Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beckett and "the absurd"

A Piece of Monologue brings to my weary attention another one of The Guardian newspaper's effortlessly obtuse top ten literary lists. This time it's "top 10 absurd classics". Of course, it includes Waiting for Godot.

Beckett's remarks about this subject have been available in French for 26 years and in English translation for 15, yet still he is ignored. Charles Juliet's Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde was reissued five months ago by Dalkey Archive, so there should be no more excuses. Here is the specific passage, beginning with Juliet expressing his opinion:
Cautiously, I explain that I believe an artist's work is inconceivable without a strict ethical sense.
A long silence.
"What you say is true. But moral values are inaccessible. And they cannot be defined. In order to define them, you would have to pass judgement, which is impossible. That's why I could never agree with the notion of the theatre of the absurd. It involves a value judgment. You cannot even speak about truth. That's what's so distressful. Paradoxically, it is through form that the artist may find some kind of a way out. By giving form to formlesssness. It is only in that way, perhaps, that some underlying affirmation may be found.
This is what makes Beckett a far more complex artist than the label "absurdist" allows. Perhaps this why it remains despite the author's explicit statements and the evidence of the plays backing them up. He seeks an underlying affirmation – why else would he continue? – while all around him hacks and inattentive culture-vultures chatter about "the absurd"; a value judgement to speed their fiercely middlebrow lives beyond anything distressing like the inaccessible.

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