Reading Beckett Again
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a writer who likes to try out new forms, and is never satisfied with existing formulas of plot and character. What this means is that you become something of an experimentalist in your work, always striving to achieve another level of writing, always test-driving new forms, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world around you. This comes with a price, however. For one thing, it drives your readers crazy. They read one work of fiction and expect subsequent works to follow the same outlines, same narrative choices, same sameness. For another, you fall into the ten percent category of fiction writers: those who don’t conform to conventional genres, who don’t write fantasy, horror, detective, or science fiction. The ones who do serve ninety percent of the reading public, and are well-established in the publishing world by producing good, solid commercial work.
Ironically, my own personal experience is that whenever I attempt to court the commercial goddess and produce formula work, I end up blowing it. My characters don’t seem real, more story artificial and stupidly concocted. So I return to my quest for new forms, new modes of expression. That’s what keeps me going, even during fallow periods when I’m struggling to find inspiration.
That being said, I’ll share some of my reading experiences of late. In my early days, I took on the reading of Samuel Beckett, digging through the dense pages of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. Beckett was Joyce’s secretary in Paris for a period in the 1930’s and it is said that he was taken by the language spoken by Joyce’s sadly schizophrenic daughter, that it got into his work, under his skin, and this strange disconnection with reality pervades the life of the characters in the Molloy trilogy. Now I’ve gone back to Beckett, for some reason, and found him more extraordinary than ever. He is truly a writer for all ages. His good Irish luck enabled him to find the voice he wanted as a younger man, post WWII, a voice that takes the reader to the World of the Ultimate Down, the edges of despair, yet never abandons hope. Beckett stayed with it to the time of his death after a great deal of international fame and the Nobel Prize for Literature, a time when he could have renounced his integrity and curried favor with the idle rich and famous, but more importantly, with age he managed to write less, refining his vision, condensing his ideas, seeing the truth of things with greater power than ever before.
This is the singular accomplishment, I think, of both the man and the writer. You have less to say and more to say with age; you’re both less of a man (or woman) and more of a man (or woman) with age. And who you are is what you write.