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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in samuel beckett (11)


In Which We Pierce The Fabric Of The Language

S.B.'s bookshelves

Loftiest Shade

It is difficult for a great creator to acknowledge his or her peers without feeling he or she has diminished himself in the process. Samuel Beckett was both overly vain and excessively humble. While some of his friends were making a great living, he was struggling with long hours of translation, along with frustration that some of his editors and readers were not able to understand works like Murphy and Watt. In addition, pain in his anal cavity made his long days of sitting difficult to bear. In his letters, he appraises a variety of his precursors in a cranky, yet enlightening fashion.


He struck me as a kind of super AE, the mind infinitely more ample, provocative and penetrating, but the same cuttle-fish's discharge & escapes from the issue in the end. He let fall some remarkable things nevertheless. He protests so vehemently that he is not a mystic that he must be one of the very most nebulous kind.

His lecture the night I went consisted mainly in the so-called synthetic (versus Freudian analytic) interpretation of three dreams of a patient who finally went to the dogs because he insisted on taking a certain element in the dreams as the Oedipus position when Jung told him it was nothing of the kind!

The mind is I suppose the best Swiss, Lavater & Rousseau, mixture of enthusiasm & Euclid, a methodical rhapsody. Jolas' pigeon all right, but I should think in the end less than the dirt under Freud's nails. I can't imagine his curing a fly of neurosis. He insists in patients having their horoscope cast!


The bathos of style & thought is so enormous that I wonder is he writing seriously or in parody. And yet I go on reading it.


When I was ill I found the only thing I could read was Schopenhauer. Everything else I tried only confirmed the feeling of sickness. It was very curious. Like suddenly a window opened on a fugue. I always knew he was one of the ones who mattered most to me, and it is a pleasure more real than any pleasure for a long time to begin to understand now why it is so.


Now I am reading the divine Jane. I think she had much to teach me. it is curious how English literature has never freed itself from the old morality typifications & simplifications. I suppose the cult of the horse has something to do with it. But writing infected with selective breeding of the vices & virtues becomes tiresome.


I must think of Rousseau as a champion of the right to be alone and as an authentically tragic figure in so far as he was denied the enjoyment of that right, not only by a society that considered solitude as a vice (il n'y a que le mechant qui soit seul) but by the infantile aspect, afraid of the dark, of his own constitution.


A short essay on him (30,000 words) was my first prose work. It had been commissioned by Chatto & Windus for their series of Dolphin Books. I concentrated on following the different stages of his key experience from the madeline dipped in tisane to the cobblestones in the courtyard of the Guermantes' great house. Since that time I have hardly looked at him. He impresses and irritates me. I find it hard to bear his obsessive need, among others, to bring everything back to laws. I think I am a poor judge of him.


The fabric of the language has at least become porous, if regrettably quite by accident and, as it were, as a consequence of a procedure somewhat akin to the technique of Feininger. The unhappy lady (is she still alive?) is undoubtedly still in love with her vehicle, if only, however, as a mathematician is with his numbers; for him the solution of the problem is of very secondary interest, yes, like the death of numbers, it must seem to him indeed dreadful.

In the meantime I am doing nothing.


All I've read of his, apart from a few short texts, is about three-quarters of The Castle, and then in German, that is, losing a great deal. I felt at home, too much so - perhaps that is what stopped me from reading on. Case closed there and then. I remember feeling disturbed by the imperturbable aspect of his approach. I am wary of disasters that let themselves be recorded like a statement of accounts.


Can't get a verse of his out of my mind: "Insuperable height of loftiest shade." 



In Which Pamela Mitchell And Samuel Beckett Attempted A Romance Of A Kind

In Better Form

I had no need to drink at the magic fountain to be able to bear living outside of it.

Samuel Beckett met Pamela Mitchell in September of 1953. Ms. Mitchell was a Vassar grad who had spent her post-graduation 1940s working for Naval Intelligence as a civilian during the Second World War. This naturally led to a career in the business side of the theater. She was negotiating with Beckett on behalf of her boss, Harold Oram, who has purchased an option on Waiting for Godot. They began an affair, and the letters that Beckett sent her during and after their romance were more likely than Beckett's typical correspondence to give us some inkling of the man he was. Perhaps he felt he owed her something. Beckett's letters to the woman, abridged here for length and content, remind us how little of life he found to enjoy.

September 26, 1953

My dear Pamela,

Last night over at last and safely. The first act went well, the second less well, the new Didi frogetting his lines all over the place, with me sweating in the back row. The audience didn't seem to mind. The lighting was bad too. It will be better next week. The new Pozzo gave it up finally as a bad job and Blin had to play. The Rossets were there and Pat Bowles. The new programme wasn't ready. I'll send it when it is. I had a good evening with the Rossets, they turned out very nice. We dined at the Escargot where you and I were.

I look forward to having good news of your light home and then of the Giant. I shall see Lindon next Monday and get him moving on the letter he promised you, if he hasn't sent it already.

Those were good evenings we had, for me, eating and drinking and drinking through old streets. That's the way to do business. I'll often be thinking of them, that is of you. Write me sometime and happy days.



October 31, 1953

My dear Pamela,

Horribly sorry to hear you are ill. Write soon that it's all over.

I'm writing this at 10 o'clock in the morning in a cafe in Montparnasse. I'm as dull as ditchwater and can hardly hold a pen. Nobody can read my writing but it's the best I can do. I went to Godot last night for the first time in a long time. Well played, but how I dislike that play now. Full house every night, it's a disease. No news from H.L.O. and his option expires today.

It's cold and bright and I wish I were on the banks of the Marne. Another fortnight and I shall. Another fortnight of translating Molloy and Watt and rehearsing with the touring cast. What will you do when you leave hospital? Convalesce in Massachusetts before going back to the good works?

Have they filled you full of penicilline? Wish I could think of something likely to amuse you but can't.

Have to go down now to the bloody theatre and encourage the new Pozzo. Pen drying up too, like myself. Are there any French books you'd like me to send you? Ce serait avec joie. Or fashion rags? Let me know. Let me know above all that you're better and the fever gone.



January 12, 1954

My dear Pamela

Yes, I'm gloomy, but I always am. That's one of the numerous reasons you shouldn't have anything to do with me. More than gloomy, melancholy mad.

Can't write a word, it's awful. I'll have to write something on Jack Yeats, who is having a big exhibition here next month - his first in Paris. I'm looking forward to it enormously, haven't seen anything since 1950. But dreading having to write about it.

Continue to gallivant. Hope you enjoyed Sleepy Hollow and that the ice wasn't too thin.

Love and succedanea


July 25, 1954

Mouki. Thanks for your good letters. I can't do any more than scribble a few lines. Not much change here, thought I suppose a big one compared to when I arrived over 2 months ago. It may well drag on more if not longer. I wanted in London re: Godot and may be obliged to dart over for 24 hours. I hope not. Guinness is out, can't wait indefinitely on his good pleasure, or for a gap in his endless commitments. Producer Glenville too seems up to his eyes in more lucrative undertakings and perhaps we'll have another producer. In any case have told them to get on with it with whatever people available and to hell with stars. If the play can't get over with ordinarily competent producing and playing then it's not worth doing at all.

Don't be killing yourself in that foolish office if half-a-day's work is a possibility and enough to keep you going. One can really do with very little money living as you are now.



August 19, 1954

Dear Pamela

Thanks for all your letters and news of your doings. Do not get silly ideas into yr head about hurting. It is I the hurter of the two.

And most evenings walk along the beach, or over the hill to the mountain view, but not this evening. Should have made quite a good butler, no, too much responsibility, but a superior kind of house-boy. Soon the leaves will be turning, it'll be winter before I'm home, and then? It'll have to be very easy whatever it is, I can't face any more difficulties, and I can't bear the thought of giving any more pain.

See nobody and have long since lost all desire to.

Fortunately there is plenty to do, more than ever, and fortunately the nights are still long and fairly good with the old sea still telling the old story at the end of the garden. My room has a French window out to the garden and I can slip out of an evening and prowl without disturbing anyone.

Here are a few books you could read, if you have not already:

Sartre: Nausea

Malraux: Man's Fate

Julien Green: The Dark Journey

Celine: Voyage to the End of Night

Jules Renard: Journal

Camus: The Stranger



August 27th, 1954

Dear Pamela

Here things drag on, a little more awful every day, and with so many days yet probably to run what awfulness to look forward to. Delighted to hear that you are enjoying just being in Paris, the air, the people, the sights and food and drink. I'd give a large slice of my uncertain expectations for a bottle of Invalides Beaujolais, for consumption on the spot. And I suppose when I do get it, there'll be some other misery to spoil it. The first bottle anyway.

So it goes, with ungratitude for such a great thing as to be able to rise and move from one's place, if only a few sad steps.



March 12th, 1956

So glad to have your letter after so long. I find it increasingly difficult to write - even letters. Good for nothing but doddering about my place in the country, where I am at the moment. The cold was desperate all last month and I think it has killed the cedar, though there are still traces of green in the burnt needles that make me hope it will recover. Have been digging holes for new plantations and hope to get them down this week - including a blue cypress! Gave up my dream of a golden yew on being informed its maximum rate of growth was one inch a year.

I did not realize your Nantucket place had been sold and understand how much you must miss it. I have corrected proofs of Malone for Rosset and the book should be out soon. Don't buy a copy for God's sake and don't even read the one I'll have sent to you. My God how I hate my own work.

Shall be fifty (50) in a month's time and can well believe it. 18.000 days and not much to show for them. Better stop before I start. No news anyway. Just jog along, on the flat of my back 15 hours of the 24. Often think of our brief times together. Cold comfort. Forgive wretched letter. At least it's a sign of life. Write again soon.




In Which They Don't Want To See Me Love You



Marcel Duchamp introduced Peggy Guggenheim to all the artists he knew in Paris. By various looks and expressions it was obvious to Duchamp that the heiress knew little of modern art, so he endeavored to teach her. He did not ask for money in exchange for his services, since the instruction of women was not considered a financially profitable task. Moreover Peggy was planning to open a gallery in London, and he saw it as something of a duty to ensure the place was filled to his liking.

When she was not with Duchamp, Peggy socialized in Paris with frenetic abandon. At a party thrown by James Joyce she observed across the table a slender, quiet, bespectacled amalgam of Irish masculinity. She stared at Samuel Beckett the entire night.

Peggy Guggenheim at “peep show, manipulated by turning a huge ship’s wheel, shows a rotating exhibit of reproductions of all the works, including a miniature toilet for MEN, by screwball Surrealist Marcel Duchamp.”

They walked the entire way back to her apartment on the Rue de Lille. Beckett's novel Murphy had begun to slowly appear across Europe. Although she had not read it, she knew it was accomplished, and she had already pleasantly digested his views on Proust. As a friend of Sam's later wrote, "She wanted to be a part of whatever good things were going to happen to him."

In her own book, Peggy wrote that Beckett was a "a tall lanky Irishman of about thirty with enormous green eyes that never looked at you. He wore spectacles and always seemed to be far away solving some intellectual problem; he spoke very seldom and never said anything stupid." They spent the next 24 hours in bed together. The only interruption came when Beckett leapt out of the sheets to purchase a few bottles of champagne and return. After Peggy finally left the embrace, Beckett murmured, "Thank you. It was nice while it lasted."

She found his long expositions on Irish painting a bit tiring, but pretended as well as she could to listen the entire time. Besides Joyce he told her he felt Journey to the End of Night was the greatest novel written in French or English. He gave her all of his books; intellectually she felt they were really clicking.

Joyce called for Beckett the next day. Both he and Guggenheim made a point of telling everyone they knew about Beckett's Parisian night and morning.

Peggy Guggenheim and Samuel Beckett did not see each other for more than a month, before Peggy made a show of running into him. Peggy was housesitting for her friend Mary Reynolds nearby; did he want to come back for a drink?

They spent the next fortnight there, Beckett drunk throughout. The sex was far from exciting - Beckett struggled to maintain his erection when he consumed alcohol. When that happened, the two would just keep drinking as they strolled through Paris until they came out the other side. The affair ended for the first time when Beckett fucked an Irish girl visiting from Dublin. To explain this behavior to Peggy, he told her "making love without being in love is like taking coffee without brandy." She did not buy this bullshit whatsoever.

SB in the 60s

They reconciled shortly after Beckett was knifed by a pimp. Peggy visited his hospital bed then, insisting as seductively as possible that she loved him. Joyce paid the cost of a private room for his protege, and passed the time waiting for Beckett's recovery by roaming, blind, through the hospital's wards. Seeing him reduced to a patient, she eagerly forgave him.

Peggy's London gallery opening was a tremendous success. One attendee called her the female W.C. Fields. She did not stay in London long enough to enjoy this adulation, because her Beckett was in Paris.

Beckett was no longer interested in being with Peggy. He had moved on to a pianist named Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, six years his elder. Suzanne nursed the wounded writer back to health, and eventually she would become his wife in 1961. Peggy reacted to the rejection by sleeping with one of Sam's friends, briefly reigniting Beckett's interest.

Meanwhile, she prepared an exhibition of Kandinsky's work for her new gallery. She became somewhat obsessed with getting her Irishman back, writing to her friend Emily Coleman that "I love being with him. It is more and more my real life. I have decided now to give up everything else, even sex if necessary, and concentrate on him." She was aware of Suzanne's presence in Beckett's life, but struggled to view the older musician as proper competition, remarking that "she made curtains while I made scenes." Beckett refused to sleep with Peggy despite her entreaties.

She did not sell a single Kandinsky.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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