Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on"

The title of this post is of course the last line of Samuel Beckett's novella The Unnamable, which I finished reading yesterday. Beckett puts on quite a performance in this piece, and while I'm not sure I can say I read it--because somehow one doesn't quite engage with The Unnamable the way one does with most texts; one sort of exposes oneself to Beckett exposing himself rather than one properly reads a narrative--I can say I let myself experience the novella as much and as well as I could. Admittedly there was some drifting on my part due to the way Beckett's short phrases so easily fell into a repetitive and partially numbing rhythm, but I certainly didn't sleep through it and gosh, but there's some powerful stuff in there.

Of course it's all about the futility of effort and the meaninglessness of speech or action, typical Beckett fare, but what do you do right after reading Beckett? Jump up and clean the house or start an exercise program? How do you transition from the absolute bleakness of The Unnamable back into your daily life? Me, I had a cookie and then typed up Chapter Five of my own novel in progress. After Beckett, my cruelties to my protagonist seemed charming and harmless in comparison. Well, it's early days yet in that novel (I'm at about 25,000 words or so, which is nothing).

What do you read after Beckett? If you've just finished Waiting For Godot, you can move on to anything, can't you? Godot is slapstick comedy even if it's serious subject matter. Nobody sheds a tear for Vladimir. I was tempted to pick up Shakespeare, and then Faulkner, and then I wavered at the stack of O'Connor I got for Christmas and then thought vaguely of fluffier stuff and of course I mean to read Moby-Dick again either next year or in 2013...Finally I gave the bookshelves a good looking over and picked up Harper Lee. I've been meaning to read To Kill a Mockingbird all year, and I've just got enough time to meet that goal. It's been decades since I read it and it's quite fine. Better, frankly, than I remembered it being.

Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. My next post will finally be about Lydia Davis' short stories and then I'm going to quote some of the best bits from Beckett's Molloy trilogy. See if I don't. After that, maybe, I'll beazle and prolix about the letters of young Anton Chekhov, who promises not to bore his correspondents with talk about his published stories and plays and then writes page after page about his published stories and plays. I did not see myself in that bad habit. No, I did not.


  1. I need to make a list of what I'm going to read this year. I have a feeling it's going to be a fine year of reading, much better than those in the past. You always inspire me. :)

  2. I keep making lists of what I'll read and then I never stick to the lists. The lists always end up feeling like assignments and I resent them and am compelled to rebel against the oppression. Which shows you just how childish my mind really is.

    But I have promised myself that I'm going to read the final 8 volumes of the "Collected Chekhov" set I got for my birthday, and I'm going to read more Nabokov and more Shakespeare, and I'm going to read Janet Egan and possibly my summer read will be "Finnegans Wake." I don't know what else will find its way into that mix.

    I'm trying to plan out my 2012 writing as well. The WIP novel has been coming along very slowly, about a chapter a month. Which means that at this rate I won't finish the first draft until 2013. I can't decide if I want to make myself write more quickly. I also have a couple of side projects going, which is a first for me. I don't know how to prioritize it all. See your post today: I'm no longer worried about publication so I'm not killing myself to finish stuff these days. My productivity has slowed way down. That may be a bad thing.

  3. Yeah, that's why I rarely make lists, as well. Usually, though, if I buy the books ahead of time and have them on my shelf or in my Kindle, I will read them eventually. I want to get some more classics read this year instead of critiquing a billion unpublished manuscripts - a worthy thing to do, but that's all I've done for the past few years, it seems.

  4. We buy books and they stack up on the floor in front of the bookshelves. We tell ourselves that we'll read them all "next." But we buy books faster than we can read them and so eventually some of them go up on the shelves unread and then I, at least, lose track of them. Which is why I consider making an actual list, but I know I'll rebel against my list.

    You're a lot more helpful and generous than I am. I never offer to read and critique people's MSS. I have so little time to read as it is.