Donald McWhinnie directing and MacGowran acting. The first live performance was at the Tostal in Dublin on October 5, 1962. Beckett gave advice during the read-through of “An entertainment from the works of Samuel Beckett” for the follow-up performance of “End of Day” in London and then, uncharacteristically, attended the first night at the New Arts Theatre on October 16, 1962. In 1963 MacGowran was asked to develop a revival of his one-man Beckett celebration in America with Alan Schneider directing. After recording “End of Day” for the BBC “Monitor” program in February 1964, MacGowran was recruited to play the part of Lucky in a production of Waiting for Godot at the Royal Court with Anthony Page directing and Beckett in attendance. MacGowran and Beckett collaborated closely on Lucky’s monologue, establishing a structural approach that shaped their revision of “End of Day” into the script for “Beginning to End”. In addition to “reconstructing an entirely different” script, Beckett made changes to the actor’s appearance: “At Beckett’s suggestion, MacGowran discarded the stylized costume he had worn in 1962 and garbed himself in a large, shapeless black greatcoat. He also did away with the whiteface makeup in favor of a more realistic appearance” (Young 1987, 104). MacGowran took the revised performance to Dublin in Autumn 1965, and then used the experience to craft a vinyl recording of the new script under Beckett’s supervision, MacGowran Speaking Beckett (1966).



MacGowran’s performance at the Calder-organized event at The Criterion in 1964 had included a selection of poems and the full text of “From an Abandoned Work,” plus extracts from Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, Endgame, The Unnamable, and How it is. On June 15, 1965 Calder informed Beckett that he was planning a program for the Aldwych theatre in London, which would then travel to Nottingham, Edinburgh, and Liverpool, before returning to London. He followed up on June 25, 1965, asking Beckett’s “approval” for a modification to the Criterion “End of Day” programme, proposing to use Krapp’s Last Tape and Come and Go before the interval, with readings from Molloy, “Three Dialogues,” and a “repeat of Come and Go after the break”, followed by a “discussion chaired by Martin Esslin.” Calder’s reasoning was that “this could be very successful and do a lot for book sales, etc.” (all references in this paragraph are to the folder from 1965 in the Calder collection at the Lilly Library). Beckett’s reply on June 30 is effusive, explaining his deep gratitude for all the work Calder was doing on his behalf, giving the go-ahead for him to use whichever texts he chose. Subsequently, on July 29, 1965, Beckett advised Calder not to do Come and Go unless he were there to supervise. Calder responded by revising his plan, relying heavily on extracts from Watt and the Three Novels, especially Molloy and the other texts his company had published. Billed as “An Evening of Samuel Beckett” the revised program was performed by Patrick Magee and Nicol Williamson at the Memorial Theatre, Stratford on August 22, 1965 as part of the Stratford poetry festival. Calder did the introductions, explained “The Importance of Beckett,” and read a selection of poetry translated from French. A report in the Stratfordupon-Avon Herald on August 23, 1965 suggests that the evening had the desired effect, making Beckett’s prose “instantly understandable”. On September 3, 1965 Calder reported to Beckett: “the Stratford reading went extremely well” and “The Edinburgh readings are going extremely well to full houses and good reviews”. After Stratford and Edinburgh, Calder brought the program down to the Traverse Theatre for seven weeks and, then, to the Arts Theatre in London, where it played for “one week at 10:30 at night.”

GOING UNDERGROUND 103 An article in the Glasgow Herald from September 2, 1965 again suggests that the “late-night readings” in London achieved “a surprising immediacy of impact and understanding” (“Readings” 1965). A week later, on September 10, the Herald noted that the audience for the readings “included a group of 20 ministers” who had been invited by Calder. Calder’s publicity campaign, specifically designed to expand media interest in Beckett, reached a new height with the November 7, 1965 publication of “Imagination Dead Imagine” in The Sunday Times (page 48). Arranged in September, when articles about Beckett had become a regular part of the mainstream press, this publication exposed Beckett’s most recent work to roughly 500,000 readers. Soon after this public relations coup, Calder began to develop a book designed as “a Birthday offering to Sam” (Leventhal 1965). Intended for publication in April 1966, but delayed until 1967, Beckett at 60 (1967) is an homage by Beckett’s professional acquaintances and collaborators including Arikha, Devine, Esslin, Hayden, Herbert, Leventhal, Lindon, MacGowran, Monteith, Pinter, Schneider, and Simpson. Comprised of personal notes, tributes, memoirs and reports, it functions as a formal celebration by a hard core of Beckett loyalists writing “more or less within the social framework demanded [of me] by the editor” (Leventhal 1967). Like the contributors to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, the celebration of Joyce’s legacy published in 1929 by his publisher, Shakespeare and Company, the contributors to Beckett at 60 were told what to write and were paid for their efforts. A few excerpts from almost fifty notes Calder wrote in December 1965 and January 1966 give us sufficient sense of his shaping influence on the “symposium of tributes” (as he called the collection in a January 4 letter to Nicol Williamson). In a brief letter to Jack MacGowran on December 2, 1965 he wrote: I am putting together a birthday tribute for Sam’s 60th birthday and I would like you to contribute an article of a maximum 1500 words if you would like to on ‘working with Beckett’ from an ac-


STEPHEN DILKS tor’s point of view. We can only pay a relatively modest fee of 8 guineas for a text of between 1,000 and 1,500 words.

On the same day he wrote to Barbara Bray, “I am preparing a tribute for Samuel Beckett’s 60th birthday next Spring. Would you be willing to write an article of about 1500 words on his influence on younger writers in France for a fee of 12 guineas?” Again on the same day, he asked Lindon for an article “about how you first met Beckett, the excitement of discovering him and the first reception of the novels and of Godot in Paris” (curiously he omitted any mention of payment in his letter to Lindon). And, again on December 2, 1965 he asked Leventhal “if you would be willing to write an article of about 1,500 words or longer if you like on ‘Beckett in the 30’s’, filling in some of the background of Beckett, Joyce, etc. A personal memoir is what I would really like here” (Lilly, Calder 1965). His effort to produce a tapestry of intimate anecdotes is best exemplified by the relatively long note he wrote to Dumesnil on January 7, inviting her to write about “Sam before the war,” about “Sam’s wartime activities”, or about “The period when you were going around publishers with his manuscripts” and giving her freedom “to write something quite different” (Lilly, Calder 1965). Suzanne’s refusal notwithstanding, Calder engineered a text giving “Beckett addicts” a fix of previously unreported biographical information about “Sam”. At the same time the text functioned “as an introduction for new readers to one of the great seminal minds of our time” (Calder 1965-1967). Calder confesses that the contributors “are all overawed […] by the prophet from Dublin” (2), going on to say the book is being published not “for the benefit of its subject who will chuck it away in disgust” and “not for the benefit of the publisher”, but “for the benefit of the contributors […] who want to say basically that they love him, or admire him, or are grateful” (3). Sales of The Trilogy (1959) had already been sufficiently boosted by Calder’s efforts in 1964 and 1965 to justify a re-issue in 1966; after Beckett at 60 appeared in 1967, Calder reprinted Malone Dies (1958) and Poems in English (1961), with new editions of both

GOING UNDERGROUND 105 texts released in 1968. Increased interest on college campuses across the UK created demand for a second edition of Kenner’s Samuel Beckett with a revised introduction and afterword (1968). Sales of Calder’s entire list of Beckett texts increased significantly as Calder’s publicity campaign was complemented by the work he did to “build up a little network of bookshops not just in Britain but in Australia, in New Zealand and European bookshops who sold English books” (Aster 1999, 28). Having worked hard to build a “network” of distributors ready to sell “the more intellectual authors” (1999 28), and having organized a successful media campaign designed to boost Beckett’s profile, Calder wrote to Beckett on June 29, 1966 asking permission to publish a “reader” (Lilly, Calder 1966). The letter makes clear that the book was based on the script used for “An Evening of Samuel Beckett”. A Samuel Beckett Reader was published in September 1967 as a Calder hardback and in a popular edition as a Signet paperback issued by The New English Library. As Calder put it in his preface to the chronological collection of extracts, the “reader” was specifically “designed to make the work of Samuel Beckett […] more accessible to the average reader” (1967a, 7). Calder was not as aggressive as Rosset, but he was persistent, taking advantage of opportunities as they arose. Further, as the tributes in In Defense of Literature illustrate, Calder worked hard to associate Beckett with current political issues, broadening the market for his texts by positioning him as a pioneer of the anti-censorship movement. A good example of how he combined the marketing of Beckett with his political activism is evident from his use of Come and Go, which Beckett gave him in 1965 (Faber held the UK rights to Beckett’s plays, except when Beckett decided otherwise). Come and Go gave Calder a showpiece for the winter season in 1968, raising Beckett’s profile to new heights with a performance at the Royal Festival Hall on December 9, 1968. The performance was repeated at the same venue on March 23, 1969 as a fund-raising event for the Defense of Literature and the Arts Society. Both events gave him the opportunity to advertise No’s Knife, Poems in English, and How it is (Calder 1967).



By the time Francis Warner approached Beckett with his proposal for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre in May 1967, the author was at the top of his game. He had a private secretary, trusted directors and publishers in France, Germany, and the USA, the power to co-direct his plays when he chose, a wife who was prepared to fly around Europe to check on productions, a custom-designed apartment in Paris, and a writer’s retreat in Ussy. The spark of fame that came in 1953 with the original production of Godot had been nurtured and fuelled, so that it was, by 1967, providing the energy for a network of devoted professionals to promote his name across the globe. Somewhat different than Rosset, Calder, and MacGowran, because he was a relatively quiet, behind-the-scenes, academic facilitator, with little apparent interest in commerce, Francis Warner organized an international fund-raising campaign in 1967-1969 to build Buckminster Fuller’s design for the Samuel Beckett Theatre at St Peter’s College, Oxford. As David Tucker points out in A Dream and its Legacies, “Beckett’s personal involvement in the early stages of planning is evident in correspondence sent to Warner” (6). While Warner never managed to raise sufficient money to build Fuller’s ambitious, subterranean theatre, his three-years of widely reported solicitations, meetings, and dinners raised Beckett’s public respectability at the same time as it reinforced his status as an avant-garde renegade. In other words, Warner’s “underground venture” as part of a Christian foundation at Oxford University is emblematic of Beckett’s authorial situation because it firmly plants him at the heart of the world of cultural respectability while preserving his reputation as a leading member of “the underground.” A fellow and tutor in English and Anglo-Irish Literature at the college, and a friend of Beckett’s since 1962, Warner initiated plans for “a workshop for one of the really great dramatists of our time” (RUL MS 3142). He built on the considerable publicity generated by Calder, MacGowran, and Rosset during the sixtieth birthday celebrations by taking his campaign to the upper echelons of British and American society. In Britain he enlisted the support of prominent politicians and other celebrities including Benjamin Britten,

GOING UNDERGROUND 107 Prince Charles, Edward Heath and Laurence Harvey. With a June 1, 1967 letter of support from Beckett in hand, Warner asked his college to allow him to raise £70,000 to “build the theatre, offset performing losses and open a bursary to help young playwrights”: he was given the green light by St Peter’s in January 1968 (Ezard 1970). Warner gained the support of Rosset, Calder, Lindon, and Charles Monteith (the Faber and Faber executive who had secured the firm’s rights to British and Commonwealth publications of Beckett’s plays), as well as Beckett’s bibliographer, John Fletcher, and his preferred director, Alan Schneider. He persuaded Buckminster Fuller to donate his services as architect and Henry Moore to provide a sculpture for the entrance-way. Warner also organized numerous fund-raising events, including “a series of pump-priming banquets in New York (presided over by the English poet W. H. Auden) which raised £12,000” (Ezard 1970). The initial plan was to build a theatre in the basement of a new building, The Matthews Building (Tucker 2013, 6). The figure of £40,000 for the building reported in the Oxford-based newspaper The Isis on November 1, 1967, had risen to £70,000 by May 1968 (Hodson 1967; Blake 1968). In 1968, with some major donations promised, Warner convinced St Peter’s College to be more ambitious and to construct a theatre under the college quad. Buckminster Fuller had agreed to design a submarine-like bubble made of ferrocement held in place by submerged concrete blocks and tether-lines. It would seat 250. By February 1970 the building cost was reported as £170,000 (O’Donovan 1970). Above these escalating costs, the theatre also needed funds for overheads, a figure increasing from £70,000 in May 1968 to £180,000 in May 1970. In response to this escalation, Warner extended his list of potential donors: the first £5000 from Richard Burton was supplemented by Edward Heath (leader of Britain’s Conservative Party), and a number of literary dignitaries including Edmund Blunden, Graham Greene, Robert Lowell, Harold Pinter, and Arnold Wesker. As Anthony Holden of The Financial Times reported in February 1970, Warner’s “personal commitment to the scheme [had] an evangelical air” and involved “a



good deal of furious travel” including “a world poetry-reading tour to raise further funds” (Holden 1970). The sheer boldness with which Warner worked is evident: in May 1968 he managed to solicit an undisclosed but “very generous donation” from Prince Charles (“Generous Prince” 1968): this is likely the donation that led to the more ambitious plan. He also gained the support of the Labour Party’s Minister of Arts, the Right Honourable Jennie Lee, MP, quoting a message from her in the official, limited edition programme for the March 1970 fund-raiser: “I am sure that an experimental theatre of this kind could be of great value to young playwrights everywhere and I wish the project every success” (Warner 1970). Warner’s almost evangelical campaign on Beckett’s behalf in 1967-70 functions as a nexus in the sustained strategy to establish the author’s reputation in respectable academic and literary circles and, at the same time, in a specific niche in popular culture, as an antiestablishment figure associated with ‘the underground’. The Oxford don successfully gathered together the threads we have given most attention to in this chapter, from the bold entrepreneurial work by Barney Rosset as he used Beckett to build a publishing empire that was at the core of the post-WW II sexual and political revolution, to the complementary plans by John Calder to take Beckett into the British provinces, and to the legacy-defining commitment of Jack MacGowran as he collaborated with Beckett, Calder, Rosset, and others in the construction and revision of a coordinated performance that created an intense representation of Beckett in absentia. As suggested earlier, these campaigns do not give a complete picture of the devotional labours that enabled Beckett to achieve international fame in the period between 1950 and 1969, even as he retained the reputation as a man ‘damned to fame’, but they give a solid sense of how he was positioned in popular culture in Britain and America during the years before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the same time as he gained stamps of authority from an elite college at Oxford, a select group of award-winning authors and actors, an elected leader of the British government, and the heir to the British monarchy, he occupied a comfortable space alongside Beat genera-

GOING UNDERGROUND 109 tion writers, pornographers, self-proclaimed junkies, and others associated with backstreet subculture. The carefully staged photograph of Beckett sitting in an alley with garbage dressed in expensive clothes is, perhaps, the most graphic illustration of our central argument about the campaign to turn the author into a respectable icon of renegade resistance (Dilks 2011, 69-71). But this image would not make sense without the work done by Rosset, Calder, and MacGowran to clear a pathway from the grueling margins of British and Irish publishing in the 1930’s to his status as a respectable Nobel laureate who gave successful professionals and young intellectuals a way to connect with the underground. References: 1958. “Grove Press Ranges Far and Wide, Forward and Backward in Book Quest”. The Clarksdale Press Register, February 19, 1958. 1965. “Readings from Beckett”. Glasgow Herald, September 2 and September 10 (in “Press cuttings folder”, Calder archive, 1965). 1966. “‘Evergreen’ Digs Into Underground Appeal, Finds ‘Sold Out’ Types Really Dig Its Copy”. Advertising Age, July 25, 1966. 1958-1967. Folders indicated by relevant year. University of Indiana. Lilly Library, Calder archive. 1956. “Y Program about Beckett”. Grove Press archive, folder 33. Bird Library. SUL. 1958. “Grove History”. Grove Press archive. Bird Library, SUL. 1968. “The Samuel Beckett Theatre.” Samuel Beckett archive, RUL (MS 3142). Ackerley, Chris and Stan Gontarski (eds). 2004. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader’s Guide to his Works, Life, and Thought. New York: Grove Press. Beckett, Samuel. 1984. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment. Edited by Ruby Cohn. New York, Grove Press. Brower, Steven and John Gall. 1994. “Grove Press at the Vanguard”. Print, March/April 1994. Aster et al. 1999. In Defense of Literature for John Calder: Fifty Years of Publishing Literature, Politics and the Arts. New York: Mosaic.



Blake, Ian. 1968. “An Oxford Tribute to ‘Our Greatest Living Writer’: The Samuel Beckett Theatre”. Irish Times, May 21, 1968. Calder, John. 1967. Letter to John Fletcher, March 2, 1967. Calder archive, Lilly Library. –. 2001. Pursuit: The Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder. London: Calder Publications. Campbell, James. 1995. Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Others on the Left Bank. New York: Scribner. Craig, George, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck, eds. 2011. The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941-1956. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Dilks, Stephen. 2006. “Portraits of Beckett as a Famous Writer”. Journal of Modern Literature, 29:4 (Summer): 161-188. –. 2011. Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace. New York: Syracuse UP. Ezard, John. 1970. “Experiments Under the Quad.” Daily Telegraph Supplement, July 10: 7-10. Jordan, Ken. 1994. “Introduction” to Evergreen Review Reader: 1957-1966. Edited by Barney Rosset. New York: Arcade. Knipe, Michael and Henry Stanhope. 1970. “Oxford’s ‘underground venture’” The Times (London), February 21, 1970. Hodson, Philip. 1967. “Waiting for Productions”. The Isis, November 1, 1967. Holden, Anthony. 1970. “The Samuel Beckett Theatre”. Financial Times, February 10, 1970. Leventhal, Con. 1965. Letter to John Calder, December 13, 1965. In Calder archive “Leventhal” folder. Nixon, Mark, ed. 2011. Publishing Samuel Beckett. London: The British Library. O’Donovan, Patrick. 1970. “Mr Fuller’s Egg-Shaped Theatre” The Observer, February 22, 1970. Rosenthal, Michael. 2017. Barney: Grove Press and Barney Rosset; America’s Maverick Publisher and His Battle Against Censorship. New York: Arcade Publishing. Rosset, Barney. 1965. Letter to unknown correspondent, May 24, 1965. Grove Press archive, folder 1. –. 1968. Letter to Francis Warner, April 11, 1968. Grove press archive, folder 34.

GOING UNDERGROUND 111 –. (ed.) 1994. Evergreen Review Reader: 1957-1966. New York: Arcade. –. (ed.) 1998. “Introduction” to Evergreen Review Reader: 1967-1973. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. –. 2017. Dear Mr. Beckett: The Samuel Beckett File. Edited by Lois Oppenheim and curated by Astrid Myers Rosset. New York, Opus. Saunders, Marion. 1953. Letter to Barney Rosset on June 18, 1953. Grove Press archive, SUL. Tucker, David. 2013. A Dream and its Legacies: The Samuel Beckett Theatre Project Oxford c. 1967-76. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe. Warner, Francis. 1970. Programme for “A Beckett Evening: A Celebrity Gala in Aid of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Appeal”. Oxford: Oxford University Playhouse, March 8, 1970. Calder archive, MS 1227/6/23. Young, Jordan. 1987. The Beckett Actor: Jack MacGowran, Beginning to End. New York: Past Books.

Beckett’s ‘heavy news’: Considerations of the American Counterculture and Evergreen Review James Baxter In the foreword to Stephen J. Dilks’ controversial study, Samuel Beckett and the Literary Marketplace (2011), S.E. Gontarski writes of the instrumental relationship between Beckett and his American publisher, Barney Rosset, constituting a “critical blind spot” (Gontarski 2011, xii) in the otherwise crowded field of Beckett studies. While recent publications4 have since helped to shine a light on this story, the enduring presence of Beckett’s works in the in-house Grove Press journal Evergreen Review5 represents a sometimesoverlooked channel, bridging the late modernism of post-war Paris and the explosive milieu of the American sixties. Published across 17 issues, including the periodical’s debut in 1957 and the final issue of its initial run in 1973, the entire spectrum of Beckett’s production would be accounted for in the pages of E.R which featured drama, short stories, poetry, a novel fragment, as well as experiments for radio and television. At the same time, the E.R would imbibe Rosset’s general enthusiasm for the popular availability of the post-war avant-garde, repackaging works by Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter, Alain Robbe-Grillet, as well as Beckett as de facto members of a populist literary ‘underground’. While the connection between Beckett the author and the E.R would be reinforced in subsequent revivals of the Grove review—in 1984, 1998 and 2017—the first 16 years of its existence testify to Beckett’s rise to a form of cult popularity among a primarily young, male, U.S. subculture. As Loren 4


In particular, see Barney Rosset’s Dear Mr. Beckett: Letters from the Publisher: The Samuel Beckett File (2017), edited by Lois Oppenheim, Natka Bianchini’s Samuel Beckett’s Theatre in America (2015) and Rosset’s unfinished, posthumously published memoir, Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship 2016) Hereafter, for the sake of brevity, abbreviated to E.R. 113



Glass points out, the readership of the review would be nourished by the countercultural ferment of the student-led New Left, the sexual revolution, and the increased demand, orchestrated by Rosset, for avant-garde and notably ‘obscene’ works. For this reason, Glass states, the E.R would, at its height, represent “the premiere underground magazine of the sixties counterculture” (Glass 2013, 1). While both Glass and Gontarski have provided rich scholarly insight into the practical and personal relationship between Rosset and Beckett, this essay will endeavour to focus on the E.R as a unique object through which the curious proximity of Beckett’s works to the literary and cultural revolution in the U.S. is laid bare. Alongside Beckett, the Grove review provides an invaluable glimpse into the parallel formation of innovative U.S. writing, including the leading lights of the Beat movement, Donald Allen’s famous poetic schools, and early postmodern literature. Further still, the emergence of a new countercultural subject is revealed, equating a promiscuous politics of youth and free expression with the consumption of authors from the Grove canon. It is into this carnivalesque fabric that Beckett’s characteristically retiring works are drawn; as Ken Jordan states in the introduction to the Evergreen Review Reader: 1957-1966 (1968), “Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, and the Fugs shared pages with Kerouac, Mailer, Beckett, and Burroughs, and essays propounding psychedelia and Black Power” (Jordan 1994, xi). As such, this essay will move beyond the temptation, sometimes manifest in prior accounts, to treat the E.R as simply a para-text of Rosset’s main publishing organ, Grove Press, instead privileging the review for its diverse series of textual encounters. The continuity of Beckett in this matrix will at once vindicate editor Richard Seaver’s description of the author as Grove’s “North Star” (Seaver 2012, 432), while betraying his sometimes-awkward alignment as a member of Rosset’s ‘underground’ movement of readers, artists and activists. Focusing primarily on the later period of Beckett’s appearances, beginning with the reinvention of E.R as a mass market magazine in 1964, we will observe the author’s deracination into the glossy fabric of the review at the height of its popularity and cultural reach. As we will see, this

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 115 reaches its apex at the end of the decade, in No. 80 (July, 1970), in which Rosset would face criticism over the increasingly lurid erotic content peddled under the Grove and Evergreen banners. In his letter of resignation, contributing editor and leading activist of the New Left, Carl Oglesby, would nonetheless highlight the publication of Molloy (1955) for its embodiment of the Grove ethos and catalysing effect over the formation of the nascent youth movement at the time. Before we arrive at that discussion, however, a condensed history of E.R will be provided, along with its role in the Grove Press enterprise. First published in 1957, the debut issue of E.R would begin modestly as a quarterly trade paperback with a print run of 3,000. Selling for $1, Beverly Gross places the E.R alongside publisher-driven journals such as New American Review (New American Library) and New Directions Anthology (New Directions Publishing) as literary reviews situated between the prestige of institutionally affiliated journals and the popular imperative of commercial magazines (Gross 1969, 44). This is further reflected in the formal ambivalence of these early issues—neither book nor magazine—underpinning the review as an outlet of both a Euro-centric late modernism and a populist enthusiasm for which it would become famous in the 1960s. This hybridity of purpose is reflected in the first two issues of E.R, with No. 1 showcasing two early-period texts by Beckett (to which we will return), as well as pieces by Jean Paul Sartre, Henri Michaux, critical writing on Georg Büchner, and Mark Schorer’s impassioned defence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.6 In the latter case, the review’s function as an important vehicle in Rosset’s skirmish against the suppression of ‘obscene’ works becomes clear. The “Court Opinion on the Postal Ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover” would go on to be published in No. 9 (Summer, 1959) starting a process whereby Grove’s successes in American courts would be mythologised in the pages of


Later used as the introduction to the controversial unexpurgated edition published by Grove in 1959.



the E.R.7 Elsewhere, in No. 1, the republication of Sartre’s essay, “After Budapest” (first appearing in Paris Express, Nov 9th, 1956), provides an equally telling glimpse into the political orientation of the review. Notable for its early invocation of a “new left” (20)—a popular front constituted of “workers and small business men as well as intellectuals” (21)—one glimpses the space in which Rosset would increasingly operate as a self-identifying “entrepreneur” of the avant-garde; as the publisher states, “we’re responsible to ourselves, our creative people and our pocketbooks” (Rosset 1990, 58). By contrast, No. 2 (1957), a special issue on the “San Francisco Scene”, initiates E.R’s long standing connection with the Beat movement. This thematic approach would be repeated in special issues on Mexican poetry (No. 7, Winter, 1959), Pataphysics (No. 13, May-June, 1960) and the “German Scene” (No. 21, NovemberDecember, 1961). Arguably the most influential of these special issues, No. 2, would feature key figures of the Beat movement, including Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth, Henry Miller, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as a full reprint of Allen Ginsberg’s epoch-defining Howl, bringing Rosset and the review further into the front line of obscenity battles in the U.S. At the heart of the issue, Harry Redl’s stylised photographs establish the Beat poets as aspirational icons. Indeed, Beat imagery and rhetoric would be skilfully manipulated by E.R, promising readers “the most vigorous” American magazine and “a new literary force” (No. 8, Spring 1959). Coeditor Donald Allen highlights the considerable popularity of No. 2,8 leading to the increased visibility of the E.R, and the adoption of commercial advertising from No. 7. The transition into a bi-monthly review with No. 10 (November-December, 1959) would see the 7


See “Miller’s Tropic on Trial” in No. 25 (March-April, 1962), and “The Boston Trial of Naked Lunch” in No. 36 (June, 1965). Allen also points to his tenure at E.R as a catalysing influence over the influential anthology The New American Poetry: 1945-1960 (1960), through which he “got acquainted” with its major poets. (Gontarski 1990, 135)

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 117 review’s circulation expand to 7,500, skyrocketing to 45,000 in the early years of the 1960s. Perhaps the most indelible change would occur with No. 32 (April-May, 1964) and the review’s transformation into a colourised 8¼”x11” magazine. Famously impounded by the District Attorney of Nassau County for its feature of nude photographs by Emil J. Cadoo, the new Grove magazine would eschew the high seriousness of its competitors, Paris Review and Partisan Review, in favour of a brash, technicolour and erotically titillating production. In a letter to subscribers concerning the change in format, Business Manager Fred Jordan would promise a “new visual excitement” (quoted in Glass 2013, 121), with the review’s prior commitment to late modernist experiment sitting uneasily alongside nude photographs, comic strips, and vociferous critical essays drawn from the New Left. Reflecting on the commercial avant-gardism of E.R— abbreviated thereafter to Evergreen—Gross states that the Grove magazine assumed “the same dimensions as Ramparts and Playboy, which indeed it seems to be a cross between” (Gross 1969, 45). Led by an “iron whim” (Glass 2013, 6), Rosset would orchestrate the transition from a post-war Francophone modernism to an improvisatory and profane American movement. To this end, the publisher emerges as an unlikely disseminator of Beckett’s works; as Gontarski remarks, “the Rosset-Beckett match seemed, at the outset, unlikely, if not odd’ as it involved “a shy, bookish, taciturn artist with impeccable (if not nineteenth-century) manners, on the one hand, and a brash, volatile, street-smart American more comfortable in the jazz clubs of Chicago than any library or university” (Gontarski 2010, 24). Nevertheless, the significance of Beckett in the Grove nexus is indubitable, with Rosset describing the 1954 English translation of Waiting for Godot as “the most important single book we were ever to publish” (Rosset 2016, 156). On top of this, Beckett would also exhibit a particular fondness, as Everett Frost recalls, towards “my American rogue” (Quoted in Rosset 2017, 28). Mirroring a career long relationship (Beckett’s final prose work, Stirrings Still [1988], would be dedicated to Rosset shortly before the author’s death in 1989), E.R would become a reliable, albeit surprising, outlet for



Beckett’s works in the U.S. This more tentative aspect is foreshadowed in the dual publication of “Dante and the Lobster” and selected poems from the Echo’s Bones collection in the debut issue. Flippantly advertised on the back cover, respectively, as a “hilarious short story” and a “group of unusual poems”, No. 1 foregrounds the off-beat humour of Beckett’s writing. At the same time, the issue also calls back to the author’s pre-history in the little magazines of the 20s and 30s; this is compounded in the contributors’ listings, bypassing the publication of “Dante and the Lobster” by Chatto & Windus in 1934, instead highlighting its initial appearance in Edward Titus’ This Quarter (Dec, 1932). The effect, as Belacqua states in the short story, is of one moving “neither backward nor forward” (24) .Nevertheless, E.R would go on to boast a number of international and American firsts. Most notably, the debut publication of Krapp’s Last Tape in No. 5 (Summer, 1958)—advertised prominently as “a new monodrama from the author of Waiting for Godot and Endgame”—reveals the E.R as an instrumental outlet for Beckett in America. Reflecting the review’s excitement over this particular coup, Rosset writes to Beckett that “both Alan [Schneider] and my EVREV co-editor [Donald Allen] are krapping their hands in joy over Krapp” (BR to SB, March 28th, 1958) (Rosset 2017, 140). Elsewhere in the E.R, the use of the author’s image and writing in advertisements, critical essays,9 and cartoons reflect a general investment in Beckett as a quintessential component of the Evergreen brand. By the end of the 1960s, Beckett’s status as a Nobel Laureate would be used to sell the 13 volume Grove edition of the Collected Works of Samuel Beckett, advertised in No. 80 as “the most astonishing body of work in modern literature” (12). While the Grove review served as a vital disseminator of Beckettania, this essay will chiefly focus on the degree to which E.R also exposes Beckett, as a textual presence, to the wider ecosystem of 9

See Maurice Blanchot’s “Who Speaks in the Works of Samuel Beckett?” published in No. 7, and Jan Kott’s “King Lear or Endgame” in No. 33 (Aug-Sep, 1964).

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 119 U.S. letters. From the late 50s to the end of the tumultuous 60s, the simultaneous formation of an American avant-garde predicated on vitality, spontaneity and outspoken anti-authoritarianism reveals the outlet as a potentially counterintuitive venue for Beckett as a “nonknower”, a “non-caner” (Driver 1979, 219). This dissenting gesture from Beckettian quietism is crucially evidenced by Rosset himself, gently admonishing his star author who “wasn’t left enough” (Rosset 1997). The equivocal relationship between author and outlet is glimpsed, early on, in the heterogeneity of elements at work in No. 5. In particular, the contiguity of items by Karl Jaspers on atomic warfare, and Edgar Morin on the mythology of James Dean, find Beckett uneasily transposed into the politico-cultural centre of America in the late 50s. Publicised adjacent to Beckett, the German philosopher’s essay on “The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man”, highlights the former’s storied, but ill-defined identity as a post-nuclear playwright. Elsewhere in the issue, Artaud’s “No More Masterpieces”, and Roland Barthes’ essay on the New Novel of Alain RobbeGrillet rub up against aesthetic pronouncements by Charles Olson (“Human Universe”) and Jack Kerouac (“Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”) visualizing what Gontarski usefully describes as Rosset’s “broad based avant-gardism” (Gontarski 2001, xiv). Moving forward, this essay will propose that this diffuse movement is most clearly manifest in the pages of the E.R. Focusing on five issues at the height of the Grove magazine’s countercultural popularity, it will be argued that Beckett casts both a significant presence in the mass market magazine, while unearthing what Rosset in another context would describe as Beckett’s “nontogetherness” (Rosset 1997) with the American avant-garde. Following the change in format, these issues trace the review’s cultivation of a marketable ‘underground,’ predicated on transgressive literature and anti-establishment politics, before arriving at the implosion of Rosset’s reputation amid the feminist backlash to the increasingly exploitative erotica of Grove and E.R in the late 60s.



After the immense notoriety of No. 32, prompting copies of E.R to be seized for the printing of “obscene, indecent and pornographic images”, the Grove magazine, Glass states, would become a significant outlet for the publisher’s investment in “vulgar modernism” (Glass 2013).10 Capitalising on the pariah-status of transgressive texts, Rosset—with a gift for stirring controversy—would transform them into readily available commodities. It is against this background that the publisher cultivated European late modernists Jean Genet, Alain Robbe-Grillet, as well as Beckett, who would warn the publisher of his own unique “obscenities of form” (SB to BR, 25 June, 1953) (Beckett 2011, 385). For this reason, No. 32 would serve as an instrumental node in the transition of literary modernism in the Grove review, casting a long shadow over subsequent issues; No. 34 (Nov-Dec, 1964) would be no exception to this, reprinting offending images by Emil J. Cadoo (in colour, opposed to the monochrome photos of No. 32), and featuring Phillippe Halsman’s psychedelic front cover of a nude woman, emerging from a murky static background. The ‘vulgar’ mode of modernist writing is also evidenced in many of the items included in No. 34. Opening the issue, Hubert Selby Jr’s “The Queen is Dead”, further highlights the rising stature of the E.R, predicated equally on its literary reputation as well as its capacity to generate controversy. Printed in close proximity to an advertisement for Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) (from which the story would become the opening text) the text is brought into line with the Grove backlist of controversial bestsellers (“the most exciting discovery since City of Night”). Moreover, the inclusion of George Bataille’s “Madame Edwarda” provides a further powerful example of Grove’s siphoning of late modernist European writing for its sexually explicit appeal, marrying sexual transgression with the decomposition of literary form. Also notable is a short essay by William Bur10

Glass goes on to articulate a trajectory from the “adulterous women” of Madame Bovary and Ulysses to the “highly homosocial and homosexual preoccupations of late modernist figures such as Burroughs and Jean Genet” (Glass 2013, 123).

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 121 roughs (“Points of Distinction Between Sedative and Consciousness Expanding Drugs”), offering reflections on the burgeoning drugscene. In this essay, the author professes the benefits of LSD, cannabis and mescaline, equating experiments in literary form with “otherwise […] inaccessible” (74) shifts in consciousness. To this extent, Burroughs presents a liminal figure between modernist avantgardism and the lineaments of American counterculture. Amid the carnivalesque fabric of No. 34, the review also marks itself as a venue curiously attuned to the practical demands of Beckett’s writing. In this regard, Business Manager Fred Jordan’s commitment to printing Beckett’s Play “in extenso” (Quoted in Gontarski 1999, 450), represents an often overlooked but significant publication in the Beckett corpus. As Gontarski argues, it is the “most accurate and complete text of Play available” (Gontarski 1999), marking the first edition to incorporate the author’s revisions following the play’s debut performance at the Ulmer-Theatre in Germany, and rehearsals for the Paris and London productions. Where Beckett modified the text’s infamous ‘da capo’ during French rehearsals in order to accommodate a “weakening” of speech and light, E.R excises “exactly” (47) from the Faber text’s imperative to “repeat play exactly”; in addition, stage-directions concerning lighting are modified, removing “not quite” from the Faber text’s “response to light is not quite immediate”. Perhaps more striking, however, are the palpable suggestions of Beckett’s presence elsewhere in No. 34, thus perforating the boundary between items in the Grove review. In Aidan Higgins’ “Black Blood: A South African Diary”, the author, in impressionistic prose, relates his travels through South Africa; in a key moment of cross-textual intersection, Higgins chances upon a school auditorium, in which he finds “two battered bowler hats and a skeleton tree in its final leaf –stage props from a past production of Waiting for Godot” (32). Where Higgins stages a chance encounter with Beckett, the influence of Godot in Jack Gelber’s short text (“Neal vs Jimmy the Fag”) locates a Beckettian miasma in the cool, Beat-inflected setting of Gelber’s New York tenement. This is particularly strong in the text’s concluding moment of stasis (“Outside



Neal Fraser did not move for a moment but held his breath. Inside Jimmy the Fag and Audrey did not move but breathed a sigh of relief” [61].) A final investment in Beckett’s writing can be found in the publication of Susan Sontag’s seminal “Against Interpretation”. Arguing for a formal “erotics of art” (93) as a necessary counterforce to programmatic interpretation, Beckett is marked as a prime example of an author who has “attracted interpreters like leeches”, with readers finding symbols of “modern man’s alienation from meaning or from God, or […] an allegory of psychopathology” (78). The network of associations along which Beckett’s presence is felt allow one to read the author alongside the diverse milieu of the Grove magazine. This opens the author to a series of, at first glance, counterintuitive companion texts. The introduction of the Evergreen Club in 1966 solidifies this informal network of authors. This is prominent in No. 39 (Jan-Feb, 1966) in a double page advertisement for the newly introduced book club (amassing a membership of 75,000 by the end of the year). Marketed “for adults only”,11 the subscription service would offer discounted prices on selected Grove titles, retaining an explicit populism against E.R’s otherwise restrictive appeal. Stating that Grove books are those that “many bookstores are still too timid to sell”, members are, nonetheless, promised “important price advantages”. In addition, the ad-copy demonstrates the degree to which Grove Press would mythologise its own reputation and legacy, boldly claiming that “the literary scene has never been the same since 1959” (the year Grove published the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover). Highlighting Grove publications by Miller and Burroughs, the advertisement also points to “an obscure Irish born playwright by the name of Samuel Beckett” who “ushered in a new epoch in drama with Waiting for Godot” when “Grove brought him and his work to America”. Boasting of the publisher’s unique patronage of this ‘obscure’ 11

All subsequent quotations pertaining to the Evergreen Club in this section are taken from the aforementioned promotion which is printed on the inside cover and opposing page of No. 39.

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 123 author, Beckett is placed firmly in the constellation of iconoclastic Grove figureheads. Framing itself as the bastion of a transgressive movement, comprising of authors, filmmakers, pornographers and young left-wing activists, it would also be involved in the repackaging of the same dissenting voices under the commercial banner of ‘adult’ reading. The E.R vision of marketable a avant-garde is epitomised in the sensational publication of Jean Claude Forest’s erotic comic Barbarella in No. 39. Introduced in the previous two issues, (for which it also provided the cover art), Barbarella exemplifies the masculine-skewing vision of sexual revolution, for which Grove would come under considerable pressure later in the decade. However, the role of Seaver as translator of Forest’s French text awkwardly brings the cartoon into a broader stable of European avantgarde art. As Stephen John Dilks points out, the pairing of Beckett and Barbarella in advertising for the E.R served as one of the more unusual pairings elicited by the Grove magazine; in this way, Rosset created “a niche for Beckett made up of those who were not afraid of free expression, progressive politics and open sexuality” (Dilks 2011, 278). The coded eroticism of Beckett’s writing, however, is also amplified through its encounter with the broad spread of the review. In a large advertisement for The Olympia Reader (1965), many of Grove’s flagship authors, including Miller, Genet, Burroughs and Beckett, find representation. Heralded as “the finest writing that has ever been censored” (93), an explicit connection between transgressive late modernist fiction and Maurice Girodias’ infamous publishing house is established. The Olympia Reader would be marketed heavily in the pages of E.R. as one of a number of books offered free with a subscription to the Evergreen Club. Also prominent in No. 39, is an essay by Girodias himself, (“The Erotic Society”) in which the maverick publisher articulates a humanist philosophy grounded in the unleashed libido: “We are erotic units, homo eroticus”. The “indignity”, as Girodias fumes, of bringing the category of pornography to bear on works as diverse as Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover results only in “dealing with writers as if they were criminals” (65).



At the same time, Girodias’ enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that the sexual revolution also “unleashed the torrents of bad taste” (66); a reality that is glimpsed in No. 39, in addition to the Olympia backlist. In this regard, the inclusion of Michael O’Donoghue and Frank Springer’s comic strip, The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist—a racier American analogue to Barbarella—tests the boundaries of the ‘adult’ audience cultivated by E.R. Featuring highly provocative imagery, including the titular naked heroine being whipped by an SS officer, the American magazine is a testament to E.R.’s assault and exploitation of sexual taboo under the banner of rebellious reading. As such, the provocative spread of No. 39 provides a context through which it is also tempting to read the inclusion of Beckett’s “Imagination Dead Imagine”. Pinioned between Forest’s Barbarella comic strip and Phoebe Zeit-Geist, the E.R fills in what Paul Stewart describes as the intractable “remnants of sexuality” in Beckett’s work, re-focusing the “non-normative, distorted or oblique forms” (Stewart 2011, 1). In this sense, a veneer of eroticism is imparted over Beckett’s heretofore “closed space”, inflecting the minute details observed by the narrator, describing the “white bodies” of the Rotunda “sweating” as the container rises in temperature, the “long hair” of the female inhabitant, and the “mist” of their breath. To this end, No. 39 unearths an extra layer of homosocial eroticism within Beckett’s otherwise hermetically sealed text. If Beckett’s writing passes into the ‘vulgar’ mode of the E.R, then the obverse can also be perceived, in which the author’s austere vision is made to conflict with the populist production of the Grove magazine. This is amplified in No. 47 (June-July, 1967), in which the preponderance of advertisements, stickers and posters, trading on anti-establishment imagery and rhetoric, highlight the role of E.R in the “incorporation” 12 of the literary and political avant-garde. As such, we find the reappearance of Phoebe Zeit-Geist (‘Episode X’) (also 12

Here, I use Glass’ term, describing the principle effect of Grove and E.R’s reader-friendly avant-garde (Glass 2013).

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 125 decorating the front cover with the memorable injunction that “it is not enough to love art, one must be art!”), passing into the textual body of No. 47 with Michael O’Donoghue’s surreal poem “Capricio to Djuna”. Formatted alongside an ascending border of naked bodies, the visual almost entirely overwhelms the textual aspect of the poem, transforming O’Donoghue’s text into a spectacular erotic object. Reflecting the hysterical spirit of the magazine during these years, an anonymous letter, alleging to be from a New York psychiatric hospital, exults E.R as “the ultimate orgasm of audio-visual literature—a cataclysmal seminal flow of poetry, prose, photographs, screaming cartoons and yes, even interesting advertisements” (107). Elsewhere, a 2-year subscription card, marks the transition from E.R’s ‘adult’ audience into a general campaign to “Join the Underground”. A combative tone is adopted here, warning that only the “adult, literate and adventurous”13 need apply. While the E.R marketed itself to those readers of a cultivated and rebellious taste, it also offered a warm invitation to various forms of underground community. Perhaps the most telling item, in this sense, is the opening text of No. 47, featuring an excerpt from Frank Reynolds’ Freewheelin Frank (1967), as told to Michael Mclure. In this case, the “secretary of the San Francisco Hell’s Angels” provides an entertaining and surprisingly programmatic account of the U.S. motorcycle gang. Nevertheless, the growing sense of the E.R as a bluffer’s guide to the counterculture is highlighted by Beverley Gross mockingly describing the Grove magazine as “a kind of Reader’s Digest for the avantgarde” (Gross 1969, 44). In an issue projecting an otherwise glossy image of the U.S. avant-garde, Beckett appears in a small network of items recoiling from E.R’s commercial ‘underground’. The most vocal proponents of this viewpoint are Eric Salzman and Cinema 16 founder Amos Vogel, with the former acknowledging the profound cultural impact 13

The 2-year subscription card is included as an insert to the main body of the issue.



of rock music and its “amazing ability to absorb and subsume virtually all forms of popular musical expression” (43). Vogel, on the other hand, outlines the “ominous new ailment” concerning the world of avant-garde film; in particular, the dilution of its iconoclastic impulse by virtue of self-identifying experimental filmmakers “clamouring for the ‘underground’” (51). The boundary between the purity of the avant-garde and the vulgarity of commerce is significantly blurred in Beckett’s contribution to No. 47, featuring the second of Beckett’s post war Nouvelles, “The Calmative”. On the surface, the author’s barren vision of a man, having died, or at the moment of death, appears distant from the effusive tenor of the issue elsewhere. This is further heightened by Romanian painter Avigdor Arikha’s austere portraits of Beckett accompanying the text, which provide a monochrome icon of the silent, retreating author, far from the nudes and glossy comic panels elsewhere in the magazine. Nevertheless, the publication of Stories and Texts for Nothing in June 1967, as indicated in the contributors’ listings, positions Beckett’s novella as a blatant promotion in advance of the Grove book. Decorating the 1967 volume of stories, Arikha’s drawings simultaneously remove and implant Beckett in this commercial context. Matthew Hodgart echoes this contradictory framing in a well-known review for the collection, suggestively titled “Saint Beckett”. Invoking Kafka’s “hunger artist” in order to describe Beckett’s “saintliness”, Hodgart describes the wholesale removal of Beckett’s characters from vulgar commerce to a “formless universe”. At the same time, the author acknowledges Beckett’s “striking grasp of the vulgar world” (my italics; Hodgart 1967), demonstrating a residual worldliness at once unstuck and physically rooted in time and space. In this way, visions of “Saint Beckett” coexist with the contingent underground felt elsewhere in the Grove magazine. As both an agent of and important witness to the diffusion of the ‘underground’ movement, the E.R would become a site along which the political lines of the New Left would be drawn. From the middle of the decade, many leading activists would take on editorial

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 127 roles at the Grove magazine—notably, Village Voice co-editor Jack Newfield, SDS activist Carl Oglesby and author Dotson Rader. As we will see, Oglseby—a former president of the SDS—served as a particularly vocal proponent of Beckett’s works as both politically and aesthetically transformative.14 In addition, Oglesby betrays a broader tendency, precipitated by Rosset, towards the porosity of political and aesthetic identification, through which the literary is made political and the political is made literary. The shifting parameters of left wing theory in the U.S. are captured by Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski’s long essay (“What is the Left Today”), published in No. 47. While the essay reiterates many of the orthodoxies of the post-Soviet left, he is perceptive in warning of the “fragmentary aspect” of student leftism, that amounts to “the sumtotal of spontaneous moral positions” (33). Following Kolakowski’s essay, commentary from Jack Newfield, SDS initiator Thomas Hayden and peace activist Staughton Lynd highlight the philosopher’s underestimation of the decentralisation of the New Left program and the limitations of his teachings (from a Polish context) for the American situation. Of particular interest, however, is the uniquely literary character of Newfield’s political viewpoint; a “humanism” inflected by the literary sensibility of the Grove Press, with Camus, Mailer and Goodman as key touchstones. Nevertheless, Kolakowski’s misgivings foreshadow the failures of the radical underground with which E.R would become increasingly captivated in its final years. Investing in a new Grove Press headquarters—a seven story, forty thousand-square-foot building on New York’s Mercer Street— Rosset would refashion Grove Press as a “new kind of communications center for the sixties” (Glass 2013, 19). Belying a more frac14

As Todd Gitlin suggests, Oglesby would engage with Beckett more broadly as a means of highlighting the stultification among certain corners of the anti-war left: “Carl Oglesby chose, and I endorsed, a quotation from a Beckett novel—something about a man on his deathbed still eagerly looking for diagnoses of his ailment—as epigraph to the workshop agenda on foreign policy issues” (Gitlin 2003, 83).



tured relationship with the underground community, Grove’s troubles would be epitomised by the take-over of Rosset’s office by nine members of the Women’s Liberation Front, highlighting the exploitative practices of Grove’s male-dominated avant-garde. Significantly, the protest would be recorded in the E.R, along with high profile resignations by Oglesby in No. 80 and Newfield in the following issue. As Oglesby’s letter of resignation indicates, the publisher’s patronage of Beckett’s works served as an indicator of the once laudable reputation of the press and the extent to which it had sunk to a formulaic and tawdry provocation. Before we approach this, No. 62 (Jan, 1969), according to Gross, exemplifies the “pure perverse” (Gross 1969, 47) sexuality for which E.R would come under criticism from the left. At the same time, the inclusion of Beckett as the sole preserve of E.R’s late modernist credentials, offers one of “the occasional reminders of the old Evergreen” (Gross 1969). Following the precedent set by previous issues, the meagre amount of fiction printed in the later E.R is invariably accompanied by an assortment of cartoons and illustrations. This is repeated with the script for Beckett’s tele-play Eh Joe, in which the televisual nature of Beckett’s text is foregrounded; the title is printed in large block text, and two pages are decorated with a wide border of close ups from actor George Rose’s face, as recorded during the WNDT broadcast (18th April, 1966). At the same time, the motif of sexual sadism in the “penny-farthing hell” of Joe’s mind makes Beckett’s experiment for television a striking intertext with the broader spread of No. 62. Advertising Michael O’Donoghue’s portfolio “Binders Keepers”, the front cover features a naked woman variously bound by a series of Boy Scout knots. A similar image of the violated female body is found in a published excerpt from George Revelli’s historical erotica Commander Amanda Nightingale (1968) in which a female officer of the French Resistance is captured by German soldiers and subjected to sexual abuse. Both pieces typify the kind of content for which E.R and Grove would come under severe criticism by the burgeoning Women’s Liberation movement. Elsewhere, the febrile political atmosphere is evidenced, with a par-

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 129 ticular stress on the year’s Democratic National Convention and the subsequent trial of the Chicago 7. Highlighting the deep generational divide between proponents of Old and New radical left tendencies, Jack Newfield (“Letter to an Ex-Radical”) once again articulates his politics according to the principle of cultural consumption: “you listened to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and I listen to The Band and The Fugs. You read Dos Passos and Steinbeck, and I read Heller and Pynchon” (93). Furthermore, offering a particularly pointed barometer of the paranoia and diffusion of purpose in the left movement, Paris Flammonde’s “Why President Kennedy was Killed” serves as an exemplar of the American political situation, mired in distrust and conspiratorial thinking. The exceptionality of Beckett’s role in the Grove-E.R nexus reaches its zenith in No. 80. Adopting Beckett as an author of the popular counterculture, editor Carl Oglesby invokes the author as a reminder of the once noble mission of Grove Press as a defender of innovative literature. In the face of the feminist backlash, Beckett’s presence in the magazine is, hereby, both troubled and reaffirmed. Elsewhere in the issue, one can glimpse the close of a literary epoch, with visually decorous texts by Allen Ginsberg (“Memory Gardens” eulogising the death of Jack Kerouac the previous year) and Michael Rumaker (“Camden, N.J.”) reinforcing the role of the Beats as public faces of the magazine. Situated between these two texts, Beckett’s Lessness, like many of the items of No. 80, is overwhelmed by accompanying images. In this case, a surreal drawing by Roland Topor depicts two stationary figures, one appearing to erase the other. Just as the erased body dissolves into the landscape, so the fragile voice of Beckett’s ‘story’, remarking upon its own passage into ‘ruin’, melts into the wider spectrum of intertexts provided by the Grove magazine. A subheading to the main text promises “the first American publication of a new work by the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature” (6). Indeed, Beckett’s status as a Nobel Laureate is celebrated in the contributors’ listings, as well as a full-page advertisement for The Collected Works of Samuel Beckett by Grove Press that cites the Swedish Academy’s celebration of writing in which “the



destitution of modern man acquires its elevation”. Perhaps most striking of all is E.R.’s acknowledgement of their long-time patronage of Beckett’s writing; the editor reminds the reader, that the appearance of Lessness marks the “seventeenth work published in Evergreen over the years” (6). Above all, the significance of Beckett as a formative underground author is thrown into relief in response to the many pages given over to the feminist occupation of Grove Press. The political conflict is signalled in an opening editorial, “Notes from the Underground”, recounting a May Day benefit held by contributing editor Dotson Rader (whose meditation on the political efficacy of literary writing is also published with “What Do You Think of Your Blue Eyed Artist Now Mr Death?”), hijacked by feminist activists decrying the ”left disguise” of the Grove Press. By far the most sensational item of No. 80, however, is Carl Oglesby’s letter of resignation, included in the opening pages of the issue. Criticising Grove’s violation of female bodies in the service of profit, Oglesby nonetheless offers a bittersweet reflection on “the whole subterranean project which Grove Press was so much a part of” (16). Here, one finds further and surprising evidence of Beckett’s enduring influence in the American counterculture: I recall especially a 12 hour bus ride I took in 1955 from New York to Ohio. Intrigued by the odd numbness of its title, I’d picked up a paperback book Malloy [sic] by a man named Beckett. I was twenty. I’d thought all along that the last word on our situation had already been very well said […] those first momentous pages of Beckett’s novel struck home with the simple, heavy news that there was a whole other great aspect to our experience a whole other way of gathering the problems of redemption and responsibility and giving them to the intelligence precisely through its wounds. (16)

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 131 As Loren Glass states, Oglesby’s letter provides “a valedictory, a testimony to what Grove had achieved the previous fifteen years” (Glass 2013, 202). Illuminating Beckett’s unique place in the student counterculture, Molloy, Oglesby adds, is “a Grove Press book of course”, an extension of the identity and efforts of the publisher. Furthermore, it is the text’s “heavy news”—filtering Beckett’s novel through the hip-speak of the early movement—that lays the groundwork for a shift in consciousness synonymous with the cultural transition of the 1960s. The “redemption and responsibility”, thus, echo the individual “responsibility of encounter and resolution” (Quoted in Hale 2015, 77) enshrined in the foundational 1962 Port Huron Statement. In this way, Oglesby’s letter solidifies Beckett as a vital figure in the matrix of artists, activists and entrepreneurs that, as we have seen, constituted the Grove ‘underground’. At the same time, Oglesby’s invocation serves as an indicator of how far the publisher had fallen to become in favour of “any old fuck-a-maid-a day freak show your bibliophile can dig up from the Nineteenth C” (69). Highlighting the occupier’s threat to destroy the files of Grove’s bestselling and most important authors, Fred Jordan in a printed response, decries an act of “censorship” no different from those Rosset and company rallied against earlier in the decade. As Gontarski has noted, Beckett was amongst the authors most prized by the company, and therefore one of the authors most at risk.15 Nevertheless, Oglesby’s statement shines a light on a protracted relationship, between author and outlet, underwritten by the former’s status, that was ill-at-ease in the increasingly vociferous magazine. To this end, the letter of resignation—itself an item in the broader ecosystem of No. 80—aligns Beckett with the Grove-disseminated counterculture, while providing an alternative image of an author above his immediate surroundings and out-of-sync with the values of the publisher.


See S.E. Gontarski. 2001. “Introduction: The Life and Times of Grove Press.” In The Grove Press Reader 1951-2001, edited by S.E. Gontarski, xi–xxxix. New York: Grove Press.



Throughout its many years in print, the E.R. provides an unparalleled insight into the countercultural terrain in which Beckett was uneasily situated. Serving as a navigational influence on Rosset’s cultivation of innovative literature, the fabric of the review also reveals an over-zealous attempt to appropriate Beckett as an author of the ‘underground’ youth. From No. 34 and No. 39, in which Beckett is positioned alongside the ‘vulgar’ mode propounded by E.R., we arrive at a more equivocal relationship between author and venue, as enshrined in Oglesby’s valedictory letter. By No. 96 (the final issue of E.R.’s initial run), the Grove review would return to its original quarterly, paperback format. Against vacillations in format and fortune, the high-profile appearance of Beckett’s “The Lost Ones” bookends a 16 year relationship with Rosset’s countercultural review. And yet, the parallel appearance of J.G. Ballard (“The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race”), and postmodern sci-fi author Joseph McElroy (whose review of Beckett’s novella is quoted on the back cover), suggest a changing cultural landscape, beyond the affirmations of the 60s counterculture towards a new eschatologically-minded postmodernism. This would be further reinforced in a special issue published in 1984, in which Beckett would be paired, most notably, alongside Kathy Acker as a dispatch of American postmodern fiction. With Rosset’s unceremonious ejection from Grove in 1985, the future of the review would be rendered uncertain. Nevertheless, the continued association of Beckett with the E.R. through its subsequent reinvention as a digital magazine speaks to the surprising endurance of the review as a key disseminator of Grove’s star author. Almost 50 years on from the height of E.R’s cultivation of the popular ‘underground’, the review remains a steadfast purveyor of Beckett’s work. References Beckett, Samuel. 1957. “Dante and the Lobster”, “Echo’s Bones”. Evergreen Review, Vol. 1, No. 1: 24-36, 179-192.

BECKETT’S ‘HEAVY NEWS’ 133 –. 1958. “Krapp’s Last Tape”. Evergreen Review, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Summer): 13-24. –. 2011. The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1941-1956, edited by Dan Gunn. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. –. 1964. “Play”. Vol. 8, No. 34 (November-December): 43-47, 92. –. 1966. “Imagination Dead Imagine”. Vol. 10, No. 39 (JanuaryFebruary): 48-49. –. 1967. “The Calmative”. Vol. 11, No. 47 (June-July): 47-49, 9395. –. 1969. “Eh Joe”. Vol. 13, No. 62 (January): 43-46. –. 1970. “Lessness”. Vol. 14, No. 80 (July): 35-36. Dilks, Stephen John. 2011. Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace. New York: Syracuse UP. Driver, Tom. 1979. “Tom Driver in Columbia University Forum, 1961”. In Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage, edited by Lawrence Graver, Raymond Federman, 217-223. New York: Routledge. Gitlin, Todd. 2003. The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: U of California P. Glass, Loren. 2013. Counterculture Colophon: Grove Press, Evergreen Review and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde, Stanford: Stanford UP. Gontarski, S.E. 1999. “Beckett’s Play, in extenso”. Modern Drama, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Fall): 442-445. –. 1990. “Don Allen: Grove’s First Editor”. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Fall): 132-136. –. 2001. “Introduction: The Life and Times of Grove Press”. In The Grove Press Reader 1951-2001, edited by S.E. Gontarski, xi– xxxix. New York: Grove Press. –. 2010. “Within a Budding Grove: Publishing Beckett in America”. In A Companion to Samuel Beckett, edited by S.E. Gontarski, 2331. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. Gross, Beverly. 1969. “Culture and Anarchy: Whatever Happened to Lit Magazines?” The Antioch Review. Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring): 43-56. Hale, Grace Elizabeth. 2015. “The Romance of Rebellion”. In The Port Huron Statement: Sources and Legacies of the New Left’s Founding Manifesto, edited by Richard Flacks, Nelson Lichtenstein, 65-82. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.



Hodgart, Matthew. 1967. “Saint Beckett”. The New York Review of Books, December 7, 1967. Accessed 10 May, 2017. http://www.ny books.com/articles/1967/12/07/saint-beckett/ Jordan, Ken. 1994. “Introduction”. In Evergreen Review Reader: 1957-1966, edited by Ken Jordan, x-xv. New York: Arcade. Rosset, Barney. 1997. “Barney Rosset: The Art of Publishing, No. 2.” Interview by Ken Jordan. The Paris Review. No. 145 (Winter). Accessed 14 April, 2016. https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1187/barney-rossetthe-art-of-publishing-no-2-barney-rosset –. 2017. Dear Mr. Beckett: Letters from the Publisher: The Samuel Beckett File. New York: Opus. –. 1990 “On Publishing”. The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Vol. 10, No. 3 (Fall): 57-58. –. 2016. Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship. New York: O/R. Seaver, Richard. 2012. The Tender Hour of Twilight, Paris in the 50s, New York in the 60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Stewart, Paul. 2011. Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Staining the Gutter: Beckett in Art Spiegelman’s

Maus Paul Stewart Towards the beginning of the second volume of Art Spiegelman’s graphic narrative Maus, three panels are devoted to the quotation and contemplation of Beckett. The use of Beckett does not appear to be merely a matter of acquiring a certain gravitas by importing and exploiting Beckett’s name nor, as we shall see, is the presence of Beckett within the work as surprising as it might first appear. Spiegelman’s graphic novel (although that term is debatable) of the Holocaust has rightly been applauded, winning a special Pullitzer Prize in 1992 and being described by the Wall Street Journal as the “most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust”, as quoted on the back cover of the complete edition. The wording here is of course significant: the Journal does not make any genre or media distinctions and thus claims that Maus is foremost amongst any narrative treatments of the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s first attempt to broach this subject was in the discreet comicbook story “Prisoner of the Hell Planet”, published in Short Order Comix #1 in 1973. Whilst this focused on the suicide of his mother in 1968, the Holocaust loomed large over the content, including the artist’s self-portrait in the stripes of an Auschwitz uniform throughout. It was not until 1980, however, in Raw magazine, that the device of depicting the Jews as anthropomorphic mice and the Nazis as cats first appeared. In parallel to the story of his father’s experiences in the war, which saw him interred and then liberated from AuschwitzBirkenau, Spiegelman also details his relations with his father and the struggle to compose what would eventually become the text of Maus. It is in this time-line that Artie (as Spiegelman is usually named in the book) visits his psychiatrist, who is also a survivor of the Holocaust. As they discuss the possibility of survivor’s guilt, the psychiatrist 135



laments that all the books on the Holocaust have not changed people’s behaviour, and that “the victims who died can never tell THEIR side of the story, so maybe it’s better not to have any more stories”(205). Artie comments: “Uh-huh. Samuel Beckett once said: Every word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness”. In the next frame, Artie and the psychiatrist sit in silence, smoke rising from their cigarette and pipe respectively. “On the other hand,” Artie points out in the next frame, “he SAID it.” The psychiatrist agrees, saying: “He was right. Maybe you can include it in your book.”

Maus and Cultural Value Before examining what this allusion to Beckett is doing within the aesthetic context of Maus, it is important to consider the status of Maus as a cultural product. Whilst the term ‘graphic novel’ might be an easy shorthand description of the medium of the book (and, indeed, a guide as to where one is to find it on Amazon or in the bookshop), it is a deeply inaccurate term in this case. Firstly, it is not a novel, but a form of double memoir of the author’s relationship with his father, and his father’s experiences in World War II, which uses graphic elements familiar to readers of comics (i.e. discreet frames, arranged sequentially) but which could not be termed ‘comic’ in any humorous sense, despite occasions of black humour. On its first release, Maus was controversial precisely because of its form. The question of whether one could or should represent the Holocaust as such was further compounded by the traditions and assumptions underpinning sequential art at that stage. Surely, using the techniques one is more accustomed to see used for superheroes, ‘funnies’, or Disney comics runs the risk of trivialising the suffering and the singularity of the Shoah? This was further exacerbated by the formal approach of depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, which could be read as suggesting that it was in the nature of the Jews to be victims and in the nature of the Nazis to be predatory. Concomitant to this is the question of Spiegelman re-employing the Jews-as-

STAINING THE GUTTER 137 vermin motif that was so prominent within Nazi propaganda. As Michael Rothberg summarises, many have felt that “Spiegelman transgresses the sacredness of Auschwitz by depicting in comic strip images his survivor father’s suffering” (666). The underlying disquiet is not only that the Holocaust is being represented at all, but also that forms derived from popular comics, given their mass media, low culture origins, seem particularly unsuited for such subject matter. However, the seriousness of the subject matter challenged the notion of what sequential art works could tackle, thus securing a crucial position for Maus in the cultural legitimization of such works in general. Writing in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (itself an indication of how these supposed popular cultural products have been welcomed into academia), Huxley and Ormrod argue that Spiegelman has “probably done more in the eyes of the general public than any other to challenge simplistic and largely ignorant views of comics as juvenilia” (1). This has led to a degree of institutional acceptance of the academic and cultural value of Spiegelman and others. As Heer and Worcester point out, a “cohort of graphic novels, including Maus, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan, American Born Chinese, and Fun Home have become standard items on college and university syllabi for courses on memoir, cultural history, postmodern literature and area studies” thus ensuring that “[c]omics are no longer a byword for banality” (XI). Unsurprisingly, Maus has a central position in the still-growing area of university courses devoted to graphic narratives as such. In the succinct appraisal of Hillary Chute, Maus has proved to be “terrain-changing” (459). Whilst it is beyond doubt that Maus has performed a crucial role in the cultural and academic legitimization of graphic narrative forms, there is an argument that it is precisely because of that volume’s difference from, rather than commonality with, other graphic narratives that has allowed this to happen. In Alternative Comics, Charles Hatfield notes that in the years after Maus, an initial fit of commercial enthusiasm for the graphic novel gave way to at best a flickering interest, as it be-


PAUL STEWART came clear that Spiegelman’s project was sui generis and did not necessarily herald an explosion of comparable books (5).

Echoing these terms, Jospeh Witek claims that “Maus is sui generis in American comic books because of the bold way it focuses on Vladek’s biography and Art’s autobiography through the lens of world history” (118). The seriousness of the subject matter, and the biographical and autobiographical rather than fictional nature of it, challenged and extended the supposed formal constraints that were previously in play. As Hatfield points out, it has only been since the beginning of the new millennia that there has been an increase in “graphic novels of similar density and ambition” as Spiegelman’s work (5). As such, Maus holds a transitional and transformative position within popular and high culture, as Spiegelman draws on the comic as a mass cultural genre, but transforms it in a narrative saturated with modernist techniques of self-reflexivity, self-irony, ruptures in narrative time, and highly complex image sequencing and montaging (Huyssen, 30).

Spiegelman, Beckett and Representing the Holocaust Given the complexity and subtlety of Spiegelman’s approach to his subject matter, it is perhaps not surprising that Beckett is afforded so prominent a place in Maus, for although Beckett is only alluded to in a single panel, the contemplation of his words by Artie and his psychiatrist is the only non-verbal frame of the entire two volumes. Of course, here Spiegelman gives a literal representation of the breakdown of the verbal in the face of the unsayable, in line with the quotation, and silence appears to be free of the stain of words. One might argue that he here has a formal advantage over Beckett himself (or at least the novelist Beckett) in that when silence is attained it can still be depicted through the graphic elements of the work. In that sense, it may be that Maus does not stain the silence as Beckett’s

STAINING THE GUTTER 139 words must inevitably do. This is certainly the position taken by Pawliuk who argues that the medium of comics allows us to see Beckett’s ideas in a way that prose cannot. Even Beckett’s theatre pieces are logocentric with the stage directions necessary to communicate his ideas. There is no alternative in his mediums, but there is in Spiegelman’s (104).

Yet one might question this position, not least concerning the relation between words and silence within Beckett’s dramatic works. One might recall the enigmatic silence at the end of Krapp’s Last Tape, or Ohio Impromptu, or the non-verbal plays Breath, and Act Without Words I and II. Indeed, there are numerous instances from the dramatic works in which silence is maintained. These plays may be logocentric in their adherence to stage directions, yet the silences outlined in those directions only really come to the fore, and take on a life of their own, in performance. This is not to argue that Beckett is misrepresenting his own works in the quotation, nor that Spiegelman has misunderstood Beckett’s works. Rather, it identifies the need to specify which Beckett is being alluded to: the playwright, the novelist, or the more nebulous sense of the artist of ‘silence’ as maintained within the popular imagination? One might also question whether Spiegelman’s formal alternative is any more successful than Beckett’s when it comes to allowing us “to see Beckett’s ideas” (Pawliuk 2016, 104) concerning staining the silence. There may be no words in the panel of Artie and his psychiatrist in contemplation, but the business of representation in Maus continues when the words stop and the graphic depiction ‘speaks’ in that absence. The silence is still being stained, but now by the India ink of the graphic artist rather than by the scrawl of the novelist’s pen. One might argue that given the form of his art, Spiegelman is obliged to represent this silence graphically, just as, as a novelist, Beckett is obliged to use words. However, other options would have been open to Spiegelman, not least that used by Lau-



rence Sterne when faced with the death of Yorick in Tristram Shandy. Rather than attempting any verbal or graphic representation, Sterne merely offers two black pages (61-2). In Molloy, the protagonist toys with the same idea: you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery. (9-10)

In the context of Spiegelman’s sequential art, this would amount to renouncing the representational potential of the form in favour of a more literal, yet no less mimetic, mode of expression. The paradox is of course a familiar one from the Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit: even when not wanting to express, one expresses (Beckett 1987, 103). The trap of representation seems unavoidable as even the void of a black page such as Sterne deploys becomes a meaningful representation in its apparent failure of representation. I have argued that Spiegelman’s non-verbal panel stains the silence of nothingness just as much as Beckett’s prose, albeit in a different form. In the end, it might be precisely a question of form in both cases: how can form—the comic amalgam of word and image, or the word alone in the case of prose—accommodate the silence, or at least come into relation with it? Repeatedly, Beckett’s prose moves towards silence and then is reactivated by it; a movement that itself finds visual representation in Quad. This begins with a gesture towards the unsaid or unsayable, for example when Malone drops his pencil and he spends “two unforgettable days of which nothing will be ever known” (Beckett 2010a, 49), and becomes in The Unnamable a formal principle of continuation. As The Unnamable draws to a close, a careful distinction is drawn between two forms of silence: the momentary, and the (possibly) enduring:

STAINING THE GUTTER 141 it will be the silence, for a moment, a good few moments, or it will be mine, the lasting one, that didn’t last, that still lasts […] it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know… (Beckett 2010b, 134).

If the silence is momentary, then the round of yet further words will continue, and yet one cannot know whether one is in the ‘true’ silence that will mean the end to speech. Caught within this bind, the Unnamable can’t go on, and yet must. There can be no certain coincidence of I and the silence where I am. “I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” (134). This formal principle of continuation leads to the crucial, and graphic, role of the gaps in How It Is: saying to myself he’s better than he was better than yesterday less ugly less stupid less cruel less dirty less old less wretched and you saying to myself and you bad to worse steadily something wrong there or no worse saying to myself no worse you’re no worse and was worse (9)

The realisation that there is “something wrong” occurs within the gap between the first and second blocks of text, as if the initial comments have been tested by the silent space on the page and found wanting. This then necessitates a further, revised attempt in the final textual block. Words here move towards the white space on the page and then emerge on the other side, as if (as with the Unnamable) coinciding with the silence were an impossibility that demanded further failing attempts. Of course, as I and many others have noted, the function of the gaps bears more than a passing resemblance to Derrida’s différance that is “not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-



substitutions came into play” (1995, 280). The gaps also bear more than a passing resemblance to the white spaces that separate the panels of a comic strip. The gaps between panels, known as gutters, are in many ways the unseen but ever-present components of comic art. As Scott McCloud has argued, these blank spaces constitute the grammar of sequential art in that they establish relations between discreet and necessarily fragmentary panels in order to establish a sense of a unified whole, even when the panels seem to bear no logical or narrative relation to each other. As McCloud puts it: “Nothing is seen between the two panels, but experience tells you something must be there” (67). In a manner reminiscent of Husserl’s concretization, the reader fills in the gaps in perception in order to create a sense of a fully realized reality, which McCloud describes as a process of “closure”. Spiegelman himself has stressed the central role of the silent space of the gutter, describing comics as a “gutter medium; that is, what takes place in the gutters activates the medium” (1997, 100). The art of Maus is, then, an art which takes place with the silent space of the inbetween; an art in difference. As with Beckett’s Unnamable, Spiegelman’s relation between form and silence, that movement towards and out of the gutter, ensures the continuation of the narrative. Hence, Artie’s psychiatrist suggests that the paradox of Beckett saying the “stain on the silence” should itself be included in Maus, and this is what we see on the page. In so doing, the narrative of how to tell the narrative is given a fresh prominence. Of course, this questioning of the possibility of telling a story that is in some sense true is a key motif within Beckett’s prose. One can even see the rhythm of Spiegelman’s movement between Vladek’s narrative and Artie’s attempts to capture that narrative as a Malone-like rhythm of “Present state, three stories, inventory” (Beckett 2010a, 6). Molloy’s words, and the desire to obliterate them, points to a further crucial aspect of Spiegelman’s engagement with Beckett: the ethics of representation. In Molloy’s argument above, the business of representation necessarily misrepresents the underlying misery of

STAINING THE GUTTER 143 existence. The transformation of the misery into an aesthetic realm is regrettable on at least two counts: first, the translation into aesthetic form necessarily falsifies the reality of the misery; second, the misery is betrayed by such a translation, in that misery becomes another well-made story to be “tossed off with bravura” as the Unnamable puts it (66). This is heightened in Spiegelman by the extremely sensitive subject matter and how it is formally addressed, which Andreas Huyssen has argued activates “the confining issue of how to represent the Holocaust ‘properly’ or how to avoid aestheticizing it” (29). Whilst the specifics of the Holocaust might be more occluded within Beckett, the relation between suffering and an art based upon it— one might say exploiting it—is still pertinent and, as I have argued Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Works, remains an ethical conundrum and a driving force throughout Beckett’s career. How can one represent suffering without re-presenting it, on one hand, or create a redemptive, transcendent aesthetic work on the other? There is little doubt that these issues are keenly felt in Maus, and no more so than at the beginning of the second chapter of the second volume when Beckett is quoted. The chapter opens with Artie depicted as a human wearing a mouse mask, which raises questions of his relationship with his Jewish identity. He is slumped over his drawing board and struggling with the need to go on with his work as an act of witness for his now dead father’s suffering in Auschwitz, and the guilt involved given that he has turned that suffering into a successful, and lucrative, piece of art. The first volume of Maus has been a huge success, but that success has been built on the dead bodies of countless victims of the Holocaust. Spiegelman does not shy away from this, but shows Artie’s drawing board poised on a heap of emaciated corpses and, out of the apartment window, a concentration camp guard tower. The blunt force of history is brought to the fore as over a number of panels as some key dates and facts are starkly noted: .

Vladek died of congestive heart failure on August 18, 1982… Vladek started working as a tinman in Auschwitz in the spring of


PAUL STEWART 1944… I started working on this page at the very end of February 1987. In May 1987 Francoise and I are expecting a baby… Between May 16, 1944 and May 24, 1944 over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed in Auschwitz (201).

Artie is not only struggling with the historical fact of the events in Auschwitz, but also how these events intrude upon the present in a variety of complex, mediated ways. Artie is struggling with an act of “post-memory”, as Hirsch terms it, which “certainly has not taken us beyond memory, but is distinguished from memory by generational distance” (8). This mediated distance (in Hirsch’s initial thought, the documentary photograph) allows one to consider memory itself as “equally constructed, equally mediated by the processes of narration and imagination” (9). As the guard tower outside the window suggests, the events of the previous generation intrude upon the present in an already mediated form: he has not witnessed the camps himself, but knows what they look like through countless representations and, on a more intimate level, the testimony of his father. Moreover, Artie senses that his own work is dependent on Vladek’s in Auschwitz and it is implied—although the inference is intolerable—that in some sense Artie is also imprisoned within Auschwitz. No less intolerable is the fact that they are expecting a baby—life goes on—in the shadow of 100,000 instances of life being extinguished. Spiegelman artfully conveys a deep moral and ethical ambivalence at the heart of a work attempting to deal with the Holocaust as the past demands to be repeated in terms of representation and memory, whilst the present might betray that memory or, perhaps more disturbingly, repeat incomprehensible suffering on an aesthetic plane. Hirsch, Huyssen and others have rightly, if perhaps inevitably, viewed this problem in the light of Adorno’s famous dictum that to “write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (1983, 34). Rather like Beckett’s comments on staining the silence, there is a popularity to Adorno’s words that have made them almost ubiquitous when discussing representations of the Holocaust, and, again like Beckett’s

STAINING THE GUTTER 145 comments, the quotation circulates without a sense of its context and its role within the argument concerning cultural criticism that Adorno develops. (It is interesting to note that Hirsh, for example, is fully aware of the arguable nature of the quotation which she uses— “after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems”—claiming to have “deliberately quoted only that part of Adorno’s sentence which has become so determinative and familiar” [27]. The phrasing used by Hirsch is from “Meditations on Metaphysics,” as collected in Negative Dialectics and appears to be part of Adorno somewhat softening his position regarding the barbarism of poetry after Auschwitz: “it may have been wrong to say after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems” [1973, 362]. ) In contrast to this, Huyssen helpfully reorientates the debate by emphasising a different quotation, which comes just a few sentences prior to the Auschwitz and poetry comment: “Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter” (1983, 34). Adorno fears that even the most potent, profound cultural products will eventually become little more than worthless tokens of exchange; that culture will become rubbish. In Adorno’s “Trying to Understand Endgame” one can see Beckett and the detritus of culture as strongly aligned. In Endgame, philosophy is reduced to “cultural trash” (1991, 241), and the modernism on display is “what is obsolete in modernity” which a regressive language “demolishes”. For Adorno: Pre-Beckettian existentialism exploited philosophy as a literary subject as if it were Schiller in the flesh. Now Beckett, more cultured than any of them, hands it the bill: philosophy, spirit itself, declares itself to be a dead inventory […] and the poetic process declares itself to be a process of wastage (1991, 243).

Not even the absurd is allowed to flourish into a conceptual idea in the play; rather it becomes merely a catalogue of detritus: “forlorn particulars that mock the conceptual, a layer composed of minimal utensils, refrigerators, lameness, blindness, and the distaste-



ful bodily functions. Everything waits to be carted off to the dump” (252). Crucially, Adorno likens this world of waste to a “postpsychological condition such as one finds in old people and those who have been tortured” (252), and the hinterland of extreme violence encompasses the fear of the catastrophe of the atomic age, but also the ravages of the Second World War. So, Nagg and Nell are no longer parents to be respected, but “organic garbage” because the Nazis, through their annihilation of what constitutes the human, “have irrevocably overthrown the taboo on old age” thus making “Beckett’s trashcans […] emblems of culture after Auschwitz” (2667). In the preparatory notes for his essay, Adorno was even more explicit: The play takes place in a no man’s land, a zone of indifference between inner and outer. What remains of these two in a state of complete alienation. Concentration camp, intermediate domain between life and death, life as a knacker’s yard (2010, 168).

In “Cultural Criticism and Society”, Adorno claims that “traditional culture” following Auschwitz has become “neutralized and ready-made” and become “expendable to the highest degree, superfluous, trash” (34). It is this that Beckett captures in Endgame where the ability to mean something is obsolete. If this process has meant that “culture has not been made more honest, only more vulgar”, it is logical that Spiegelman and Beckett will inevitably, as Adorno puts it, be hawked by the “hucksters of mass culture” (1983, 34). Adorno railed against this; we might choose otherwise, but it is just such a degeneration and commodification of the Holocaust that Artie fears as he attempts to compose the second volume of Maus. “At least fifteen foreign editions are coming out. I’ve gotten 4 serious offers to turn my book into a T.V. special or movie. (I don’t wanna.)” (201). This reaches its height when an agent assures Artie can make “a million” by a Maus clothing line: “Maus. You’ve read the book. Now buy the vest!” (202). As Adorno argued, “absolute reification […] is now preparing

STAINING THE GUTTER 147 to absorb the mind entirely” (34); even a mind trying to deal with the singular horrors of the Holocaust. Concomitant with this, is a desire for the complexities of the work of art to be reduced to something more manageable and more easily disseminated. A television interviewer presses Artie to summarise the “message you want [readers] to get from your book” but Artie claims that he “never thought of reducing it to a message” (202). Whilst one might be tempted here to be reminded of Beckett refusing to explain his own works, the ironies are perhaps more complex. Maus is threatened to become a mere message—a piece of wisdom detached from the experience of the work. It is in danger of being reduced to a quote, and the experience of the Holocaust reduced along with it. The text then quotes Beckett, as if a source of succour and inspiration in the face of the dangers of commodification and reduction. Quoting Beckett It might then seem strange that Spiegelman uses a quote from Beckett, which is itself reductive, in order to buttress Artie from the reductive demands of mass culture and to re-commit him to the work itself. This irony is all the more apparent when one considers the quote itself: “Every word is an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness”. A quick Google search—the method by which most people will have access to these words—reveals quite a presence of this quote on the internet. Top of the search list is brainyquote.com which offers one the opportunity to turn the quote into graphic meme, and even offers a choice of quiet, deserted landscapes to accompany the words (brainyquote.com. n.d.) The quote is number one in flavorwire.com’s list of “25 Samuel Beckett Quotes that Sum Up the Hilarious Tragedy of Human Existence”, as compiled by Alison Nastasi, (Nastasi 2014). When it is used in more reputable media contexts, including The Guardian and the New York Times, the quote is not contextualised at all; when introducing the quotation, Beckett is the “man who said” for the New York Times (Garner 2009),



and The Guardian goes for the as “writer once said” (Bayley 2009). The actual context of the quotation is rarely, if ever, given. Rather, it floats free as a nugget of Beckettian wisdom, and arguably is used as such by Spiegelman. There has been some confusion over the years as to quite from where the quotation originates and what value one should place on the phrase “Samuel Beckett once said”, to use Spiegelman’s version. It is not taken from any of his published works, in prose, drama, poetry, or criticism. Pawliuk has identified the closing pages of Bair’s biography as a possible source for Spiegelman, but warns that this “purported comment” is to be treated with caution “as it is part of the type of scholarship that creates the hagiographic Beckett, rather than the real Beckett” (2016, 104). His caution is correct, certainly if one is to identify Bair as the source. The final paragraph of her biography reads: Over and over again, he has said, “I couldn’t have done it otherwise. Gone on, I mean. I could not have gone through the awful wretched mess of life without having left a stain upon the silence” (1978, 681).

In the reference accompanying this supposedly direct quotation, Bair states: “In one form or another, he made this remark to DB and others” (750). As form is precisely at issue, not least as to what Beckett said exactly, there is much in Bair’s reference that might worry us. Are these words actually Beckett’s, or Bair’s compendium of the sort of thing Beckett might say? Yet the “stain upon the silence” offered by Bair and Pawliuk is, of course, not the same as the one used by Spiegelman and the one found disseminated so widely on the internet. The exact phrasing can be traced back to an ‘interview’ with Beckett as written by John Gruen and published in Vogue magazine in 1969, and then in British Vogue in February 1970 (all subsequent references are to this latter edition). As this encounter between Gruen and Beckett was in New York it must have occurred in 1964, and indeed a version of

STAINING THE GUTTER 149 the article first appeared in the New York Herald Tribune in that year. As Erik Tonning has pointed out, this has not prevented some misunderstanding as to the proper context. Even James Knowlson, Tonning notes, “has recently made this mistake” (59) and emphasised the more abstract works Beckett was working on in the late 1960s, such as The Lost Ones and Lessness, as the proper aesthetic background for Beckett’s comments in the article. Of course, if, as mentioned in Gruen’s article, the meeting took place in New York in 1964, then the most immediate context was Beckett’s Film: a silent work save for a single “sssh” (1990, 325) in a medium which is dependent on the rapid succession of discreet frames. Spiegelman’s encounter with Beckett in the pages of Maus is, then, already an encounter within the realms of mass culture in the pages of a popular magazine. The article, entitled “Nobel Prize Winner 1969 Samuel Beckett talks about Beckett” is only a single page of text alongside a full-page photograph of Beckett and it takes its place alongside articles on how to achieve the “Peaches and Cream Look That Makes You a Beauty Now” and “What to Wear with What”, as the front cover declares. We might feel that this juxtaposition is somewhat jarring but it demonstrates the degree to which the figure of Beckett, and the wisdom attributed to him, was disseminated within mass culture following the awarding of the Nobel Prize. In Samuel Beckett in the Literary Market Place, Stephen Dilks groups the 1969 Vogue interview (he does not mention the prior Herald Tribune version) alongside what he terms the “non-interviews” given to Israel Shenker (New York Times 1956) and Tom Driver (Columbia University Forum 1961). The Shenker article, according to Dilks, began “a subgenre special to Beckett, what we might call the ‘noninterview interview’ because Beckett agreed to respond to questions but refused note taking or recording” (2011, 51). In accordance with this, Shenker includes such caveats as that the article is what Beckett “would say” if only he would “relax his rules on interviews” (1956, 1). Driver also raises the question of precise phraseology, authenticity and authority when he admits that “what appears is shorter than what [Beckett] actually said but very close to his own words” (1961,



22). The same caution needs to be applied to the Gruen articles, especially given the changes from reported to direct speech between the ‘64 and ‘69 versions. For example, in the Vogue version, Beckett is quoted directly as giving a detailed account of in uterine memories, yet the ‘64 version reads: Beckett himself claims a memory of his own foetal existence, recalling it as a state of total pain, where no voice, no possible movement, could free him from the agony and darkness he was subjected to. “The major sin is the sin of being born,” he concluded. (RUL MS4645)

This section is indicative of some of the ambiguities of the ‘64 article concerning direct or indirect expression; ambiguities which are largely resolved in the Vogue article by presenting Beckett as speaking directly. The status of the verb “claims” is ambiguous; did Beckett say this directly to Gruen at the time, or is Gruen speaking for Beckett, distilling moments from the works (Watt comes to mind) and previous interviews? No less slippery is the final “he concluded”. Again, it is far from clear that Beckett made this conclusion directly to Gruen when they met as a form of culmination of his relating the experiences in the womb. Given that the supposedly direct quotation is a condensed version of Beckett’s comments on Proustian tragedy (“the original and eternal sin of him and all his ‘socii malorum,’ the sin of having been born” [1987, 67]), we have still further reason to be sceptical. And yet, Gruen’s presentation strongly implies that such things were said to him by Beckett at the time they met in 1964. The pattern of reported speech becoming direct speech occurs frequently between the two articles. What is read as a direct quotation concerning Schoenberg, Kandinsky and abstract art in Vogue is reported speech in 1964: “He pointed to the composer … and painter…” What is a reported comment in 1964 concerning his impressions of New York is re-cast in Vogue as a somewhat fulsome and detailed description replete with philosophical import:

STAINING THE GUTTER 151 he did venture the observation that people on the street, even the young housewives carrying home their groceries, had a look of despair. (1964, RUL MS4645) “People look unhappy here. Even young housewives with their heavy shopping bags carry about them a sense of despair. And I sense great hostility in the faces of men. But, of course, that’s inevitable. It is the weight of every man’s fear and emptiness that produces this look. Somewhere he must know that selfperception is the most frightening of all human observations. He must know that when man faces himself, he is looking into the abyss.” (1970, 168)

These details place any supposed direct quotation from Beckett under suspicion in Gruen’s accounts. The “necessary stain” comment is quoted directly in both versions so one might be tempted to think Gruen is reporting actual words said to him, but comparing the two moments in the respective articles must undermine such a certainty. The Vogue “interview” reads: Suddenly he says, “Writing becomes not easier, but more difficult. Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” His words are barely audible, as though he did not wish to give actual sound to his thoughts. But he adds, ‘Democritus pointed the way: Naught is more than nothing’. ” (1970, 168)

In contrast, the Herald Tribune is as follows: “Writing becomes not easier, but more difficult. Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness,” says Beckett. The aphorism “Naught is more than nothing,” quoted from Demokrates [sic] seems to be Beckett’s source of principal inspiration. (1964)



So, whilst the “stain on the silence” quote is direct speech in both cases, it is undermined by the reference to Democritus moving from what seems to be a direct quote in Vogue to what appears to be Gruen’s summation in the 1964 article. As with the “sin of being born”, the Democritus aphorism is already familiar to readers and critics of Beckett, albeit in a slightly different form: “Nothing is more real than nothing”. It is embedded in Murphy, when the eponymous hero is playing chess with Mr Endon: “the positive peace that comes when the somethings give way, or perhaps simply add up, to the Nothing, that which in the guffaw of the Abderite naught is more real.” (154). It is again referenced more clearly in Malone Dies: “I know those little phrases that seem so innocuous and, once you let them in, pollute the whole of speech. Nothing is more real than nothing.” (17) In 1967, Beckett also recommended the Democritus reference to Sigle Kennedy as one of two “points of departure” for anyone wishing to study his works (Beckett 1983, 113). So, whilst a reference to Democritus by Beckett to Gruen when they met is possible, it is also possible that Gruen remembered (or, rather, mis-remembered) this reference from Beckett’s works. Alternatively, Beckett misquotes himself. All of this doubt surrounding the provenance and accuracy of Gruen’s two articles undermines any security in identifying Beckett as ever having said the words attributed to him. This question of authority sees a confusion between the actual person of Samuel Beckett, and the sense of the artist of “silence” and “nothingness” as maintained within the popular imagination, to which I alluded earlier. The “stain on the silence” comment—whether Beckett’s actual words, or Gruen’s approximation—has a currency precisely because it is the sort of thing that we feel Beckett should say and because it neatly packages an aspect (albeit one amongst many others) of the works up to that time. Taken together with the article’s recommendation of Democritus as an entry point for, or explanation of, the works, the ‘non-interview’ effectively turns the complexities of the works and one’s experiences of them into an easily remembered and quoted form. Yet the doubt and the irony remain; the use of the

STAINING THE GUTTER 153 quotation in Maus is dependent on Beckett actually saying those words, when it is unclear if he did stain the silence and nothingness in that particular way. Once the quotation is used, however, it goes on the provide an entry point into Spiegelman’s work, as the title of Michael G. Levine’s article in American Imago demonstrates: “Necessary Stains: Spiegelman’s Maus and the Bleeding of History”. In this case, Beckett is not even cited as the “source”; rather the quote has become a piece of wisdom detachable from its own, somewhat dubious, context16. To use Adorno’s terms, the “stain of the silence and nothingness” quotation is in danger of becoming idle chatter, no more out of the place in the pages of Vogue than in the pages of a graphic narrative.

References Adorno, Theodor W. 1983. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” In Prisms, translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber, 17-34. Cambridge, M.A.: MIT Press. –. 1973. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E.B. Ashton. London: Routledge. –. 2010. “Notes on Beckett.” Translated by Dirk Van Hulle and Shane Weller. The Journal of Beckett Studies 19.2: 157-178. –. 1991. “Trying to Understand Endgame.” In Notes to Literature Volume 1, translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, 241-275. New York: Columbia UP. Bair, Deirdre. 1978. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. London: Vintage. Bayley, Stephen. 2009. “Happy Days for Mr Beckett.” The Guardian, December 13, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/dec/13/samuelbeckett-bridge-dublin-calatrava


Although the “stain on the silence” quotation provides the title for both the American Imago (2002) article and the subsequent chapter in The Belated Witness (2003) it is only in the latter that the full quote is given as an unreferenced epigraph.



Beckett, Samuel. 1990. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1983. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment. Edited by Ruby Cohn. London: Calder. –. 2009a. How It Is. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2010a. Malone Dies. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2009b. Molloy. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2009c. Murphy. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1987. Proust and the Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. London: Calder. –. 2010b. The Unnamable. London: Faber and Faber. Brainyquote.com. “Samuel Beckett Quotes.” www.brainyquote.com/quotes/samuel_beckett_383630. Accessed May 4, 2018. Chute, Hillary. 2008. “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narratives.” PMLA vol.123, No.2 (March): 452-456. Derrida, Jacques. 1995. Writing and Difference, translated by Alan Bass. London: Routledge Dilks, Stephen. 2011. Samuel Beckett in the Literary Market Place. Syracuse: Syracuse UP. Driver, Tom. 1961. “Beckett by the Madeleine.” Columbia University Forum 4 (Summer): 21-25. Garner, Dwight. 2009. “Yours Ever, Sam.” New York Times, March 5, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/06/books/06Book.html. Accessed May, 4 2018. Gruen, John. 1964. “Beckett—Wrapping Another Enigma.” New York Herald Tribune (July 1964): RUL MS4645 –. 1970. “Samuel Beckett Talks About Beckett.” British Vogue (February): 168-169. Hatfield, Charles. 2009. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson. U of Mississippi P. Heer, Jeet and Kent Worcester. 2009. A Comic Studies Reader. Jackson: U of Mississippi P. Hirsch, Marianne. 1993. “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning and PostMemory.” Discourse, vol. 15 No.2, Special Issue: The Emotions, Gender, and the Politics of Subjectivity (Winter 1992-93): 3-29. Huxley, David and Joan Ormrod. 2014. “Editorial,” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 5:1: 1-2.

STAINING THE GUTTER 155 Huyssen, Andreas. 2001. “Of Mice and Mimesis: Reading Spiegelman with Adorno.” In Visual Culture and the Holocaust, edited by Barbie Zelizer, 28-42. New Brusnwick: Rutgers UP. Levine, Michael G. 2003. The Belated Witness: Literature, Testimony and the Question of Holocaust Survival. Stanford: Stanford UP. –. 2002. “Necessary Stains: Spiegelman’s Maus and the Bleeding of History.” American Imago 59, no. 3 (2002): 317-341. McCloud, Scott. 1994. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins. Nastasi, Alison. 2014. “25 Samuel Beckett Quotes that Sum Up the Hilarious Tragedy of Human Existence” http://flavorwire.com/45130 4/25-samuel-beckett-quotes-that-sum-up-the-hilarious-tragedy-ofhuman-existence/3. Accessed May 4, 2018. Pawliuk, Nick. 2016. “The Graphic Novel: Another ‘Stain upon the Silence’?” In Beckett in Popular Culture: Essays on a Postmodern Icon, edited by P. J. Murphy and Nick Pawliuk, 99-106. Jefferson, N.C.: Mcfarland. Rothberg, Michael. 1994. “‘We Were Talking Jewish’: Art Spiegelman’s Maus as ‘Holocaust’ Production.” Contemporary Literature, 35:4 (Winter): 661-687. Shenker, Israel. 1956. “Moody Man of Letters”, New York Times 6 May, Section 2: 1-3. Spiegelman, Art. 1999. “Dirty Little Comics”. In Comix, Essays, Graphics and Scraps: From MAUS to Now, 97-100. New York: Raw Books and Graphics. –. 2003. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Story. London: Penguin. Stewart, Paul. 2014. Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Works. New York: Palgrave. Sterne, Laurence. 1985. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. London: Penguin. Tonning, Erik. 2007. Samuel Beckett’s Abstract Drama: Works for Stage and Screen 1962-1985. Bern: Peter Lang. Witek, Joseph. 1989. Comics as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman and Harvey Pekar. Jackson: U of Mississippi P.

Beckett and Memes: Online Aftertexts Ken Alba What happens when I Google “samuel beckett”? The answer depends on a number of other questions, but take my current situation to be illustrative: I am on my Macbook Air on May 20 th, 2018, and am using an Incognito Mode tab in Google Chrome to prevent the results from being tailored specifically to me. Google returns “about 433,000 results” and lays them out, Wikipedia-first, by relevance, popularity, and whatever other parameters their algorithm’s black box utilizes. Below the first three results, Google informs me that people who ask about “samuel beckett” also ask “What does it mean to wait for Godot?”, “Why does Pozzo go blind?” and “Is Waiting for Godot an existentialist play?”—and offers (dreadful) answers to those questions from Wikipedia, Shmoop, and ‘owlcation,’ respectively. To the right of these results is what Google calls a “knowledge graph” about the “Irish novelist,” complete with a brief biography (from Wikipedia), his birth- and death-date, the genres in which he wrote, a list of several of his books, his plays, a list of other people who Beckett-searchers often search for (Joyce, Ionesco, Pinter, Brecht, and Kafka top the list; the first woman is 22 entries down, and is his wife), and a list of three quotations: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again (sic). Fail again. Fail better. Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order. You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.

These quotations are some of the most virally successful snippets, online and off, of Beckett’s work. They have also, here, been misquoted: the first and the third are mispunctuated, and the second—“Dance first…”—is a concatenation of a conversation 157



between Estragon, Vladimir, and Pozzo in Waiting for Godot that, divorced of context, acquires an imperative air utterly at odds with the conversation’s place in the play: ESTRAGON: Perhaps he could dance first and think afterwards, if it isn’t too much to ask him. VLADIMIR: [To POZZO.] Would that be possible? POZZO: By all means, nothing simpler. It’s the natural order. (39)

What can be done with this rush of unreliable information? Dismissal is the easiest response, and (possibly) the most academically sound one. However, this Beckett—this collection of information, of modularized and bastardized quotations and images and oversimplistic answers, of memes—is the Beckett most ready-to-hand to a first-year who sees Waiting for Godot on her syllabus and decides to get a head start on class. This Beckett, algorithmically generated from the grist of the Internet, is best approached, I’d like to suggest, as what numerous scholars have called a memeplex: a collection of memes. The biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the term “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. For him, a meme—from the Greek root “mimeme,” meaning imitation—is a “replicator” in the “soup of human culture,” a “unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation” (192). His examples include “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” A meme-complex, or “memeplex,” is a collection of these memes that tend to replicate together. Crucially, not all memes are created equal: Dawkins suggests that “longevity, fecundity, and copying-fidelity” determine how well a unit of culture will replicate and spread through the meme pool (192). For many memeticists, these phrases and ideas both parasitize the mind and form it; as Daniel Dennett puts it in his 1991 book Consciousness Explained, “the haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind, but a human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order

BECKETT AND MEMES 159 to make it a better habitat for memes” (207). In other words, the meme perspective articulates a reflexive relationship between information-as-content and consciousness-as-form; individuals arise out of the collection of memes in their minds. The meme is a natural cognitive tool for thinking about Beckett’s proliferation online in part because the term is commonly (and often interchangeably) used alongside ‘viral’ to describe units of information that spread from person to person across the Internet. Limor Shifman argues that the meme is the “best concept to encapsulate some of the most fundamental aspects of the Internet”, providing a vocabulary to examine the “gradual propagation from individuals to society, reproduction via copying and imitation, and diffusion through selection and competition” that units of culture undergo (2014, 18). This approaches the way that ‘meme’ gets used online: as a way of describing the cultural flotsam of the Internet. Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear gloss this vernacular use of the term meme, which better describes the particular way in which memes operate online, “to describe the rapid uptake and spread of a particular idea presented as a written text, image, language ‘move,’ or some other unit of cultural stuff”17 (2007, 202). The way that the meaning of the word meme has mutated, from Dawkins’ definition to this vernacular use, has been taken by Dawkins and others to be indicative of the way that memes themselves function; in a speech given at the Cannes Film Festival, Dawkins announced that the very idea of the meme has itself mutated and evolved in a new direction. An Internet meme is a hijacking of the original idea. Instead of mutating by random chance […] Internet memes are altered deliberately by human activity. In some cases, this can take the form of genuinely creative art. (Dawkins 2013).


A “language move” in this context means something like, but not quite the same as, a quotation. For example, Julian Baggini closes a piece in the May 25, 2018 issue of the Times Literary Supplement with “Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Muddle again. Muddle better.”



Although this distinction is a helpful one, it elides the fact that many Internet memes—including some that this chapter will examine—are mutated not by humans but instead by computers, or by a collaboration between humans and machines. Still, the difference between a meme in the classic sense and an Internet meme is not as great as it might seem; indeed, the latter is primarily a subset of the former, and drawing a hard distinction between memes with digital material supports and memes with analogue supports is only helpful inasmuch as the difference between the two is instructive. More centrally to the larger project of this book, thinking of Beckett as a memeplex and of the reverberations of Beckett’s work online as memes rather than merely as degraded copies of an illusory ‘pure’ version of Beckett maintained by a famously litigious estate can help illuminate the role that a prestigious, dead author like Beckett plays in the information ecology in which many of us live our lives. It provides a paradigm for understanding the Beckett that can be found online; a series of (mis)quotations, digital adaptations, images, and other instances of what H. Porter Abbott calls “recombinant” Beckett: a Beckett subject to “inevitable and necessary dismemberment and redistribution in a process of productive thievery” (2010, 75). As memeticists, we can shift our focus from what a given quote is ‘meant to mean’ to how a unit of culture proliferates and what makes it fit to replicate and propagate across the network. This shift of focus mirrors a persistent concern in Beckett’s work with repetition, iteration, and imitation, and with the circulation of words and gestures from character to character and from text to text, and thus affords a new way of understanding how Beckett carried High Modernism into what Hugh Kenner called the “intangible realm of information theory […] our present world of enigmatic ‘text,’ of foregrounded codes and redundancies, of microchips through which what moves may be less interesting than the process of moving it elegantly” (1987, 15). Thinking about Beckett’s cultural legacy as a collection of memes also rearticulates the concept of an author’s legacy for the information age: as Dawkins puts it, “Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today [...] but who

BECKETT AND MEMES 161 cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus, and Marconi are still going strong.” (2006, 199). Thinking, then, about how Beckett circulates in online popular culture as a series of memes illustrates how the unified, mythical Beckett gives way to a series of idiosyncratic Becketts made up of whatever fragments of his work are picked up, copied, and passed around by a particular reader in the information ecology of the Internet. Although this idiosyncrasy is true enough for any reader’s experience of any author, the technological medium of the Internet, coupled with the ‘collaborations’ between Beckett’s words and unsupervised computers that proliferate online, work to disintegrate the illusion of the author as the single origin of their cultural impact. Fail Better: Beckett’s Most Viral Meme The most virally successful Beckett meme is the first quotation of the three provided above: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (77). The quotation comes from the first page of Worstward Ho (1983), where it refers, among other things, to the impossibility of depicting nothing with language—a problem persistent in Beckett’s work and explored in his dialogues with Georges Duthait nearly 40 years earlier.18 As Gontarski writes in his introduction to Nohow On, the collection of novellas in which Worstward Ho is often read, The desire to worsen language and its images generates an expansion of imaginative activity in its attempt to order experience. The 18

It is in Beckett’s ‘dialogues’ with Duthuit about the nature of contemporary art where he prefigures the sentiment of “fail better” he writes that “ven Velde is the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living”. That the dialogue ends with Beckett “remembering, warmly” “I am mistaken, I am mistaken” is lost online, where it has been spread glibly as Beckett, in his own voice, stating that “to be an artist is to fail.” (1984, part 3, section 4)


KEN ALBA drive worstward is, thus, doomed to failure, and so all that an artist can do, Beckett has been saying for some half-century, is ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ (xxi)

One can think, for example, of a moment in the text where the narrator attempts to “worsen” his image of “the twain,” an old man and child in a dim void: “Add--. Add? Never. The boots. Better worse bootless. Bare heels.” Even the attempt to subtract—in this case, to remove the superfluous detail of the boots from the man and child—gives rise to bootlessness, a new, superfluous detail, “a little better worse than nothing so” (86). Ironically, given its active afterlife, Worstward Ho is one of those works Beckett thought unsuitable to adaptation and translation; in a letter to John Calder in 1986, he wrote “I would not want Worstward Ho on stage in any form,” although he relented when asked by Frederick Neumann (Knowlson, 608), and in a letter to Antoni Libera in 1983 he wrote “I find I cannot translate Worstward Ho. Or with such loss that I cannot bear the thought” (Knowlson, 742). This vexed context—and therefore this meaning—does not accompany the quotation in its natural habitat today: as a mutated meme, online and off, where it has been adapted and translated over and over again. In terms of ‘fitness’, the “fail better” phrase is off the charts: it is short enough to be shared easily, has an air of paradox that makes it resound wisely, and, divorced from context, sounds like the inspiring self-help pap that fills up “wisdom quote” books like Kathryn and Ross Petras’ “Dance First. Think Later”: 618 Rules to Live By. It has, in fact, provided the title for both Fail Better!: Stumbling to Success in Sales and Marketing and Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner. Books like these, along with the other kinds of offline instantiations of Beckett’s words, show how memes can propagate even in the analogue world; chunks of Beckett find their way onto coffee shop blackboards, tennis stars’ wrists, corporate posters, and hundreds of other material supports. As Ned Bauman puts it, “none

BECKETT AND MEMES 163 of Beckett’s work is ever going to reach even one tenth as many people as this little crumb of Worstward Ho taken out of context.” 19 Peter Dinklage, one of the stars of HBO’s wildly popular (and memetically fecund) program Game of Thrones, delivered a commencement speech for Bennington College in 2012 which he closes with “What was it that Beckett said? Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” functions as an interesting intermediate case between on- and off-line memetic propagation (YouTube). Dinklage quotes Beckett several times throughout his speech, twice repeating “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The speech took place in ‘meatspace’20 and was viewed by hundreds of graduating seniors. However, its viral success depends on its availability on Youtube, where it has been viewed about 650,000 times as of the time of this writing. The proliferation of remixes of the speech, however, illustrates how the Internet transforms and remakes cultural artifacts. The top result featuring Dinklage speaking Beckett is a video titled “Are you scared of change?—Motivational video [Feat Peter Dinklage]” that has 1.1 million views. This video takes Dinklage’s thirty minute speech and cuts it down to ten, interspersing clips of Dinklage talking with clips of anonymous figures in various cityscapes. Under that video, there are several of other remixes, with anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of views. And, supporting Bauman’s contention regarding the viral success of “Fail better” relative to Beckett’s work as a whole, the most viewed Beckett play on Youtube—an unauthorized upload of the Beckett on Film production of Waiting for Godot—has only 515,000 views.21




For more on “Fail Better”’s memetic success offline, see Bauman 2012 and O’Connell 2015. Meatspace, that is, as the inverse of cyberspace—the physical, fleshy world. Müller and Schreiber’s “Sam 2.0: Appropriations, Interpretations and Adaptations of Beckett on Youtube” offers a more detailed look at the ways that Beckett’s plays have proliferated and been adapted for Youtube. Of particular interest is their comparative quantification of



Youtube aside, online the quotation mostly proliferates in one of two ways: either as plain text copy-pasted and hashtagged on social media profiles or Twitter feeds, or as an ‘image macro’—a popular genre of meme where text is overlaid on top of an image and circulated as an image file, as can be seen in figure 1 below. Like the pulpy “wisdom quote” industry, there exists online an ecosystem of quotation websites—Wikiquote, quotefancy, azquotes, brainyquotes, goodreads, and many, many others—whose business model is predicated on the decontextualization and memefication of public figures like Beckett. Azquotes.com is a typical example of this sort of site; it features lists of quotations as plain text, a set of tags for each quote (for “Fail better,” “Inspirational,” “Motivational,” and “Encouraging”), and procedurally generated image files that combine an image of Beckett’s face with the quotation in question. Beckett’s gaunt photograph thus underwrites the sentiment of the quotation, trading on his cultural currency as an academic heavyweight to elevate the words. The most successful Beckett quotations on this website, particularly “Fail better,” incorporate several of the six factors that Shifman, following Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman’s comprehensive study of what features “enhance sharing tendencies on the Internet,” calls the “six Ps” that enhance content’s virality: “positivity, provocation of high-arousal emotions, participation, packaging, prestige, and positioning.” (Shifman 2014, 66). “Fail better” out of its Worstward Ho context seems positive, as does “Dance first...” By “packaging” Berger and Milkman mean that “clear and simple” texts spread better than complex ones; hence, perhaps, the dearth of viral content from a text like Watt. The quotations that succeed tend to be amenable to a straightforward reading, as “Fail better” is, even if that straightforward reading is at odds with the meaning of the words in their original context. There are exceptions, of course, but reading a list of viral quotations alongside the “six Ps”

Beckett-related Youtube material to that of other authors, and their analysis of the “Barbie Edition” of Waiting for Godot.

BECKETT AND MEMES 165 suggests how much viral success depends on a very particular kind of popular appeal.

Figure 1—A typical example of a quote-mill reproduction of a Beckett quotation, from azquotes.com

Importantly, Beckett is not the only author on these websites. That the images are programmatically generated means that the people who run quote mills can trivially generate analogous images for any author—or, indeed, for anyone quotable. Kafka, Joyce, Yeats, Wilde—each of these authors, along with many others, have the same sort of lists of quotations, with images featuring black-andwhite photos next to their own words digested into wisdom quotations. Websites like Azquotes, then, capitalize on the elements in multivalent literary texts that fit best into a model like the six “Ps,” trading on the authorial prestige invoked by austere photographs of long-dead literati and whatever pop-positivity that can be culled out of their complexities. Kafka’s top quote, tagged as “Inspirational,” Fashion,” and “Truth,” is “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly”. (See figure 2) The quotation is actually by Anne Rice, who wrote them in a foreword to a 1995 edition of a collection of Kafka’s short stories to describe the impression Kafka’s example made on her (O’Toole



2017). To this sort of website, however, that fact is irrelevant: what succeeds is what is positive, provocative, and packaged well; Kafka’s image functions as packaging for Rice’s cliché. Browsing a quotation mill like Azquotes, then, reveals a paradox: on the one hand, Beckett’s prestige as a Nobel Laureate and as one of the most famous playwrights of the 20th century enhances the virality of his ‘wisdom’ when it is reduced to a line of text and an image; on the other, Beckett’s prestige and image is interchangeable with the image and reputation of all of the authors that Google recommends to me when I search for Beckett. Regardless, the transformation of text into images helps quotations like “Fail better” propagate as memes. Copy-fidelity is higher with image files than with plain text because an image file is more difficult to modify and therefore less likely to be copied incorrectly; one cannot, as Google does with their knowledge graph’s version of the “fail better” quote, mispunctuate a recopied image so long as the original image is punctuated properly. Further, images are more virally successful than plain text on many social media sites; on their Analytics page, for example, Twitter advertises that “Tweets with photos get noticed!” and that “Tweets with images drive more engagement and generate more responses.” Disentangling the degree to which this increase in engagement and therefore in virality can be assigned to images being more eye-catching to humans from the role that Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms have in pushing pictures to the top of their respective feeds is difficult, but in terms of fecundity, images (and videos) just do better.


Figure 2—A quotation by Anne Rice attributed to Kafka, from azquotes.com

Tumblr, another social network, is focused primarily on the sharing of images. The Tumblr page beckittns, which features “Samuel Beckett Motivational Cat Posters,” juxtaposes adorable photographs of cats—a staple of both early and contemporary meme culture since Caturday originated on 4chan—with bleak snippets of Beckett’s prose. These images work precisely because of the dissonance between the pithy and often bleak aphorisms plucked from Beckett’s texts and the cute photograph of the cats. The most popular Beckittns image features a photograph of two wide-eyed cats and the caption, from Waiting for Godot, “‘Shall we go?’ ‘Yes, let’s go.’ They do not move.”



Figure 3—Two Russian Blues as Vladimir and Estragon, from bekittns.tunblr.com

The Tumblr post has 770 notes, which is extremely successful for a Beckett meme—more, even, than the Beckittns take on “fail better,” which shows an animated GIF of a cat trying (and failing) to jump from one cabinet to another, captioned “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” which has 539 notes. As Mark Wallin notes, Beckittns citations are done with hashtags; rather than a traditional attribution, “a series of ‘hashtags,’ or systems of grouping like information, are used so that if one of the cat images references Worstward Ho, one can click on the hyperlink for #worstward ho and be taken to all the Tumblr pages that use the same hashtag” (148). Whereas quotation websites depend for their motivational value on a misreading of Beckett’s words, Beckittns paradoxically requires, for maximum effect, a sense of Beckett’s work to secure the juxtaposition between the cats and the words. Because the humor depends on the gap between the ‘serious’ Beckett and the profoundly unserious felines,

BECKETT AND MEMES 169 Beckittns may do less interpretive violence to Beckett’s words than the ‘inspirational’ tagging used on Azquotes. On the more serious side of the spectrum, Dr. Rhys Tranter maintains a series of social media profiles for Samuel Beckett. At the time of writing, Dr. Tranter is an editor of The Beckett Circle and the Publicity and Communications Officer for the Samuel Beckett Society, and the Twitter feed he maintains, @samuelbbeckett, is quite popular for what it is: nearly 7000 people follow it. In an article written for the Lincoln Center in 2016, Tranter writes that “Samuel Beckett is on Twitter, and perhaps we should not be surprised.” He cites Beckett’s early adoption of various other media technologies— reel-to-reel tapes, radio, television, and so on—alongside the fact that “his compact observations and incisive remarks are perfectly trimmed for our social media age” to explain why Beckett’s words have a natural home online (2016). This Twitter feed, along with the Facebook profile (also @samuelbbeckett) that Tranter maintains for Beckett, features quotations, photographs, news, and events. Unlike the quotation websites mentioned above, Tranter’s feed is academically serious; the words are properly copied from their texts and are often, although not always, cited. Through the profiles’ icons and biographies, they pose as Samuel Beckett proper, although Tranter is clear elsewhere that Beckett isn’t the one writing the tweets; he says he “don[s] the Nobel Laureate’s spectacles and wiry hair to share [my] favorite quotes from his prose, poems, plays, and published letters” (2016). But Tranter’s Facebook profile has only 2,953 followers. More popular by far is @SamuelBeckettPage, with 270,955 likes and 260,765 followers. Philip Nikolayev, a poet and a Beckett scholar who received a PhD working with Christopher Ricks at Boston University’s Editorial Institute, edits @SamuelBeckettPage. Most of the posts are images of quotations like the ones mentioned above—and, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Fail better” was posted less than a week ago as of this writing. Nikolayev also posts videos and edited images where Beckett quotes are overlaid manually on images; one recent post includes a photo of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump with the



same “Shall we go?...” exchange as the most viral Beckittn. Besides running such a popular social media page, Nikolayev also serves as coeditor-in-chief of Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics, whose 2007 issue included a feature, edited by Nikolayev, titled “Samuel Beckett as Poet.”

Figure 4—Trump and Putin as Vladimir and Estragon, from @SamuelBeckettPage

What Tranter and Nikolayev’s profiles have in common is a concern with the fidelity of Beckett’s original text. Despite Nikolayev’s use of image-macrofied quotations, neither he nor Tranter has, as far as I can tell, posted anything spurious; both sets of profiles consistently put out reliable and reputable Beckett content. And this matters; if we entertain the idea that an author’s existence in the infosphere is as a memeplex, then that author’s identity depends upon the content that spreads. Tranter and Nikolayev’s profiles, then, replicate Beckettian content with higher-fidelity than the other Beckett memes noted above, and in so doing shifts Beckett-asmemeplex closer to the Beckett that academics read and write about. Wallin’s excellent article about the role that Beckett’s image and reputation plays in what he calls the “identity bricolage” of social

BECKETT AND MEMES 171 media users—the way that individual users post and repost Beckett memes (and, of course, other material) in order to fashion their online personae—suggests but does not fully explore the degree to which each of these appropriations also modify the image of Beckett himself. The author-as-memeplex is also a subject of bricolage that gives rise to an amalgamated, mixed-up version of the author that works directly against the “carefully crafted and assembled monolith of Beckett himself” (75). The monolith online, in other words, is made up as much by the “Fail better” detritus that piles up around the edges as it is by estate-sanctioned academic editions and erudite criticism. Under this paradigm, the work done by Tranter and Nikolayev is crucial inasmuch as it reinscribes a Beckett into the online commons—the publically accessible and shared space of social media—that someone who has read his work and seen his plays might be able to recognize. Less Pop, More Beckett: Memetic Transcodings and Viral Adaptation Beckett’s words—and therefore his image in a broader sense—have been subjected to more than copying online, however. In the catchall genre of ‘electronic literature’, his works have inspired a slew of new texts and productions. These objects tend to be more creative than the memes mentioned in the previous section; whereas most viral reproductions of Beckett depend on either decontextualizing or recontextualizing Beckett’s words in such a way that they can be easily and widely disseminated across the network, the new media objects below are self-consciously artistic creations. We can think of them as memetic offspring, mutations with human input. Like many works of electronic literature—and like Beckett’s television and radio plays—they thematize their mediums; because the native medium of these texts is the Internet, they can be read with an eye towards the fragmentation, decontextualization, and dissemination—in other words, the transformation into meme—that their source texts undergo online.



For example, Ranjit Bhatnagar’s twitterbot @f__lb_tt_r takes the most viral Beckett meme as its starting point and dramatizes the way that its circulation on the internet results in a loss of original meaning accompanied by a proliferation of novel texts that permit, occasionally, interesting readings. Every two hours, the bot posts a new computer-generated mutation of the full “fail better” quote. The mutations are generated using a short Python script with a hand-selected collection of rhymes and near-rhymes for each word in the quotation. In an interview I conducted with Bhatnagar over email, I asked him why he chose to iterate on the “fail better” quotation. He gave several answers: because it has become an “inspirational cliché, totally divorced from Beckett’s avant-garde weirdness,” because failure suggests “glitches and algorithmic failure,” which the bot instantiates, because the quotation is “so short but... so full of assonance and consonance [that it] works well with rhyme-based distortions,” because he wanted to “make a twitter bot that would fail, but in a good way,” and—most aptly for the text you’re holding in your hands—because he “enjoy[s] the collision of stereotypically stuffy literary culture with internet culture.”22 Bhatnagar’s motives illustrate a self-conscious engagement with the often glitchy process by which the literary becomes a meme online, as a series of better or worse failures, and also point to the way that Beckett himself, as an avatar of “stuffy literary culture”, is ripe for the kind of playful recombination at which artists working in new media are so adroit. Most of the generated tweets are, indeed, failures, but the sheer number of iterations means that an occasional gem surfaces; May 21’s “Ever tried. Ever failed. No stagger. Try again. Fail again.


Bhatnagar’s interest in the collision of literary with internet culture can be seen in several of his bots, including @bloomsays, which locates and tweets randomized dialogues from Ulysses. His most popular bot, Pentametron, finds tweets that are (usually accidentally) in iambic pentameter and retweets them. This bot has nearly 25,000 followers; a collection of sonnets discovered / generated by the bot was published by Counterpath Press in Fall of 2018.

BECKETT AND MEMES 173 Ail longer,” attributed to “Samuel Beckott,” is particularly sharp. Trying again, here, becomes not a process of improvement on the road to perfection—as the sanitized reading of the quote-asdecontextualized meme would have “fail better” mean—but instead prolongs the agony of consciousness. For every iteration that warrants a close reading, however, there are dozens of doggerelmutations. “Ail longer,” for example, comes just after “Lesser lied. Lesser bailed. No snapper. Lay defend. Bail again. Bail cheddar -Samuell Beckett”

Figure 5—Three examples of Ranjit Bhatnagar’s twitterbot @f_lb_tt_r

The ratio of noise to signal is high, and perhaps as a consequence the bot has not gone viral: it has only 19 followers as of this writing. Rather than succeeding as a meme, then, @f__lb_tt_r illustrates the process of mutation that the endless recirculation of a snippet of text like the “fail better” quotation undergoes when subjected to the memetic ecosystem: even Google returns a version of the quotation with a typo, and, as I’ve mentioned, the most popular quotations besides “Fail better” are unfaithful reproductions of Beckett’s text. It also enacts, in a perversely faithful way, the process its text tortures; every two hours it tries (and fails) to transmit the



meme faithfully, and only occasionally (as with “Ail longer,” above) does it create something that rewards a close reading. The consequence of this sort of mutation for the authorfunction of a block of text is underlined by Bhatnagar’s choice to glitch Beckett’s image for @f__lb_tt_r’s user icon and to mutate Beckett’s name each time it transforms Beckett’s text. Unlike the quotation websites that underwrite Beckett’s words with his image, @f__lb_tt_r spawns a brood of ersatz Becketts to whom it attributes similarly ersatz quotations. As Bhatnagar wrote in our interview, the transformation of the name both “continues with the glitch theme” and attests to the way that quotations “lose their attribution through repetition”. This calls attention to the way that the author online splinters into a memeplex. Meme culture fatally undermines the same myth of stable individual identity that so much of Beckett’s work critiques. Because the stage on which identities are performed is so multifarious and so resistant to centralized control, even by a famously litigious estate, ‘the author’ as a figure proliferates and mutates.


Figure 6—The user icon for @f_lb_tt_r: off-centre Beckett with glitch effect

Waiting for GoBot, a Twitter botnet, focuses on the fragmentation of the text-as-object rather than the author-as-object. A network of bots—@Estragon_gobot, @Vladimir_gobot, @Lucky_gobot, @Pozzo_gobot, and @a_boy_gobot—tweet out the dialogue to Waiting for Godot, while @godotnarr, the “omniscient narrator of the Waiting for Godot botnet” with a black-and-white photograph of Beckett himself as an icon, recites the stage instructions, and @godot_gobot looms over the proceedings without ever having tweeted. The botnet is a production of Cole Willsea, who wrote the code that drives the bots for National Novel Generation Month, an annual event where a collection of coders write programs that generate novels. As a production of Godot, Waiting for GoBot is



(obviously) unfaithful to Beckett’s vision of the play, but it does highlight the way that Beckett’s words work online. Godot as a cohesive whole is disintegrated in GoBot, with each line of dialogue reproduced as an atomized, modularized tweet that can be individually shared and retweeted. One can read the production in a variety of ways: by searching for the whole botnet and reading the play as a kind of conversation between bots, by reading the individual characters’ dialogue separately and then trying to reassemble the play after the fact, or—as Willsea herself recommends—by reading the narrator’s timeline alone. Alternatively, should one follow each of the bots, the text of Godot appears as an interruption of one’s regular Twitter feed, with the play itself being interrupted by whatever other flotsam Twitter calls up. Gobot thus fractures an already fractured play and in so doing dramatizes the disintegration and decontextualization that Beckett’s works tend to undergo when they become grist for the meme-machine of the Internet. It would be a mistake, however, to take Gobot too seriously; like Beckittns, it seems to have been conceived as much as a joke as anything else. On the Github repository where GoBot’s code lives, Willsea writes that she’s “always wanted to read Waiting for Godot” but that her “attention span doesn’t last much beyond 140 characters these days” (2015). This attitude is one more thing that unifies ‘electronic literature’ with internet memes more broadly speaking; these kinds of after-texts occupy a middle-space between play, critical intervention, and artistic creation, where the kind of ironic distance endemic to the internet gives rise to a wholly different sort of pose towards the ‘serious literature’ that Beckett is often thought to exemplify. Of course, this exemplification elides the fact that Beckett’s work itself is charged with comedy. These remixes can also, then, function as a reminder to not take the original texts too seriously. A reader whose first exposure to Beckett is through something like Gobot may be that much more awake to the humour of a man’s trousers falling down—and that much more likely to laugh, rather than remain respectfully, seriously silent, when the trousers fall onstage. A focus on the memetic dissemination of Beckett’s work thus paradox-

BECKETT AND MEMES 177 ically both de- and re-centers Beckett’s place as author. The same elements that Kenner writes about in The Mechanic Muse as making Beckett indicative of the transition between High Modernism and the Information Age make his work particularly amenable to online mutation. On the other hand, the function of many of these projects has been to decenter Beckett as the unique author—as in @f__lb_tt_er’s mangled citations, for example, or the way that Beckett becomes just another quotable author on the quote-mill websites. This sort of interrogation reaches an apex in the How It Is In Common Tongues, a “generative literary work” by John Cayley and Daniel C. Howe that: operates with Google’s search engine, taking the whole of the internet as a database and making searches of combinations of words that replicate Samuel Beckett’s How It Is (1961). HIIICT is thus a reconstruction of Beckett’s novel. Discretized in blocks of words, Beckett’s text is entirely cited from the Internet and all the links for the sources of each group of words are available as footnotes. (da Silva, 2017)

How It Is In Common Tongues transforms Beckett’s novel into a text written by a network of Pierre Menards, enacting the disintegration of the author into an exhaustive list of citations and illustrating, in the process, the way that even a wholly idiosyncratic product of Beckett’s mind can be reassembled out of aggregated data. Each cited phrase acquires a unique context, simultaneously referring to its footnoted source and its place in the fragmentary novel. The disaggregation and recombination of How It Is In Common Tongues suggests the way that Beckett’s words—and literary work in general— are broken to pieces in the memetic infosphere of the Internet. As Cayley, in an interview with Scott Rettberg, puts it, “it’s a gesture that is against notions of copyright, the proprietary ownership of text generally […] those aren’t Beckett’s words, they’re words from the commons that he happened to use once.” How It Is In Common



Tongues thus raises the question of copyright, of ownership of language, and reflects on the tensions between human and machinic cognition, between human and posthuman language, between language as an instrument for meaning production and expression, and the algorithmic language that works behind the scene of our digital writing, categorizing, indexing, and monetizing it (da Silva 2017).

How It Is is a particularly fitting text for this sort of disintegration given its fragmentary character, that it opens with “how it was I quote […] I say it as I hear it” (7) and the degree to which it is a recapitulation of earlier material; again, for example, we have a man lying in the dark, in the mud, and as Knowlson writes Beckett uses numerous “real life” images from Beckett’s childhood (413).


Figure 7—A page from How It Is in Common Tongues. Note how the attributions take up almost as much space as the text itself.

This textual traffic is one of the features of Beckett’s work as a whole that allies it with the memetic perspective. As Stephen Connor has argued, repetition—not quite imitation, but close—is a



“strong and continuous preoccupation” at the “center of his work” (1). Glutted with allusions to texts by other authors and, just as often, repeated motifs and moments from his own texts, Beckett’s work can be read as a memeplex wherein those ideas he thought most fit to print find themselves on the page again and again: the crippled figure in the locked room; the man crawling through the mud, or in the ditch; and so on. Even the scenes described in Worstward Ho—the “shade astand,” the old man and child, the skull— echo, exhaustively, situations from earlier work, iterated and reiterated over and over again. The corpus becomes a network, in this understanding, with each text linked by the memes, the motifs, the language moves, that unify them. This same operation occurs on a smaller scale within individual texts, particularly within Play, with its instruction to “Repeat play,” or within Watt, where the title character behaves like a glitching bot carrying out ill-defined instructions to its nth repetition. And our picture of the individual work, of the work as a whole, and of the author, depends on this network of interrelations and repetitions. The question, then, is what role these memetic aftertexts play, or ought to play, in the construction of a Beckettian memeplex. Seeing Watt’s most inexplicable, most repetitive moments reproduced in computer code, as Kenner does in The Mechanic Muse or Nick Montfort does in Megawatt, changes the experience of reading Watt. The cacophony of associations that the pop-cultural afterlife of “Fail better” has accrued changes what it is like to read Worstward Ho. Thinking about Beckett and memes means thinking about what sticks, and what spreads, and what modes of textual being infect the author and the texts as we approach them. References Abbott, H. Porter. 2010. “The Legacy of Samuel Beckett: An Anatomy.” In A Companion to Samuel Beckett, edited by S. E. Gontarski, 73-83. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. Baggini, Julian. “Time to abandon grand ethical theories?” The Times Literary Supplement. May 25, 2018. Print.

BECKETT AND MEMES 181 Bauman, Ned. “Fail Worse.” The New Inquiry. February 9, 2012. https://thenewinquiry.com/fail-worse/ (accessed May 22, 2018). Beckett, Samuel. 1996. Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho. Edited by S. E. Gontarski. New York: Grove Press. –. 1984. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment. Edited by Ruby Cohn. New York: Grove Press. –. 1964. How It Is. New York, NY: Grove Press. 1964. Bhatnagar, Ranjit, interview by Ken Alba. About @f__lb_tt_r (June 3, 2018). Brown, Stephen. 2008. Fail Better!: Stumbling to Success in Sales and Marketing. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish. Cayley, John and Howe, Daniel. 2012. How It Is In Common Tongues. Providence: Natural Language Liberation Front. Web.. http://thereadersproject.org/docspdfs/hiiict.pdf Connor, Steven. 1988. Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory, and Text. Aurora: Blackwell. Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The Selfish Gene. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP. –. 2013. “Just For Hits—Richard Dawkins.” Filmed Cannes, France. Video, 4:08. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFn-ixX9edg. Dennett, Daniel. 2017. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. New York: Norton. –. 1997. Consciousness Explained. New York: Back Bay Books. Franz Kafka Quotes. http://www.azquotes.com/author/7682-Franz_Kafka (accessed March 2018). Kenner, Hugh. 1987. The Mechanic Muse. Oxford: Oxford UP. Knowlson, James. 1996. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Simon & Schuster. Lankshear, Colin, and Michele Knobel. 2011. New Literacies. 3rd Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Open University Press. Muller, Anja, and Mark Schreiber. 2016. “Sam 2.0: Appropriation, Interpretations and Adaptations of Beckett on Youtube.” Contemporary Drama in English 16 (2016): 185-205. O’Connell, Mark. “The Stunning Success of ‘Fail Better’.” Slate. January 29, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/01/samuel_ beckett_s_quote_fail_better_becomes_the_mantra_of_silicon_vall ey.html (accessed May 17, 2018).



O’Toole, Garson. 2017. “‘Hemingway Didn’t Say That’ (And Neither Did Twain or Kafka).” Interview by Robert Siegel. All Things Considered, NPR, April 4, 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/04/04/522581148/hemingway-didntsay-that-and-neither-did-twain-or-kafka “Peter Dinklage ’91 Addresses Bennington College’s Class of 2012.” YouTube, uploaded by Bennington College, June 5, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuEfEv0OlsY Samuel Beckett Quotes. www.azquotes.com/author/1118-Samuel_Beckett (accessed April 2018). Sastry, Anna, Kara Penn. 2014. Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner. Brighton, Ma.: Harvard Business Review Press. da Silva, Ana Marques, 2017. “How It Is In Common Tongues.” In The Electronic Literature Directory. Web. https://directory.eliterature.org/individual-work/4818 Shifman, Limor. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, Massachussets: MIT Press, 2014. Tranter, Rhys. @SamuelBBeckett: Tweets for Everyday Life. October 10, 2016. http://www.lincolncenter.org/article/beckett-tweets-for-everydaylife (accessed April 2018). Twitter Analytics. https://analytics.twitter.com/user/DocEon/home (accessed May 2018). Walker, Lulu. Beckittns: Samuel Beckett Motivational Cat Posters. 2017. http://beckittns.tumblr.com/ (accessed March 2018). Wallin, Mark Rowell. “The New Dedalus: Avatars and Identities in Online Social Networks.” In Beckett in Popular Culture: Essays on a Postmodern Icon, 143-154. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co, 2016. Willsea, Cole. Waiting for GoBot. November 1, 2015. https://github. com/dariusk/NaNoGenMo-2015/issues/88 (accessed March 2018).

“Play it again, Sam!” Samuel Beckett, Popular Video Art and Video Games Mark Schreiber The fact that the works of Samuel Beckett have had a significant influence on a large number of other artists in a variety of fields, such as literature, theatre and other performing arts, music, film and television, painting and sculpture, has both been widely noted and critically examined. One area that had been both highly interesting for Beckett himself as well as for others that came after him, was that of video and video art. Beckett’s own forays into the newly developing medium (including plays for television) are testament to the author’s keen interest in the technological and aesthetic potentials of video. In fact, Beckett has been characterised as standing “unmistakably at the beginning of video art” (Werner Spies, cited in Nixon 2013, 177). While Beckett’s influence on established video artists (such as Bruce Nauman or Stan Douglas) has received both artistic and critical attention (most notably in the exhibition Samuel Beckett / Bruce Nauman at the Kunsthalle Wien [2000]), his ongoing legacy on video art as an emerging form of expression of and by lesser known artists has yet to be assessed. With contemporary media and network technologies, the means of production and distribution of and agency over video art projects have been truly revolutionised over the last decade. Anyone with a webcam and access to the internet can, in theory, be a ‘video artist’ today. Building on a previous paper where my colleague Anja Müller (Siegen) and I had begun to examine Beckett-related and Beckettinspired video art on YouTube (Müller and Schreiber 2009), my contribution aims to further assess and examine Beckett’s lasting influence on contemporary video art. As an extension of our previous research, this paper will also consider Beckett’s influence on a genre that combines the aesthetics of video with that of play; the 183



video game. In doing so, I aim to build on the positive reception of our initial ideas as “powerful testimony of Beckett’s cultural iconicity and […] a rich area for future studies of Beckett […] within popular culture” (Murphy 2015, 173). In order to fully capture the impact Beckett has had and continues to have on (audio-)visual art forms such as film and (interactive) video art (including video games), it may help to remind ourselves of the extent to which Beckett himself was a man of the eye and the ear. When Tom Phillips was asked to do drawings during the rehearsals of Waiting for Godot in 1984 at London’s Riverside Studios, he noted: At the beginning I did not know quite how to set about drawing him. […] To move up in front of him would evidently have been an intrusion on his work there. Sitting behind, trying to form a strategy, I gradually realized that the back of his head was as eloquent as the front, and as recognizable. […] Initially I positioned myself so that I caught some of the side view of his face but settled in the end, in doing the most finished of the drawings, for a full back view in which each of Beckett’s majestic ears is seen to good advantage: they are after all the most sensitive ears for language alive. (Phillips 2019, n.p., original 1987)

Beckett’s “majestic ears” and his often-noted piercing steelblue eyes are indeed essential for any attempt to approach both his work as well as to explain the continuing influence of that work on (audio-) visual artists. If, as many commentators have shown, and our own experience of reading Beckett almost always seems to prove, we cannot rely on coherent structures in narrative, characterisation, or the construction of time and space, then we need to find alternative ways to approach Beckett’s oeuvre. In a lecture in 2000 at the Vienna Kunsthalle (on the occasion of the opening of the Samuel Beckett / Bruce Nauman exhibition mentioned above), the American poet, novelist and critic, Raymond Federman, spoke of how Beckett could be

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 185 compared to a painter, albeit in a different medium: “Beckett was a great artist, yes, a great painter. No, he did not paint with a brush, he painted tableaux (or tableaus) with words” (Federman 2000, n.p.). The idea for an alternative approach to Beckett put forward by Federman does not simply say that we should read Beckett (or rather view/look at him) as a painter with words or as a linguistic composer who drew his inspirations from the images and sounds that he encountered. Instead, Federman suggests that we should look at Beckett’s texts as paintings or as an assortment of images (and sounds, I would add). With Beckett, then, it is not so important (or indeed fruitful) to try and understand in a rational sense what his characters are doing, where they are, and why they are where they are, to find motivations behind their actions, or to try and explain plot structures, but it is much more rewarding to see the visual, linguistic, and aural composition of his texts. Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration when examining Beckett’s work and its rootedness in and potential for further exploration through (audio-)visual art forms is the author’s relationship with and his indebtedness to another great of Irish writing, namely James Joyce. Beckett’s explorations in the visual and aural capacities of language are much owed to his literary mentor. From its beginnings, Beckett’s writing can be viewed as being motivated by his doubts about the representational capacities of a language that Beckett himself viewed as suffering from overabstraction and stuck in traditional narrative conventions. In Beckett’s contribution to a collection of essays entitled Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (1929), he vigorously defends Joyce’s take on literary language. Beckett’s essay is entitled “Dante... Bruno. Vico.. Joyce.” Each dot in the essay’s title represents a century of real time: Dante in the 14th century, Bruno in the 17th, Vico in the 18th, and Joyce in the 20th. In his essay, Beckett defends Joyce’s experimental novel Finnegans Wake (ten years before it was published) saying that artistic language is, after all, a living, flowing matter which communicates meaning on the suggestive and emotional level. The language is



swift, mobile, dance-like and strongly related to music and painting. Beckett says: Here form is content, content is form. You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read—or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something; it is that something itself. (Samuel Beckett, cited in Brockmeier 2001, 20)

Beckett’s own way to find this ideal way of writing where the meaning of an expression becomes clear not by way of metaphor but rather as ‘direct expression’ (because, as Beckett believed, the connection between the subject and the outside world, i.e. the object of its description, no longer existed) was a hard and rocky path. He spent many years looking through literary history in a search for soul-mates but he also heavily criticised those authors that he believed had only created dead literature. About the later Goethe, for example, Beckett said in a 1937 letter to his friend Axel Kaun in Berlin (the letter was written in German) that he seems to have preferred “lieber Nichts zu schreiben als nicht zu schreiben” (rather to write Nothing than not to write at all, trans. MS) and that “Grammatik und Stil [sind] ebenso hinfällig wie ein Biedermeier Badeanzug”(Grammar and style are as superfluous as a Biedermeier bathing suit, trans. MS). Rather, Beckett suggests that we should try “den Schleier der Sprache (zu) zerreissen” (to rip open the veil of language, trans. MS) in order to get to “die dahinter liegenden Dinge (oder das dahinter liegende Nichts)” (the things or the Nothing that lies beneath it, trans. MS. [Beckett 1984, 65-67].) This tearing apart of the veil that covered language and kept it from its ‘direct expression’, however, was not to be realised only by way of a new writing technique but it should be incorporated into a whole artistic vision. Beckett wants to give back to the words their immediate expressive force, focusing on the sound and the image that the sound of the words create in themselves, to enable the words to have an effect beyond their lexical limitations or to ‘conjure

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 187 up by what is said, all that which is not said’. A good example for this can be seen in Beckett’s response to Harold Pinter (one of the earliest British playwrights whose work was immediately affected by Beckett): “I was in the hospital once. There was a man in another ward, dying of throat cancer. In the silence I could hear his screams continually. That’s the only kind of form my work has” (Bair 1990, 560). In fact, for the Samuel Beckett / Bruce Nauman exhibition mentioned earlier, a series of recordings entitled “…The Whole Thing is Coming out of the Dark” was made, as the basis for an audio-visual performance during the exhibition. According to the information on the CD sleeve, these recordings assemble “words, sounds and moving images” (intermedium records, 2000). The recordings are structured around the famous stone-sucking dilemma from Beckett’s novel Molloy (1951). From the recording, it becomes obvious how terribly obsessed Molloy is with his ‘dilemma’ and how relieved once he finds a solution (which, of course, is only a preliminary one, and Molloy in the end is so frustrated that he throws his stones away). Interestingly, the solution lies in the sacrifice of the principle of “trim”, a word that Molloy has never come across before in this sense. Trim here might be a nautical term that refers to the equal distribution of weight in boats and ships to allow for balance. What is interesting here, apart from the absurdity of the situation and the ‘dilemma’ in general, is the combination of Beckett’s text with a musical variant of the “stone sucking sequence” as a “note sucking sequence”. Musical notes are taken from pockets, sucked and then played (for example, “Rule Number 1”, first track on the CD). The music in its strange assonances highlights Molloy’s hopeless efforts to find a solution. The musical reworking of Beckett’s writing on this CD is only one example of his texts’ potential for trans- and inter-medial adaptation. Peter Seibert (2008), in his introduction to a collection of essays on Samuel Beckett und die Medien. Neue Perspektiven auf einen Medienkünstler des 20. Jahrhunderts (Samuel Beckett and the Media. New Perspectives on a 20th Century Media Artist, trans. MS), refers to Beckett as a



“multi-media author […] who, in contrast to most other multi-media authors, did not simply write (deliver) for media but who produced with and in media” (10, trans. MS). He goes on to say that “Beckett, whose work feeds from a multitude of references and reactions to artistic and media-aesthetic traditions, has become […] a driving force for various art and media forms” (11, trans. MS). Moreover, as we shall see in our examination of two examples of contemporary video games, what is of central importance for the suitability of Beckett’s material for other art and media forms and formats, is his focus on variation. Not only his plays, but also the novels and shorter prose pieces, play out variations of scenarios or movements; for example the abovementioned stone sucking sequence in Molloy, the variations between the two acts in Waiting for Godot, or the compositional structure of plays such as Quad. The verb ‘play’ here, is to be taken literally. Martin Schwab, in his contribution on Rockaby for Peter Seibert’s collection, compares Beckett with Beethoven and says, what Beckett and Beethoven share is their playing-through of sequences of variations, the originality of which lies within the modes of variation. […] If we decide for one variation in favour of another, we force upon the play a sense of uniqueness of interpretation that does great injustice to the play (Martin Schwab, cited in Seibert 2008, 93-95, trans. MS).

In my view, this assessment is not singular to Rockaby but can be applied to most of Beckett’s other writing as well. On stage, as well as in the narrative universes they inhabit, Beckett’s ‘characters’ play out (in thought or action) variations of the themes and issues that are central to their existence. In a play like Quad, Beckett even tells us that his characters are “players”; people of unspecified gender, moving (and this should be noted) very symmetrically and by way of an intricate system across a square platform always trying to avoid the platform’s centre. The number of players increases from one to four as the play pro-

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 189 gresses and decreases again towards the end. In the first part (Quad I), the players all wear different coloured hoods (green, blue, red and yellow) and in part two (Quad II), all players are clothed in grey hoods. The action is accompanied acoustically by four different percussion instruments and by the distinct shuffling sound of each of the players’ feet on the ground (the effect was achieved by putting sanding paper of different strengths onto the soles of the players’ feet). Traditional interpretations of the play make reference to the hopelessness of human existence, so often conjured up in readings of Beckett’s work because of the repeated movements, the entrapped-ness within routines, and the turning into same-ness and uniformity (as the players change from individual colours to grey). Alternatively, the play can be easily linked to the situation of Molloy with his sucking stones (not only for the symmetry of movement of the players and the unattainable wish for Molloy to reach an equilibrium of stones in his various pockets while still always wanting to suck a different stone). The players in Quad also seem to want to find alternative routes to their paths but are ultimately shown to fail. Some critics maintain, and this is probably true, that the play could have been influenced by the fact that Beckett was able to see the courtyard of a prison from the window of his Paris apartment where he could see the prisoners walk at various times during the day. Eckart Voigts has provided one of the most innovative readings of Quad to date in that he links the players in the play to the Teletubbies: Whereas the Teletubbies have presumably only just started to acquire the apparatus of human articulation (“Eh-oh!”) and are trapped in their progress for hundreds of episodes by the requirements of serialization, Beckett’s hooded figures totally relinquish expressiveness beyond their coloured gowns, leitmotiv percussion, and racecourse. They are defined by mere physical exertion. The Quad figures are probably an image of how the Teletubbies will behave when they are close to death and their belly


MARK SCHREIBER monitors have long gone blank and become sightless windows. (Voigts-Virchow 2001, 214).

As one can tell, we are moving now briskly into the arena of popular culture. In the second half of my paper, then, I would like to introduce two of a number of (growing) independent video productions that have emerged from Samuel Beckett’s work as well as two video games which also, to varying degrees, can be related to Beckett. The first is an approximately 9 minutes long short film by Jenny Triggs, a Monty-Pythonesque rendering of Beckett’s novel The Unnamable (1953), the third novel in the famous “trilogy”, together with Molloy (1951) and Malone Dies (1953). The film, shot entirely in black and white, opens with two human hands frantically trying to assemble cut-out photographic images of (mostly) human body parts on a white canvas. On the top of the frame, the numbers 1-6 are displayed, reminiscent of a film roll (see figure 1 below). The action on-screen is accompanied by the ticking sound of a metronome, providing a steady rhythm to the chaotic movement of the two hands.

Figure 1—Screenshot from “The Unnamable” (1999, dir. Jenny Triggs, YouTube)

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 191 Additionally, as a voice-over the phrases “Where now? Who now? When now?” from Beckett’s text are read, first by a male voice and then by a female voice. Then, the two hands fold together a larger piece of paper and eventually shove it into the head of a (mostly) human character that is apparently the result of the previous attempt to assemble the cut-out body parts. The figure that has been created starts to move and uses what looks like a pike or spear. Then, the film switches to the display of a machine (drawn upon the canvas, with parts labelled A, B, C, D) that could be interpreted as an apparatus for the distillation of liquids. Soon, the machine starts its action and turns a liquid into elliptical pieces of solid material that move on a conveyor belt, are flattened by a press from above, and fall into a bucket. Out of this bucket then emerge more body parts, partly in the shape of half-formed human bodies, with artificial limbs, such as hands and feet. The machine in the film seems to be producing somewhat incomplete and imperfect half-human beings which then slowly crawl and otherwise move across the screen, up drawn stairs, through drawn labyrinths, re-emerging out of drawn holes in the ‘ground’ and vanishing again into other drawn holes, up and down drawn ladders at varying speeds. After a briefly blacked-out screen, the two voices from earlier continue to recite passages from Beckett’s novel. Images of distorted photographs of humans start to flicker across the screen, arranged in various layers, one on top of the other. Buildings and other structures emerge with which the ‘humans’ seem to interact, slowly creating a shadow-play on the white canvas behind them. This is followed by symmetrical shapes of indiscriminate bodies moving, as if orchestrated, to an eerie-sounding musical score. All the while, the two voices continue to recite from the text, posing questions as to the identity of the ‘unnamable’ and his relationships to other ‘characters’. As the film continues, its director continuously references both the novel as well as other works by Beckett: a group of characters moving in a circular fashion, one behind the other, hints at the circular structure of plays such as Waiting for Godot, the orchestrated



movements of the players in Quad, or the chess-like movement of the characters in Endgame—at some point, a drawn chess board actually enforces this reading even more. Some people commenting on this film on YouTube have praised it for its ability to make a visual rendering of an almost unreadable text (the novel’s narration disintegrates fully towards the end, similar to its protagonists). Following this reading, the film, then, manages to fulfil Beckett’s vision of tearing apart the clouding veil of language and get to that which lies beneath; the images and sounds that these texts conjure up in our minds. However, I would argue that Triggs’ film is much more than an attempt to make sense of or to interpret Beckett’s novel. While, in the YouTube description, it says that the film is “based on the novel” (Triggs, 1999), it is a multi-media and multi-modal piece, working with text, image, and sound, that stands firmly on its own two feet as a work of contemporary media art. The second film is an animated alternative rendering of Beckett’s play Act Without Words I (1956) by Jack Parry of Cactus Inc. Animation Studios (2007). In the play, we have a singular character that is located in a desert under dazzling light, as the first line of the script tells us. As he cannot escape (he is called by various whistle sounds to the corners and sides of the stage but always falls back onto the stage when he goes near the source of the sounds), he stays there and throughout the play various objects pass by him (among them a pair of scissors that he takes to cut his fingernails). At some point, a carafe of water is passing by (hanging from above) and he tries in vain to reach it, tries this again by the help of various boxes that fall from above (building himself a sort of ladder) but again always fails. After a number of attempts, the water carafe finally comes within his reach, but he is so frustrated that he does not move anymore and makes no attempt to grab it. In the end, the carafe is pulled up again and we leave our protagonist without water as he is looking at his hands.


Figure 2—Screenshot from “Play Without Words” (2007, Jack Parry, YouTube)

The maker of the film, who entitled his piece “Play Without Words”, says that he found Beckett’s take on the situation too negative and so he wanted to make his own version of things. However, in the film the animated protagonist also leaves the stage without taking the heart that he so much craved for (see figure 2 above). As Anja Müller and I have shown in our initial publication on the subject of YouTube adaptations of Beckett, this format (as well as similar video sharing platforms) allows for a certain degree of interactivity and communication between the creators of the projects and their audiences (through likes and comments, for example). However, this interaction is limited, and audiences really have no way to truly engage with the art works (Schreiber and Müller 2009, 184-185). This lack of engagement is overcome in another form of video art, namely that of the video game, where audiences are able (and required) to move from being passive consumers and critics of other people’s creations to actively contribute to their own experience and their potential interpretations. In the last section then, I would like to discuss two such games, both of which are clearly indebted to Beckett’s writing.



“Waiting for Grodoudou” (formerly known as “Godot” 23) is a video game hosted online by VectorBelly Webcomics and apparently programmed by one Jeff Rosenthal (whose Twitter account is linked to on the webpage featuring the game) and a certain Mike Rosenthal (who commented on a YouTube video, uploaded by one “Jace0Spades” in 2015, claiming that he had programmed the game [Jace0Spades, 2015, comments section]). According to the “About” section on the website of VectorBelly, the project “is home to ‘Our New Electrical Morals’, a journey about friendship and journeys and sometimes other things. VectorBelly also contains some bonus projects, such as older comics, music, and a game” (VectorBelly. About.). The game can be played in single or two player mode, with a choice between “easy” or “hard” (see figure 3 below) mode, although there seems to be no visible difference between the two modes. The characters in the game apparently represent Vladimir and Estragon, the two protagonists of Beckett’s most famous play Waiting for Godot. In the game, the characters are referred to as “Didi” and “Gogo”, as they also call themselves in Beckett’s play. They are differentiated only by the colour of their shirts (red for Gogo, and green for Didi) and both wear black bowler hats (see figure 4 below).


According to the website hosting the game online, “There was an awesome game here, but due to a cease and desist letter, I had to change the name and premise of it. It’s now based on a little-known Australian director’s film.” (“VectorBelly. Extras.”)


Figure 3—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly)

Figure 41—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly)



The characters can be moved along a horizontal axis to imitate left/right movement. If both keys are pressed (a/d for one player mode, a/d plus back and forth arrow for two player mode), the character stays in place, frantically moving his legs and arms. According to the game’s instructions, w/s or up and down keys should cause vertical movement (although all the characters then do is stay still). What is interesting is that in two player mode, only Didi (controlled by ad s/w keys) would frantically move his limbs while Gogo (controlled by the direction keys) stays still (see figure 5 below).

Figure 52—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly)

The game progresses through numerated levels and between each level there is a sequence entitled “Boss Battle”. These sequences are marked by a change of the music that accompanies the game play. In normal mode, the music is reminiscent of Tetris (a basic sequence of electronic beeping sounds that produces a repetitive melody). In “Boss Mode”, the music changes to a more serious and sombre tone, potentially indicating danger. However, the action of

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 197 the Boss Battle scenes is exactly the same as in the “normal” sequences. The number of levels of this game is not quite clear (the author of this paper has ‘played’ until level 7). As the game progresses, nothing at all seems to change as the player is not able to do anything apart from moving the character(s) across the screen which imitates an empty landscape featuring nothing but a leafless tree. Upon closer inspection, however, we notice that, as we move from level to level, a cloud moves into the frame from the top left. This cloud becomes more and more visible as the game goes on, eventually passing across the sky. The screenshot below (figure 6) illustrates this movement. It should be noted, however, that the cloud moves ever so slowly (the screenshot below is from level 6 of the game).

Figure 6—Screenshot from “Waiting for Grodoudou” (2010, VectorBelly)

Technically, the game is realised by the “Unity Web Player” a cross-platform game engine developed by Unity Technologies, first announced and released in June 2005 at Apple Inc.’s Worldwide Developers Conference as an OS X-exclusive game engine. As of 2018, the engine has been extended to support 27 platforms. The engine can be used to create both three-dimensional


MARK SCHREIBER and two-dimensional games as well as simulations for desktops and laptops, home consoles, smart TVs, and mobile devices. (“Unity (game engine)”, Wikipedia)

This game engine allows in-browser game play without having to install additional software. In fact, as Jace0Spades makes clear in his YouTube video that shows him playing the game, its crossplatform provision and relatively easy access has prompted some educators to even use it in the classroom. It is obvious from Jace0Spade’s comments that playing the game is a somewhat tedious affair. Players’ control of and interaction with the characters is very limited and the game progresses extremely slowly. These observations may seem of no particular importance, but they are, in fact, essential in order to bring across a ‘proper’ experience of Beckett’s work in general, and of Waiting for Godot in particular. Anyone familiar with the play will remember one of its quintessential lines: “Nothing to be done.” As the characters in the play are forced to keep waiting for the arrival of Godot, so the players of the game are kept waiting for what may or may not happen as the play continues. Meanwhile, all they can do is move the characters around on the canvas. Eventually, players will start experimenting with potentially secret key combinations (as Jace0Spades does in the YouTube video—he tries typing “Waiting for Godot” with his keyboard while the game goes on, desperately hoping to unlock secretly hidden perks inside the game). Players are forced to ‘pass the time’ and in order to do so come up with playful side activities, just as Didi and Gogo engage in seemingly senseless activities (“Lets insult each other!”) in order to make the time pass more quickly. Mike Rosenthal, one of the apparent creators of the game (see above), claims that “something does happen after level 99” (Jace0Spades, 2015, comments section). YouTube user KoalaBear, in a comment on the promotional YouTube video for the game claims: Spoiler alert: The cloud slowly moves across the sky for 100 levels. At level 100, your character dies and a large skull and crossed

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 199 bones appear above his head, and you cannot move him. The game continues on as normal, with your character dead, and the cloud still moves across the sky slowly until you get bored and quit. (“Waiting for Godot: The Video Game.” Funnel27, comments section).

I admit that I have, so far, failed to confirm this information, given that it would have probably required to play the game for a period of several days. The second game even features Beckett’s name in its title. It is simply called “Beckett” and was created by “The Secret Experiment”, released in 2018 on the online gaming platform “Steam”. “The Secret Experiment” is a Scottish production studio run by “mixed-media storyteller, narrative designer/director and conceptual artist” Simon Meek. The company understands itself as having a passion […] for stories that experiment with form, developing new approaches to narratives that connect with modern audiences in powerful new ways. We see the potential in videogames as storytelling devices to surpass all other media, while we also see beauty in simpler forms to convey expressive narratives, and the opportunity to subvert existing forms/formats to made audiences reconsider. (“The Secret Experiment. Homepage” n.p.)

Apart from their own work, which includes titles such as “The 39 Steps”, “Marnie Wakes”, “Fragments of a Fictional Place”, “Broken and Assembled”, “Seen in Moments out of Time”, and “Beckett”, they also work together with other creative artists in the game industry on collaborative projects. “Beckett”, which won the BAFTA Scotland award for best game in 2018, is described by its makers as a surreal noir that will make you question what it is to exist. It is a story crafted as a videogame experience where players guide a missing person’s investigator through a harrowing reality where


MARK SCHREIBER everything should be questioned. (“The Secret Experiment. Beckett.”)

The production company even provides a disclaimer in their blog that reads as follows: A missing persons case leads Beckett down a decaying rabbit hole to the outskirts of reality. Set in a world unlike anything you’ve experienced, this is an original surreal noir by The Secret Experiment. Take control. Explore. Navigate. Interact. Talk. Defy. Listen. Be careful. This place is unfamiliar, yet it is entirely of your making. We want to tell you that this game is for everyone. It’s not. We’re not even sure if it’s a game. It’s an authored experience, inspired by the extremities of videogames, literature and arthouse cinema. Beckett is a statement. Its story is dark and experimental. You’ll lead its protagonist through a disturbing series of events. At times you will find this stressful. At times, you’ll be appalled by its ugliness. At times you will find this immeasurably beautiful. (“TSE. Beckett.” n.p.)

Aesthetically speaking, “Beckett” shares many similarities with Jenny Triggs’ film “The Unnamable”. Produced in black and white (with some highlighted colouring and the occasional usage of sepia colours), it combines traditional cinematic techniques and recordings with cut-out shapes, fragments of text (genuine and central to the player’s progress in-game) and drawn scenery of spaces and objects that the player can interact with (see figures 7 and 8 below).


Figure 7—Screenshot from “Beckett” (launch trailer The Secret Experiment, 2018)

Figure 8—Screenshot from “Beckett” (launch trailer, The Secret Experiment, 2018)

Around the actual game, a number of additional items of ‘merchandise’ have also been developed. One of them is a “physical experience” entitled “Memories Waiting to Happen, Memories Waiting to Fade”. It is described as “a set of 55 reality-shaping storycards” (“The Secret Experiment. Beckett.”) and is sold at the Dundee shop of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Scotland’s first



design museum which opened in 2018 and where Simon Meek works as the museum’s first designer in residence. Additionally, there are already two editions of music, composed and remixed by Meek himself, released on etched vinyl. “Beckett”, described by Meek as a work of “digital fiction,” invites the player to assist detective Beckett in searching for a young man who has gone missing and who suffers from a “reality-altering condition” (Simon Meek cited in Ritchie 2018, n.p.). Players are asked to interact with other characters in the game and explore locations in order to help Beckett find the young man. In the process of gameplay, players will soon find their own perceptions and assumptions about the ‘reality’ of the game warped and twisted and need to engage their own imagination to make sense of the game world. The game plays with players’ conventional ideas of what constitutes a character and what certain images and sounds might mean within the context of the game. As Meek says in an interview with Gayle Ritchie in “The Courier”: Everything is skewed and morphed—characters can be anything from a crushed beetle to an old brooch, a slice of meat or a theatre mask. Everything is a jump off point for the player’s imagination. Even the sound of conversation is built from sounds that represent the character rather than the notion of a voice, so Beckett has a guttural cough, a bartender the shake of a cocktail mixer, or an angry worker a hammer drill. (Simon Meek cited in Ritchie 2018, n.p.)

While “Beckett” certainly is a much more complex game than “Waiting for Grodoudou”, and while Jenny Triggs’ film and the animated adaptation of “Act Without Words” are two very different texts, all of these examples highlight the extreme potency of Beckett’s writing for multi-media, multi-genre, multi-dimensional reimaginations and re-workings. However, this potency is not just one where the ‘original’ text easily lends itself to an adaptation in another medium. It is Beckett’s conception of the role of language and ex-

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 203 pression, the essence of sound and silence, action and inaction, or, as Ingo Berensmeyer aptly puts it in his contribution to Peter Seibert’s volume on Beckett und die Medien: The fact that many of Beckett’s works cannot simply be characterised as belonging to one specific genre, one established form of art, or one particular medium shows, in my view, that with Beckett, we have reached a new level in the artistic engagement with different media and in the reflexion of mediality as a basic anthropological situation. […] Beckett’s work is a constant engagement with media and with mediality as a way of life. (Berensmeyer, in Seibert, 119, trans. MS) References Bair, Deirdre. 1990. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. London: Vintage. Beckett, Samuel. 1984. Disjecta. Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, edited by Ruby Cohn, 65-67. New York: Grove Press. Berensmeyer, Ingo. 2008. “Augen(t)räume: Zur Medialität des Raumes bei Samuel Beckett.“ In Samuel Beckett und die Medien. Neue Perspektiven auf einen Medienkünstler des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Peter Seibert, 117-135. Bielefeld: transcript. Brockmeier, Peter. 2001. Samuel Beckett. Stuttgart: Metzler. Federman, Raymond. 2000. “The Imagery Museum of Samuel Beckett.” Lecture delivered in February 2000, at the Kunsthalle in Vienna on the occasion of the Samuel Beckett / Bruce Nauman exhibition. Accessed 22 November 2007 (no longer available). http://samuelbeckett.net/imagery.html. Murphy, PJ and Nick Pawliuk. eds. 2015. Beckett in Popular Culture: Essays on a Postmodern Icon. Jefferson: McFarland. Nixon, Mark. 2013. “Samuel Beckett: Video Artist.” In Samuel Beckett: Debts and Legacies: New Critical Essays, edited by Peter Fifield and David Addyman, 177-190. London: Bloomsbury Methuen. Parry, Jack. 2007. “Play Without Words.” YouTube. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSupXi3G2k4. Phillips, Tom. 2019. “Portraits: Samuel Beckett.” Accessed 2 June 2019. http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/works/portraits/item/5434-



samuel-beckett (original in: The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Summer 1987, VII. 2). Ritchie, Gayle. 2018. “Nothing meek about Simon’s V&A Dundee role.” The Courier. 6 October 2018. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://www. thecourier.co.uk/fp/lifestyle/design/728170/nothing-meek-about -simons-va-dundee-role/. Schreiber, Mark and Anja Müller. 2009. “Sam 2.0: Appropriations, Interpretations and Adaptations of Beckett on YouTube.” In Adaptations: Performing Across Media and Genres, edited by Eckart Voigts-Virchow and Monika Pietrzak-Franger, 173-189. (Contemporary Drama in English, ed. Martin Middeke, Vol. 16). Trier: WVT. Schwab, Martin. 2008. “Ihre Eigene Andere: Zu Samuel Becketts Rockaby.“ In Samuel Beckett und die Medien. Neue Perspektiven auf einen Medienkünstler des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Peter Seibert, 93-115. Bielefeld: transcript. Seibert, Peter. ed. 2008. Samuel Beckett und die Medien. Neue Perspektiven auf einen Medienkünstler des 20. Jahrhunderts. Bielefeld: transcript. “The Secret Experiment. Homepage.” Accessed 2 June 2019. https://thesecretexperiment.co.uk. “The Secret Experiment. Beckett.” Accessed 2 June 2019. https://thesecretexperiment.co.uk/beckett/. “... The Whole Thing Is Coming Out of the Dark” Samuel Beckett— words/sounds & moving images. CD, intermedium records, 2000. Accessed 2 June 2019. http://www.ubu.com/sound/beckett_whole_thing.html. Triggs, Jenny. 1999. “The Unnamable.” YouTube. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5QhtP8OZS0&t=440s. “TSE. Beckett.” Accessed 2 June 2019. https://tsebeckett.blog. “Unity (game engine).” Wikipedia. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_(game_engine). Voigts-Virchow, Eckart. 2001. “Quad I and Teletubbies or: ‘Aisthetic’ Panopticism versus Reading Beckett.” In Samuel Beckett: Endlessness in the Year 2000, edited by Angela Moorjani and Carola Veit, 210-218. (Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui 11). Amsterdam: Rodopi. “VectorBelly.” Accessed 2 June 2019. http://vectorbelly.com/index.html. “VectorBelly. About.” Accessed 2 June 2019. http://vectorbelly.com/ about.html.

“PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!” 205 “VectorBelly. Extras.” Accessed 2 June 2019. http://vectorbelly.com/ extras.html. Jace0Spades. 2015. “Let’s Play Waiting for Godot: The Video Game!!!.” YouTube. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=4K1eLlOhNks. Funnel27. 2010. “Waiting for Godot: The Video Game.” YouTube. Accessed 2 June 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N1k qtum5rI. “Waiting for Grodoudou.” n.d. Accessed 2 June 2019. http://vector belly.com/waitingforgrodoudou.html.

The Aesthetics of Failure in Beckett and Getting

Over It with Bennett Foddy Anna Douglass Samuel Beckett’s body of work introduced an aesthetic vocabulary that is still present in popular media today. To demonstrate one instance of this phenomenon, in this chapter I examine the presence of Beckett’s aesthetics and ideas in Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy, a videogame released in late 2017. In undertaking this examination, I do not mean to suggest a deliberate homage on Bennett Foddy’s part, but rather to show congruencies between Foddy’s game and Beckett’s oeuvre that may exist for any number of reasons. What is significant about the similarities between these two particular sources is that Foddy works in videogames (a medium that was on the rise in the later decades of Beckett’s life and has become increasingly more popular since his death in 1989) that engage with Beckettian aesthetics and offer an opportunity to think about the ways Beckett’s ideas might play out in newer media forms broadly, and specifically how the particular material concerns of videogames shape a Beckettian aesthetic. The striking similarities testify to the ongoing significance of the aesthetics Beckett popularized, and their almost seamless shift into a new medium speaks to their transmedial nature. Beckett’s most notorious motifs are not inextricably bound to the materiality of any particular medium, which is an interesting quality considering that Beckett is often thought to have disliked the idea of “transfer[ing] his writings from one genre to another” (Acheson 1997, 185), though he and his estate have acquiesced from time to time. Beckett’s motifs embrace the material specificities of the medium they are deployed in while retaining his visible signature. To undertake this examination, I centre my discussion around the theme of failure, a concept as significant in videogames as it is in Beckett’s work. This chapter first looks briefly at the visual aesthetic similarities which are perhaps the most obvious correlation between Beckett 207



and Foddy. The second and largest part of this paper will be an examination of failure in some of Beckett’s works and in Getting Over It separately, which begins to suggest their commonalities. I conclude this exploration with an examination of how these concepts of failure extrapolated in the second section resonate with each other and how they occasionally differ. In this section I also draw attention to the similarities between author experience in creating and audience reactions to their respective works. The most obvious similarities are visual, with some of Beckett’s most well-known motifs appearing in Getting Over It. As soon as the game opens the player is presented with their in-game avatar: a man in a cauldron who moves by dragging himself around with a pickaxe-like tool, a cross between a Yosemite hammer and a sledgehammer. The first apparent resonances are with Play, The Unnamable, Endgame, and Happy Days—all plays in which Beckett encases characters in urns, bins, and the earth respectively. The audience never sees these characters’ legs; they all appear to be permanently trapped within their respective containers. More broadly, this resonates with Beckett’s love of decrepitude and bodies that are in a state of decay and struggle to move, or function more generally. The particular motions the Getting Over It avatar uses to move are reminiscent of Malone’s use of a cane to drag his bed in Malone Dies. The next visual resonance is the tree that is the first obstacle the game presents to the player. The tree in Getting Over It is thin and bare and in all respects like the one from Waiting for Godot. In the videogame it performs the function of a gatekeeper; it functions as a tutorial to teach the player how to use the controls to progress, and if the player ‘fails’ this tutorial (easily the case, as the controls are difficult to use) then they are stuck moving around the tree in much the same way that Estragon and Vladimir are unable to move beyond the tree in Godot.


Figure 1—From the beginning of Getting Over It.

If and when the player gets past the tree, they are presented with a world that is haphazardly stuck together, made up of piles of objects that segue into each other. Visually, this is similar to Breath. It could also be seen as a post-apocalyptic or surreal landscape, a “surreal wasteland” (Zazzali 2016, 700), aligning it more with a number of Beckett’s other, longer plays (Endgame, Godot, Happy Days). The final immediately apparent similarity is the recordings of Bennett Foddy’s narration that plays when the player performs certain actions. For example, the first time the player loses a significant amount of progress by falling backward a recording of Foddy narrating on the pain of encountering a set-back is heard.



Figure 2—The player avatar navigating over the tree.

These narrations are similar to the tapes in Krapp’s Last Tape that the title character plays periodically. Each tape is one he recorded on a previous birthday; in Getting Over It each recording is one Foddy recorded at an earlier point in time. Both respond thematically to what is occurring—Krapp aging and the player’s progress being hindered—without responding to the specifics of the events as they unfold. S. E. Gontarski observes that the motifs in Beckett’s late prose and drama are “not organised by causality but by some application of near symmetry” and he goes on to list more qualities of Beckett’s motifs, but nothing in his descriptions is medium specific (1983, 7). All of these surface level similarities suggest the possibility of similarities in other respects as well.

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 211 Failure and Beckett For Beckett, failure was as much a part of his writing practice as it was manifest in his creative outputs. In Beckett’s oeuvre, and within the field of Beckett studies, themes relating to or deriving in some way from failure are prominent, fuelled by Beckett’s revelation that his creative path was to embrace “impoverishment… lack of knowledge… taking away… subtracting rather than… adding” (Knowlson 1996, 319). This personal revelation plays out in the works that follow through an active drive toward failed states, and a view of failure as an inevitability, rather than a possibility to be avoided. This is present in Beckett’s work in various different ways that warrant examination to better elucidate the resonances with Foddy’s work. In some instances, failure is part of the subject matter of the narrative, as in The Unnamable, and in other instances, it is the consequence of narrative events through which its presence is implied but unnamed, such as is the case in Waiting for Godot. To begin with failure in The Unnamable, the narrative voice is caught in a struggle that it cannot free itself from. Caught between two mutually exclusive goals, it can achieve neither, and so must fail at both. The narrator expresses its desire to end early: “I hope this preamble will soon come to an end and the statement begin that will dispose of me” (296) and begins the following paragraph by lamenting that it has “suffer[ed] for nothing” speaking of others when “in order to stop speaking, I should have spoken of me and of me alone” (297). This sets up the theme for the next two hundred pages of the book: the narrating voice articulating the desire to fall silent, to end, immediately followed by continued speech, which has been described by Steven Connor as “typographical histrionics” (1988, 72). Jonathan Boulter articulates this paradox as “the failure to continue to cease speaking” (2004, 333). This conflict is the driving force behind the text and is again brought to the fore in the closing lines. This is where the narrating voice makes its epitomising remark: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” (407). This statement is made twice within the space of a few lines. Above is the final version of the quote, the first



is slightly longer: “I can’t go on, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” (407). This first version reads more like a conversation between two parties than the second version quoted above, switching between first and second person as though responding, and eventually caving into, the demand to go on. It can also be read as “a patchwork of voices” (Garrison 2009, 97), with the switch between first and second person indicating more than just two voices. This suggests a greater tension than the shorter version taken on its own. It also points toward the ongoing nature of this tension, as the narrating voice does in fact go on after stating that they will do so (after stating that they cannot do so). This leads to the conclusion of the text, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” after which the page is blank, which may suggest that the narrating voice did, in fact, stop. However, given that only a few lines earlier, this statement did not result in the voice’s final end, it seems just as likely that it may have carried on, in a manner similar to Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. This observation is grounded in the immediately noticeable similarities in stylistic choices made by Beckett and Dostoyevsky in their respective texts: the narration is all first person, the narrator is (presumably) male and unnamed, the narrators are societally disenfranchised and have a somewhat hostile relationship with others presented in the text, and finally, both novels are a stream-of-consciousness style account of the narrator’s thoughts and occasional actions. Given these similarities, it is almost unsurprising that the ends of the texts are reminiscent of each other. At the end of Notes from Underground the narrator declares that he does not desire to write any more. This declaration is followed by an ellipsis, a paragraph break, and then a note from the fictional editor stating that “the ‘notes’ of this paradoxalist do not end here. He could not help himself and went on. But it also seems to us that this may be a good place to stop” (Dostoyevsky 2006, 130). Other similarities between the works of these two writers have been noted by John Bolin (2009). Given this, it is possible that the blank page following the narrating voice’s last proclamation is not indicative of its having stopped, but of material limitations. This suggestion that the end of The Unnamable is not really an ending is

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 213 expanded on by David Hesla, who claims that the end of The Unnamable is followed by the beginning of Molloy (1971, 122), and by Connor, who positions the end of The Unnamable as a “hymeneal suture between cessation and continuance” (Connor 1988, 78). All this points toward the ultimate and inevitable failure of the narrating voice in The Unnamable; being required to do what it cannot do and needing to do what it cannot do (go on) to finally fall silent. This connection to paradox positions failure as a (circular) process to be witnessed by the reader rather than a singular state to be achieved by the narrator. Fritz Mauthner is a known influence of Beckett’s (Feldman 2006, 116-17), and his theories about the limits of language elucidate some of the paradoxical bind the narrator finds themselves in. Mauthner’s view of language, in brief, was that language “has to be transcended in order to be understood” (Weiler 1970, 80), which is not possible. One must use language in order to critique language, so we are trapped within a linguistic system that we cannot fully comprehend. And so, given this impossible system, the narrating voice in The Unnamable articulates as best it can its dilemma: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” The paradox here is twofold: first, that it is caught between competing drives, and second, that it is forced to attempt to satisfy these drives within a broken system, i.e. language. These two problems feed into each other, with the flaws in language exacerbating the already impossible task of both going on and not going on speaking. This comorbidity reinforces the futility of the narrator’s situation. Even if one thread of the paradox could be resolved, the other remains. The narrator’s whole drive in The Unnamable is to fall silent. It links speech to a punishment and states that “when I have finished my pensum I shall still have my lesson to say, before I have the right to stay quiet in my corner […]my mouth shut, my tongue at rest […] my mind at peace, that is to say, empty” (304). Silence is a peaceful, desirable state, and speech is the punishment that must be endured to get there. Interestingly, Mauthner made no distinction between speech and thought (Weiler 1970, 48). Such, it would seem, is also the case here. Scholars have described this as a “literature of the unword” a “key statement of Beckettian aesthetic”



(Graham 2015, 172). Whether the narrator speaks aloud or what we read is an internal stream-of-consciousness it seems to lead to the same conclusion: it is language, language is a punishment, it must be fulfilled before the narrator can fall silent, the narrator cannot go on speaking, it goes on speaking. Garrison calls this The Unnamable’s “performance of the failure of representation” (2009, 103). Whatever course it takes, it must inevitably fail. In Waiting for Godot failure is not overtly a part of the narrative as it is in The Unnamable, but as the narrative progresses (or perhaps does not progress) failure seems to become more likely. The most obvious case is Godot’s potentially indefinitely deferred arrival. Structurally, the play gives the audience no reason to think that anything will change, with Vivian Mercier famously quipping that “nothing happens, twice” (1956, 6). This circularity is present in multiple smaller ways within the play contributing to the overall sense of a lack of movement. Lucky’s speech and dance are interesting instances of this narrative immobility. What initially appears as some sort of narrative progress—the introduction of more characters and events (Lucky’s thoughts and dance)—ends up being a circular detour. Lucky is given his hat and consequently able to “think,” Pozzo and Lucky eventually leave, and everything is as it was before. And yet, seemingly despite this circularity, throughout the play Estragon and Vladimir are adamant that they are waiting for Godot to arrive and their belief that something will happen does not waiver. Zazzali describes their vigil as “Sisyphean” in nature, as they “suffer” and “struggle” in their quest to meet Godot (2016, 695). In a sense, they are caught in a paradox similar to that of The Unnamable, in which they do not appear to be able to do anything but wait, but Godot seems destined never to make an appearance. It is their view, if not their conviction, that Godot may arrive and so they refuse to leave their post, which precludes any suggestion of actively seeking Godot out. In both acts Estragon proposes that they go, and both times Vladimir responds that they cannot because “we’re waiting for Godot” (14, 68). Though these two interactions play out the same word for word, they are prefaced by different contexts. In the first

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 215 act, Estragon stares out at the audience and remarks “Charming spot… Inspiring prospects… Let’s go” (13-14). In the second act, before suggesting they go, Estragon exclaims “I’m tired” (68). These are two different incentives for Estragon, the first seemingly positive as it is Estragon’s optimistic observations of the area that inspire him to suggest going elsewhere. In the second instance Estragon is exasperated, trying and failing to decipher Vladimir’s explanation of what happened to his boots. This difference is intriguing as both situations, though presented as different, lead to the same conclusion; they cannot go, they must wait for Godot. Though these are only two instances, the differing motives and same outcomes suggest that any other scenarios would be met with the same objection. The degree of uncertainty Vladimir expresses early in the play about the exact time they were told to wait by the tree for Godot (14-15), and the (somewhat inexplicable) importance of meeting with Godot means that no invitation to action can tempt them away from the tree. However, Godot’s repeated non-appearance has a similar effect. It suggests that the stasis is not just limited to the characters onstage and so it is likely that no change in circumstance will cause Godot to finally arrive. Added to this is Vladimir’s uncertainty about the whole meeting to begin with: “He didn’t say for sure he’d come” (14). So, they wait passively, and in doing so bring about the failure of their only goal that is to meet with Godot. Given the prevalence of the theme in his works, it bears noting that Beckett’s vision of success was failure. Zazzali claims that “Beckett reportedly chose the director [for the original production of Waiting for Godot, Roger Blin] on the grounds that Blin’s rendition of The Ghost Sonata in 1949… ‘because the theatre was near empty’” (2016, 696). Prior to Waiting for Godot, Beckett was simply a “relatively obscure experimental novelist” (McDonald 2015, 31). His early, failed struggles for success may have played into this scepticism about the public’s taste and work that is heralded as successful. Indeed, in the wake of Waiting for Godot’s initial failure (Knowlson 1996, 374), Beckett appeared unfazed (Zazzali 2016, 700). Whatever the case, this sense of failure as inevitable, and perhaps even preferable



to success, pervades Beckett’s later works. He continues to wrestle with failure as a theme, but also mentions it explicitly. In Worstward Ho he famously states “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (7). This sense of better failing returns later in the same text with descriptions of “better fail” and “worser fail” and “least worse failed of all the worse failed” (31). Adding descriptors to fail, and so describing the degree of failure in relation to other failures, suggests that failure is a starting point from which to gauge success, if success is worth gauging at all. Failure and Foddy There are ways in which failure in Foddy’s game is very similar to failure in Beckett’s works, and others in which similarities are visible but material differences in media create new avenues for Beckett’s ideas to be made manifest. According to both Foddy and Jesper Juul, failure is a necessary component in videogames. Without failure, there is nothing to compel players to continue to engage with the game (Juul 2013, 2). Juul outlines what he calls the “paradox of failure” and likens it to what motivates people to engage with tragic narratives in film, theatre, and novels. In his words: “we appear to want this unpleasantness to be there, even if we also seem to dislike it” (4). In videogames, this unpleasantness can be in the narrative content, but it can also manifest in the gameplay mechanics. Juul outlines the paradox of failure in videogames as follows: 1. We generally avoid failure. 2. We experience failure when playing games. 3. We seek out games, although we will experience something that we normally avoid. (2)

Juul examines the third assertion and claims that “Games promise us a fair chance of redeeming ourselves. This distinguishes game failure from failure in our regular lives” (7). However, there are assumptions in this statement that have been addressed by other

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 217 scholars about meritocracy in videogames. Christopher Paul’s ultimate argument is that videogames are not, in fact, truly meritocratic (and that meritocracy is a flawed view more broadly). Though they create the illusion of placing all players on an even playing field, videogames actually place those who have played more videogames, and more videogames of similar kinds, at an advantage (2018, 14). Getting Over It does not fit neatly into this claim, as its controls are so unusual that most players will not have had the chance to build this particular skill set. However, even with its very specific controls, players who play a lot of videogames, and have thus developed hand-eye coordination and reaction times, will be at an advantage to players who have not. Juul’s point still stands; however, it is a false sense of fairness that games project. The game shirks responsibility for the player’s failure, though the player may have started with a concealed disadvantage. What this means for the player is that they are at a greater risk of failing than they may be aware, which is a particularly significant point in Getting Over It; a game designed to be frustrating by enabling failure. In an article on the “flavours” of frustration in videogames, Foddy describes a specific flavour, “being forced to repeat the same task over and over is a special kind of frustration, one that is more or less fundamental to the human condition” (2017a). This particular type of frustration is brought about in Getting Over It deliberately through the difficult controls and level design of the game. In an interview, Foddy explains that he designed the top of the game map to be easy for players to fall back to the bottom where they began. And in the same interview explains that he “really thought people would reject this game” given its deliberately frustrating design (Kotaku 2017). Juul discusses the “shelf life” of failure in games, claiming that different types of failure have different “shelf lives”, that their effects are felt differently and can last for longer or shorter periods of time (2013, 85). Juul’s argument is that all types of failure are integrated into the player’s personal experience in different ways depending on the goal that is failed (87), and this also suggests that some failures simply do not hurt as much as others. Failing to beat a



personal record does not affect the player in the same way that losing all their progress does. This may explain in general the tolerance levels players have for failure and why they might even enjoy it; a small failure is simply a hurdle to overcome rather than a gamestopping event. Given the unforgiving nature of Getting Over It, the fact that all failures can easily become game-resetting failures, Juul’s arguments are only applicable in their superlative form. There are few failures with a short shelf life. There is no way to mechanically avoid failure, no ability to go back to a point in the game before the failure occurred, so players begin to feel a sense of the Sisyphean struggle in the game as failures build. The game becomes circular as players are punished for (sometimes relatively minor) mistakes by falling back to earlier points of the game and being forced to start again. Part of the projection of meritocracy in games is linked to the way they are designed: all obstacles are eventually surmountable if the player just keeps trying and improving. Any frustration the player feels at failure is eased by the knowledge that there is an answer to the problem waiting to be found. Foddy breaks with this form, narrating on this subject during the opening stretch of Getting Over It. While discussing B-Games, the genre of game that Getting Over It belongs to, and in particular Sexy Hiking, the game that inspired Foddy to create Getting Over It, Foddy states: “Most obstacles in videogames are fake—you can be completely confident in your ability to get through them, once you have the correct method or the correct equipment, or just by spending enough time,” while conversely in Sexy Hiking and Getting Over It “No amount of forward progress is guaranteed; some cliffs are too sheer or too slippery” (2017b). There is an unspoken pact between game designer and player that Foddy breaks. Foddy uses a narrow chute between two mountain faces (aptly named the devil’s chimney by players) as an example of his design process: “I’d have an idea for an obstacle… it would usually turn out to be unreasonably hard. But I couldn’t bring myself to make it easier. It already felt like my inability to get past the new obstacle was my fault as a player, rather than as the builder”

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 219 (2017b). Foddy goes on to claim that this lack of guaranteed success is what makes the obstacles real, which it also has the effect of making a player’s failures real. Obstacles becoming real removes the guarantee of success, which reframes failures as permanent states rather than temporary hurdles or learning experiences. The raised stakes in Getting Over It—the increased risk of failure with no guarantee of eventual success—result in the over-the-top angry responses discussed below. Additionally, and counterintuitively, these stakes have also piqued the interest of a surprisingly large player base. On Steam, the platform on which Getting Over It is sold, the game has received over 10000 reviews, with 79% of them being positive. The response to the game is summed up well in a review left by user Melyndrome, who gave the game a positive review and recommended it to other users, yet in the comment accompanying this review said simply “I hate it” (2018). Foddy and Beckett The resonances between Foddy’s game and Beckett’s creative works occur both in the works themselves and in the way these works have been received by audiences. Many of the points of resonance have already been identified in each creator’s work above, with failure being the central concept that this synchronicity of ideas occurs around. There is a sense in the works of both that failure is embedded in the framework of the final pieces; it is both subject matter and methodology. The Unnamable wrestles over its struggle with failure, much as the player’s attention is drawn to their own failure in Getting Over It through the combination of difficult level design and Foddy’s narration on the topic. The Unnamable narrator’s “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” seems an apt phrase for players of Getting Over It. In both texts there is an articulated struggle with personal limitations: the narrating voice against its continued speech, and the narration of the game describes the struggles in making the game, and then discusses internals struggles about why one would bother to make a difficult game like Getting Over It. While narrating on the latter topic, Foddy states



“Maybe this is what digital culture is. A monstrous mountain of trash” (2017b); a description striking for its similarity to Beckett’s Breath, which is nothing but a “monstrous mountain of trash”. This and other statements paint a somewhat negative picture of games and perhaps digital culture more broadly. However, Foddy delivers these statements without any sense that this degeneration of videogames and expectations is a bad thing. Foddy’s tone is flat and no emotive language is used. He also does not indicate his own feelings on any of the issues his narration raises. Similarly, the narrating voice of The Unnamable narrates its own struggles with little sense of emotional attachment. It states that it is “truly bathed in tears” (299), and yet, it questions “What makes me weep so?” (287). Here Beckett demonstrates a similar lack of negative emotion and the text of The Unnamable is arguably emotionally flat wherein expressions of emotion are devoid of their emotional content. They are stripped back to be simple objective observations. There is a degree of uncertainty, more prominent at sometimes than others, in each of these creators’ works, with The Unnamable’s narrating voice questioning why it weeps, among other things, and Foddy proposing the underlying claim of his game as a question: “feeling frustrated it’s underrated, right?” (2017b). While I pose these particular examples to show further similarities in tone between Foddy and Beckett, they also gesture back to the commonality of failure in both works as each example highlights an insufficiency; in both cases, a lack of understanding or knowledge. Insufficiency is also present methodologically in the works: in Waiting for Godot the unwitting circularity of the characters actions brings about failure (as discussed above), and in Getting Over It the game mechanics and level design manifest this. It is possible, depending on the player’s experience, for these two pieces to play out in basically the same way: Estragon and Vladimir circle around the tree, sometimes moving further away but always returning; in Getting Over It the player and their in-game avatar can find themselves also circling around a barren tree. As Foddy has made it easy for the player to fail at certain points, combined with the option at the end to

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 221 return to the beginning, the player can venture a distance, sometimes quite a significant distance, from the tree, but there is always the chance (perhaps the likelihood) that they will be returned to the same spot next to the tree from which they began. What in Waiting for Godot seems an implied failure to the audience, Getting Over It delivers as a much clearer failure because of the audience’s implication in it. A player is aware of their goals being thwarted, while in Waiting for Godot the audience must infer Estragon and Vladimir’s goals from what they say, which at times is unclear. However, how a player interprets Getting Over It is very much dependent on which ‘ending’ they choose, if they make it that far. Near the end of the game players are given an option: to continue ascending and ‘complete’ the game or to “ride the snake” which takes them back to the tree at the beginning of the game. Taking the latter option in a sense completes the game by accepting its circularity. However, the player may also choose to continue to climb upward, and, should they succeed, they break out of the game’s cycle. This is the key difference in failure between Waiting for Godot and Getting Over It. The latter allows its audience to see the final outcome as there is a sense of completion or closure one way other the other. Whereas the former leaves its audience guessing as to whether Godot ever arrived or not. However unlikely it seems that he did, there is no way for the audience to know for sure. Much the same could be said of The Unnamable; did the narrator go on after the final words on the page? Or did they finally fall silent? Hugh Kenner describes The Unnamable as an “‘occupation’ book, for the writer’s impulse to write” (45), and a similar observation could be made of Getting Over It; that it is a game documenting the urge to create a game. Throughout Getting Over It, audio is played of Foddy speaking on subjects relevant to what the player is doing. He speaks on a few different topics, one of which is his process in making this game. He talks about Sexy Hiking, the game he based Getting Over It on, and about the difficulty of certain obstacles in his game and on difficulty in videogames in general. These quotes, particularly those quoted above concerning the devil’s chimney, explain



the design rationale of the game while the player is navigating said design, which is a comparable experience to reading The Unnamable, in which Beckett describes the drive to write through the medium of writing. There is also a degree of similarity in the goals of The Unnamable narrator and the player of Getting Over It as well: to end so as to fall silent, and to complete the game so as to be done with it. A final similarity that bears noting are the audience responses, over half a century apart and yet very much in the same vein. Several large gaming YouTube channels have uploaded recordings of this game, documenting their reactions from their initial attempts at the game, with many of these playthroughs being several hours long (sometimes split over multiple videos). We have similar documentation of the early performances of Waiting for Godot in the form of reviews and statements given by those involved in the productions about their initial receptions. The main difference between these two forms of response to creative works is that the YouTube videos are immediate responses, whereas the reviews and statements about Beckett’s work are often articulated after the event, and so contain less of the highly emotive and reactionary content of the YouTube videos. Even with this difference, the responses people had to these works share some striking similarities. Notably, audiences of both creators’ works seem unable to completely leave said works alone, regardless of how frustrating they may find them. Mercier claims that Beckett managed to write “a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats” (1956, 6). This tension is captured in the reports of early performances, with some refusing to engage with the play and walking out. Knowlson quotes one of the actors in the original English performance of Waiting for Godot, who describes “waves of hostility” coming from the audience (1996, 37374). And yet, theatre artists continue to return to this work (Zazzali 2016, 696). A similar phenomenon can be observed with YouTubers playing Getting Over It, who become angry and frustrated with the game, and then continue to play it. There is an interesting Beckettian twist to the responses players have had to Getting Over It. To quote Markiplier’s playthrough, from a point at which he is talking about

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 223 rage-inducing games generally after playing Getting Over It, “…this is why I can’t, this is why I can’t, this is why I can’t, this here is why I cannot do them… This is not a joke, I’m not joking, I never joke about this… I hate them, I hate them so much, they’re so bad for me, emotionally, they take a toll on my soul, not a joke” (2017). Another large gaming YouTuber, Jacksepticeye, observed of his own reaction while playing the game that “it went from funny to rageinducing, and now it’s back to funny again” (2017). Both players went on to post several subsequent videos with footage of them playing Getting Over It. Nicole Lazzaro makes an argument, broadly summarised here, for the importance of emotion in gameplay. She states that “gamers mainly play for the emotions the games create” (2007, 681). I suggested that Waiting for Godot may present audiences with a similar impetus to stay engaged, while offering little narratively to engage with. In a related parallel between play and game, both creators were sceptical of their audience’s willingness to subject themselves to failure in its varying forms, and both seem to have been somewhat surprised when people did not outright reject their creations. Foddy has expressed that he believed people would reject his game, and in the game, one of the last things Foddy’s narration says is “every setback you’ve forgiven me is a kingly gift you’ve given me” (2017b). Beckett’s reaction was (fittingly) less articulate. He was simply unsurprised when things did not go well for one of his productions (Ackerley and Gontarski 2004, 621). Foddy may not have been conscious of or deliberate in creating these resonances between his work and Beckett’s oeuvre, and yet they exist. There are a few different reasons this could be the case: Foddy and Beckett may be speaking from similar places culturally, they may be speaking to similar issues, or they may have drawn inspiration from similar experiences. What is striking is that though they practice decades apart and in different mediums, the works of both engage with failure in a similar way. Both deem that failure is a subject worth exploring, not as merely an outcome to be avoided, but as an inevitability and an experience worth enduring. Failure in the works of both creators is used as a framework for their respec-



tive pieces. In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot it is the circular paradox, and in Foddy’s game it is the unwieldly controls and level design. It is also the subject matter that drives the pieces forward; The Unnamable’s inability to finally fall silent and Foddy’s narration on his game. What this points toward is the continued presence of Beckett’s work, his imagery and ideas, in the popular psyche, and in this particular instance how the videogames medium has picked up these themes and embraced them in a way that is still strikingly similar to Beckett’s original works. References Acheson, James. 1997. Samuel Beckett’s Artistic Theory and Practice: Criticism, Drama and Early Fiction. Houndmills: Macmillan Press. Ackerley, C. J. and S. E. Gontarski. 2004. The Grove Companion to Beckett. New York: Grove Press. Atkins, Anselm. 1976. “Lucky’s Speech in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Punctuated Sense-Line Arrangement.” Educational Theatre Journal 19 (4): 426-32. Beckett, Samuel. 2009. Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. New York: Grove Press. –. 1965. Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1983. Worstward Ho. London: John Calder. Bolin, John. 2009. “‘Preserving the Integrity of Incoherence’? Dostoyevsky, Gide, and the Novel in Beckett’s 1930 Lectures and Dream of Fair to Middling Women.” The Review of English Studies 20 (246): 515-37. Boulter, Jonathan. 2004. “Does Mourning Require a Subject? Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing.” Modern Fiction Studies 50 (2): 332-50. Connor, Steven. 1988. Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory, and Text. New York: Blackwell. Dostoyevsky, Fyordor. 2006. Notes from Underground. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. London: Vintage Books. Feldman, Matthew. 2006. Beckett’s Books. New York: Continuum.

THE AESTHETICS OF FAILURE 225 Foddy, Bennett. 2017a. “Eleven Flavours of Frustration.” Games by Bennett Foddy (blog), January 15, 2017. http://www.foddy.net/2017/01/ eleven-flavors-of-frustration/. –. 2017b. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. https://store. steampowered.com/app/240720/Getting_Over_It_with_Bennett _Foddy/. Garrison, Alysia. 2009. “‘Faintly Struggling Things’: Trauma, Testimony, and Inscrutable Life in Beckett’s The Unnamable.” In Samuel Beckett: History, Memory, Trauma, edited by Seán Kennedy and Katherine Weiss, 89-110. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Gontarski, S. E. 1983. “The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Art.” Modern Fiction Studies 29 (1): 5-23. Graham, Alan. 2015. “‘So Much Gaelic to Me’: Beckett and the Irish Language.” Journal of Beckett Studies 24 (2): 163-79. Hesla, David. 1971. The Shape of Chaos: An Interpretation of the Art of Samuel Beckett. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jacksepticeye. 2017. “Angriest I’ve Gotten at a Game! | Getting Over It #1.” YouTube, posted December 7, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=jLnei3t3FkQ&t=1239s. Juul, Jesper. 2013. The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge: MIT Press. Knowlson, James. 1996. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press. Kotaku. 2017. “Bennett Foddy Plays Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.” YouTube, posted December 8, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=DYjbCJXxWLg. Lazzaro, Nicole. 2007. “Why We Play: Affect and the Fun of Games.” In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications, edited by Andrew Sears and Julie A. Jacko. 679-700. Baton Rouge: CRC Press. Markiplier. 2017. “I Literally Throw a Chair in Rage | Getting Over It—Part 1.” YouTube, posted December 7, 2017. https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=dH9w9VlyNO4. McDonald, Ronan. 2015. “Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s Cultural Impact.” In The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett, edited by Dirk van Hulle, 48-59. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Melyndrome. 2018. Steam review of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. Posted May 26, 2018.



https://steamcommunity.com/id/Melyndrome/recommended/24 0720/. Mercier, Vivian. 1956. “The Uneventful Event.” The Irish Times, February 18, 1956, 6. Paul, Christopher. 2018. The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Weiler, Gershon. 1970. Mauthner’s Critique of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Zazzali, Peter. 2016. “Trying to Understand Waiting for Godot: An Adornian Analysis of Beckett’s Signature Work.” The European Legacy 21(7): 694-704.

Waiting for GOdoT: Samuel Beckett and HBO’s

Game of Thrones Hannah Simpson24 Home Box Office’s (HBO) Game of Thrones (2011-2019) is the multi-million-dollar adaptation of George R. R Martin’s series of fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (1996- ). The series takes place in a pseudo-medieval world, tracing the interlocking lives of a vast cast of characters against the backdrop of a dynastic political struggle for the Iron Throne and the rise of the supernatural “White Walkers”. In episode seven of season four, “Mockingbird” (2014, dir. Alik Sakharov), two characters named Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) come across a man dying of a sword wound in the midst of his destroyed homestead. The following conversation ensues: ARYA: You shouldn’t be sitting out here like this. DYING MAN: Where else to sit? Tried to walk back to me hut. Hurt too much. Then I remembered they burned me hut down. THE HOUND: Who were they? DYING MAN: I stopped asking a while ago. THE HOUND: That’s not going to get better. DYING MAN: Doesn’t seem so. THE HOUND: Bad way to go. Haven’t you had enough? DYING MAN: Of what? (Pause.) I know. Time to go. Take matters into me own hands. The thought has occurred to me. 24

My thanks to Korine Powers for her insightful comments on a late draft of this chapter, and to James Brophy for early conversation on the ideas discussed here—and for many happy hours spent watching Game of Thrones. 227


HANNAH SIMPSON ARYA: So why go on? DYING MAN: Habit. ARYA: Nothing could be worse than this. DYING MAN: Maybe nothing is worse than this. ARYA: Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.

These few minutes contain a plurality of resonances from Beckett’s work. The Hound and the Dying Man’s exchange, “Haven’t you had enough?” “Of what?” offers a direct parallel to the exchange between Hamm and Clov in Endgame, “Have you not had enough?” “Yes! [Pause.] Of what?” (Beckett 2006, 94). “Time to go,” says the Hound; “Let’s go” Estragon and Vladimir repeatedly suggest to each other in Waiting for Godot (2006, 15). “So why go on?” Arya asks; “I can’t go on like this,” Estragon complains (2006, 87), and “you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” closes The Unnamable (Beckett 2009, 407). “Habit,” replies the Dying Man; “Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit,” Beckett tells us in Proust (Beckett 1999, 19). And “nothing”, “nothing”, “nothing” repeat Arya and the Dying Man; to take only one example from Beckett’s work, the word “nothing” occurs thirty-six times throughout Waiting for Godot, from the first line “Nothing to be done” onwards (Beckett 2006, 11). The self-conscious allusions to Beckettian motifs may well come as a surprise in an epic fantasy series famed for its graphic violence, full-frontal nudity, and high-budget CGI renderings of supernatural creatures. As Paul Stewart notes, it is a “challenge to a notion of relation and what ‘Beckett’ might be” when these “resonances of nothing, worsening and habit” appear in company with “dragons and swords and the walking dead” (Stewart 2016, xiii). Yet alongside the scripted contents of the scene itself, multiple epitextual and peritextual details reinforce the Beckettian influence. The Game of Thrones executive producers and series creators D. B. Weiss and David Benioff both completed MAs in Irish literature at Trinity College Dublin; Weiss wrote his thesis on James Joyce, and Benioff

WAITING FOR GODOT 229 wrote his on Samuel Beckett (Windolf 2014). The cameo actor playing the “Dying Man” in this scene is Barry McGovern, noted Beckett actor who has appeared in many of Beckett’s plays and in his stage adaptations I’ll Go On (1985, 2014) and Watt (2010). The scene was written specifically for McGovern (Newman 2015), and the actor recalls, “There were many more Beckett allusions in the dialogue” of the episode’s original script that were later edited out of the final cut (McGovern 2018). Although his character was referenced as “Dying Man” in the episode’s credits, McGovern’s own script named him as “Clamm”, an amalgamation of Endgame’s “Clov” and “Hamm” (McGovern 2018). Game of Thrones, then, draws directly and deliberately on Beckett’s work, positioning itself as part of his literary legacy in a manner that has elicited criticism from Beckett fans. This chapter interrogates precisely why and to what effect Game of Thrones uses Beckett’s writing. I suggest that drawing on Henry Jenkins’s model of fandom as the engagement with an admired text “as a basis for [one’s] own cultural creation” (Jenkins 1992, 18) allows us to evaluate not only Weiss and Benioff’s McGovern scene but also our own academic engagement with Beckett’s work as new examples of fandom practice. *** In 2007, HBO’s writer-producers Benioff and Weiss began adapting Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire into the television series Game of Thrones. The result has been an internationally acclaimed success, a cultural as well as a commercial triumph. The series received forty-seven Primetime Emmy nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, and viewer numbers for season seven averaged at 30 million per episode (Koblin 2017). The series has been hailed as “one of the pinnacles of high-quality television storytelling” (Steiner 2015, 182) and a clear demonstration of “how television’s adaptation of the content, the forms, and the discursive practices of other media have resulted in its increase in cultural capital” (Hassler-Forest 2014, 161). It is this increase in television’s—and indeed the fantasy genre’s—cultural capital that offers an initial ex-



planation for the unexpected appearance of Beckett in Game of Thrones. HBO has an established reputation for producing ‘high quality’ original television series; that is, television shows that are typically credited with a significant cultural capital, as being “more culturally worthwhile than other programmes” (Bignell 2013, 177). This reputation has been carefully crafted since HBO’s debut in November 1972 as one of the earliest cable subscription network channels. Unlike the advertiser-supported system of rival over-the-air or free-toair networks, HBO’s subscriber format “focused all the channel’s attention on pleasing and retaining its viewing audience” (Edgerton 2008, 1) by specialising in creating recognised ‘quality television’ such as The Sopranos (1999-2007), Six Feet Under (2001-5), Band of Brothers (2001), The Wire (2002-8), Angels in America (2003), Boardwalk Empire (2010-14) and Westworld (2016- ). As Christopher Anderson observes, “In order to ensure HBO’s continuing economic value for subscribers, the network must establish a unique cultural value among television networks” (Anderson 2008, 30)—or, as Pierre Bourdieu noted of art economics more broadly, “the material fabrication is nothing without the labour of production of the value of the fabricated object” (Bourdieu 1996, 172). This construction of Game of Thrones’s cultural value was particularly crucial for HBO to establish, not merely because of their significant financial investment in the series—the first season of the series was allocated a $60 million budget (Goldberg 2011), which had increased to $100 million by the sixth season (Lee 2016)—but also given the pervasive perception of fantasy as a relatively low-brow genre, often “dismissed as escapist fluff” (Thomas 2003, 60). Dan Hassler-Forest records that “[m]any television critics initially sneered at the notion that a premium cable network like HBO would include this type of genre material in their established ‘Quality TV’ brand” (Hassler-Forest 2014, 162), a criticism perhaps exacerbated by the steadily waning critical and commercial response to True Blood (2008-14), HBO’s other flagship fantasy series. HBO have customarily sought to establish this recognised cachet of ‘high-quality’ television not only by allocating their original

WAITING FOR GODOT 231 series substantial budgets to ensure high-grade technical production, but also by emphasising the ‘authorship’ behind its original series. Bourdieu has analysed the commercial power of ‘authorship’, what he terms “the fetishism of the ‘creator’” (Bourdieu 1996, 189) whereby the name of a “‘known’ and recognized” creator attached to a project becomes an assumed guarantee of artistic quality (167). Whereas the film industry developed the concept of the auteur as part of André Bazin’s and Alexandre Astruc’s critical engagement with the New Wave movement of the 1940s, television has been “slower to catch up to the status of an author-driven medium” (Steiner 2015, 183). HBO have long sought to construct a recognisable stamp of ‘authorship’ on their original series, promoting the series creators directly to the public to establish the legitimising artistic ‘vision’ of a single creator or small creative unit, thus offering “the distinct marketing of authorship as a perceived marker of quality” (Steiner, 183). In the case of Game of Thrones, HBO have consistently emphasised George R. R. Martin’s continued creative control over the television adaptation (see Windolf 2014 and Collins and Cogman 2015), and the official HBO Game of Thrones website features regularly updated “From the Author” video blogs by Martin on topics such as “Who Are the Unsullied?” and “What’s the Deal with Bastards in Westeros?” Weiss and Benioff’s creative agency is also underlined with similar “Inside the Episode” videos featuring their commentary insight, and via the multiple media interviews that the pair have undertaken in promoting the Game of Thrones series. The mark of ‘authorship’ on Game of Thrones has been carefully and consistently emphasised by HBO as a means of accruing cultural capital to the series, particularly at moments when the adaptation deviates from the novels’ plotlines. Alongside this emphasis on an ‘author-unit’ as a guarantee of consistent quality, however, the epitextual material around Game of Thrones also labours to stress the literary pedigree of this author-unit. Martin has been dubbed the “American Tolkien” (Steiner 2015, 182), and cites among his literary influences the Lord of the Rings series and Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings series (Matthews 2018, 227).



Benioff and Weiss often reference their Irish Literature MAs and their own reading habits in media interviews, citing their familiarity with Ernest Hemingway, W. B. Yeats, Chinua Achebe, Carson McCullers, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, James Joyce, and of course the “wildly funny” Samuel Beckett as having informed their approach to Game of Thrones (Windolf 2014; Benioff, 2016). By emphasising the influence of their literary training on their work on the series, Benioff and Weiss claim some of the cultural capital of these recognisably ‘high literature’ sources to their own televisual creation, allowing the series “to appeal to affluent, highly educated consumers who value [its] literary qualities” (Hassler-Forest 2014,162). By inserting ‘high culture’ references that some viewers may be able to identify, such as the McGovern scene, Game of Thrones offers these viewers an agreeable sense of highbrow achievement, “reward[ing] the enthusiast with recognition points” (Gehring 1999, 98) and allowing them to “congratulate themselves on their skill at decoding” (Bignell 2013, 184). In Game of Thrones, the emphasis on a highly literary and literate author-unit behind the series provides the viewer not only the opportunity “to perceive the artistic vision of an individual creator” (or creator-unit, in this case) but also “to recognize the threads of cultural and historical references woven into the fabric of a story; to appreciate the subtle subversion of genre conventions” that the programme offers to those with the “cultural competence” necessary to identify them (Anderson 2008, 25). There is a comfort in being thus reminded of one’s “cultural competence”, and in this way the series does much to assuage any residual guilt occasioned by watching a high fantasy, popular culture television series.

*** What happens, then, when Beckett’s work becomes part of this “flattening out of former cultural hierarchies” that Dan HasslerForest has identified as one result of the increasingly cultural valuation of pop culture (Hassler-Forest 2014, 163)? There have of course been many pop culture parodies and pastiches of Beckett’s work in the past, including Theater Oobleck’s 2001 production The Complete

WAITING FOR GODOT 233 Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in an Envelope (Partially Burned) in a Dustbin in Paris Labeled, ‘Never to be performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I’ll sue! I’LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!’, Stephen Colbert’s “Waiting for Godot’s Obamacare Replacement” on The Late Show in 2017 and even Ben Greenman’s meta-parody list of fictionalised parodies, “On the Occasion, Give or Take, of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Staging, in Paris, of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a Few Representative Selections from The Annotated Treasury of Waiting for Godot Parodies”, which includes such imagined creations as Waiting for Bedpan, Waiting for Saddam and Oh! He’s Here! (Greenman 2003). However, the Game of Thrones McGovern scene cannot be usefully or appropriately labelled as a parody of Beckett’s work, since it does not offer any comic or ludicrously exaggerated treatment of Beckett’s writing, and certainly entails no deflation of or ironic distance from it.25 Rather than “a humor based on a distorted imitation” (Gehring 1999, 16), Game of Thrones’s invocation of Beckett’s work offers a sincere homage and even a sense of self-decreed literary inheritance, positioning Weiss and Benioff’s author-unit as something closer to heirs or torchbearers to their literary forbearer, tasked (or self-tasked) to continue rather than critique or deflate that master’s work. Benioff and Weiss align themselves more closely and earnestly with Beckett’s legacy than these parodies and pastiches seek to do. Benioff has described his engagement with Beckett’s writing as an authorityadmirer relationship in distinctly adulatory terms: “Beckett is probably the writer I studied most thoroughly, in fact he’s the one writer that I’ve pretty much read everything he’s written (that’s available). 25

Both Wes Gehring and Simon Dentith emphasise that “the fundamental goal of parody is to be funny” (Gehring 1999, 3: original empasis). Both also cite distortion or “ironic or critical distance” (Dentith 2000, 157) as an identifying feature of the parodic mode. Even allowing for Linda Hutcheon’s contention that parody does not have to be ultimately critical or condemnatory in intent, and might offer instead what Gehring calls “comic deflation with an eventual reaffirmation of the subject under attack” (Hutcheon 1988, 6), Game of Thrones’s McGovern scene lacks any sense of undermining its source text.



So although I would never attempt to write like Beckett, he is still like the grand master to me” (Karim n.d.). Here, Benioff positions Beckett explicitly as a “grand master” of high literature, worthy of close and extended study, and decries his own implied unworthiness to even “attempt to write like Beckett”. Yet Benioff’s later inclusion of a ‘Beckett scene’ in “Mockingbird” sees him more confident in claiming some element of Beckett’s legacy as part of his own work. Neither the light-hearted mockery that typifies the parody or pastiche engagement, nor a continued positioning of the untouchable “grand master” at a respectful aesthetic distance, Weiss and Benioff’s McGovern scene calls for us to radically rethink the interrelationship between Beckett and contemporary popular culture, as embodied here by Game of Thrones. We might turn first to the theorising of the postmodern moment as a means of interpreting the appearance of Beckett in the high fantasy television series. Broadly speaking, the postmodern mode has been recognised as “that break with modernism which allows us to speak more positively of popular culture” (Dentith 2000, 158), within which the Game of Thrones Beckett scene can thus sit comfortably. Brian McHale theorises writing that self-consciously “mixes already extant discourses” as an explicitly postmodern practice (McHale 2003, 200). Most relevant to our discussion here, however, is the common identification of the postmodern as a mode that “questions centralized, totalized, hierarchized, closed systems” such as would allow us to position Beckett’s work firmly above Game of Thrones in terms of its cultural ‘worth’ (Hutcheon 1988, 41). Following Jean-François Lyotard, Frederic Jameson reads the contesting of “the old master narratives of legitimation” as a crucial strand of the postmodern mode (Jameson 1984, xi). Similarly, Benioff can move from idolising Beckett as his “grand master” to freely drawing on Beckett’s discourse within his own creative work. The theorising of the postmodern as the revaluing of popular culture, the selfconscious mixing of varying discourses, and the destabilising of master narratives of cultural hierarchies, at first appears to very neatly explain Game of Thrones’s engagement with Beckett’s work.

WAITING FOR GODOT 235 Thus, one consequence of encountering Beckett within Game of Thrones is the opportunity to re-assess within a specifically postmodern model of thinking any sense we might have of the cultural divisions between the two bodies of work. For all the seeming inequality in cultural cachet between Beckett’s canonised writings and the fantasy-epic television series, there are increasingly more similarities than disparities between the two bodies of work at the level of cultural reception. Both Beckett and Game of Thrones have been firmly absorbed into the mainstream capitalist market. Both feature heavily on Northern Irish and Irish tourism websites, which highlight the provinces as the site of both Beckett’s formative years and Game of Thrones’s multiple filming locations.26 Both have been turned into video games, Game of Thrones by Cyanide in 2012 and Telltale Games in 2014, and Beckett’s work by Mike Rosenthal in 2010 and The Secret Experiment in 2018. Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are now included in taught modules at a range of universities, including Harvard University and the University of California Berkeley (see Gettell 2017 and Waxman 2017). Beckett and Game of Thrones quotations and images are featured on a plethora of fanmade posters, mugs, t-shirts and jewellery available online. These startling interrelationships between Beckett and Game of Thrones seems to bolster Steven Conor’s claim that within the postmodern moment “both high and popular culture circulate indifferently within a kind of unified field” of creative production (Conor 2004, 16).


See, for example, the multiple Game of Thrones tours on Discover Northern Ireland and Discover Ireland: (https://discovernorthernireland.com/explore/game-of-thrones-guid ed-tours/) and Culture Northern Ireland’s and Ireland.com’s focus on Samuel Beckett’s literary heritage: (http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/1565/samuel-beckett; https://www.ireland.com/en-gb/what-is-available/literary-ireland/ destinations/republic-of-ireland/dublin/dublin-city/articles/dublincity-nine-literary-attractions/).



However, other factors suggest that the collapse of the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art is not as complete as has been theorised. When I tweeted about writing on how Game of Thrones selfconsciously draws on Samuel Beckett’s work, I was met with reprimand from Beckett fans within the Twitter community. @louisecoatz, for example, was doubtful that Game of Thrones could “make allusions to Samuel Beckett’s work in a way which has any value at all” (Coatz, May 7, 2018 8.32 am). Having “dismissed it as not the kind of schlock I would enjoy”, she denied that Game of Thrones could hope to “resonate more seriously with Beckett’s work” (Coatz, May 8, 2018 1.00 am), being simply “knockabout, crude violence for kicks that doesn’t stand up to any kind of serious analysis” (Coatz, May 8, 9.03am). (One might be tempted to wonder what Coatz makes of the knockabout comedy, sexual crudity and recurrent violence—and indeed the kicks and the pricks—in Beckett’s own work.) @frederickjhayn1 likewise opined that the series, and the McGovern scene in particular, is “too crude & violent to merit worth” (Fred, May 8, 2018 8.51 am) and criticised Weiss and Benioff’s “crowbarring in of the look at me see what I know” as failing to add anything of cultural substance to the series (Fred, May 9, 2018 3.40 am). @curranradio similarly argued that McGovern’s appearance in the series was “a little ornament by makers of an [sic] sex’n’swords potboiler,” an empty boast “‘We have MAs, you know?...’” (Curran, May 8, 2018 11.17 am). These Beckett fans were happy to interact on Twitter, and repeatedly offered me the example of Sesame Street’s 1992 Monsterpiece parody “Waiting for Elmo” as an instructive example of ‘Beckett intertextuality done right’, so presumably none were against the interrelationship between Beckett and popular culture in any absolute sense. Nevertheless, all refused the McGovern scene as a legitimate use of Beckett’s work, positioning it instead as something closer to Bourdieu’s “barbarous reintegration of aesthetic consumption into the world of ordinary consumption” (Bourdieu 2010, xix). Conor has theorised that boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are progressively “being eroded or

WAITING FOR GODOT 237 complicated” (Conor 2004, 3), but the online response to Game of Thrones’s engagement with Beckett’s work suggests that “complicated” rather than “eroded” may be the more appropriate term. *** In place, then, of the broader theorising of the postmodern that risks optimistically over-generalising the dynamics of the interrelationship between Beckett’s work and popular culture, I suggest that we turn here to the theorising of fandom and fan-writing as an alternative model that likewise interrogates the dynamics of authorial mastery and forms of cultural engagement in a more medium-specific context. That is, I suggest that we read Benioff and Weiss as fans of Beckett’s work, and their Game of Thrones McGovern scene as an example of fan engagement by way of creative production, following Henry Jenkins’s fandom theory. Jenkins offered the earliest in-depth study of fandom in Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture in 1992, in which, countering the idea of the fan as a passive consumer, he defined fandom as “a participatory culture which transforms the experience of media consumption into the production of new texts, indeed of a new culture and a new media” (Jenkins 1992, 46). Creative participation as a means of closer engagement with the source text is key to Jenkins’s definition of the “fan”, as opposed to the casual consumer. Jenkins explains that “fandom does not preserve a radical separation between readers and writers. Fans do not simply consume preproduced stories” but instead enter into their own creative engagements with their favoured text, borrowing and reworking elements “as the basis for their own cultural creations” as a means of establishing a closer and sometimes a corrective intimacy with the original text (Jenkins 1992, 18). Jenkins offers fan-fiction writing and amateur film and music videos as examples of such creative participation; we might look back to the fan-made Game of Thrones and Beckett posters, mugs and jewellery, and even Harvard’s and UC Berkeley’s Game of Thrones taught courses, as our own relevant examples of fan engagement.



Thus, although Jenkins focuses in Textual Producers on fandom exemplified by followers of popular culture entities such as George Lucas’s Star Wars and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, his model also helpfully anticipates Weiss and Benioff’s engagement with Samuel Beckett’s work. Scripted by self-proclaimed Beckett fans, the Game of Thrones McGovern scene offers a particularly wellfunded and widely-shared instance of participatory creative engagement with Beckett’s original texts, deviating only from the more “general rule dictating that all fan productions […] remain free and open” (Cristofari and Guitton 2017, 714)—a rule which has itself been destabilised by the increase in fan-made products being sold on for-profit websites such as Etsy.com. Benioff’s shift from positioning Beckett as an untouchable “grand master” to utilising Beckett’s work as a resource for his own creative practice can now be read as a transition into a more creatively engaged fandom. The Games of Thrones McGovern scene sees Benioff refusing the “mastery” of educational and cultural authority that would have fans “consume the narrative without leaving their own marks upon it” (Jenkins 1992, 24); instead, they draw directly on Beckett’s source material as a means of both paying homage to, and more closely engaging with, that material. Their budget and their audience are both significantly higher than that of the average fan creator, but Weiss and Benioff’s creative participation in Beckett’s work aligns them firmly with the Jenkins model of fandom. Acknowledging Weiss and Benioff’s engagement with Beckett’s work as an example of creative fan practice extends our contemporary idea of the dynamics of fan participation. For example, Jenkins’s reading of fandom culture highlights the controversial practice of fandoms “treating popular texts as if they merited the same degree of attention and appreciation as canonical texts” through close-reading analysis, elaborate exegesis and repeated re-reading (Jenkins 1992, 17). Here, Weiss and Benioff’s fan engagement with Beckett’s work flips this dynamic: rather than engaging with popular culture as if it were high art, Game of Thrones engages with high art within the domain of popular culture. Moreover, Weiss and Benioff’s

WAITING FOR GODOT 239 position of financial and industry influence demonstrates a revisionary modern example of Jenkins’s concept of the typical fan and their relative cultural and media power. Textual Poachers was written during what Jenkins himself would later define as “a moment when fans were marginal to the operation of our culture, ridiculed in the media, shrouded with social stigma, pushed underground by legal threats” (Jenkins 2006b, 1). Jenkins’s seminal theorising thus engages with fandoms typically forced to “operate from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness,” “lack[ing] direct access to the means of commercial cultural production” (Jenkins 1992, 26). This is not Weiss and Benioff’s position, fortified as they are with HBO’s mainstream industry standing, hefty financial support, and airwave access. Benioff and Weiss combine the creative participatory drive with an industry and economic backing that renders their work nearly unrecognisable as fan-art. Nevertheless, while Benioff and Weiss are not Jenkins’s earlier culturally marginal fans, they still maintain what Jenkins identifies as the fandom’s “tentative” relationship with the admired originary work, operating “on the margins of the original text[s],” and forced to contend with other fervent “efforts to regulate its meanings” (Jenkins 1992, 24). In particular, Benioff and Weiss are still subject to critique from other Beckett fans, as exemplified by the Twitter responses described above. Fandoms tend to self-police, in spite (or perhaps because) of their simultaneous need to negotiate the threat of push-back from the original text’s legal owners. Thus, alongside potential estate restrictions: There are other constraints, ethical constraints and self-imposed rules, enacted by the fans, either individually or as part of a larger community, in response to their felt need to legitimate their unorthodox appropriation of mass media texts. (Jenkins 2006b, 40)

If we change “mass media texts” to “literary texts” here, Jenkins’s observation speaks as pointedly to Benioff and Weiss as participatory Beckett fans as it does to other fandoms with less in-



dustry authority. Having evaded estate cease-and-desist letters, Benioff and Weiss must still face other Beckett fans and their investment in policing and critiquing the perceived relative ‘legitimacy’ of any proffered creative engagement with Beckett’s work. As Jenkins explains, “[t]he ideology of fandom involves both a commitment to some degree of conformity to the original program materials, as well as a perceived right to evaluate the legitimacy of any use of those materials” by other consumer-producers (Jenkins 2006b, 55), and Beckett’s fans have demonstrated themselves ready and willing to exercise that right. In drawing on Beckett’s work as a means both of validating the cultural standing of Game of Thrones and of more closely and earnestly engaging with Beckett’s work as creative participatory fans, Weiss and Benioff subject themselves to the frequently ruthless dynamics of inter-fandom critique. Nevertheless, Weiss and Benioff occupy a markedly powerful position as participatory fans, more comparable to the producers of Star Wars and Star Trek than the fandom who “have only the most limited resources with which to influence the entertainment industry’s decisions” (Jenkins 1992, 267). Given the unequal power dynamic that characterises Weiss and Benioff’s creative participatory engagement with Beckett’s work, as fans who paradoxically retain the industry sway of textual producers, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Game of Thrones McGovern scene has been met with such intense criticism from other Beckett fans. In closing, I take the opportunity to suggest that our exploration here of Weiss and Benioff’s fandom engagement might—and perhaps should—push us as scholars and academics to think harder about our own comparable positions. Weiss and Benioff occupy an evidently provocative standing as participatory fans of Beckett’s work with an incongruous degree of cultural and institutional power; I believe that many Beckett scholars do so as well. If, as Jenkins suggests, “one becomes a ‘fan’ not by being a regular viewer of a particular program [or reader of a particular text] but by translating that viewing into some kind of cultural activity,” by grace of the moment when “consumption naturally sparks production, [and] reading generates writing” (Jenkins 2006b, 41), then many of us might in fact

WAITING FOR GODOT 241 identify ourselves as Beckett fans as well as Beckett scholars, or “acafans”, as more recent terminology would have it (Cristofari and Guitton 2017, 714). Beckett scholars who acknowledge themselves as simultaneously Beckett fans can take a more clear-sighted perspective on their own impact on the interaction between Beckett and popular culture. Academic engagement with popular culture and specifically fan-writing offers a powerful means of legitimating this work as worthy of close attention, but equally it threatens to overpower that conversation by dint of its cultural and institutional sway—just as Weiss and Benioff’s industry weight endows their fan engagement with what many other Beckett fans have interpreted as an alarming degree of cultural influence. As Jenkins observes, “[a]s an academic you speak with a certain degree of authority” even among fan communities (Jenkins 2006b, 14), and that authority risks overwhelming other perspectives on Beckett’s work. We have been rightly pushed to acknowledge the power differentials that operate between white and non-white, Western and non-Western, male and female and established and early-career scholars; I suggest we must take care to do the same as academics engaging with fans outside of ‘high-culture’ institutions. Where @louisecoatz, @curranradio and @frederickjhayn1 are confined to Twitter as a domain in which to critique Weiss and Benioff’s engagement with Beckett (and my own attention to that engagement), I publish here, with the benefit of editorship, peer-review, an established publishing house’s name, and the implicit association with the other scholarly writing that surrounds my own.27 In university-speak, my thinking has been trans27

“I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick,” @louisecoatz admonished me (Coatz May 9, 2018 3.34 am), asserting that “reading back into SB on this purely playful basis seems madness” (Coatz May 8, 2018 1.00 am). When I attempted to explain my thinking, she replied “Why on earth would anybody be remotely interested in how global entertainment companies ‘position themselves’ in a cultural field. That’s economics. Nothing to do with Samuel Beckett’s work, whatever” (May 7, 2018 10.06 am). I include @louisecoatz’s critique here in the interests of acknowledging Beckett fandom’s criticism of my own engagement



formed into a reputable, searchable and citable ‘source’, where @louisecoatz, @curranradio and @frederickjhayn1 remain ‘nonacademic’ internet chatter. It is easy to decry the Beckett estate’s occasional interference into which versions of Beckett’s work are permitted into public circulation, but our own academic labour can bear a comparable impact on cultural understandings of Beckett’s texts, their ‘meaning’, and their interrelationship with other cultural forms. Speaking on the subject of media convergence, Jenkins warns: “No one group can set the terms. No one group can control access and participation” (Jenkins 2006a, 23). As this timely volume engages in a closer interrogation of the interrelationship between Beckett’s work and pop culture, we as scholars and academics might do well to heed his words. References Anderson, Christopher. 2008. “Producing an Aristocracy of Culture in American Television.” In The Essential HBO Reader, edited by Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffrey P. Jones, 23-41. Lexington: The U of Kentucky P. Beckett, Samuel. 2006. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber. –. 2009. Three Novels. New York: Grove Press. –. 1999. “Proust.” In Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit, 9-93. London: John Calder Publishers. Benioff, David. January 29, 2016. “My 10 Favourite Books: David Benioff.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/t-ma gazine/my-10-favorite-books-david-benioff.html. Accessed May 7, 2018. with Beckett, as well as of Weiss and Benioff’s engagement with his work. I am nevertheless aware that, in doing so, I have self-defensively relegated @louisecoatz’s criticism to a footnote within my own writing, and thus perhaps have only further reified rather than destabilised the division between perceived ‘academic’ and ‘popular’ engagement with Beckett’s work.

WAITING FOR GODOT 243 Bignell, Jonathan. 2013. An Introduction to Television Studies. London: Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1996. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Translated by Susan Emanuel. Cambridge: Polity Press. –. 2010. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. London: Routledge. Cristofari, Cecile and Matthieu J. Guitton. 2017. “Aca-fans and Fan Communities: An Operative Framework.” Journal of Consumer Culture 17 (3): 713-731. Coatz, Louise. (@louisecoatz). Twitter post. May 7, 2018 8.32 am. https://twitter.com/louisecoatz/status/993514003400986624 Accessed 10 May 2018. –. (@louisecoatz). Twitter post. May 8, 2018, 1.00 am. https:// twitter.com/louisecoatz/status/993762595793526784 –. (@louisecoatz). Twitter post. May 8, 2018, 9.03 am. https:// twitter.com/louisecoatz/status/993884081791406081 Collins, Sean T. and Bryan Cogman. February 4, 2015. “Blood Caffeine Sex Magic: How Game of Thrones Gets Written.” Observer. http://obser ver.com/2015/04/blood-caffeine-sex-magic-how-game-of-thrones -gets-written/. Accessed May 7, 2018. Conor, Steven. 2004. Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, edited by Steven Conor, 1-19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Curran, Peter. (@curranradio). Twitter post. May 8, 2018, 11.17 am. https://twitter.com/curranradio/status/993917699267932160 Dentith, Simon. 2000. Parody. London: Routledge. Edgerton, Gary R. 2008. “A Brief History of HBO.” In The Essential HBO Reader, edited by Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffrey P. Jones, 1-22. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press. Fred. (@frederickjhayn1). Twitter post. May 8, 2018, 8.51 am. https:// twitter.com/frederickjhayn1/status/993881200040308736 –. (@frederickjhayn1). Twitter post. May 9, 2018, 3.40 am. https://twitter.com/frederickjhayn1/status/994165168933343232 Games of Thrones. 18 May 2014. “Mockingbird” (Series 4 Episode 7), directed by Alik Sakharov. Home Box Office. Gehring, Wes. 1999. Parody as Film Genre: ‘Never Give a Saga an Even Break. Westport: Greenwood Press.



Gettell, Oliver. April 26, 2017. “Game of Thrones Language Class Coming to UC Berkeley This Summer.” Entertainment Weekly. http://ew.com/ tv/2017/04/26/game-of-thrones-language-class-uc-berkeley/ Accessed May 11, 2018. Goldberg, Lee. April 14, 2011. “Game of Thrones: By the Numbers.” The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/game-thrones-by-num bers-178659. Accessed May 7, 2018. Greenman, Ben. July 25, 2003. “On the Occasion, Give or Take, of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Staging, in Paris, of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a Few Representative Selections from The Annotated Treasury of Waiting for Godot Parodies.” McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies. https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/on-the-occasion-give-ortake-of-the-fiftieth-anniversary-of-the-first-staging-in-paris-ofsamuel-becketts-waiting-for-godot-a-few-representative-selectionsfrom-the-annotated-treasury-of-waiting-for-godot-parodies Accessed May 9, 2018. Hassler-Forest, Dan. 2014. “Game of Thrones: Quality Television and the Cultural Logic of Gentrification.” TV/Series 6 (1):160-177. Hutcheon, Linda. 1988. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory and Fiction. London: Routledge. Jameson, Frederic. 1984. Foreword to The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge by Jean-François Lyotard. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brain Massumi. Manchester: Manchester UP. Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge. –. 2006a. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP. –. 2006b. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York UP. Karim, Ali. n.d. “David Benioff: 25th Hour UK Promotion.” Shots: Crime and Thriller Ezine. http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/interview_view.aspx?interview_id=39 Koblin, John. September 7, 2017. “Game of Thrones Finale Sets Ratings Record.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/arts/television/game-ofthrones-finale-sets-ratings-record.html. Accessed May 7, 2018.

WAITING FOR GODOT 245 Lee, Ben. March 30, 2016. “Game of Thrones season six costs A LOT per episode.” Digital Spy. http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/game-of-thro nes/news/a788677/game-of-thrones-season-6-costs-a-lot-per-epi sode-budget-revealed/. Accessed May 7, 2018. Martin, George R. R. “From the Author.” http://www.makinggameofthrones.com/?category=From+the%2 0Author. Accessed May 7, 2018. Matthews, Jolie Christine. 2018. “A Past that Never Was: Historical Poaching in Games of Thrones fans’ Tumblr Practices.” Popular Communication 16 (3): 222-242. McGovern, Barry. April 11, 2018. Personal interview with author. McHale, Brian. 2003. Postmodernist Fiction. London: Routledge. Newman, Chris. 2015. “Commentaries.” Game of Thrones: The Complete Season 1-4. DVD, disc 4. Directed by Alik Sakharov, 2014. Home Box Office. Steiner, Tobias. 2015. “Steering the Author Discourse: The Construction of Authorship in Quality TV, and the Case of Game of Thrones.” Series 1 (2): 181-192. Stewart, Paul. 2016. “Beckett and Relation: A Preface to the Series.” In Beckett, Lacan and the Voice by Llewellyn Brown, vii-xiii. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag. Thomas, Melissa. 2003. “Teaching Fantasy: Overcoming the Stigma of Fluff.” The English Journal 92 (5): 60-64. Waxman, Olivia B. May 31, 2017. “An Exclusive Look Inside Harvard’s New Game of Thrones-Themed Class.” Time. http://time.com/ 4798917/harvard-game-of-thrones-class/ Accessed May 11, 2018. Windolf, Jim. March 24, 2014. “The Surprising Connection between Game of Thrones and Monty Python.” Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair. com/hollywood/2014/03/game-of-thrones-benioff-weiss-inter view. Accessed May 7, 2018.

Sociability in Beckett and the Coen Brothers: Idle Talk, ‘Pseudocouples’ and more Selvin Yaltır In “Everyday Speech” Maurice Blanchot speaks of an apparently immaterial phenomenon peculiar to modern life. What he calls the ‘everyday’ in an equally ideal and inessential sense is generated through scraps of immediate knowledge that are produced repetitively every day: on the bus, on one’s own, in small talk, and in mass media communication; in other words, it is “ourselves, ordinarily” (Blanchot 1993, 238). These different forms fall into the category of the everyday because they are phenomena that escape “the clear decision of the law,” of universals and classifications (239). Such “a change in point of view” is necessary for Blanchot since a ‘critique’ of the everyday would no longer be adequate to grasp its ambiguous status (239).28 He writes: The everyday is no longer the average, statistically established existence of a given society at a given moment; it is a category, a utopia and an Idea, without which one would not know how to get at either the hidden present or the discoverable future of manifest beings. Man (the individual of today, of our modern so-


With the term ‘critique’ Blanchot refers to Henri Lefebvre and his seminal work on quotidian life, Critique of Everyday Life. Lefebvre puts forth an assertion similar to Blanchot’s in its scrupulous reconsideration of the meaning of everyday as “familiar”: “Let us go farther and say that it is in the most familiar things that the unknown—not the mysterious—is at its richest, that this rich content of life is still beyond our empty, darkling consciousness…” (Lefebvre 1991, 132). Blanchot argues, however, that critique must now seek a “radical transformation of Alltäglichkeit” to reappraise the term with regard to its philosophical ambiguity. (Blanchot 1993, 239) 247


SELVIN YALTIR cieties) is at once engulfed within and deprived of the everyday. (Blanchot 1993, 239)

Easily accessible and difficult to grasp, for Blanchot, the everyday is an ambiguous phenomenon that solicits both participation and suspicion, both commonness and indetermination (239). It is thus difficult to ascribe to what we call the everyday, particularly in its social aspects, an ontological and epistemological status. This dilemma, according to Blanchot, establishes the task at hand for an understanding of an idea of everydayness, which is a necessary yet inconsequential exigency (240). In this chapter these theoretical elucidations will set the framework for the analysis of the everyday. I will attempt to think together the kinds of idle talk spoken by couples and duos in Beckett’s novel Mercier and Camier, and the cult films, Fargo and The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers within the framework of an everydayness promoted by these works. Everyday discourse is used to such an extent in these works that it continually instigates suspensions of meaning as well as contextual shifts and new functions. As it is transmitted through several individuals, it determines a possibility of sociability that depends more on repetitions and transmissions of hearsay than on the active participation of individuals. One could argue, Beckett’s novel and the Coen Brothers’ comedy noirs continually re-institute the aforementioned category of the everyday both as a mode and knowledge of a peculiar kind of sociability: Awkward intrusions of quotidian life in pubs, on the streets, while driving or talking about the weather. Most importantly, everyday things determine the tenor of the conversations. To what extent do these conversational realities say something about the relationship between everyday language and recondite narratives, epitomizing a sense of banality and anxiety at once? Taking off from this link, the various styles of rambling manifested in Beckett and the Coens may help elucidate the relationship between a sociability induced by “chasms of chat”, a phrase used by Alvarez in his criticism from 1976 published in The Observer (in Graver and Federman 2005, 346), and mat-

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 249 ter-of-fact violence. In what follows I will suggest that the contradictory character of the everyday emphasised by Blanchot features conversational realities popularised in Beckett and the Coens, and it is particularly at this juncture that the stylistics and politics of Beckett’s and the Coens’ everyday conversations meet and provide a productive artistic field. Couples, Everyday Things and Idle Talk in Fargo and Mercier

and Camier Consider a narrative situation that abounds in vulgar objects, everyday contexts and small talk: copulating dogs, sandwiches, pubs, umbrellas, pregnancy, dull police officers, rangers, pancakes and drinks. Consider also the characters’ tepid responses to violence in these vulgar encounters. Such is most often the case with the comedy thrillers of the Coen Brothers and Beckett’s early work of fiction, Mercier and Camier first published in French in 1970.29 An obviously untenable absurdity often prevails, and the result is a series of exhausting conversations: Gins, pub talk, asking for conveniences on the one hand, beating constables to death, cutting off dead bodies in wood chippers on the other. Comic pairs, or as Beckett’s Unnamable defines them, “pseudocouples” (Beckett 1958, 297), are the main agents of all such activity. Mercier and Camier’s pedantic composure invokes the cold-blooded daftness of the Coens’ criminal duos while inflicting acts of violence. Similarly, Mr. Conaire’s ridiculous selfassurance is not a far cry from Walter Sobchak’s puerile outrage in The Big Lebowski. Rhetorical performances form everyday interactions (seemingly) detached from personal affects, so much so that violence is only an ‘event’ when it can be forgettable.


It should be noted that Mercier and Camier’s usage of quickfire dialogue and witty (Irish) banter is considered by some critics to anticipate the parallels between dialogic rigour and comic spontaneity in later dramatic work such as Waiting for Godot. See Kennedy, Preface to Mercier and Camier (Beckett 2010, ix).



Mercier and Camier perambulate in the streets of an unknown city, at times disturbed by the illusion that they are observed by “vague shadowy shapes” (Beckett 2010, 12). Driven by what the novel calls “whims” (33), they kick around, rest at bars, handle police officers, and indulge and burden themselves with various provisions and paraphernalia. Objects serve as the subject matter of most of the conversations, and Mercier and Camier lose, find, abandon and throw away their possessions such as raincoat, umbrella or bicycle: The raincoat, said Camier, why not dump it? What good is it? It retards the action of the rain, said Mercier. A cerecloth, said Camier. You go too far, said Mercier. (52)

If paraphernalia have a functional role of generating conversation, they also entrap the couple within the boundaries of elusive talk. Most of the time, objects appear as the means by which Mercier and Camier relate socially and psychologically, they emerge as the many possibilities that maintain the continuity of an everyday discourse. But the transparency of the subject matter is what makes the conversation around it opaque. Things seem to imply something other than their function as everyday objects. Curiously, the couple’s need for the raincoat not only suggests a physical necessity but it implies an inexplicable attachment. They “contemplate[d] the raincoat” and even consider burying it (52). This dialogue takes place after Mercier admits to Camier that he has been holding on to “dark thoughts”, worried that Mercier might have abandoned him (52). A strange tension of separation hovers over idle dialogues like this that are designed to alleviate such thoughts. But once an exchange of “honest opinions” takes place, it leads to a further mystification of the significance of the object for the social, physical and psychological worlds of the characters (52). It is in this sense that the narrative downplays the casualness of its context by making objects symptoms of Mercier and Camier’s elusive thought processes. After this initial

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 251 discussion, for instance, the raincoat becomes a means of expressing a general idea of physical and moral pity, articulated by Camier (52). It provides them with something to talk about, but this type of casual chat only serves to unsettle the boundaries between rhetorical and literal questions, i.e. “What good is it?”, and produce oblique remarks about simple everyday objects. The casualness of their chats is therefore marked by an obliqueness that makes the reader anticipate symbolic acts beneath seemingly self-evident remarks.30 If idle talk is characterized by a tension between randomness and obliqueness, this tension is also discernible in the rapid shifts between opinions. Much like Vladimir and Estragon, it seems Mercier and Camier’s sense of reality is dominated by a specific speech regime in which they tend to speak in rapid shifts that fill silences. Unable to reach a conclusion about what to do with the raincoat, they attempt to avoid the subject, only to further leave it hanging: What do we care? said Camier. True, said Mercier, but we do. (52)

These casually shifting positions within a single sentence overlay unarticulated intentions and implications, and preclude clarity within simple syntactical structures. Another apparently rhetorical question serves as an instance of everyday discourse here that points to the transparency of motivations. Just as they are about to come to verdict about the raincoat, Mercier’s added remark, “but we do” dodges his initial affirmation. There is a disguised direction in Mercier’s remark that is not elucidated further. Simple acts of speech like this are relentlessly obscured. If the raincoat is of no use to them practically, why do they insist on holding on to it? The novel makes a point of just this ambiguity when obscure remarks like Mercier’s load the objects with inexplicable motivations. The significance of every30

It is interesting to note here that this bears a resemblance to what Alain Robbe-Grillet calls “opacity” appearing as “excessive transparency” in the nouveau roman (Robbe-Grillet 1965, 81).



day things to Mercier and Camier might be unknown but their entrapment in a compulsion to speak about them is over-emphasised by a narrative regime dominated by quickfire dialogues like this shrouded in obscurity. In Cohn’s words, “Mercier and Camier divest themselves of their joint possessions, but not of their words” (Cohn 2005, 136). Ordinarily speaking about ordinary things when the very ordinariness of everyday communication is jeopardized by oblique, irrelevant remarks, the couple perform verbal roles in a partnership that depends on a series of slippages, shifts and erosions. Although, unlike Beckett’s novel, so much happens in Fargo, conversations depend on a similar sense of entrapment that contributes to the overall (pseudo)investigative mood. In Fargo, a car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, schemes with two hitmen to kidnap his wife, so that he can share with the two criminals the ransom which will presumably be paid by his affluent father-in-law. Things certainly go out of hand when the two hitmen, Carl and Gaear, mess up the whole plan of fake kidnapping and actually get involved in several murders. The criminal duo played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare present a perfect atmosphere of awkwardness that overwhelms the whole criminal situation. As Jerald Abrams suggests there is a “breakdown of communication” between the couple (Abrams 2009, 216). Whereas Carl desperately wants to socialise with Gaear, Gaear’s unperturbed façade always suspends communication. However, this is nonetheless a communication, albeit uncommitted, occasioned by Carl’s attempts at making conversation. The couple’s attachment to each other is more visibly functional here; they are partners in crime. They too are frequently preoccupied with ordinary things from pancakes to soap operas. Their verbal interactions display their entrapment in their illusionary small worlds, in which the criminals’ cruel intentions are downplayed. These bear a resemblance to Mercier and Camier’s gullible politeness tinged with violent tendencies, but whereas in Beckett the ordinary functions as an index of a metaphysical elusiveness, in the film it contributes to the physical and moral demise of the criminal duo.

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 253 The subject matter of their conversations is often random things, but again, these serve to equivocate purposes and goals. In the scene where they drive towards Minneapolis to initiate the kidnapping plan, Carl starts rambling randomly about skyscrapers of the city to make Gaear speak: “Look at that, Twin Cities, that’s the IDS building, the big glass one. The tallest skyscraper in the Midwest after the, uh, Sears in Chicago, or John Hancock building, whatever” (Joel and Ethan Coen 1996). This dysfunctional-informational speech is intercepted by Gaear’s hard stares at Carl. Viewers’ interest in this odd communication is prompted by its humour, the stark contrast between Gaear’s immediate non-verbal judgments and Carl’s ridiculous verbal energy. This disequilibrium not only makes idle talk a failure, but it also suggests a veiled struggle for dominance. Gaear’s cryptic, non-verbal reactions exert obvious power over Carl, and Carl’s small talk serves to build tension between the two rather than alleviate it. As in Mercier and Camier, such entrapment in idle talk suggests deeper tensions that remain unresolved. If at first glance the sharp contrast between the characters’ motivations creates a sense of humour, it is more complicated than it seems. As the film progresses, the viewers realize the extent to which everyday things repeatedly surface as inexplicable irruptions rather than humorous sidestepping. On further investigation, they imply anxieties. As the couple drive towards Minneapolis to complete the mission, Gaear suddenly craves pancakes even though we learn from Carl that the couple have had pancakes earlier that day. Once again, the difficulty to leave the terrain of the everyday hints at a certain psychological attachment that motivates Gaear, given his childlike insistence, but it is never really unveiled. The film, like Beckett’s novel, plays with an idea of the obscuration of the everyday, by tilting it towards humour and enigma simultaneously. This unresolved attachment to pancakes appears both as a ridiculous random act inciting laughter and one that introduces a sense of opacity around the much discussed item. Much like Mercier and Camier’s dialogue about the raincoat, the pancake talk is dominated by a mood of tension, Carl’s protest is met with Gaear’s glare. Even though the film



makes it obvious that this discussion is funny, it also shows how Gaear’s ridiculous childlike insistence reveals the character’s threatening unexpectedness. In relation to what they call “pathological communication” Watzlawick, Bavelas and Jackson speak of meanings at once “disqualified both by their cryptic format and by [the] display of apparent humor and zestfulness” (Watzlawick et al. 1967, 73). Fargo’s narrative incorporates banal talk precisely to this extent where it is replete with insignificant content and apparent humour. Thus banality points towards a double perspective. What seems to be an apparent joke can simultaneously be mystified. What appears as small talk bears the potential to be an implicit remark unveiling power structures in the couple’s relationship. But humour is also downplayed through subsequent acts of violence in the film. It is telling how Gaear’s violent behaviour is espoused by everyday eruptions, such as in the soap-opera scene, where he cries at its soppy content. Gaear kills Carl after the scene where we see his sentimental reaction to the melodrama he sees on television. It is as if this everyday form of entertainment has a more profound effect than anything extraordinary Gaear has encountered. It triggers a sense of revelation in him that transforms the previously unarticulated desires, the hard stares, the muted rage. It is remarkable how a similar structure of revelation is observable in Mercier and Camier through the encounter with death. At the end of the second chapter, the dead body they see on the street after a car crash “transfigures” Mercier (25). The scene implicates a possibility of catharsis, articulated in between the terror of the accident and Mercier’s sentimental reaction to his encounter with (his) two children. After this encounter he tearfully smashes the cake brought to him by Camier. As far as storytelling is concerned, these rather unpredictable deaths serve as the climax for repressed energies. Everyday things set the contexts for sudden transformations and acts of violence. The significance of pancakes, if they have any, much like that of the raincoat, is both overemphasized and downplayed vis-à-vis the writers’ persistence in inscribing them in the stories. The narratives thus play with

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 255 this impression of mystification in everyday contexts while offering acts of violence as forms of sudden revelation. Superfluous Language, Pragmatic Violence In both cases idle talk cannot achieve its social and/or moral function, and rather than pointing to corrective behaviour or a goalorientedness, they direct the readers and the viewers to dilemmas and suspensions. When Mercier and Camier actually address the issue of separation, the content of their conversation is eluded once again through the use of various forms of expression that serve to repeat the initial thought: One of us will yield in the end, said Camier. Quite so, said Mercier, no need for both to succumb. It would not be a desertion, said Camier, not necessarily. Far from it, said Mercier, far from it. By that I mean a forsaking, said Camier. I took you to, said Mercier. But the chances are it would, said Camier. Would what? said Mercier. Be one, said Camier. (74)

If the transparency of everyday contexts lead to verbal obscurities, do these works offer escapes from communicational deadends like this? In this specific instance, Mercier and Camier’s manner of discussing the possibility of parting says something of the intensity of their attachment to each other. This rhetorical discussion occurs right before they run into the constable they will murder a few pages later. Their style of babbling causes a miscommunication with the constable, too, and they insist on speaking in this kind of semiironic, semi-aphoristic tone with him, rather than complying with his hegemonic language. The exchange of idiomatic speech thus not only postpones their actual parting, but it serves as a veiled contract that allows them to continue together, in solidarity against the au-



thority figure. It promotes a regime of sociability marked by a promise to speak against ‘clear decisions’. Insofar as Mercier and Camier speak back and forth like this, insofar as they perform rhetorical routines, they are able to channel energies that are not directly visible to the readers. Their composed and dry tone is both a means of suspense and too much information. From another perspective, however, Mercier and Camier’s conversations, while utilising idiomatic functions, cannot quite escape a kind of esotericism. By pastiching many idiomatic structures, they merely communicate a residual, superfluous form of everyday speech. If pragmatics is closely related to the goal-orientedness of verbal behaviour so that an act or an implicit meaning can be derived from it (Verschueren 2005, 85-7), Mercier and Camier’s language is perversely non-pragmatic. Compare the scene where Mercier and Camier exchange a few expressions of admiration when they come across a grave with a cross planted in a bog (82): What a beautiful day, said Camier. Is it not? said Mercier. How beautiful the bog, said Camier. Most beautiful, said Mercier. (83)

This formal, non-pragmatic aspect of language is nowhere better discerned than in the banal use of mannerisms like this. This dialogue takes place right after Mercier and Camier come across the grave of a “nationalist” whose name they cannot remember. According to Kennedy, this nationalist is possibly based on a real historical figure, and Mercier and Camier display a kind of “cultural amnesia” in this scene (Kennedy 2005, 124). Idiomatic speech is used once again to evade the actual significance of the grave to their reality. These repeatable series of common phrases establish a conversational fluency in which language is divorced from any attachment to an immediate and/or implicit meaning, knowledge and function. If the grave signifies an act of heroism here, Mercier and Camier manage to

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 257 exhaust the symbolic value of it by idiomatizing historical reality like this. It is interesting that Mercier and Camier perform rhetorical routines particularly when objects, symbols and meanings overwhelm them for unspecified reasons. If Mercier and Camier’s conversations can create a form of sociability, perhaps it lies in such repeatability of everyday discourse that serves to evade overwhelming situations. In Fargo the pregnant chief police officer Marge’s words to Gaear in the car resonates with a similar idea of repeatability. As she looks pitifully at Gaear, who is glaring back at her through the rear-view mirror, she begins preaching about good and evil: “There’s more to life than a little money you know. Don’t you know that? And here you are. And it’s a beautiful day. Well… I just don’t understand it”. Marge’s monologue sounds as ridiculous as Carl’s verbal digressions. One could argue that the Coen Brothers display their positive example almost as a farce. Marge’s repeated clichés about how beautiful life is are perhaps designed to expose the viewer to idle discourse in a way that precludes seeing through it. Like eruptions of everyday objects, viewers are also exposed to middle-class American clichés throughout the film. However, even when soliciting moral correction, such talk only causes hard stares, long pauses, unwanted gaps. Although the case is resolved and the murderer caught, a sense of unresolved frustration is obvious through the portrayal of two completely dissimilar worlds here. How is it that in such mundane but tense worlds violent behaviour comes across as affectively disturbing? Interestingly, the only acts that are pragmatic and connected to a goal are acts of violence. In the novel, the few instances with constables signal sudden shifts from banal to horrifying worlds; that is, from idiomatic speech that disguises desires and eludes contexts to revelation of repressed energies. As Mercier and Camier run into a constable after their long deliberation on separation, they ask him if there is a brothel in the vicinity. Suspicious of the couple’s inappropriate behaviour, the constable decides to arrest them, and seizes and smacks Camier. After this initial act of violence, things go out of hand, and Mercier, to save



Camier, launches a forceful blow to the constable’s testicles. Audacity spurs him on and he grasps the constable’s truncheon and bats his head with it: “clubbed the defenceless skull with all his might” (Beckett 2010, 76). This horrific scene serves as an antithesis to the otherwise composed poise of Mercier and Camier, but violence has many complicated layers. It starts as an act of resistance and solidarity against the authority figure. It also participates in a pragmatic manoeuvre, made to the degree that murder is committed to get rid of obstacles, what Mercier and Camier call “maleficent beings” (8). One could also argue, this scene of violence is given a secondary status in the novel. It appears like a parenthesis enclosed between dull conversations. Before his murder, as the constable is about to handcuff them, he warns Mercier and Camier: “Come on with you now, and no nonsense” (76). A few pages later, when another constable “[barred] their way” Mercier uses the same phrase he has picked up from the previous constable: “Fuck along with you now, said Mercier, and no nonsense” (92). Violence, whether verbal or physical, is mimicked within the same patterns of an idiomatic language. It emerges as a repeatable physical and verbal act. After they murder the constable, Mercier’s “He didn’t hurt you badly, I hope” and Camier’s “And they talk of law and order” demonstrate the perfect parallel between the intensity of violence and a form of apathy engendered through idle talk (77). In Fargo, in the scene where Wade, Jerry’s father-in-law, brings the ransom instead of Jerry himself, Carl’s disappointment prompts a similar impulse to kill. In both cases murder appears uncalculated. When Carl sees Wade instead of Jerry and realises that his instructions are not obeyed, he didactically scolds him: “Where’s Jerry? I gave simple fucking instructions!” Carl’s rage is dominated by verbal repetition, his hesitance to kill is discernible in his panicky efforts to mimic what he thinks he should do. This is signalled in the opening scene, where his conversation with Jerry is led, to some extent, by replication. Annoyed by Jerry’s submissiveness, Carl repeats Gaear’s only utterance:

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 259 Carl: Why don’t you ask him [Wade] for the money? Gaear: Or your fucking wife, you know. Carl: Or your fucking wife Jerry.

Their insistence in sidestepping is a potential threat to their business, but the hitmen do not seem to hesitate when it comes to jeopardising the scheme. The couple’s superficial cooperation persists until Gaear, unhappy about how they share the ransom, axes Carl’s head and grinds his dead body in the wood chipper. In one of the most iconic scenes in the film, he is caught red-handed by Marge as he is trying to tuck Carl’s foot into the wood chipper with a puzzled expression on his face, as if to say, “I am merely doing a chore”. What all this ridiculous display of violence shows us is that it is their unstrategic and idle manners that make them dangerous in the first place. This unstrategic act is to the degree that Carl’s criminal behaviour seems to be a mediocre imitation of ‘bad guys’ on TV, much like Mercier’s mimicry of the constable’s verbal violence. In both the film and the novel, repetition of idle talk is as much a psychological need as a social experiment measuring the extent to which an idiomatic social world traverses the characters and their acts of violence. In this sense, ordinary manners and objects pose a boundary to violence but then, violence, too, becomes an index of convenience. In a world with missing goals and off targets, the couples intimate a morbid sense of convenience, which embeds in sites of sociability severe forms of transgression. This transgressive form of sociability is paradoxically generated through repetitive speech patterns and the transmission of everyday language. Idle talk and violent acts are intertwined because they belong to the same world of everydayness, in which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people become so by at once passing through and being traversed by a social language adapted from here and there. The generalisations spoken of are not always understood, let alone the significance of acts. They are simply spoken. Nonetheless, it could be suggested the characters communicate fluently, because even breakdowns and empty words keep communication operative. Between the everyday and the trans-



gressive, the stories manage to locate unarticulated affects and pentup energies in affectless conversations. Loose Ends and Interconnections In the social world, small talk and mannerisms are anchored to certain functions that regulate relations and define the perimeters of social language. However, the film and the novel show us the various ways in which idle talk overwhelms the characters as it relinquishes its social function and points towards an idea of the everyday as ambiguous. There is thus a fine line between implicit meanings, functional implications and logical significations. On such occasions, language literally becomes superfluous, not only exerting violence to the goal-orientedness of verbal interaction, but ceaselessly suspending meanings and motivations. Mikhail Bakhtin famously argued in The Dialogic Imagination that the novel “is a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech” (Bakhtin 1981, 261). For Bakhtin, conventional stylistics tends to overlook the specifically “social tone” of the novel. This sociality for Bakhtin involves “discourse in the open spaces of public squares, streets, cities and villages, of social groups, generations and epochs” (259). It can be heard in Mr. Conaire’s sexism, the pub manager’s guile or the barman’s annoyance in Mercier and Camier, but it is also audible in the repeatable phrases, as has been suggested. When Deleuze and Guattari speak about the “social character of enunciation”, one of their theoretical inspirations is in fact Bakhtin (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 79-80). They repeat his claim that there must be an “extra-something” that remains outside the linguistic categories of the signifier and the signified but is implicit as a presupposition within a word (82). This “extra-something” is what turns a word into an enunciation, an act. For Deleuze and Guattari such an implicit relationship makes up the social dimension of language, and it is what makes “order-words”; with each word having a relationship of redundancy to an implicit “extra-something” that assumes various functions in ever-new contexts. Hence meanings are not determined

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 261 merely through rules of signification, but by this implicit surplus that makes the word a “variable” that functions differently in different contexts (82). However, for Deleuze and Guattari, the “order-word” is not merely the performative. It has both restrictive and creative capacities. An enunciation is first and foremost “indirect discourse” composed of several “order-words” and “dominant significations” (79). When one speaks, her voice passes through a series of voices, attitudes, functions, idioms, in short, “hearsay” (76). In fact, all subjective enunciation implies “collective assemblages” that redefine functions by decontextualizing and re-contextualizing this socially transmitted discourse. This is what makes social language potentially creative. As everyday language passes through us, we also pass through it. Indirect discourse is embedded in Fargo and Mercier and Camier in such subversive ways that even violence occurs in between clichéd utterances. However, unlike what Deleuze and Guattari claim, I suggest that such language remains, to a certain extent, inoperative to completely transform the active relationship of the couples. I have attempted to show how the film and the novel make use of “indirect discourse” in their idle talk more as stylized forms of speech than a living element of language, and suspend not only intentions and implicit presuppositions but processes of symbolization. Without doubt, these forms of speech also disguise and divert desires, implicate power relations through their engagement with everyday objects. However, this repetition of indirect discourse fails to directly define socially empowering uses and contexts both in the novel and the film; it merely signposts potentially creative ruptures, gaps, pauses. The Coens’ 1998 cult film The Big Lebowski offers a different form of sociability that is capable of generating new functional frames and subvert “dominant significations” rather than merely suspending them by making them overtly transparent. In The Big Lebowski, an idler from Los Angeles, Jeffrey Lebowski, ‘the Dude’ finds himself involved in a criminal affair after he has been confused with a millionaire of the same name. The millionaire’s missing wife, Bunny, is kidnapped and the Dude is hired as a



courier between Mr. Lebowski and the kidnappers. The film’s intermittent focuses on the eccentric conversations between the Dude and his two friends, Walter and Donny, serve as divergent commentary on the action. Verbal interruptions and irrelevant speech suspend communication here, too. However, suspensions of communication are easily warded off through a cultivated skill of rambling wielded particularly by the character Walter, played by John Goodman. His tripe is mostly transmitted knowledge, or communication of hearsay, as he mostly adapts several phrases from different fields of life. Walter and the Dude repeatedly use phrases they hear here and there. In one of the wittiest instances of recontextualisation, the two characters implement President George H. W. Bush’s statements about the Iraq War. The Dude protests against the ‘violent act’ of two men—who mistakenly take him for the rich Mr. Lebowski— breaking into his house and urinating on his rug, which “tie[d] the room together” (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998). He repeats the president’s words as he has heard them on television when he complains to the rich Mr. Lebowski about the misunderstanding and demands compensation: “This aggression will not stand, man”. Walter’s comments in the bowling alley about the same issue has similar undertones. As he discusses the act of the ‘Chinaman’ who has urinated on the Dude’s rug, he repeats a familiar phrase: “We’re talking about unchecked aggression” yells Walter. The film shows us two dimensions of an “order-word” that functions differently in two diverse contexts. The enunciation heard on television, which implicates a certain military resoluteness on the side of the U.S. state, is for the Dude just a passing comment heard every day. As both use it to define the vile behaviour of authorities, they not only subvert the dominant signification transmitted by authority, but they consolidate a frame of sociability drawing upon the reversal of an established authority, extracting from it a disobedient act. This collective experimentation on meanings and uses determines a social dynamism that paradoxically results from the mere translation and transmission of enunciations heard here and there.

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 263 When Walter and the Dude discuss the turn of events, the social commentary that passes through the conversation determines the ironic twists of the narrative. Walter’s off-centre attention to political correctness in the middle of a hot debate about the rug incident is proof of this: “Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the correct nomenclature. Asian-American, please.” In a similar spirit, the nihilists’ linguistic performance of themselves point to more than a parody. The ‘nihilists’ are a group of men led by an Uli Kunkel, who try to extort money from the Dude by intimidating him. Their active significance in the film consists in their loud pronouncement, “We believe in nothing, Lebowski, nothing”. A philosophical idea that has become rather used up in a popular cultural context is re-used as a humorous means of intimidation. As they break into the Dude’s house to threaten him, they support their threat with this verbal verification. In Mercier and Camier, a philosophical idea with resonant overtones makes up part of the everyday conversation, too. When Camier asks Mercier what he is musing on, Mercier’s reply is, “On the horror of existence, confusedly” (Beckett 2010, 16). The addition of the adverb says it all. This quandary ultimately describes their journey. These abrupt eruptions of memorised discourse allow them to continue speaking when in fact there is nothing to really talk about either because emotions are too overwhelming or desires are not articulable. Mercier and Camier’s sense of reality and of their existence is only articulable in such forms of hearsay, particularly when the novel intimates a sense of confusion surrounding their situation. Camier responds to Mercier’s ‘existential anxiety’ with, “What about a drink?” (16). In a like manner, Walter discusses the ‘ethos’ of national socialism in comparison to nihilism while drinking at the bar with the Dude and Donny. Are they passing judgments, making fun, or simply blathering? A certain violence against moral meanings might be suspected here, but more importantly this relentless recycling of discourse leads to a verbal fluency that instigates events. All such conversational fluency on the one hand results in tensions and suspensions of meanings and goals, on the other, in an even more productive leap out of these suspensions, as in The Big



Lebowski. When nobody seems to speak the same language, it allows the characters to improvise, shift focus and create new connections. Beckett’s speech experiment in Mercier and Camier, which he develops further in Waiting for Godot might be said to anticipate the aesthetic conditions that led to the dull and humorous conversational realities of Fargo and The Big Lebowski. The relationships between transparency, literality and latency continually displace and re-arrange goals and intentions in these social worlds so that an unchallenging depiction of ideal, ethical or intersubjective, and even functional relationship between the couples is nowhere to be found. In Fargo and Mercier and Camier, relationships presage the bleak social worlds of a contemporary mediocrity, in The Big Lebowski, these bleak worlds are re-envisioned through the lens of creative humour. In either case, Beckett and the Coens not only translate but dwell in and look deeply into these everyday forms by directly projecting them. Their depictions of everyday forms of language emerge as literary and aesthetic experiments on the one hand, and on the other, serve to define an idea of verbal fluency operating on the basis of a promise to speak even when there are communicational ruptures. In this sense, everyday language as it is implemented in these works engenders an ambivalence that makes these social and psychological worlds both transparent and vague with respect to their motivations. I suggest that this is where both Beckett and the Coens are most creative. They succeed in creating a peculiarly contemporary artistic tone that extracts cryptic forms of reality from overtly banal situations. In other words, they document an everydayness derived from existing social models and crystallize it in repeatable forms of expression.

References Abrams, Jerold J. 2009. “‘A Homespun Murder Story’: Film Noir and the Problem of Modernity in Fargo.” In The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, edited by Mark Conard, 211-223. USA: The UP of Kentucky. Adams, Jeffrey. 2015. The Cinema of The Coen Brothers Hard Boiled Entertainments. New York: Columbia UP.

SOCIABILITY IN BECKETT AND THE COEN BROTHERS 265 Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P. Beckett, Samuel. 2010. Mercier and Camier. London: Faber and Faber. –. 1958. Three Novels. New York: Grove Press. Blanchot, Maurice. 1993. The Infinite Conversation. Translated by Susan Hanson. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. Cohn, Ruby. 2005. A Beckett Canon. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. Fargo, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (1996; USA: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 2003), DVD. Graver, L., and R. Federman, ed. 2005. Samuel Beckett The Critical Heritage. London and New York: Routledge. Kennedy, Seán. 2005. “Cultural Memory in Mercier and Camier: The Fate of Noel Lemass.” Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui 15: 117-129. Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. Critique of Everyday Life Volume I. Translated by John Moore. London and New York: Verso. Robbe-Grillet, Alain. 1965. For a New Novel Essays on Fiction. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Grove Press. The Big Lebowski, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (1998; USA: Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 2006), DVD. Watzlawick, Paul, Janet Beavin Bavelas, and Don. D. Jackson. 1967. Pragmatics of Human Communication A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc.

God is in the House: Beckett and Cave David Pattie Introduction: Beckett and Cave. On the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, on the 30th June 2013, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are coming to the end of their set. The penultimate track is “Stagger Lee”, an obscene, elongated and violent extrapolation of the old folk blues track “Stack-a-Lee”, first recorded for the band’s 1996 album Murder Ballads. The live version extends the narrative of the recorded song; after massacring his way through the other characters, Stagger Lee meets the Devil, who tells him that he is bound for hell. Unfazed, Stagger Lee shoots him. As he moves toward this point in the story, Cave does something that characterises his live performances, but which the layout of the Glastonbury stage makes difficult. He likes to move as close to the audience as he possibly can. To make this possible at Glastonbury, he has to climb down from the main stage, cross the press pit (from which he has already banished the press), step over the camera rail, climb up on to the narrow barrier separating the audience from the stage area, and stand there, precariously balanced, held up on one side by the road crew and on the other by the willing, outstretched arms of the audience. From this unsteady position, he delivers the final verses of the song straight to the audience; as he does so, a woman in a white dress, carried on the shoulders of someone in the crowd, reaches her hand out to him. Cave takes it; and sings the last verses directly to her. The moment is, to say the least, erotically charged, and, given the subject matter of the song, rather disturbing; and it is as far removed from the careful choreography of a Beckett performance as it is possible to get. For the casual observer, any link between an artist like Nick Cave (whose career is full of moments like this) and Samuel Beckett might seem so implausible as to seem absurd. Beckett, as the com267



monly accepted cultural narrative would have it, is a rigorously ascetic artist, paring away both language and form in search of a goal that is, as the artist knows, ultimately unattainable. Cave, on the other hand, is protean, compulsively productive (albums, novels, soundtracks), and given to well-crafted moments of linguistic excess. Beckett's work seems to efface the body as it progresses; Cave's work, both on record and in performance, is determinedly physical. Beckett's work moves away from the reader or spectator, placing barriers between the work and its immediate apprehension (Gontarski’s wellworn term, “vaguening” (Gontarski 1986), captures this strategy well); and he did not engage in much public analysis of its meaning. Cave, in performance and in public, moves toward his audience; his early distrust of press coverage has faded, and he is now by most accounts an affable interviewee, willing to clarify the underlying meanings he sees in his work. And yet, Cave has identified Beckett as an artist whose work he respects. When Cave did the NME column “Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer” in April 1982, he listed under “Best Things”: Wise Blood (the film, the book), the Stooges, Caroline Jones, the Fall, Evel Kneivel, Johnny Cash, Samuel Beckett, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Robert Mitchum and Big Daddy Ed Roth. (Cave 1982)

This list places Beckett in unexpected company; country singers, self-destructive proto-punks, daredevil stunt riders, actors with bad reputations, and, at the end, an artist and cartoonist specialising in exaggerated drawings of hot rods (and recently responsible for the cover art for Junkyard—the last album by Cave's previous band, The Birthday Party). Interviewed by Graham Reid in 1992, Cave said “I look at writers and musicians whose work I find inspiring and they have a lifetime pushing away at one idea... Like Samuel Beckett or Leonard Cohen. Basically, I’d like to continue in that way” (Reid 1992). When he was invited to curate the South Bank’s annual Meltdown festival in 1999, he scheduled Billie Whitelaw's

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 269 one-woman show An evening with Samuel Beckett as one of the events. Cave’s appreciation of Beckett’s work is, it seems, long lasting, and something to which he has attested on more than one occasion. However, admiration itself does not suggest anything like a common aesthetic. Although Cave is one of a relatively small group of artists in popular music whose work has been granted an intermediate status in the cultural hierarchy (defined by Simon Frith in Performing Rites as High Low Culture), there is still a gulf in the cultural perception of his work in relation to that of Beckett. More specifically, as noted above, there is an apparently unbridgeable gap in practice. Compare, for example, the moment of staged contact described above with the following one, from Beckett’s late TV play Nacht und Träume. In the Beckett piece, a man dreams that he is comforted by the gentle touch of a pair of ministering hands11: B raises his head further to gaze up at invisible face 12: B raises his right hand still gazing up, and holds it raised palm upward. 13: R reappears and rests gently on B’s right hand, B still gazing up. 14: B transfers gaze to joined hands... (Beckett 1986, 466)

Gesture and touch in Beckett is not always—in fact, it is not usually—this gentle, but it does usually possess a similarly posed, ritualised quality; one thinks of the careful intertwining of Sam and Watt in Watt, the tramps’ choreographed rise from the ground in Beckett’s production of Waiting for Godot at the Schiller Theatre in 1975. This exists at quite some distance from the fevered intensity of a Cave gig. Similarly, the subject matter of Cave’s work (which moves from stylised Southern gothic through to Cave’s own version of the confessional narratives associated with singer/songwriters) does not seem to chime with Beckett’s repeated refigurings of individuals that are variously confined, oppressed, coerced, compulsively communicative, failing, and essentially alone.



And yet, both moments are, if not moments of quasireligious contact, then at least moments heavily inflected by the performative rhetoric of faith. Cave has reached that portion of the song where the central character faces the devil, and, one might expect, a violent atonement for the sins he has committed. In Nacht und Träume, an unnamed, unseen figure offers comfort that echoes the comfort given to Christ by St Veronica. In both cases, though, the expected apotheosis doesn’t occur. In the Beckett play, consolation is endlessly deferred; in the Cave performance, retribution is ultimately denied. In both cases, too, the moment of apotheosis is undercut at the moment when direct, haptic contact is established; in Nacht und Träume, the sequence can only be repeated, and for Cave close contact with his fan comes only after the miming of a violent attack (and is quickly broken, as Cave has to get back to the main stage). One is carefully framed and scripted; one is spontaneous, but both are in their own ways typical of artists whose work is suffused with the images, tropes and phrases of Christianity. Mary Bryden's Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God (1998) bears testimony to the prevalence of religious imagery and ideas in Beckett's work; Cave has spoken frequently of the influence on his work of the Old Testament (in the albums up to The Good Son), and the influence of the New Testament on subsequent albums. In both cases, too, adopting religious themes and symbols does not by any means suggest that the underlying tenets of faith have been adopted. Beckett's atheism was an attested fact. Cave, in 1999, wrote about the relation between his work and his faith: Twenty years of song-writing have now passed, and still the void gapes wide. Still, the inexpressible sadness, the “duende”, the “saudade”, the divine discontent, persists, and perhaps it will continue until I see the face of God himself. But when Moses desired to see the face of God, he was answered that he may not endure it, that no man could see the face of God and live. (Cave 2013, 18).

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 271 In Beckett, characters accustom themselves to the godlessness of the universe, stoically ploughing on in the knowledge that no help will come. Cave’s songs only rarely suggest the presence of an active, redemptive God; more commonly, God does not intervene, or the relation between God and humanity is compromised, as in “The Lyre of Orpheus”: Orpheus strummed till his fingers bled He hit a G minor 7 He woke up God from a deep deep sleep God was a major player in heaven ... God picked up a giant hammer and he threw it with a thunderous yell. It smashed down hard on Orpheus’ head And knocked him down a well. (Cave 2004)

If God is not enacting (in this case comic) revenge on an irritating humanity, then he is either absent, unreachable, or apparently disinterested; he is less the interventionist God the unnamed narrator's love object worships in “Into My Arms” than the God in “God is in the House”—endlessly invoked but never actually present. Both Cave and Beckett, then, create art that is supersaturated by religion; and both create worlds in which the idea of God is endlessly invoked, even though the figure of God is absent. This is, perhaps, the most obvious connection between the two artists, but of itself it doesn’t explain what Cave might see in Beckett’s work. There are, after all, clear differences in the mediums they choose, their habitual writing styles, the way they present themselves to the world, the development of their art, and their places within the wider culture of the time. In what follows, however, I will argue that, despite the manifest differences in their approaches to art, and the different modes in which they operate, Beckett’s concerns and Cave’s concerns are rather more similar than they might at first ap-



pear. I will argue that both create work which is, amongst other things, predicated on the need to establish and maintain contact; with others, with the external world, with a God, or with the self imagined as other. In both, this need is bound up in the desire to transcend the conditions in which the protagonists find themselves; and in both, the need comes to nothing—the sought for object or goal cannot be reached. Fear and Longing: Beckett, Cave and the Transcendent. In Either/Or, Soren Kierkegaard (or, more properly, one of the many characters through which Kierkegaard constructs a complex argument which deals with, without resolving, the proper, Christian relation between aesthetics and ethics) asks the following rhetorical questions: Was it not the case that a dreadful fear seized you when for a moment the thought could arise in your soul that it was possible you were in the right, that wisdom was not the governance of God but your own plans, that righteousness was not God’s thoughts but your own achievements, that love was not God’s heart but your own emotions? (Kierkegaard 1992, 605-6)

For Kierkegaard’s spokesperson, a Christian pastor, the answer to this is obvious; God’s presence removes the “dreadful fear” one might otherwise feel when one realises that there is no guarantee of ethical probity than the promptings of the unmoored, individual soul. However, as always in Kierkegaard, this apparently simple endorsement of an ethical hierarchy with God securely at its apex comes with something of a sting in its moral tail. The presence of God guarantees not that the individual can rest assured that his or her ethical choices are fundamentally correct; the presence of God proves that the individual is always in error. This error itself is not simply a means through which the individual cedes judgment to God. It is more radical in its implications than the more convention-

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 273 ally Christian assumption that God’s purposes are benign, but obscure; there is no suggestion here that divine intervention will at some point reveal a hitherto inscrutable reason behind the individual’s suffering. What Kierkegaard’s narrator suggests is something starker and more final: If you knocked but it was not opened to you, if you sought but did not find, if you laboured but nothing gained, if you planted and watered but saw no blessing, if heaven were closed and the witness failed to appear, still you are glad in your works. If the punishment which the sins of the father had called down were to fall upon you, still you are glad, for against God we are always in the wrong. (608)

In passages like this one can clearly see why Kierkegaard has been claimed as a proto-existentialist; this is clearly an invitation to leap to faith (as a subsequent work, Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard 1985] would have it) even in the face of the failures and cruelties of an apparently uncaring universe. We would be wrong, though, to take this as Kierkegaard’s final word on the matter. By the time we reach the Pastor’s sermon, we have worked our way through a variety of different ethical and aesthetic positions, each attributed to a specific narrator, and each in their own way persuasive; we should also remember that the title of the text—Either/Or: A Fragment of Life—suggests at best a partial understanding of existence, marked by contradiction. M. Jamie Ferreria (2009) points out, correctly, that tension is one of the governing structural devices of the work. Rather than positing a definitive argument about the foundations of ethical behaviour, Kierkegaard suggests within the structure of the work that the ethical probity of our actions will only be guaranteed if they are contingent (“To the arbitrariness within oneself there corresponds the accidental outside one”, as another narrator puts it [Kierkegaard 1992, 240]) and if they are enacted within a framework in which we are always, by necessity, in error. Ethically, we are both fixed in place by faith in a God (even if, in accepting that faith, we



know we are wrong), and adrift in a world with, it seems, no settled, defined, reliable structure. Kierkegaard, then, suggests that ethical judgements take place—indeed, that ethical judgements can only take place—at points of tension (because it is at those moments that the arbitrary nature of existence forces such choices on us) and in relation to a final arbiter whose existence serves to confirm us in error. Carl Lavery rightly points out the parallels between this worldview and the image of faith in Cave’s work. Following on from Lynne McRedden’s question, “Is there a system to Cave’s sacred?”, Lavery argues that, if there is a system, it is not one that follows conventional ethical norms: Although they are in no way identical, Kierkegaard’s paradoxical notion of faith nevertheless permits a method for approaching how religious experience functions as abandonment in Cave’s work. In both cases, if the subject is to move closer to God, to experience an unmediated relationship with the divine, then s/he has to be willing to sacrifice the world of the universal, the world of language and law. Or, as Cave muses in “Hold On To Yourself” (2008) “does Jesus only love a man who loses?” (Lavery 2013, 33)

Lavery grounds his reading, not on Either/Or, but on Fear and Trembling (in which Kierkegaard, using Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, extends the paradoxical ethical framework of Either/Or, explicitly identifying Abraham’s actions as absurd). There is no way of defining the ethical choice Abraham makes; no existing legal or linguistic framework that can be used as scaffolding; no choice but to accept the error of the choice, and yet to persist in it. Abraham, it could be said, is in the position of Moses, as Cave imagines him in “The Secret Life of the Love Song”, in an endlessly deferred relation to the truth of the sacred:

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 275 [T]hough the Love Song comes in many guises—songs of exaltation and praise, songs of rage and despair, erotic songs, songs of abandonment and loss—they all address God, for it is the haunted premise of longing that the true Love Song inhabits. (Cave 2013, 7)

The love song, for Cave, addresses God, but doesn’t do so directly; it operates as a ‘haunted... longing’- or, in other words, as the invocation of something endlessly displaced. It is as absurd as Abraham; it is itself an either/or—something that exists in the tension between the aesthetic and the ethical, without any means of grounding itself in an accessible, final, universal system of truth. All the love song can do is to enact all the variations of this tension; it is a moment when the writer reaches out toward a figure who will always, tantalisingly, remain beyond them. This is a moment Beckett’s protagonists experience frequently. Estragon, doing the Tree, asks “Do you think God sees me?” (Beckett 1986, 71); Hamm, Clov, and Nagg pray to a God, only to find that “the bastard... doesn’t exist”; the Rooneys greet the idea that the Lord upholds all that fall with laughter; Krapp goes to church, only to go to sleep and fall off the pew; Sam and Watt, massacring creatures in the grounds of their asylum, agree that this is as close as they have yet come to God; Moran, ending his quest for Molloy, finds himself beset by “questions of a theological nature”, and then by questions that touch him more closely: 9: Would I go to heaven? 10: Would we all meet again in heaven one day, I, My mother, my son, his mother, Youdi, Gaber, Molloy, his mother, Yerk, Murphy, Watt, Camier and the rest? (Beckett 2006, 162)

In each of these moments (and in others, of which the repeated dream in Nacht und Träume is one) the protagonist reaches out—in fear, in anger, in scorn, or plaintively, simply seeking answers—to find that their goal is unreachable; either because of their



own failures and moments of inattention, or because no-one is listening. They are held in a state of haunted longing, as surely as Abraham, as surely as the figures in Cave’s love songs. In Beckett scholarship there has been, over the past few years, a return to the ethical and through it the political, in work by (amongst others) Emile Moran, David Huston Jones, and Joseph Anderton. Central to this return is the idea that, in various ways, the Beckett protagonist reaches out toward modes of being that offer a kind of transcendence. In Anderton: Though Beckett’s creatures are refused human belonging in the biopolitical sense, they are not united with the natural world in the way the animal is with the open. Rather the creature is estranged from the world through consciousness and alienated from socio-political value as a result of biopolitical order. With an awareness of their exclusion from both spheres, Beckett’s creatures drift in between, but with an awareness of their potential for human meaning. (Anderton 2016, 226)

And in Huston-JonesBeckett’s scrutiny of presence and voice amounts to a deep and subtle examination of the underpinnings of testimony. The subordination of voice to text seems to go against the precepts of testimony, and to result in a refusal to engage the other. In fact, however, it is a response to two interrelated problems: that of mediation, whether by text or technological apparatus; and that of the instability of the category of the human. Beckett’s work insistently mediates the disappearance of the human, but [...] this is not the end of testimony. (Huston-Jones 2011, 170)

In one case, the Beckettian creature (to use Anderton’s term) is excluded from, but aware of systems of meaning that exist, unreachably, beyond it. In the other case, Beckettian testimony persists even if there is no guarantee that testimony will reach a human audi-

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 277 ence. In both instances, the imperative to connect with others, variously imagined, is denied; but the imperative persists. At their simplest, these arguments can be seen as necessary subversions of the argument posed by Badiou, in the essays on Beckett collected and published in English for the first time in 2002. For Badiou, Beckettian transcendence is not only a longed-for condition; it is one that is achieved, at least in the works from How It Is onward. In How It Is, Pim and Bom encounter each other, and are forced into the mutual recognition of the other as other (which, to borrow an argument from Levinas, is the foundational moment in any ethical system worth the name). In Badiou’s formulation, the One (the Beckettian solitary, alone in the grey void of the world) has become Two; a transcendent moment has been reached: The truth of the Two gives rise to a sensible inflection of the world, where before only the grey black of being had taken place. Now, the sensible and the infinite are identical, because the infinity of the world is, together with the One of the cogito, the other coherent thesis. Between these two presentational positions, the Two of love functions both as break and as a constitution. (Badiou 2002, 29)

There are problems with Badiou’s argument; the first, one might say, is that it is based on a number of misreadings. At the end of How It Is, the narrator dismisses the story it has told as false, and the systems built to support that story as “all balls” (Beckett 2006, 520). Other encounters are in the past (Krapp and the woman in the punt; the old couple in Enough; the memories in Company) and, as such, are unreachable. However, the possibility of the existence of transcendence, however one figures it (whether as the Two, or as testimony understood, or as an incorporation within a framework of meaning that binds the creature to the human and the animal) motivates the Beckettian protagonist, providing the impetus to go on, and, in a quote that has become Beckett’s main contribution to meme culture, to fail better.



But that transcendence will never be achieved; the protagonist will fail, because the protagonist will always be wrong as they will misunderstand the nature of the transcendent offer (as in Not I, whose protagonist refuses to understand the meaning of the questions she is asked), or they will be distracted from understanding by the structures and systems of the quotidian (Watt is the most obvious example of this; another is V in the late TV play ... but the clouds..., refining the sequence of his entrances and exits, and losing himself in mathematical reasoning when the vision he waits for refuses to appear). They will exist in relation to transcendence, as Kierkegaard’s pastor would have it, in a state of perpetual error; but, unlike the pastor, they will not be able to take comfort in that error, because there will be no overarching system in which they can securely place their faith. The leap to faith they make (to borrow a Kierkegaardian term) will be a leap into nothing. The moments that Badiou imagines as instances of connection, in which Beckettian One miraculously becomes Two, are in fact moments that can best be described in the terms Cave uses for the Love Song; as moments of “haunted longing”, demonstrations of the desire for, and the impossibility of, a transcendent relation to anyone or anything. From the above, we can begin to see how Cave and Beckett, incommensurable though their artistic approaches might seem to be, find themselves meeting at the point at which, to quote Vladimir in Godot, “Hope deferred maketh the something sick” (Beckett 1986, 12). Vladimir, as many commentators have noted, here misremembers Proverbs 13 Verse 12. In the King James version, the full verse reads “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life”. Characteristically, Vladimir only remembers the part of the proverb that identifies the haunted longing he experiences; the idea that desire might actually be fulfilled is not one that he can bring to mind. He can long for a moment of apotheosis; he can hold Estragon to the promise that they will move “from the grey black of being” to a state that approximates Badiou’s description of a world where the sensible and the infinite are identical. Vladimir’s state here is the one experienced by the unnamed protagonist of

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 279 Cave’s “God Is In The House”. The Cave track, which begins with all the hushed solemnity of a devotional hymn, is written from the perspective of a pious, God-fearing spokesperson, representing a small town, far away from the threats and temptations of the city: Moral sneaks in the White House Computer geeks in the school house Drug freaks in the crack house We don’t have that stuff here We have a tiny little Force But we need them of course For the kittens in the trees... (Cave 2001)

But the song teaches the same lesson as Godot; the human creature persists, but persists in error. No matter how the town prepares, God will not arrive; and the townspeople find themselves, as surely as Vladimir, caught in the grey black of being, their hope deferred, caught up in the sickness of haunted longing. “Can’t remember anything at all”: “Higgs Boson Blues” and

Company. “Higgs Boson Blues”, on Cave’s 2013 album Push The Sky Away’ starts tentatively: Warren Ellis strums the first chord, and Cave almost slurs the first line. The band enter, but the musicians seem to have picked up a cue from Cave’s vocal delivery. The music is oddly listless, the guitar always slightly behind the beat, the drums eschewing a fixed four-four beat for tom-rolls and the occasional cymbal crash. The impression (backed by repeated lyrical references to oppressive heat) is of a group of musicians stupefied; even the musical climaxes keep the same loose rhythm, as though the music, at its most dynamic, is always at the point of falling back into torpor. The musical structure of the track, like the other pieces on the album (and on the Bad Seeds albums Dig, Lazarus Dig and Skeleton Tree), is consciously designed to function as much as a soundscape as it is a



conventional harmonic and rhythmic frame for the melody. Cave and Ellis had, by this stage in their careers, developed a sideline in film soundtracks, and they brought the compositional style they had evolved for the cinema back to their work in the Bad Seeds. Rather than the stately chord structures and consonant harmonies of the songs on No More Shall We Part and Nocturama, songs were now built up from samples and sequences. Rather than following conventional verse/chorus structures, the songs were drifting, aleatory, and at times apparently unstructured. This represents something of a return to the Bad Seeds earliest work, but whereas early tracks like “From Her To Eternity” had a jittery energy to them, the songs on Push The Sky Away are muted, quieter, with the underlying tensions described in the lyrics only momentarily breaking through the surface of the music. “Higgs Boson Blues” doesn’t present a fixed narrative; rather, it describes the state of mind of a protagonist who finds that the props on which his worldview relies are crumbling. In an interview excerpted in the Lovely Creatures box set, Cave said of the song’s central characterHe’s going down to Geneva to discover the nature of matter and the nature of things, and the possibility of the absence of a God, and stuff like that. And on the way he’s seeing, through history, different tableaux of spiritual collapse which ends, unfortunately, with Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool. I have no problem with—I don’t even know Miley Cyrus, but it just felt like the right thing to do (laughs). (Cave 2017)

The particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva had come into operation in 2012. In the publicity surrounding its development, much was made of the fact that experiments conducted there would prove the existence of the Higgs Boson, one of the basic building blocks of matter. The Higgs Boson (whose existence had been posited theoretically in the 1960s) gave sub-atomic particles mass; its crucial role, essentially bringing matter into perceptible being, earned it

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 281 the nickname “the God particle”. For Cave’s protagonist, the discovery of the Higgs Boson is a fit subject for a blues, because it would decisively remove the necessity for God as primum mobile. The figure that Christians imagined as calling the world into being would be replaced by the quantum interactions of particles far below the threshold of human perception. What is perhaps most interesting about the song is the way in which Cave approaches the subject matter. As he says in the interview quoted above, the song does not address the question of spiritual decay directly; rather, it gives us a series of vignettes, or fragments of a world in which faith has collapsed: Black road long and I drove and drove And came upon a crossroad The night was hot and black I see Robert Johnson with a ten-dollar guitar Strapped to his back, looking for a tomb... (Cave 2013b)

The archetypal meeting of Robert Johnson and the Devil, in which Johnson sold his soul in return for the ability to play guitar, is re-imagined as a con game conducted between equals (“Robert Johnson and the Devil, man/ Don’t know who’s going to rip off who..”). In a world in which the hierarchies of belief have collapsed, the human and the angel are equally powerful, or equally powerless. After each one of these visions, we return to the song’s central character, driving to Geneva, unable to remember things clearly enough to structure them into any kind of coherent shape. “Higgs Boson Blues” is Cave’s purest expression of the haunted longing he identifies in “The Secret Life of the Love Song”. It can also be seen as a distorted version of a Kierkegaardian leap to faith; the protagonist reaches out to God, but God is now only a perturbation in the sub-atomic field, and cannot be petitioned by any believer, no matter how strong their faith. The protagonist ends the song as he began it, sifting through fragmented images, unable to



remember anything, and even the possibility of romantic love seems like nothing more than the emptiest cliché: Oh let the damn day break Rainy season always makes me sad Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake And you’re the best girl I’ve ever had Can’t remember anything at all (ibid)

We never hear anything else about the “best girl”; the protagonist’s memory collapses, and he ends the track in the same condition as the similarly unnamed protagonist of Samuel Beckett’s late prose text Company: With every inane word a little nearer to the last. And how the fable too. The fable of one with you in the dark. The fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark. And how better in the end labour lost and silence. And you as you always were. Alone. (Beckett 2009, 42)

It is not that “Higgs Boson Blues” and Company are parallel texts, moving down the same road in the same way toward the same conclusion. Cave’s focus is, as it tends to be, on his characters’ need to create mythologies in order to explain the external world; Beckett’s focus is on the characters’ need to create mythologies in order to confirm the existence of the self. Cave imagines his character in “Higgs Boson Blues” overwhelmed by a torrent of images; in Beckett’s prose piece, the character lies in the dark while images drawn from his past secrete themselves in his mind. As I will argue below, though, the texts do speak to each other, and the dialogue they establish is one that can best be understood through the terms laid out previously in the chapter.

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 283 Company is a crisis narrative, as surely as “Higgs Boson Blues”, and, as with Cave’s song, the crisis is a familiar one in the artist’s work. A figure, on his back in the dark, either imagines himself or is imagined by unnamed others into being: That then is the proposition. To one on his back in the dark a voice tells of a past. With occasional allusion to a present and more rarely to a future as for example, You will end as you now are. And in another dark or in the same another devising it all for company. (3)

The protagonist never attains a sufficient level of selfconsciousness to enable him to possess the memories the voices describe; neither does he attain any degree of self-awareness about his current situation. As much as the protagonist in Cave’s track, he exists in a state of flux, subject to images and impressions that he cannot control. The images themselves, however, are radically different; instead of surreally religious, they are, it seems, drawn from the protagonist’s life, presented baldly and out of temporal sequence: You are alone in the garden. Your mother is in the kitchen making ready for afternoon tea with Mrs. Coote. Making the waferthin bread and butter. From behind a bush you watch Mrs Coote arrive. A small thin sour woman. Your mother answers her saying, he is playing in the garden. You climb to the top of a great fir. You sit a while listening to all the sounds. Then throw yourself off. The great boughs break your fall. The needles. You lie a little with your face to the ground. Then climb the tree again. Your mother answers Mrs Coote again saying, He has been a very naughty boy. (13)

These sharply rendered memories, however, are never accepted by the protagonist; in fact, throughout, he seems distanced from any attempt to assign to him ownership of the images described. He does not even speak (even though, as one of the narrat-



ing voices puts it, that would be a considerable addition to company—it would, for example, fix his place in the dialogue between the voices in the piece). As noted above, the protagonist’s silence damns him to a state in which he is alone. More than this, he is alone and divorced from himself- without the ability to describe or define his experience, to all intents and purposes he has no self; he accepts no memories, does not acknowledge his state in the present, and cannot project himself into the future, because he does not accept the central fact of his existence. He does not acknowledge his selfhood; he does not say, “I”. Company, in Kierkegaardian terms, stages an inverse “leap to faith”; rather than the self projecting outward toward an otherwise unreachable God, external voices project inward, toward an otherwise unreachable self. In Company, though, as in “Higgs Boson Blues”, the leap is founded in error. The voices in both make the assumption that they can reach out and touch that which seems ineffable; in both, the ineffable might very well be the non-existent. There is no God in the God particles; there is no self to which the memories can be pinned. In “Higgs Boson Blues” the disappearance of a God means the disappearance of cultural and spiritual coherence, and hence the disappearance of memory and with it the protagonist’s sense of self. In Company, the disappearance of the self means that the voices’ relation to the external world also disappears. They can posit the existence of creatures in the outside world, and imagine those creatures interacting with the protagonist, but they need the protagonist’s actions to confirm the existence of those creatures, and because those actions are not forthcoming, the creatures themselves cannot be conjured into existence: Some movement of the hands? A hand. A clenching and unclenching. Difficult to justify. Or raised to brush away a fly. But there are no flies. Then why not let there be? The temptation is great. Let there be a fly. For him to brush away. A live fly mistaking him for dead. Made aware of its error and renewing it incontinent. What an addition to company that would be! A live fly

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 285 mistaking him for dead. But no. He would not brush away a fly. (17-18)

It is worth noting the fact that, here, the fly appears only after the voice has decided it wants to see the protagonist’s hands move. The momentary appearance of another living thing is born from the voice’s need to have the protagonist confirm his existence by touching something that exists outside himself. To touch something is to confirm both the individual’s existence, and the existence of the world in which the individual lives; it is a confirmation that there is at least the potential for a meaningful encounter with the other, and in doing so it raises at least the possibility of the truth of the Two. In Company, though, the other remains unreachable; as unreachable as the figure of God in “Higgs Boson Blues”. Beckett’s protagonist and Cave’s have taken different routes, but they have reached, at the end of the journey, the same endpoint; they have both reached out to a being or beings whose existence would confirm and define their experience. However, they reach out in error, because the object of their attention is unattainable. At the end of the song, and at the end of the story, the protagonist is alone; and not simply alone, but fragmented, without the means or ability to construct a secure identity. Conclusion “Distant Sky”, the penultimate track on Skeleton Tree, starts with chords that would not sound out of place in church. Cave’s first vocal line is half-sung, half-spoken- an invitation his “dear companion” to leave the quotidian world behind (“call the gasman/ cut the power off”) and to travel to the distant sky of the song’s title. The invitation is echoed by a soprano, in a vocal line that comes closer than any other part of the album to melodic and harmonic consonance. Cave’s voice re-enters; but this time, the invitation offered in the song’s first half seems to be rescinded:


DAVID PATTIE They told us our Gods would outlive us They told us our dreams would outlive us They told us our Gods would outlive us But they lied (Cave 2016)

The soprano’s last words also seem to distance us from the transcendence implied in the song’s first two versesSoon the children Will be rising Will be rising This is not for our eyes

Skeleton Tree was finished at a traumatic time in Cave’s life, as recording had begun when Cave’s son died accidentally. Returning to the music as a kind of therapy, Cave and Ellis decided that, rather than working the sketches they had already recorded up into full songs, they would work on and release the songs in a deliberately fragmented, unfinished state. The songs, as originally conceived, did not, or could not, address Cave’s son’s death, and so, released afterward, tracks like “Distant Sky” seem to reach toward a central event that they can never fully describe. “Distant Sky”, musically, enacts a movement characteristic of Cave’s work; a moment in which the speaker signals his or her need to come into contact with the transcendent, only to find that need unsatisfied. In this, Cave’s work and Beckett’s work meet. Despite the disparity in subject matter, and in the artistic medium chosen (not to mention their respective places in contemporary culture), their work describes the same movement. The violent outsiders in Cave’s early work or the aching, ageing protagonists in more recent albums, or Beckett’s vagrants and dismembered, disembodied voices, all find themselves reaching out in error toward a transcendence that they will never be able to grasp. All that remains is the compulsion toward transcendence; after all, it both offers and withholds, in

GOD IS IN THE HOUSE 287 Badiou’s terms, “the truth of the Two”, or, as Beckett might put it, of company.

References Anderton, Joseph. 2016 Beckett’s Creatures: Art and Failure after the Holocaust London: Bloomsbury. Badiou, Alan 2002. On Beckett Manchester: Clinamen Press Beckett, Samuel 1986 The Complete Dramatic Works London: Faber and Faber –. 2006 The Grove Centenary Edition Vol II: Novels New York: Grove Press. –. 2009 Company/Ill Seen Ill Said/ Worstward Ho/ Stirrings Still London: Faber and Faber Bryden, Mary 1998. Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God London: Palgrave Cave, Nick 1982. “Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer”, New Musical Express 3rd April –. 2001. “God is in the House,” No More Shall We Part, Mute Records –. 2004. “The Lyre of Orpheus,” Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Mute Records –. 2013. “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” The Complete Lyrics: 1978-2013. London: Penguin –. 2013(b) “Higgs Boson Blues,” Push the Sky Away Mute Records –. 2016 “Distant Sky,” Skeleton Tree, Bad Seeds Ltd –. 2017 Interview, Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Mute Records Ferreria, M. Jamie. 2009. Kierkegaard London: Wiley. Frith, Simon 1996. Performing Rites: on the Value of Popular Music Harvard University Press. Gontarski, Stanley 1986. The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Dramatic Texts London: Wiley. Huston-Jones, David 2011. Samuel Beckett and Testimony London: Palgrave Kierkegaard, Soren 1985. Fear and Trembling London: Penguin –. 1992. Either/Or London: Penguin Lavery, Carl 2013. “The Performance of Voice: Nick Cave and the Dialectic of Enlightenment” The Art of Nick Cave: New Critical Essays, edited by John H. Baker, 27-45. London: Intellect.

288 Reid,

DAVID PATTIE Graham. 1992. “Hyena Eats the Corpse,” Elsewhere https://www.elsewhere.co.nz/absoluteelsewhere/2199/nick-caveinterviewed-1992-hyena-circles-the-corpse/

A Country Road, A Tree: An Interview with Jo Baker Paul Stewart In 2016, Jo Baker’s A Country Road, A Tree—a novel based on Beckett’s war-time experiences—was published. Baker’s previous novel, Longbourn, had been a great popular success. Longbourn concerns itself with giving a ‘below stairs’ perspective on the events of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and on its release benefitted from the popular allure of Austen whilst having to treat that popular legacy with all due respect. Dealing with the literary legacy of Austen may have placed Baker in a position to deal with the legacy of Beckett, but, as Marcel Theroux remarked in his New York Times review, “it’s one thing to riff on such a familiar cast and plot [as Pride and Prejudice], another to dramatize the penniless war years of a challenging modernist.” Implicit within Theroux’s remarks is a distinction between levels of popular engagement with literary works, with Austen as a repository of familiarity and Beckett as a site of difficulty and modernity. The question that might then be raised is whether Beckett is popular enough to base a novel upon, or are the challenges that this supposedly modernist figure presents too great to reach a wide audience? Given Jo Baker’s success with Longbourn and her educational and academic careers (including an MA in Irish Writing from Queen’s Belfast), she is in a unique position to consider not only the wider world into which she sent her version of Beckett, but also how her own conception of Beckett was informed by the institutions she encountered and the cultural caché of the figure she sought to bring to life.




PS Your novel, A Country Road, A Tree, is perfectly poised to reflect upon Beckett’s relations to popular culture. One of the questions we are concerned with in this volume is how institutions, such as universities, disseminate Beckett. So, for example, the Game of Thrones creators did MAs on Beckett and on Joyce. I know you were at Queen’s, Belfast and at Oxford beforehand, and, in the afterword of A Country Road, A Tree, you mention your tutor giving you a nugget of Beckett’s war-time experience which one might see as the germ for the novel you came to write. How did you find the Beckett you were encountering in those University days? Were you satisfied or did you feel a need to correct, or take Beckett a different way, when you came to write the novel? JB The novel wouldn’t exist if I felt I had got everything I needed to from that academic encounter with him. The novel is about answering questions I still had, and exploring territory that I felt was under explored. I thought the MA in Irish Writing at Queen’s was wonderful, but it was an MA in Irish Writing … So it was one week really on Beckett. A light touch really, and pretty low context, because a lot of what we did on Irish Writing at Queen’s was contextualised within a kind of historicity, within a narrative of Irishness. And then Beckett kind of floats… PS You use that word in your author’s note to your book, and I found that intriguing: “He seemed to float free, I had no reference point.” So Beckett stood out in that sense? Other Irish writers were contextualised, but Beckett didn’t seem to get that treatment? JB He was contextualised, but in the sense of ‘other than’ or ‘as well as’, but not of. Whereas someone like Joyce is within that Modernist tradition but you are tracing him through from Irish stories, and he fits within a canon of Irish literature in ways which aren’t always simple but there is a sort of through-line you can draw. Whereas I always thought Beckett is off to one side. He doesn’t seem to be offered the same teleology. Beckett is somehow not just geographically not located there, but also—spiritually is not quite the right word—but intellectually not located there.

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 291 PS So, turning to the novel. Obviously the detail of it is very grounded, and it is placing Beckett within that material context which you are suggesting wasn’t really there in your MA. Was that part of the gap you wanted to fill, to place him into an actual, material world? JB His work is very physical. We are often encouraged to think of him as being abstract and intellectual but actually there is an intense physicality to his work. I wanted the book to engage with that and bring that into his biography, into the biographical experience. I don’t know that it was necessarily a corrective to any fault within what we were taught, but more a sense of there is more to do here, there is more to know about this, there are more events at play here. I think that was inevitable within that kind of programme [of MA study]. You just get the sense of a door being opened into which you can then inhabit yourself. Perhaps the course was enabling in that you still had space for yourself within this world that was being suggested to you. I did really feel when Eamonn Hughes said about Beckett being stuck in France during the Second World War; that sense of context was a sort of opening up. It is not the answer; there is no one answer. But it does allow you into that world in a really helpful way. PS It is interesting that that turn towards the body, towards the material, towards the political in Beckett studies has been happening over the past ten years, and so correcting or moving away from a form of intellectual abstraction. When it comes to the persona of Beckett and how he is perceived, I’m intrigued by some of the strategic choices you make in the book. Let’s us take the title, A Country Road, A Tree, which assumes a certain knowledge of Beckett, although it is quite an oblique title. Many people will know Waiting for Godot without knowing the stage directions at the start. Does that indicate the sort of level of knowledge of Beckett’s texts you are expecting from your reader? JB No. Readers have got back to me without realising… One thing you might have noticed is that one edition, I think the UK, doesn’t mention him on the cover directly. Whereas in the US,



because of copy-right laws in some way, they felt more confident in mentioning him by name on the book. So it can be read without knowing who it is about. PS I noticed a few reviewers on Amazon treating it as basically a World War Two spy novel without any connection to Beckett, which I found intriguing. JB So it is not what I was expecting, that people would automatically know where that phrase came from. One doesn’t often hear stage directions quoted, although Beckett’s are obviously quotable, and it just seemed to me absolutely stunning, beautiful, in a purely aesthetic response, a beautiful piece of language. And it is funny that it is not even spoken in the play. It is just sort of thrown away. It locates, really, the central point of the novel, to what they are reduced to in the process of the unfolding of the events of the novel. The crux of it is the country road, the tree. That point is where things turn again. So really, it was an aesthetic decision. It certainly wasn’t a sense of “Oh yes, everyone will get this”. PS When I was reading through, there seemed to be almost a layering of references to Beckett. Obviously, there is the foregrounding of Godot which one would expect given the popularity of the work. But then you have some very interesting casting forward to Footfalls—you repeat the word quite a bit, as you do ‘spools’ so you are looking forward to Krapp. You even look forward to the closedspace texts of the 60s and 70s, such as Imagination, Dead Imagine, when Suzanne and Beckett lie arsey-versey in a little tent they have made. So I was wondering what sort of reader you were imagining, or was it an idea of several different Beckett readerships out there that would pick up on different things? JB That wasn’t intentional. I was writing for myself, which seems really selfish. My previous novel was a similar kind of thing; it’s questions I want to explore; territory I want to explore. So there is that casting forward. But also a casting back in the early part of the novel. “Play” sounds too frivolous. I was interested in thinking and finding connections; how the real world inhabited his fictions. Without wanting to make any assertions. To allude and to ask and to be

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 293 playful. So it is there if you want to find it and I hope it reads to the non-Beckett reader as well. But I wasn’t thinking about ‘who is going to get this; this is an Easter egg for somebody’. It was a questioning and a pulling at threads to see where the connections were. PS I’m interested in that decision of the US publisher naming Beckett on the cover. In my UK edition is it only the title and the author’s note at the end that situates it. So, if I could turn to the business of publishing a little, what was the reaction from your agent and your publishers when you said “The next one’s about Beckett in France in World War Two”? JB Up until Longbourn no one was remotely interested in what I was going to write next. There had been no success before Longbourn. This is one of the reasons Beckett fitted in my imagination, in the sense of a long period of failure before anything started to cohere. Longbourn was successful, and it was a bit of a shock to the system, and I already had this novel in my head when my agent was taking Longbourn out to publishers. So when they signed up for Longbourn they also signed up for this. The idea of writing a World War Two story with a love story, which it is at heart, is very acceptable within publishing. Possibly foregrounding Beckett front and centre was considered a little bit risky. That is why it is quietly allusive rather than blazoned across the front cover. Whereas Longbourn was really heavily marketed in relation to Pride and Prejudice, the Austen connection. There was even a sticker at one stage that said “If you like Downton Abbey…” They were amenable but it was clear that it would never have the sort of cat-nip quality that Longbourn did. But they were very supportive. PS Obviously with Longbourn, regardless of how true it might be, you are dealing with this persona of Austen, this mystique of Austen. Perhaps it is a similar sort of thing with Beckett, although of a very different kind. You are suggesting it was a help with Austen, but a slight hindrance with Beckett? JB I think that is a fair analysis. You know, it is the marketing. I don’t go into writing a novel thinking ‘how will we market this.’ Maybe I should. In terms of marketing, Austen was a massive



bonus. It was very easy to tap into the interest, the fan forums, the tourist side of things. But that has a negative side of things too, because they can be very protective. PS Oddly, given what you say about Austen, I think that might be starting to happen with Beckett. He has been used in tourist drives, you see his face in an Irish pub, downtown here in Nicosia; the Beckett bridge in Dublin that recently opened up. So, strangely, one could seem him as becoming a sort of Austen figure for the twentieth century. You said you were worried about the protectiveness of Austen fans, so when you were moving into Beckett’s space did you have a similar worry concerning Beckett fans? And what have the reactions of fans been? JB To be fair, I am quite chary of social media encounters. I avoid reviews, both papers and virtual. I’ve had very positive encounters with people just coming up and talking to me about it. I know that a very significant Irish playwright is interested in adapting it. So I just get little drips of positive feedback from people who really know their stuff, which has been really meaningful and helpful, because I did feel incredibly wary and anxious about straying in here. I was awfully anxious about the estate. You have a sense of a kind of hagiographic approach to Beckett in some quarters and one wants to find one’s own sense, and that could put people’s backs up if it doesn’t cohere with what their preconceptions are. PS How did the estate treat you? Because they have a reputation for being quite difficult, and yet they can also be quite flexible. JB I had got to a fairly extensive draft, and at that stage I was going to approach them, because then I would have known what I really needed for the book. Just to try and develop a relationship so that we could move forward in a positive way. I met a few people who worked in the area, obviously, through the process of writing, and on each occasion I talked about what is next with the book, they said ‘don’t get in touch’, because if you do they will close you down and make things difficult. So I didn’t, but I did get it read very carefully by lawyers to make sure there was nothing problematic. There

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 295 are no quotes, and ultimately I didn’t really need to quote because the allusiveness is probably more effective than a cut-and-paste job could have been. Not that it was ever that! But there is more of a risk of that if you are quoting. So it sort of floats free really. I know it has been accepted and digested and moved on from. There’s nothing problematic about it. PS Certainly there is no straying away from biographical fact that I can see, and all of that is in the public domain through Knowlson and others. I assume that the only way they might take issue is just the very fact itself of a fictionalised account. JB The whole sort of enterprise is in a way a bit of an odd one. I’m not alone in doing it. It is a very commonly done thing. At least two books came out about Hemingway’s wife in the same year that the Beckett book came out. Beckett wrote a play about Samuel Johnson. If Beckett hadn’t done that, I think I would have felt more ambivalent about this, but in some ways that legitimises the process. If the man you are writing about has also engaged in something similar. […] PS Coming back to the biographical versions of Beckett, you seem to draw mainly from Knowlson. How did you feel about the major biographies, the Cronin and the Bair, because they offer very different sorts of Beckett to engage with? JB They were all part of the process, but it now seems hard to unpick that. Bair in particular is so anecdotalised […] I read all three and shifted my focus onto Knowlson and took some things from the others. He just seems to get the man so thoroughly and there is a sense of a continued relationship there. Bair was told she could go away and do it if she must. I don’t recall what the nature of the relationship was with Cronin. Maybe that’s the difference, with Knowlson having a greater degree of intimacy that I found most helpful. Once I’d first read them, the biographies became a quite practical resource, to establish timelines, events, cast of characters, who was where when. From that mass of raw material I then selected events and moments to shape a functioning story. With the Bair



there was a good deal that felt too literal for me in terms of drawing parallels between the life and the work—Sam and Suzanne are Vladimir and Estragon, for example—though I included and developed some of the incidents she mentions, that Knowlson’s more restrained version doesn’t credit, because, quite pragmatically, they become striking scenes and they work for the story. Cronin’s, in comparison with Knowlson, was less concerned with the area and period of Beckett's life that I was most interested in, and so took a step back when it came to this process, though Ellman’s biography of Joyce also came into play here too. The Beckett that emerges from all of these readings—along with his own works and letters and other sources—will have, I expect though I can’t know, gone towards forming my version, but I can’t unpick it now.31 PS The Cronin biography keeps stressing the Irishness, and keeps coming back to looking at him in an Irish context, whereas, in many ways, the Knowlson biography is Beckett as someone like James Knowlson; someone dedicated to literature and study. JB Then the European and French context too. PS Apart from the relationship with Suzanne, the central relationship within the book, and possibly within twentieth century literature, is that between Joyce and Beckett. Of course it has been argued that Beckett uses Joyce as a form of strawman almost, in order to set up his own aesthetic of ignorance and impotence, whereas Joyce was all about omnipotence. So I was wondering what sort of thinking you had about the relationship between the two and how that was reflected in their different approaches to writing? JB It’s reactive rather than a strawman sort of relationship, isn’t it? It’s the Harold Bloom anxiety of influence, and the shaking off of that. I suppose the answer is that I don’t know the exact goings on that were there, this is just an imagined version, and it is to do with the state of Joyce at this point in his life. He is an ill man, in very much the last period of his life, he is fleeing the Nazis, the oc31

Aspects of this response have been incorporated from a subsequent email.

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 297 cupation is closing in around him, and he is focused on family, which is very much a thing Joyce did. And the younger man has almost been part of that family, and he now finding out that he is not. There is almost a father–son thing going on there. There is the connection through Lucia as well. But ultimately that breaks down under these pressures. I will help you but only at one remove. I can only do what I can do. PS One of the aspects this volume hopes to address is whether there are such things as popular and high culture. How do you see your own works fitting into the spectrum of the publishing world? You could be sold as a genre writer on the back of this novel, for example, as a writer of historical, biographical fiction. Or are the demarcations popular fiction and literary fiction completely meaningless in some way? JB I don’t have an answer for you. Really. I don’t really see myself at all! There is the marketing that happens and that sort of constructs the book in a certain way, whether you get a girl in a floaty dress on the cover or not. Gender comes into it as well, because of the floaty dress phenomenon, because it tends to happen more to women than it does to men. In terms of my interest in them, both Longbourn and the Beckett book were about exploring questions I had about other literary events or circumstances or texts. So that was my place in relation to Austen and loving her work, but coming from a working class background so: how did I fit in there? And then with Beckett, struggling to contextualise him, and loving his work but struggling with it, and wanting to occupy that space so I could understand how his work changed between the pre-War and the post-War, with Watt in the middle. Those are quite literary endeavours—to attempt those things. They are almost academic questions explored in a literary form. But Longbourn is also a romantic novel. This [A Country Road, A Tree] is also a war adventure kind of thing. So, in a way, they are almost like creatures out of Greek mythology. So, I don’t know where to locate myself and every book I’ve ever written has been quite starkly different to the last, and the Beckett book is my sixth, and the next book I’m writing is something



different again. I don’t write popular fiction in the sense that it is marketed and sold in a particular way, apart from Longbourn which was when it was out my hands really. I honestly don’t know where to locate myself and there is a difference I suppose between where I would imagine certain aspects of my work and where people who want to sell copies of my book want to locate it. Longbourn you could find on Tesco’s shelves. PS So once a work is written you hand it over to this marketing machine that makes it a work of popular fiction through how they brand it, and which shops are chosen as outlets, and so on. So the publisher makes a decision on that, and that is out of the author’s hands? JB Yes, and, to be fair, I am enormously grateful that they did. It made a huge difference, on very practical levels, to our lives. But you could tell with Longbourn, as it began to click into place, that it could be a best-seller. That never happened with this one, because it is just a different kind of a thing. Longbourn was completely out of my experience up until that date. I’d had quiet publications with some relatively small presses, so it was a completely different experience altogether. PS You must be quite difficult to market, from an agent’s point of view. JB Yes. But you can only write what you can write. PS So when you look at Beckett’s writing career, do you see someone who is only writing what they can write, and the marketing side of things is irrelevant? Or do you have a sense of Beckett knowing where he is in the world of marketing, and business and getting the royalty cheques in, and so on? JB As far as I understand it, he was almost totally disengaged from that side of things. But I might not know the stuff well enough. The versions that I’ve read, is that Suzanne drove it in the early years, although I know he was very much in control of how things were made. Was he very concerned? PS Well, it depends on who you ask. Certainly he knew what his contracts were, but whether that is beyond just common sense,

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 299 I’m not sure. There are some schools of thought that he was very controlling in terms of his image and in terms of how his work was projected. JB Oh yes, definitely that. Absolutely. And you do get a sense of him checking on how many books he had sold and reviews that had been written, which does give the sense of some sort of business head about it. PS Just on a personal level, I was very worried when I heard about this book. I had to read it twice; first time as a Beckett academic, seeing every reference, and then having to consciously turn that off and re-read it as a novel rather than as a repository of Beckett moments. So it was a challenging read as a Beckett scholar to read it as a fiction. But I have to admit I was dreading it. JB I know that feeling! I do know what you mean! I think if anyone else had done it I would have been furious. I feel the same about the Austen one as well. That sense of ‘how dare she?’ As if wandering in where angels fear to tread. PS You write in the Author’s Note at the end of the book: “The resulting novel I know is partial, incomplete and a limited thing. I always knew it would be, but nonetheless I had to try.” Is there a “fail again fail better” resonance there, perhaps? JB Yes, just a wee bit.

As Baker’s thoughts on her own work are instructive, so too are those newspaper and journal reviews of her novel. In order to sketch an impression of the intersection of popular news media, conceptions of literary culture, and the figure of Beckett, the reviews of Baker’s novel reveal a certain ambivalence towards the project itself. Repeatedly, reviewers remark that Baker’s choice of subject matter is “brave,” a “daring project” or that there “is a risk in a project like this, something the straightforward biographer need not



worry about, it is the danger of being compared, as an artist, to the artist hero” (Tim Parks). Similarly, many reviewers comment on the difference between “taking on” Beckett, and taking on Austen. Writing in The Washington Times, Claire Hopley argues that the reason why Longbourn “was so successful is that readers had—or could easily acquire—full command of the back story as presented by Jane Austen”. Austen, her world and legacy are more easily acquired than the Beckettian equivalents, as “in “A Country Road, A Tree” much of Beckett’s story is as untethered to a local habitation and a name as the stories of the characters of his own works.” There is a great deal of ambiguity, not to say slippage, in such a comment; is the story of Beckett referred to the one written by Baker, or is it the ‘real’ biography of the man? Tellingly, Hopley sees Beckett floating as free from material realities as one of his characters. One might argue that this is as much a misreading of Beckett’s own existence as it is a misreading of his works, and further argue that it bears witness to the pervasive popular image of Beckett as not confined within historical moments and geographical coordinates. It is this image that might explain an occasional sense of outrage, such as expressed by Eoin McNamee: “There is transgression here. There’s no point in asking whether Beckett would have liked it. He wouldn’t”. As Baker points out above, this argument rather ignores Beckett’s own use of Johnson in Human Wishes. Further, one might equally identify a transgression in McNamee assuming with such certainty to know the mind of a man dead for thirty years. In her review in The Australian, Diane Stubbings exhibits many of the conflicts and contradictions engendered by an overarching image of what Beckett represents. She recognises that Beckett “is an iconic figure” and that “to render him as something more corporeal, more human, is a difficult task” and then chastises Baker for failing to do so because her “reverence lingers on every page”. So, Stubbings applauds the attempt to view Beckett within a material context, yet claims that the iconic figure of Beckett overwhelms that attempt. Nevertheless, Stubbings concludes by once again relying on the iconic figure she had previously descried: “there’s always the

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 301 sense that the “real” Beckett remains tantalisingly out of reach, a man who—for better or worse—is forever “a stark figure, framed there on the threshold, unknowable”. Stubbings here quotes Baker as she depicts Beckett’s supposed moment of artistic revelation in his mother’s house, so, once again, a degree of slippage is evident as echoes of the Unnamable are used to characterise Beckett himself and that version of Beckett is offered by the reviewer as somehow the ‘real’ one that lies beyond Baker’s grasp. Despite this confusion, Stubbings is here sketching out a position that is frequently found in the reviews: that the project of fictionalising Beckett is doomed to fail because his own work is removed from material realities. This is a possibly erroneous reading of Beckett, and certainly one that current trends in Beckett studies would contest. Yet, for Eoin McNamee, “If you’re looking for a Samuel Beckett who exists for the purpose of telling a good story you’re in the right place. The writer who sought his art among the unuttered can only be absent.” Beckett it seems will not be brought to book, at least not within a realist, popular conception of the novel with story, character and development. For example, writing in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks on one had recognises Baker’s “solid realism” but wonders whether to move from this charming entertainment [of Longbourn] to dramatizing the life of the twentieth-century artist who, more than any other, insisted on his apartness, his reticence, and privacy, a man who felt the traditional novel, and indeed language in general, was utterly inadequate to express experience, or, worse than inadequate, mendacious, suggests ambition of a different order.

As a leading modernist (which is where Parks places him), Beckett exceeds the conventional novel. Yet, Theroux takes almost a diametrically opposed position. In A Country Road, A Tree, Baker describes Beckett engrossed in a manuscript whilst hiding in Roussillon, yet the manuscript remains unnamed. Theroux happily identifies it:


PAUL STEWART Here Beckett is working on the manuscript of his novel “Watt,” but the reader is never told. Is it too prosaic simply to explain? Why bother playing themes and variations on a melody few readers can be expected to know? Of course, it’s a modernist trait: Joyce and Eliot didn’t do exposition either. Like travelers (sic) who were too grand to carry their own luggage, they expected to be followed by a retinue of explainers carrying copies of “The Odyssey” and books on the myth of the Grail.

Theroux appears to be arguing that Baker is too loyal to the aesthetics of her supposed modernist hero to provide the nuts and bolts explanations that would ease the reader through the work. As these examples from the reviews indicate, there are a great many assumptions at play. Possibly the most enduring of these assumptions is the relation between the iconic figure of Beckett— aloof, private, intense, serious—and the work he produced as removed from the exigencies of the world and as inimical to popular novelistic conventions. It is just these assumptions, and the hierarchy of values attached to them, that Baker’s novel can be seen to bring to the fore. References Bair, Deirdre. 1990. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. London: Vintage. Baker, Jo. 2016. A Country Road, A Tree. London: Doubleday –. 2013. Longbourn. London: Doubleday. Cronin, Anthony. 1997. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. London: Flamingo. Ellmann, Richard. 1983. James Joyce: Oxford: Oxford UP. Hopley, Claire. 2016. “Dramatizing the grind of being Samuel Beckett.” Washington Times, July 4, 2016. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/4/book-re view-a-country-road-a-tree-examines-life-of/ Knowlson, James. 1996. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury.

AN INTERVIEW WITH JO BAKER 303 McNamee, Eoin. 2016. “A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker.” The Irish Times, May 7, 2016. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/a-country-road-a-tree -by-jo-baker-beckett-proves-elusive-in-forced-resurrection-1.2637 853 Parks, Tim. 2016 “Leave Novelists Out of Fiction.” New York Review of Books, October 21, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/10/21/leave-novelists-outof-fiction/ Stubbings, Diane. 2016 “A Country Road, A Tree: a novel take on Samuel Beckett’s bleak war years.” The Australian, July 12, 2016. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/a-country-road-atree-novel-take-on-samuel-becketts-bleak-war-years/news-story/ 2ec92475072268a6c93c943aadd60673 Theroux, Marcel. “A Country Road, A Tree, by Jo Baker.” New York Times, May 20, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/books/review/a-country -road-a-tree-by-jo-baker.html

Contributors Ken Alba is a PhD candidate in the English program at Boston University. His dissertation focuses on the intersection of literature and information technology, with a particular focus on late 20 th century drama. He has published several theater reviews with the Beckett Circle and has presented at numerous conferences, including, in 2019, the Electronic Literature Organization and Media Arts Festival and the American Literature Association’s annual conference. He has also adapted several Beckett works to electronic literature; his adaptations are available on his website, at www.especially greatliterature.com/publicbeckett.html Jo Baker is the author of seven novels, most recently The Body Lies (2019). Her previous book, A Country Road, A Tree (2017) was shortlisted for the American Library in Paris Award, the James Tait Black Award and Walter Scott Prize, and was a Book of the Year in the Guardian and New Statesman. Longbourn (2013), an international bestseller, is currently in development as a feature film. She is an Honorary Fellow of Lancaster University and was a Visiting Fellow at the Queen’s University of Belfast. She married to the playwright and screenwriter Daragh Carville. James Baxter holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Reading, with a doctoral thesis on the legacies of Samuel Beckett in postmodern American fiction. His research includes the history of post-war publishing in the United States and the popular dissemination of the literary avant-garde. He has been included in a number of publications such as Textual Practice and The Modernist Review as well as popular online culture magazines such as PopMatters. Jonathan Bignell is Professor of Television and Film at the University of Reading, UK. His work on Beckett includes the monograph Beckett on Screen: The Television Plays (Manchester UP, 2009) and 305



articles in Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui (2005 and 2015) and the Journal of Beckett Studies (2001). Jonathan has published chapters on Beckett’s screen drama in the collections Writing and Cinema (which he also edited; Pearson, 1999 / Routledge, 2014), Beckett and Nothing (ed. Daniela Caselli; Manchester UP, 2010) and Drawing on Beckett (ed. Linda Ben-Zvi; Assaph, 2003). He is a Trustee of the Beckett International Foundation and a member of the Centre for Beckett Studies at the University of Reading. Anna Douglass is currently a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. Her doctoral research focuses on the migration of narrative structures from novels to video games. She holds an MA in linguistics, also from the University of New South Wales, with a dissertation on the grammar of trauma in the work of Samuel Beckett. Stephen John Dilks teaches British and Irish Literature at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he serves as Chair of the Faculty Senate and Coordinator of Faculty Diversity Dialogues. Dilks has published numerous articles on teaching and literature, with a focus on Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, and has published two books: Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past (2002) and Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace (2011). He is currently working on a book on Civil Rights in Ireland during the Long Irish Revolution, 1763-1922. David Pattie is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. He researches and publishes in a number of fields; contemporary British theatre, Scottish theatre, Samuel Beckett, popular performance, and performance in popular music. John Pilling. After three-and-a-half decades of teaching at the University of Reading, where he also acted as director of the Beckett International Foundation, John Pilling retired as Professor of

CONTRIBUTORS 307 English and European Literature in September 2005. He still serves on the editorial boards of SBT/A and JOBS, the latter of which he edited in the ’70s and ’80s. His books include Beckett Before Godot (CUP 1997) and an edition (with the late Seán Laåwlor) of Beckett’s Collected Poems (Faber 2012). Heinemann published his Fifty Modern European Poets in 1982, and numerous similar articles figured in PN Review between 1978 and 2009. Mark Schreiber works as Sessional Lecturer at the Department of English at Alps-Adriatic-University Klagenfurt. Before moving to Klagenfurt, Mark taught at the Universities of Siegen, Chemnitz, Dresden, as well at Jacobs University Bremen. His research and teaching interests include British and Irish Theatre, Drama, and Film, Cultural Studies, and Gender Studies. He has published on contemporary Irish and Scottish drama, Samuel Beckett, and British and Irish film. He also runs his own translation and proofreading company, The Language Surgeon. Hannah Simpson researches and teaches in the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford. Her work focuses on issues of physical pain and disability in theatre, with a particular emphasis on post-World War II Francophone theatre and the work of Samuel Beckett. She has published most recently in the Journal of Modern Literature, Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, Theatre Topics, and Etudes Irlandaises. She is also the Theatre Review Editor at The Beckett Circle. Paul Stewart is Professor of Literature at the University of Nicosia. He is the author of two books on Beckett—Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Works (Palgrave, 2011) and Zone of Evaporation: Samuel Beckett’s Disjunctions (Rodopi, 2006)—and the series editor for ‘Samuel Beckett in Company’, published by Ibidem Press. He has published widely on Beckett in such journals as The Journal of Beckett Studies, and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui. He has also published two novels: Of People and Things (Armida 2019), and Now Then (Armida 2014)



Pim Verhulst is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Antwerp. His research combines genetic criticism, intermediality and audionarratology to study the work of (late) modernist and postwar authors, in particular Samuel Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Caryl Churchill. His articles have appeared in Genetic Joyce Studies, Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui and the Journal of Beckett Studies, of which he is an Assistant Editor, and he has published book chapters in Samuel Beckett and BBC Radio (Palgrave 2017), Beckett and Modernism (Palgrave 2018) and Audionarratology: Lessons from Audio Drama (Ohio State UP 2019). He is an editorial board member of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, for which he has co-edited and authored the modules on Molloy, Malone meurt / Malone Dies and En attendant Godot / Waiting for Godot. His monograph The Making of Samuel Beckett’s Radio Plays is forthcoming with Bloomsbury. Selvin Yaltır has recently finished her PhD thesis at Boğaziçi University entitled Samuel Beckett and Communicational Aesthetics: Between Resonant Worlds and Material Regimes. Her research interests include Samuel Beckett, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Deleuze and Guattari, literature and philosophy, art theory and aesthetics. She has published in the edited volume “Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter as Resistance” (2016).