THE LAUREATE: Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906. He had an epiphany at a young age that he would never escape the shadow of James Joyce, and this led to the fundamental change in his work that made him great. As he put it: “I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.” Beckett also wrote most of his great works in French (he was a teacher in Paris before he gave up teaching because he felt the weight of his own ignorance), apparently because he felt he could best express himself in French without a style.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM?: Well, let me tell you a story. When I was a sophomore at [college] in New Orleans, some traveling theater company was putting on a free performance of Waiting for Godot, and my friend told me about it and drove me out there with a few other people. Now, it was a free performance, but there were still a limited number of seats, so we had to stand in line and wait for tickets. So we stood in line. For two hours. And right before we got to the end of the line, the people running it announced that there were no more seats. True story.
WHAT DID YOU READ: Mostly dramatic stuff. “Dante and the Lobster” was one of Beckett’s first short stories, and Joyce’s influence is very strong in it. I tried reading Molloy, I really did, but I wasn’t in any position to read a hundred and twenty page paragraph in the middle of a thousand page collection. I swear I’ll try again later. I also read Krapp’s Last Tape, which was incredible. I would kill a man to see William Shatner play Krapp (but he’s done that his whole life! ZING! ). The last play I read was Happy Days, which honestly strikes me as one of those quiet domestic tragedies that the fifties and sixties loved in theater, only staged differently. Incidentally, I would also kill a man to see Lucille Ball as Winnie.
DO YOU RECOMMEND IT: Yes. Very much so. You guys have no idea how happy I am that I found a ton of Beckett in the decaying corpse of my local Borders. No. Idea.
WHAT’S NEXT IN EXISTENTIALISM WEEK: The only actual existentialist author on the list: Jean-Paul Sartre!