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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

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Entries in samuel beckett (11)

Tuesday
Aug232011

In Which Harold Pinter Changes Marcel Proust

Judge of Proust

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Proust is completely detached from all moral considerations. There is no right or wrong in Proust nor in his world.

- Samuel Beckett

When Harold Pinter's screenplay of Proust's In Search of Lost Time was published in 1978, the playwright's lifetime ignorance of his critics softened. He paid attention to what they wrote because what he made was not entirely his own, and since Proust was no longer living to judge his adaptation, he was prepared to be crucified by the man's inheritors.

1972 had been a year of reading and writing in fits and starts. He worked with Beckett's mistress/scholar/translator Barbara Bray, whose knowledge of Proust's opus far exceeded his own. Pinter had only read Swann's Way, so the first idea to adapt the novel to the screen consisted of Swann's Way as the entire movie, with allusions to a larger whole. Pinter and Bray rejected this limitation immediately, and his dismissal of Swann's Way was wise many of the events of the book simply don't revolve enough around Marcel for a drama.

with Vaclav Havel a year before the Velvet Revolution

For the most part, Pinter views In Search of Lost Time as a comedy. In The Guermantes Way Proust recalls his visit to the home of Charlus, an emotional scene where the comic aspect is largely ironic. Pinter brings it out into the open:

INT. BARON DE CHARLUS' HOUSE. THE BARON'S ROOM. NIGHT.

Charlus, in a Chinese dressing gown, throat bare, is lying on a sofa.

The Valet shows Marcel into the room and withdraws.

A tall hat, its top flashing in the light, sits on a cap on a chair.

Charlus stares at Marcel in silence.

MARCEL: Good evening.

No reply. The stare is implacable.

May I sit down? Silence.

CHARLUS: Take the Louis Quatorze chair. Marcel sits abruptly in a Directoire chair beside him. Ah! So that is what you call a Louis Quatorze chair! I can see you have been well educated. One of these days you'll take Madame de Villeparisis' lap for a lavatory and goodness knows what you'll do in it. Pause. Sir, this interview which I have condescended to grant you will mark the end of our relationship. He stretches an arm along the back of the sofa. Since I was everything and you were nothing, since I, if I may state it plainly, am a prodigious personage and you in comparison a microbe, it was naturally I who took the first steps towards you. You have made an imbecilic reply to what it is not for me to describe as an act of greatness. In short, you have lied about me to others. You have repeated calumnies against me to others. Therefore these are the last words we shall exchange on this earth.

Pause.

MARCEL: Never, sir. I have never spoken about you to anyone.

CHARLUS: You left unanswered the proposal I made to you here in Paris. The idea did not attract you. There is no more to be said about that. But that you did not take the trouble to write to me shows that you lack not only breeding, good manners, sensibility, but common or garden intelligence. Instead, you prove yourself despicable in speaking of me disrespectfully to the world at large.

MARCEL: Sir, I swear to you that I have said nothing to anyone that could insult you.

CHARLUS (with extreme violence): Insult me? Who says that I am insulted? Do you suppose it is within your power to insult me? You evidently do not realize to whom you are speaking. Do you imagine that the envenomed spittle of five hundred little gentlemen of your type, heaped one upon the other, would succeed in slobbering so much as the tips of my august toes?

Marcel stares at him, jumps up, seizes the Baron's silk hat, throws it down, tramples it, picks it up, wrenches off the brim, tears the crown in two.

CHARLUS: What in heaven's name are you doing? Have you gone mad?

Marcel rushes to the door and opens it. Two footmen are standing outside. They move slowly away. Marcel walks quickly past them, followed by Charlus, who bars his way.

CHARLUS: There, there, don't be childish. Come back for a minute. He that loveth well chasteneth well. I have chastened you well because I love you well. He draws Marcel back into the room.

CHARLUS (to footman): Take away the hat and bring me a new one.

MARCEL: I would like to know the name of your informer, sir.

CHARLUS: I have given a promise of secrecy to my informant. I do not intend to betray that promise.

MARCEL: You insult me, sir. I have already sworn to you that I have said nothing.

CHARLUS (thunderously): Are you calling me a liar?

MARCEL: You have been misinformed.

CHARLUS: It is quite possible. Generally speaking, a remark repeated at second hand is rarely true. But true or false, the remark has done its work. Pause.

MARCEL: I had better go.

CHARLUS: I agree. Or, if you feel too tired, I have plenty of beds here.

MARCEL: Thank you. I am not too tired.

CHARLUS: It is true that my affection for you is dead. Nothing can revive it. As Victor Hugo's Boaz said, "I am widowed, alone, and the dark gathers o'er me."

INT. CHARLUS' HOUSE. DRAWING ROOM.

Charlus and Marcel walking through the green room. Music is heard from another floor. A Beethoven romance. Charlus points at two portraits.

CHARLUS: My uncles. The King of Poland and the King of England.

EXT. CHARLUS' HOUSE. THE FRONT DOOR.

The carriage waits. Charlus and Marcel look up at the night sky.

CHARLUS: What a superb moon. I think I shall talk a walk in the Bois.

Marcel does not respond to this.

CHARLUS: It would be pleasant to walk in the Bois under the moon with someone like yourself. For you're charming, really, quite charming. When I met you first I must confess I found you quite insignificant.

He takes Marcel to his carriage. Marcel gets in.

CHARLUS: Remember this. Affection is precious. Do not neglect it. Thank you for coming. Good night.

Unlike Victor Hugo, Pinter's own plays and prose are obscured and difficult, the very opposite of Hugo's pandering. During many moments in The Proust Screenplay, he thrives by keeping the audience in darkness. Pinter uses a honed dramatic convention of setting up a variety of concurrent mysteries and having some of them answer others. The world of Proust, like any drama, is a lot better if you are excited to find out what happens next.

Samuel Beckett was Pinter's guide in this, and all things. He never refuted his mentor, and took every word from the man's lips as the gospel. It was Beckett's inspiration, primarily, to orient the film version around Le Temps retrouvé, the final volume in the book and the one most near and dear to scholars and critics. The adaptation is also structured around the idea of Proust preparing to write In Search of Lost Time, of the experiences that most revolve around the glimmering possibility of becoming the writer he wished to be.

a Japanese production of "The Caretaker"

It is impossible not to feel some of the doubts Pinter himself felt as a young writer in Marcel's story, and the reflections of his most famous play, Betrayal, in Marcel's scenes with Albertine.

INT. MARCEL'S HOTEL. SITTING ROOM. DAY.

Marcel and Albertine enter the room. He closes the door. She speaks at once.

ALBERTINE: What have you got against me?

Marcel walks to the window, turns from it, sits, looks at her gravely.

MARCEL: Do you really want me to tell you the truth?

ALBERTINE: Yes, I do.

He speaks quietly.

MARCEL: I admire Andrée... greatly. I always have. There you are. That's the truth. You and I can be friends, I hope, but nothing more. Once, I was on the point of falling in love with you, but that time... can't be recaptured. I'm sorry to be so frank. The truth is always unpleasant - for someone. I love Andrée.

ALBERTINE: I see. I don't mind your frankness. I see. But I'd just like to know what I've done.

MARCEL: Done? You haven't done anything. I've just explained it to you.

ALBERTINE: Yes, I have. Or you think I have.

MARCEL: Why can't you listen?

ALBERTINE: Why can't you tell me? Silence.

MARCEL: I've heard reports. She gazes at him.

MARCEL: Reports...about your way of life.

ALBERTINE: My way of life?

MARCEL: I have a profound disgust for women... tainted with that vice. Pause. You see, I have heard that your...accomplice...is Andrée, and since Andrée is the woman I love, you can understand my grief.

Albertine looks at him steadily.

ALBERTINE: Who told you this rubbish?

MARCEL: I can't tell you.

ALBERTINE: Andrée and I both detest that sort of thing. We find it revolting.

MARCEL: You're saying it's not true?

ALBERTINE: If it were true I would tell you. I would be quite honest with you. Why not? But I'm telling you it's absolutely untrue.

MARCEL: Do you swear it?

ALBERTINE: I swear it. She walks to him and sits by him on the sofa. I swear it. She takes his hand. You are silly. She strokes his hand. All those stories about Andrée... She touches his face. You are silly. I'm your Albertine. She strokes his face. Aren't you glad I'm here...sitting next to you?

MARCEL: Yes. She attempts to kiss him. His mouth is shut. She passes her tongue over his lips.

ALBERTINE: Open your mouth. Open your mouth, you great bear. She forces his mouth open, kisses him, forcing him down on the sofa.

as bassanio in "The Merchant of Venice"

EXT. BEACH. BALBEC. DAY. 1901.

Marcel and Mother sitting in deck chairs.

MOTHER: I think you should know that Albertine's aunt believes you are going to marry Albertine.

MARCEL: Oh?

MOTHER: You're spending a great deal of money on her. They naturally think it would be a very good marriage, from her point of view. Pause.

MARCEL: What do you think of her yourself?

MOTHER: Albertine? Well, it's not that I will be marrying her, is it? I don't think your grandmother would have liked me to influence you. But if she can make you happy...

MARCEL: She bores me. I have no intention of marrying her.

MOTHER: In that case I should see less of her.

performing in a production of his play "The Hothouse"

The collaboration between Harold Pinter and Joseph Losey on an adaptation of L.P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between convinced producer Nicole Stéphane the duo were capable of properly distilling source material this voluminous. Before The Go-Between was a hit at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, Stéphane and her lover Susan Sontag had brainstormed possible directors: at times François Truffaut, René Clément and Luchino Visconti were all attached to the project, with Visconti going so far as to scout locations and commission a rough script modeled on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Pinter was 21 years Losey's junior, and he respected the filmmaker immensely: he never imagined The Proust Screenplay without him. Pinter's two other films with Losey The Servant and Accident share a similar haunting tone and perspective on class boundaries, so it was not surprising that he desired a director with whom he shared both kinship and confidence. Ironically, his devotion to Losey was what doomed the project. The once blacklisted director's films never did well in America, and he was considered box office poison.

Jacqueline Sassard and Dirk Bogarde in 1967's amazing "Accident"

Just as Pinter's plays are dark and sometimes frightening, so were Losey's menacing adaptations of his screenwriting. I don't know how they thought these sort of films would appear to a mass audience. Some scenes are heavy with dialogue, others extremely dependent on Losey's masterful editing. In refusing to decide between being stage plays or art films, they used the most exciting conventions of both genres and managed to appeal to neither audience.

In The Proust Screenplay Pinter is more accessible than in any of his stage works, taking a familiar story and never shying from a crowd-pleasing line or innuendo. It is his broadest masterpiece.

When biographer Michael Billington asked Pinter why another director was never approached, he said, "Nobody ever suggested that to me. It would have been quite pointless to say that to me. They may have suggested it to Barbara. Nobody did to me because I wouldn't have given it house-room." He values loyalty in a way Marcel does not.

Pinter with Liv Ullman in a revival of his "Old Times"

EXT. PARK AT TANSONVILLE. DAY. 1915.

The pond, seen through a gap in the hedge.

A fishing line rests by the side of the pond, the float bobbing in the water.

Marcel and Gilberte appear and walk to the side of the pond. They are both aged thirty-five and both dressed in mourning.

GILBERTE: Two days after Robert was killed I received a package sent anonymously. It contained his Croix de Guerre. There was no note of explanation, nothing. The package was posted in Paris. Pause. Isn't that strange?

MARCEL: Yes.

GILBERTE: He never mentioned, in any letter, that it had been lost, or stolen.

in his acting days, after a performance of Lady Windermere's Fan

INT. DRAWING ROOM. SWANN'S HOUSE AT TANSONVILLE EVENING.

Marcel and Gilberte stand by the windows.

GILBERTE: I loved him. But we had grown unhappy. He had another woman, or other women, I don't know.

MARCEL: Other women?

GILBERTE: Yes. He had some secret life, which he never confessed to me, but I know he found it irresistible.

with Julie Christie on the set of "The Go-Between"

EXT. PARK. TANSONVILLE. MORNING.

Marcel and Gilberte walking.

GILBERTE: Do you remember your childhood at Combray?

MARCEL: Not really.

GILBERTE: How long is it since you've been back?

MARCEL: Oh, a very long time. It's changed.

GILBERTE: The war has changed everything.

MARCEL: No, it's nothing to do with the war.

GILBERTE: But are you saying that these paths, these woods, the village, excite nothing in you?

MARCEL: Nothing. They mean nothing to me. It's all dead. I remember almost nothing of it. Pause. I remember seeing you, through the hedge. I adored you.

GILBERTE: Did you? I wish you'd told me at the time. I thought you were delicious.

Marcel stares at her.

MARCEL: What?

GILBERTE: I longed for you. Of course I was quite precocious, I suppose, then. I used to go some ruins - at Roussainville - with some girls and boys, from the village, in the dark. We were quite wicked. I longed for you to come there. I remember, that moment through the hedge, I tried to let you know how much I wanted you, but I don't think you understood. He laughs.

GILBERTE: Why are you laughing?

MARCEL: Because I didn't understand. I've understood very little. I've been too... preoccupied... with other matters... To be honest, I have wasted my life.

with Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal

Pinter largely ignores the portrayal of Jews in In Search of Lost Time. Marcel hears gossiping about the Dreyfus affair but that it is all his Jewish friends and acquaintances have vanished like Marcel's familiar madeleine cookie. Pinter's people were a band of North London Jews; Pinter's paternal grandfather fled from a Russian pogrom. Passover was a big event in his house as a child, but like many European Jews, he rejected the religious dogmatism of his parents. He was concerned with "world affairs" and considered himself a man of Earth.

Proust is not concerned with morality, but like all self-righteous atheists, Pinter is obsessed with it. Primacy to his own experience was Marcel's ideal, Pinter's is primacy to his own moral code. In every scene of The Proust Screenplay, he casts his own judgment over the proceedings. The challenge to Losey is huge. Although he lists shots, so much is left off, can only be hinted at:

Pinter's adaptation of Proust requires another creative mind to infiltrate his own, and find the perspective justified, confirm his suspicions about the characters and events. Because The Proust Screenplay is only a script, we are given this interpretive task as readers. Even in the work's harshest and most mind-rending moments, it is the thrall of being correct and therefore superior, the rationalization following our primal emotions, that lies closer to Harold's heart. He is watching these people and telling us how to live with what they said and did. He writes,

Proust wrote Swann's Way first and Time Regained, the last volume, second. He then wrote the rest. The relationship between the first volume and the last seemed to us the crucial one. The whole book is, as it were, contained in the last volume. When Marcel in Time Regained says that he is now able to start his work, he has already written it. We have just read it. Somehow the remarkable conception had to be found again in another form. We knew we could in no sense rival the work. But could we be true to it?

Every adaptation is a moral act; imagine Proust trying to do to In Search of Lost Time what Pinter did to it. He would never, and he would wonder why it needed to be done.

with joseph losey and james fox (left)

In 1930, Samuel Beckett related his view of Proust in his bizarre and brilliant monograph on the author, a piece hellbent on serving its author more than its ostensible subject. (Beckett was perhaps overly critical of his younger self when he later wrote, "I have written my book in cheap flashy philosophical jargon.") It was Beckett's mature view of À la recherche du temps perdu that informed every step of Pinter's process.

There is no more exciting interaction of two European masters except possibly in Freud and Jung. Beckett's view is necessarily bleaker it is the contrast between the two similar styles that keeps Pinter's work hopeful enough to survive in the theater. For in Pinter's drama, joy never comes easy.

The cinematic image, then, becomes home to the explosive feelings he can't handle through speech. Proust's constant exposition and narrative meandering is anathema to a playwright; instead of representing them literally, as he is loathe to do, Pinter places them in the stage directions for Losey to visualize. (Ever watched a director during his own screening?) Later, he plans to silently and morbidly screen the final product with the director he called Joe, obsessing in the same fashion others view old photos of lost friends. Because The Proust Screenplay never received the elaborate production it deserves before his death, Pinter was denied the feeling disconsolate or euphoric of witnessing himself.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Jim Henson and Sesame Street.

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"Children" - The Rapture (mp3)

"Roller Coaster" - The Rapture (mp3)

"In The Grace Of Your Love" - The Rapture (mp3)

The new album from The Rapture In The Grace Of Your Love comes out on September 6th.

Wednesday
Feb232011

In Which Samuel Beckett Didn't Intend To Be A Writer

Someone To Walk With Him Before Dinner

by SAMUEL BECKETT

The following recollection of James Joyce is collected from James Knowlson's interviews with Samuel Beckett, which can be found in a volume you can purchase here.

I was introduced to Joyce by Tom MacGreevy. He was very friendly – immediately, to the best of my recollection. I remember coming back very exhausted to the École Normale and as usual, the door was closed and I climbed over the railings. I remember that: coming back from my first meeting with Joyce. I remember walking back. And from then on we saw each other quite often.

I can still remember his telephone number. He was living near the Ecole Militaire. I used to come down sometimes in the morning from the Ecole Normale to the concierge and he used to say Monsieur Joyce a telephone et il vous demande de vous mettre en rapport avec lui. And I remember the concierge, he was a southerner. he used to say Segur quatre-vingt-quinze vingt. And it was always to do with going for a walk or going for dinner. I remember a memorable walk on the Ile des Cygnes with Joyce. And then he'd start his 'tippling.' And we'd have an appointment with Nora at Fouquet's.

beckett at greystone's, 1960sI was very flattered when Joyce dropped the 'Mister.' Everybody was 'Mister'. There were no Christian names, no first names. The nearest you would get to friendly name was to drop the 'Mister'. I was never 'Sam'. I was always Beckett at the best. We'd drink in any old pub or cafe. I dno't remember which.

He was very friendly. He dictated some pages of Finnegan's Wake to me at one stage. That was later on when he was living in that flat. And during the dictation, someone knocked at the door and I said something. I had to interrupt the dictation. But it had nothing to do with the text. And when I read it back with the phrase 'Come in' in it, he said, 'Let it stand.'

with thomas mcgreevey, 1934He was at the National University, of course, and I was at Trinity – but we both took degrees in French and Italian. So that was common ground. It was at his suggestion that I wrote "Dante... Bruno . Vico . . Joyce" because of my Italian. And I spent a lot of time reading Bruno and Vico in the magnificent library, the Bibliotheque of the Ecole Normale. We must have had some talk about the 'Eternal Return', that sort of thing. He liked the essay. But his only comment was that there wasn't enough about Bruno; he found Bruno rather neglected. Bruno and Vico were new figures for me. I hadn't read them. I'd worked on Dante, of course. And we did talk about Dante. But I knew very little of them. I knew more or less what they were about. I remember I read a biography of one of them. I can't remember which.

beckett's letter to cape townI remember going to see Joyce in the hospital. He was lying on the bed, putting drops in his operated eye. I don't remember having read to him though. I used to go there in the evening sometimes, when he had dinner at home. It was at the later stage when he was living in the little impasse off the long street. There wasn't a lot of conversation between us. I was a young man, very devoted to him, and he liked me. And he used to call on me if he needed something. For instance, someone to walk with him before dinner.

on the set of 'Film' in New York, 1964He was a great exploiter. Not perhaps an exploiter of his friends. In the Adrienne Monnier book, it's told how he did the translation of 'Anna Livia Plurabelle', Peron and I. And Joyce liked it. But he organised a committe of five, which used to meet in Paul Leon's house to revise it, including Adrienne Monnier (who was quite unqualified) so that he could talk about his septante, those five and Peron and myself. Why he wanted to talk about his septante devoted to him I don't know. I remember at Adrienne Monnier's a reading of our fragment of 'Anna Livia Plurabelle', Peron's and mine, as corrected, so-called, by the Joyce clan. But there was a reading of this with Joyce in Adrienne's bookshop, a public reading. I remember being there and Joyce was there, Soupault read it, I think.

in ireland after the war And I brought him home drunk one night, but I won't go into that. He drank a lot but in the evenings only. I remember a party. He was a great man for anniversaries. Every year he would celebrate his father's anniversary, "Father forsaken, forgive thy son." On that occasion, he would give me a note, in francs. I don't know how many francs it would be. A note. To give to some poor down-and-out in memory of his father. Towards the end of the year, in December, the date of his father's birth was celebrated and commemorated every year and I was given on several occasions, when I was available, this note to give to some down-and-out in memory of his father. "New life is breathed upon the glass," etc.

directing longtime collaborator Billie WhitelawIt's a poem of Joyce's. It's part of a longer poem but I remember the verse, "A child is born. An old man gone." When his father died, he was very upset.

I played the piano once at the Joyces'. I forget what I played. But he, when he had enough taken, at these 'at home' parties, receptions at home, with various friends, he would sit down at the piano and, accompanying himself, sing, with his marvellous remains of a tenor voice:

Bid adieu, adieu, adieu
Bid adieu to girlish days.

I remember myself accompanying Giorgio. When he was living with Helen. I remember accompanying him – in what? Ah yes. [He sings part of Schubert's Lieder, An die Musik]. Oh, by the way, I found the name of the street where Joyce lived when I first met him in Paris. Yes, it's a little street off the rue de Grenelle; this goes from the Latin Quarter to the Avenue Bosquet near the Ecole Militaire. It goes through the.... And just before it comes to the end of the Rue de Grenelle near the Avenue Bosquet, before it 'debouches' on the Avenue Bosquet, there' a little street on the right hand side. It was an impasse in those days. It still exists but it's a square. The Square Robiac. I remember it as an impasse. You go in to the right off the Rue de Grenelle. It was very short. And the right-hand side was the house where Joyce had his flat.

beckett with eva-katharina schultzI admired Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man. There was something about it. The end – when he is so self-sufficient in the end. He got pompous about his vocation and his function in life. That was the improved version; he reworked it.

with henri hayden in the early 60sIt was Maurice Nadeau who said it was an influence ab contrario. I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, in control of one's material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realised that my own way was impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, subtracting rather than adding. When I first met Joyce, I didn't intend to be a writer. That only came later when I found out that I was no good at all at teaching. When I found I simply couldn't teach. But I do remember speaking about Joyce's heroic achievement. I had a great admiration for him. That's what it was: epic, heroic, what he achieved. I realized that I couldn't go down that same road.

Samuel Beckett died in December of 1989. You can find Whittaker Chambers' obituary for James Joyce here.

with martin held, 1969"Rope" - Foo Fighters (mp3)

"Keep The Car Running (live)" - Foo Fighters (mp3)

"Tiny Dancer (live)" - Foo Fighters (mp3)

with his cousins in 1959Why can't you write the way people want?

- Frank Beckett, in a letter to his brother

on the set of 'Godot' in Berlin, 1975

Friday
Aug132010

In Which It Was As Important To Me As Anything of Mine

Something To Do With the Sofa

The conversations of the critic Mel Gussow and the playwright Harold Pinter are weird mostly because Pinter is an actor, and accustomed to a certain kind of pretension. He was an actor even before he was a playwright, and he never really liked interviews. Gussow feels the need to pin him down on a number of things, and Pinter acts like a terse little ninja. His ejaculations, elicited by one of his greatest admirers in the theatrical world, contain nuggets of prose as self-centered and yet as enduring as any literature has to offer. - A.C.

MEL GUSSOW: Could you trace the genesis of Old Times?

HAROLD PINTER: I think I wrote it last winter. Yes, last winter. About a year ago. Well, there's nothing I can tell you about that because it was just a very odd thing really. It was one of those times when you think you're never going to write again. I was lying on the sofa reading the paper and something flashed in my mind. It wasn't anything to do with the paper.

MG: Something to do with the sofa?

HP: The sofa perhaps, but certainly not the paper. I rushed upstairs to my room. I live in a very tall house. I usually find great difficulty getting to the top. But, like lightning, I was up.

MG: What was the thought?

HP: I think it was the first couple of lines of the play. I don't know if they were actually the first lines. Two people talking about someone else. But then I really went at it. Incidentally, you did ask me for my "fourth." Actually what it is is reading. I read a great deal of poetry.

MG: What poets?

HP: Recently I rediscovered Pope. I haven't read him since school. Lines and verses are always on my mind. Donne. Gerard Manley Hopkins. "Margaret/ Are you grieving/ over Goldengrove/ unleaving." Modern poetry. Philip Larkin. Yeats and Eliot.

MG: Do you still write poetry — as poetry?

HP: Yes. I've written two poems in the last couple of years. Very short. I wrote one about six months ago, about seven lines, but I remember I did 13 drafts of it.

MG: How many drafts of plays do you usually write?

HP: About three. But that was as important to me as anything of mine - that poem. But you know any poem is — emotionally. I used to write a great deal of poetry a long time ago.

MG: It does seem to me, again about the last three plays, that they're more lyrical. Is that something you're aware of?

HP: Yes, I am aware of it. I think it's very dangerous territory.

MG: Why is it dangerous territory?

HP: You can fall on your arse very easily in attempting to express in, if you like, "lyrical" terms what is actually happening to people. You can over ... I did it, in Silence, but I cut it. I had a passage. It was very very interesting, actually. When I wrote it, I sent the play, as I always do, to Samuel Beckett, whose opinion, to put it mildly, I respect. And... I know him.

MG: Do you always send him your plays?

HP: I began, I think, with The Homecoming. Yes, I do always. And he writes the most succinct observations. He liked Silence very much. He wrote, I remember, one very short remark, something to the effect, 'Suggest you examine or reconsider speech, fourth speech, page five.' Or whatever it was. So I looked at this speech immediately, and thought, well, I don't see anything wrong with that. What do I have to reconsider? It seems to me perfectly in order. But I'll keep it in mind. I will bear this matter in mind. I wrote to him and said, thank you, but about this speech I'll listen to it in rehearsals, and see what I think of it. Rehearsals started, and I heard it, and I thought it was perfectly all right. Then, after about two week's rehearsal, Peter Hall came up to me — I hadn't been around for a few days — and said, 'There's one speech in this play that I do not think is working at all.' And that was that speech. Off I went and heard it properly again and realized that, of course, Beckett was totally right.

with james fox & joseph losey

MG: Why wasn't it working?

HP: Well, because...it simply went over the top in lyricism. The trouble was that it was basically inaccurate and non-specific and, I think, that is the problem trying to use language in this way. It has to be absolutely specific. If it's at all generalized then it's nothing else but indulgence and it's illegitimate. This applies to the use of any kind of language in any kind of context, but particularly the kind of language you were referring to in these latest plays.

MG: Do you feel that you have to guard against emotion?

HP: I don't quite understand you.

MG: Do you not want to get carried away by something you don't control? Something you cannot do with the accuracy you demand? Silence. The idea of lyricism denotes to me a kind of emotion.

HP: What I'm interested in is emotion which is contained, and felt very, very deeply. Jesus, I really don't want to make a categorical statement about this. But, perhaps, it is ultimately inexpressible. Because I think we express our emotions in so many small ways, all over the place - or can't express them in any other way.

MG: This would seem to be a lesson to be learned from Beckett, who without demonstrating obvious emotion can be quite emotional.

HP: Yes, with such simplicity of means.

MG: I remember years ago when you wrote about how much Beckett meant to you, at the time you were referring to his novels. How do you feel about his plays?

HP: What can I say?

MG: Do you feel at all as pupil to master?

HP: No, not as pupil to master. I think he's the most remarkable writer in the world, that's what I feel. I don't feel pupil to master, for a start, because I don't see where I relate to him at all.

performing 'Krapp's Last Tape' 

MG: Some people think you do, particularly in the last three plays.

HP: Well, let them say...this terrible business of categorizing. I don't feel that on just one letter alone, apart from anything else. I feel that his achievements, what he's been able to do in his life, in his writing, are so far beyond my own that I don't see any kind of comparison at all. I think he's a great writer. And I'm certainly not that in the way I understand the term, and I do understand the term. The term has a very clear meaning to me. I can tell you who I think are great writers very simply. They're so evident. They're obvious.

MG: Name some obvious.

HP: Well, Doestoevski. This is in my mind. Joyce, Proust. They haven't got their names for nothing. And Beckett. Silence.

MG: It is something to strive for, isn't it?

HP: I don't see it in those terms. I don't have that kind of ambition. I mean you can't strive to be a Great Writer.

beckett with buster keaton

MG: You can strive to be better.

HP: Always strive to be better. One curious element I find in what is called 'literary life' which I notice. I must say particularly in New York — there's an extraordinary competitiveness. But I must say quite honestly that it is something I have never felt remotely. I'm just not an ambitious person.

MG: What first set you to writing plays? Was there something specific that kicked off The Room, your very first play?

HP: Oh, yes. I know the image. I know what happened. I was at a party in a house and I was taken for some reason or other to be introduced to a man who lived on the top floor, or an upper floor, and went into his room. He was a slender, middle-aged man in his bare feet who was walking about the room. Very sociable and pleasant, and he was making bacon and eggs, and cut bread, and poured tea and gave it to this fellow who was reading a comic. And in the meantime he was talking to us - very, very quickly and lightly. We only had about five minutes but something like that remained. I told a friend I'd like to write a play, there's some play here. And then it all happened. I used to write a great deal of prose in the past, when I was young. And a lot of it, including a novel [The Dwarfs] was in dialogue.

MG: To go back, for a minute, what did Beckett say about Old Times?

HP: Well, he was...very much in favor of it. He did have one reservation, one speech. No, I'm not going to tell which one it was.

MG: Is it still in?

HP: It's in.

MG: Same reason?

HP: No, not the same reason. But I stuck with it. I've no alternative but to stick with it.

MG: Peter Hall didn't spot it?

HP: No. Mind you, it hasn't been an easy one. I must confess that.

MG: Does Beckett send you his plays?

HP: He isn't writing any. He sends me his books, but I never - I'm not in the same position at all. In other words, I don't send him back my notes. I'm very happy to have his. I wouldn't dream of it. Anyway, I have no notes, no notes at all.

MG: When did you first meet Beckett?

HP: From about the age of 19 I started to read him, the novels, and I was quite bowled over by those novels. When we did The Caretaker in Paris in 1961, Roger Blin was in it, and one day he said, 'Would you like to meet Beckett?' It was almost too much for me — the thought of such a thing. I had written to him. Eventually. You can imagine. It was 1949 when I started to read Beckett and I didn't manage to write to him until about 1959 — when I wrote him just a short note trying to say what I - something. And got an extremely nice letter back. So then I was in a position of meeting him. The longshot of it is that I came into this hotel and he was very vigorous and chatty and extremely affable and extremely friendly and we spent the whole night together. And that was really...very good. And since then, we've really seen quite a lot of one another.

MG: How do you feel about other playwrights?

HP: Well, my taste is quite catholic. I do enjoy a great deal of writers. I think...Edward Bond is a very good writer...I've always liked Edward Albee's work. I like Heathcote Williams. When you ask me that kind of question, there are people I could tell you but they suddenly slip my mind.

MG: Kafka's on your list with Joyce, Proust, and Doestoevski.

HP: Oh, yes. Definitely. I'd like to have had a drink with Kafka, too.

MG: What novelists?

HP: I don't read many modern novels. I do find my reading goes back to Nazi Germany. I read a lot about Nazi Germany. At the moment I'm reading a biography of Heidegger. It's not my field, but I take an interest. Before that, I read a biography of Wittgenstein, which just came out. Heidegger became a Nazi apologist. He was a Nazi. I think the whole period is probably the worst thing that ever happened.

MG: Reunion is the only time you've dealt even indirectly with the Holocaust?

HP: Yes.

MG: Would you ever write about it?

HP: I don't know. There's something in me that wants to do something about it. It's so difficult.

MG: Do you go to the movies often?

HP: Not often. You know American movies meant an awful lot to me. I was brought up on them. I had a very rich cinematic education, much more than the theatre. I never went to the theatre.

MG: What movies did you see?

HP: I'm talking about the 1940s. I saw all the American black and white gangster films, which were great.

MG: Your next project is writing a screenplay of Kafka's The Trial. Why The Trial at this time?

HP: I read The Trial when I was a lad of 18, in 1948. It's been with me ever since. I don't think anyone who reads The Trial - it ever leaves them, although it can be curiously distorted by time. Speaking to a number of people, who remember having read it when they were young, they look back and think it's a political book. They rather tend to think it's like Arthur Koestler. In my view, it isn't at all. I admire Koestler, but I wouldn't be interested in writing a screenplay of Darkness at Noon, because it's so specifically of its time and place. But The Trial is not that case at all. I find it very difficult to talk about, except that it has been with me for 40 years, and I've had a whale of a time over the last few months entering into Kafka's world. The nightmare of that world is precisely in its ordinariness. That is what is so frightening and strong.

MG: And you are certainly aware of Orson Welles' film.

HP: Yes. Orson Welles was a genius but I think his film was quite wrong because he made it into an incoherent nightmare of spasmodic half-adjusted lines, images, effects in fact. As I said, I don't think Kafka is at all about effect, effect, but about something that happens on Monday, and then on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday and then right through the week. This man in The Trial is arrested one morning in his bed by two people and he is then let out, he goes to his job, a case is taking place. There seems to be a kind of implacable but invisible force and he is finally executed. The important thing about it is that he fights like hell all the way along the line. It reminded me of the shot in John Ford's film The Grapes of Wrath, when the man is protecting his shack when the tractor comes up: 'If you go any further, I'll shoot your head off.' The fellow takes off his goggles and says, 'There's no point doing that because I'm going to knock your house down. I'm getting paid for that and if I don't do it there'll be another guy who will.' He says, 'I'll still knock your head off.' 'Then you'll have to shoot the other guy's head off. you've got to go to the bank in Oklahoma City, and you'll have to shoot all of them. Then you'll have to go to the bank in New York. How many people can you shoot?' He says, 'Get out of my damn way,' and he knocks the house down. One of the most terrible sequences in cinema, in a wonderful film. That's what Kafka's looking at: who do you shoot?

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