Beckett's Art of Mismaking
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Readers have long responded to Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays with wonder or bafflement. They portray blind, lame, maimed creatures cracking whips and wielding can openers who are funny when they should be chilling, cruel when they should be tender, warm when most wounded. His works seem less to conclude than to stop dead. And so readers quite naturally ask: what might all this be meant to mean?
In a lively and enlivening study of a singular creative nature, Leland de la Durantaye helps us better understand Beckett’s strangeness and the notorious difficulties it presents. He argues that Beckett’s lifelong campaign was to mismake on purpose―not to denigrate himself, or his audience, nor even to reconnect with the child or the savage within, but because he believed that such mismaking is in the interest of art and will shape its future. Whether called “creative willed mismaking,” “logoclasm,” or “word-storming in the name of beauty,” Beckett meant by these terms an art that attacks language and reason, unity and continuity, art and life, with wit and venom.
Beckett’s Art of Mismaking explains Beckett’s views on language, the relation between work and world, and the interactions between stage and page, as well as the motives guiding his sixty-year-long career―his strange decision to adopt French as his literary language, swerve from the complex novels to the minimalist plays, determination to “fail better,” and principled refusal to follow any easy path to originality.
roam each searching for its lost one]” (GC 4.381; 7). What, a French reader of 1970 might wonder, is a dépeupleur? The term is strange, but it has a like in French literature: a poem by Lamartine’s entitled—aptly enough—“Isolation,” where we read: Que me font ces vallons, ces palais, ces chaumières, Vains objets dont pour moi le charme est envolé? Fleuves, rochers, forêts, solitudes si chères, Un seul être vous manque, et tout est dépeuplé! What are they to me, these glens, these palaces, these
artistic, or human degradation. They might be part of a parable. They might offer an artful illustration of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, or of Weber’s disenchantment of the world. They might be symbols of the end of metaphysics, the end of humanism, the end of humanity. They might be the means to all sorts of signiﬁcant ends. But how are we to know which ends, or whether there is an end at all? Of the arrival of the piano tuners (discussed in the Introduction) we are told that Watt was
verstehen kann nichts anderes heiβen, als seine Unverständlichkeit verstehen, konkret den Sinnzusammenhang dessen nachkonstruieren, daβ es keinen hat]” (Adorno GS 11.283). In a kindred vein, Cavell (to all appearances unaware of Adorno’s essay) wrote six years later that “solitude, emptiness, nothingness, meaninglessness, silence—these are not the givens of Beckett’s characters but their goal, their new heroic undertaking” (Cavell 2002, 156; Cavell’s emphasis). Simon Critchley, in turn, described
margins that “going on is a fundamental category. And it is a critical one” (Tiedemann 1994b, 56; Adorno’s emphasis). Adorno wrote elsewhere that “through the seemingly Stoic ‘going on’ is silently screamed that things should be different” (Adorno GS 6.373). If you must go on and you cannot go on, and yet on you go, then you follow a path supremely difﬁcult to chart, but not therefore meaningless. It might be a dull compulsion to go on about which you can know nothing because there is nothing to
reside for the remaining ﬁ fty-two years of his long life. 2 0 • B e c k e t t ’ s a rt o f m i s m a k i n g Settling where to live was, however, only the beginning. Before spitting ﬁ re on the professorial path, Beckett had begun to express uncertainty as concerned his calling, declaring, “I don’t want to be a professor,” and adding that it is “almost a pleasure to contemplate the mess of this job” (LSB 1.72). Although the mess is waded through as quickly as possible, its resumption in