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Monday, January 30, 2006

With Yet-Still-Strangely-Not-Very Descriptive Title

Geoffrey Hill's Without Title makes it eight books in ten years. Along with a eulogy to Jimi Hendrix the book also contains a poem called 'If a woman smells of sperm and it is not mine, I don't like it'. All right, that one's a translation from Cesare Pavese, but still. Do you think the speaker means his woman, or any woman? Is it more a basic hygiene thing than anything to do with jealousy? I mean, if the woman (or man) beside me in the bus smells of underarm, feet, or even, why not, sperm, I don't like it much either. But then again why would he want any old woman he met to smell of his bugs? You don't meet someone in the pub and think, You've made an effort with the Chanel no. 5 and all, but think how much better you'd smell if I just smeared some... there you go. Or do you?

Still, were Geoff but a woman I could say: I'll have what she's having.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Matrix of Surds

Likes: golden thighs, pentagons
Extremely dislikes: irrational beans

Beckett fact no. 34.

'peekaboo here I come again, just when most needed, like the square root of minus one' (Texts for Nothing)

Yeats calls Pythagoras 'golden-thighed'. He was also known to abominate beans. But not quite as much as he abominated irrational numbers. A 'surd' in English comes via the Latin translation, surdus, of the Greek alogos, an irrational number or 'deaf root'. One such would be the hypotenuse of a triangle whose other two sides are a metre long, i.e the square root of two. Pythagoras disliked these so much because of their standing rebuke to his vision of mathematical order and clarity. The worst offender was the number invoked in a Duthuit dialogue as symptomatic of painting's history of 'Pythagorean terror', 'as though the irrationality of pi were an offence against the deity.'

The Pythagorean disciple who broke the news to a salivating public of the incommensurability of side and diagonal was Hippasos the akousmatic, for which crime the master had him drowned. 'So perish all babblers', comments Wylie in Murphy. And as Beckett writes around the same time in the French essay Les deux besoins:

N'est-ce pas pour avoir trahi ce sombre secret que Hippasos a péri avant terme, lynché par la meute d'adeptes affamés, vierges et furibonds, dans un égout public?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dee Dyon

Also available in black

Beckett fact no. 33.

'Not a Pic-Pic, Gorman, not a Pic-Pic, a Dee Dyan Button.' So Mr Cream reminds Mr Gorman of the first car they saw in The Old Tune, Beckett's translation of Robert Pinget's La manivelle.

In Company, the narrator's father leaves his wife in labour to take a long walk. When he returns to find the labour 'still in swing' he takes refuge in his 'coachhouse' where he climbs into the driver's seat of his De Dion Bouton and waits for news that 'it was over at last.'

Which, if not the most hands-on example of spousal support, at least beats Goff Nixon in Watt, who leaves his wife to crawl upstairs in labour and sever the umbilical cord with her teeth while he plays slosh in the billiards room.

As I mentioned, The Old Tune is a translation from Pinget; in return Pinget translated All That Fall and Embers as Tous ceux qui tombent and Cendres. Perhaps it's just Anglophone allergic reactions to the nouveau roman, but the amount of Pinget novels available in translation is fairly meagre. John Calder lists three in print: Bagu, Mahu or the Material, and The Inquisitory. Someone should do some more.

Pinget was also involved in Beckett's first venture into the theatre directing that became so important to him in the 70s and 80s, when Pierre Chabert persuaded him to direct Pinget's L'Hypothèse in 1964.

The Literary Life

This year’s prize
for best collection

by a squirrel
goes to

the squirrel
in my back garden

for his outstanding
collection, My Nuts.

(There he goes now
on the fence
with a new one.)

In their citation
the judges wrote,
‘This is an outstanding
collection of nuts,

witty but true,
dazzling but wise,
delicate but tough.

This is a collection
of nuts

we’ll be returning to
for many years to come.

Unless he eats them of course.’

Knock Knock

Beckett fact no. 32.

'You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It not to be read -- or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something; it is that something itself.'

Thus Beckett of Work in Progress in 1929. Richard Ellmann tells the story of Joyce dictating Finnegans Wake to Beckett and shouting 'Come in' when someone knocks on the door; when Beckett reads it back to him the 'Come in' is in the text and the surprised Joyce decides to keep it there. A charming story but for the fact that no one has ever found it since.

Definitely in the text though is 'Sordid Sam' (FW 40), 'a dour decent deblancer, the unwashed, haunted always by his ham'.

And also what might be a description of the hiding-in-the-tree incident that turns up in Company: 'You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out: Bethicket me for a stump of beech if I have the poultriest notions what the farest he all means' (FW 112).

And also the high jinks of 'Slippery Sam' and 'Tomtinker Tim' (FW 340-1), who may be Thomas MacGreevy.

And finally this: 'Illstarred punster, lipstering cowknucks. 'Twas the quadra sent him and Trinity too. And he can cantab as chipper as any oxon ever I mood with, a tiptoe singer! He'll prisckly soon hand tune your Erin's ear for you' (FW 467).

Probably the best place to find that mythical knock is the 1982 play Ohio Impromptu. The long black coat, Latin Quarter hat and reference to the Isle of Swans can't help suggesting images of Joyce in turn-on-the-century Paris:

Little is left to tell. In a last --
[L knocks with left hand on table.]
Little is left to tell.
[Pause. Knock.]

Togo One Mark Carmine

Beckett fact no. 31.

I put down the tray and looked for a few stamps at random. The Togo one mark carmine with the pretty boat, the Nyassa 1901 ten reis, and several others. I was very fond of the Nyassa. It was green and showed a giraffe grazing at the top of a palm-tree. (Molloy)

I've found the Togo one mark carmine. That's it in the top right-hand corner. Clicking on the image increases its size no end, if you fancy a closer look.

The giraffe, however, I haven't tracked down. Elusive things, giraffes.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Rather than anal.

Beckett fact no. 30.

In a poem I mentioned earlier, 'Dortmunder', the poet and a lady of the night conduct their business with inexplicably fatal side-effects for the author of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung:

Schopenhauer is dead, the bawd
puts her lute away.

As long as she doesn't nip out to the landing for a natter afterwards. Schopenhauer was interrupted once by an old woman talking to a friend on the landing outside his room: going out to tell her to stop he ended up throwing her down the stairs. Rather than oblige him by dying she brought him to court and successfully sued for compensation. When she finally did die, the philosopher commented in Latin: Obit anus, abit onus (the old woman dies, the burden goes away).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Miss Beamish

Now where did I leave my bicycle clips? Poland? Ach so!

Beckett fact. no. 29.

I ask you, does this man look like he's in need of a bicycle? A thousand-year Reich and the extermination of the inferior races perhaps, but a bicycle no. Yet when Moran chastises his absent-minded son in Molloy, he asks 'Who is this bicycle for, I said, Goering?'

Well, obviously not. Nevertheless, his presence in the text is not merely absurd. In Krapp's Last Tape Krapp mentions the singing of Miss McGlome ('Wonderful woman though. Connaught, I fancy'). Speaking to Deirdre Bair, Beckett described how Miss McGlome had begun life as Miss Beamish, based on a colourful figure he encountered in Roussillon who 'professed to being a novelist' and 'loudly claimed to everyone that she was a first cousin of Winston Churchill.' On the contrary, Annie O'Meare de Vic Beamish, for such was her name, was a relation by marriage not of Churchill but of the German gentleman pictured above.

These facts I learn from W.J. McCormack's From Burke to Beckett: Ascendancy, Tradition and Betrayal in Literary History.

And still on Krapp's Last Tape, here's a vidua bird, that fabled beast, on a Ugandan stamp.

'"Deep weed of viduity"... Black plumage of male... The vidua bird!'

Bert is Evil

Bert is evil

Shouting, Hey you! You're a bit overweight! at a stranger.

Making a farting noise when someone sits down.

Tying a shoelace to a cat's tail.

Just some of the things you might consider evil if you'd been branded a 'Devil's Reject'. You're a devil's reject because you're the margarine of evil, the diet Coke of evil, not the chocolate chip cookie dipped in lard.

You're just a bit... lame.

But the DVD copy of The Devil's Rejects in the bargain bin at my local Tesco's took an entirely different view of the question. These rejects were evil all right, and then some, what with all the torture and molestation and such. So why didn't the devil want them? Is this like a Stalinist v. anarchist thing? Something to do with unionisation and strike-breaking? Could there be a remake of On the Waterfront in there somewhere?

They also had some Sesame Streets DVDs going cheap. Remember Bert? He's the Mick McCarthy lookalike who lives with Ernie. Sample dialogue:

Bert: Hey, you've got a banana in your ear!
Ernie: What?
Ernie: What? I can't hear you; I've got a banana in my ear!

Then someone called Dino Ignacio came along and photoshopped Bert into pictures of well-known evildoers like Osama and put them on his Bert is Evil website. Before you know it Bert and Osama made an appearance on someone's demo placard in Bangaldesh -- someone who'd run Osama's name through Google images, wondered who the yellow guy beside him was but gone ahead and stuck it on his poster anyway. At this point the founder of Bert is Evil took the website down because it'd all got out of hand, and this former Ernie and Bert cuddly toy-owner (me) was suffering his definition of evil-crisis in the Tesco DVD aisle and longing for a return to simple the truths and certainties of a pre-September 11 world, but inwardly conceding that was impossible now that my precious Bert had been tarnished by that horrible website, and nothing, not even the two whole packets of Pringles I ate sitting there in the car park, nothing was ever, ever going to bring him back.

Also evil (constantly played Damien Duff out of position)

The Dog's Moments

Beckett fact no. 28.

'I met her on a bench, on the bank of the canal, one of the canals, for our town boasts two, though I never knew which was which', the narrator of First Love says of his first tryst with Lulu/Anna. It's the Grand. The other, of Brendan Behan Old Triangle fame, is the Royal.

In Krapp's Last Tape, Krapp remembers sitting on a bench by what seems the same canal waiting for his mother to die, with for company 'Hardly a soul, just a few regulars, nursemaids, infants, old men, dogs.' When the blind is pulled down in his mother's room he lingers a while, hanging onto the 'Moments. Her moments, my moments. [Pause.] The dog's moments.'

The opening of the poem 'Sanies I' also features a nursing home on the banks of the canal:

Exeo in a spasm
tired of my darling’s red sputum
from the Portobello Private Nursing Home
its secret things
and toil to the crest of the surge of the steep perilous bridge

Steep enough for the Rathgar tram to fall over it in 1861, killing six passengers. None of that Luas travel-in-comfort nonsense back then.

A proposal by a Dublin councillor to chop down the trees along the canal bank as a deterrent to prostitutes (Lulu/Anna among them, presumably) was contested by Oliver St John Gogarty, who claimed the trees were 'more sinned against than sinning'.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ghost in the Machine

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the kind manner in which you have given me your attention. I also thank you for your generous applause. You must remember that it is not I, a thing of brass and wood, that has been giving you all this pleasure. I am only the vehicle. I have the honour to hold here in my works the living voices of the greatest singers in the world. It is to the actual voices of these great singers that you have been listening. Again, I thank you.

The Gramophone Introducing Itself and Returning Thanks, 1o-inch record issued by the Gramophone Company, 1909

(quoted in Ciaran Carson's Last Night's Fun)

Mm, possum

The one on my other arm is for armadillo stew

This man knows lots of good possum recipes. It's novelist Harry Crews, as featured on Jim White's road movie jaunt through the deep South, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

Looking up some possum recipes myself I noticed one specified that the beast be 'good and dead -- really dead', which is always a help.

Also, when burying a possum, Harry said (if you're already full and don't fancy eating it), make sure you put it in the hole face down. That way when its ghost wakes up it'll dig down rather than up and go looking for vengeance offa some Chinaman instead of you.

Other highlights of the film included a 40 by 10 foot fresco of the rapture on the wall of the Jesus is Lord Cafe, Catfish Restaurant and Truck Stop, the Handsome Family playing 'My Sister's Tiny Hands' on the porch of a shack in the middle of an alligator-infested bayou lake, and Melissa Swingle (i.e. half the Handsome Family) perched on the boot of Jim White's Chevy playing 'Amazing Grace' on the saw.

Monday, January 23, 2006

O Hag You Have Killed Me

Ten Irish dance tunes with unusual names:

Cornelius Curtin’s Big Balloon
Tell Her I Am
O Hag You Have Killed Me
The Priest in his Boots
The Ladies' Pantalettes
Roll Her on the Banks
The Jolly Clamdiggers
Kitty Got a Clinking
The Cat that Kittled in Jamesie’s Wig
Jenny Bang the Weaver

'The Ladies' Pantalettes' is a nautical term. When sailors on tall ships wanted to hurry home they ran all the canvas onboard up the mast, and referred to the final piece of sail above the top gallants as 'the ladies' pantalettes'.

The picture is of the great Donegal fiddler John Doherty, who played a mighty version of 'The Cat That Kittled in Jamesie's Wig'.

Violent, Tortured and Abysmal Shouts and Groans

This is Blind Willie Johnson. As anyone who’s heard him will know, he’s the guy who threw Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart out of the band for sounding too effete. His ‘Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)’ has been described by Ry Cooder as the ‘most transcendent piece in all American music’, and was the inspiration for the shimmering slide guitar soundtrack to Paris, Texas. Although usually classed as a blues singer, he abjured any association with the devil’s music and thought of his ‘violent, tortured and abysmal shouts and groans’ (as an early reviewer called them) as his own way of testifying to the Good Lord. Sometimes his wife fills in in the background with wispy little vocal curlicues.

The ‘blind’ bit comes from the fact that a cheatin’ low-down stepmother threw lye in his eyes when he was nine, on being caught by young Willie’s father.

When his house burned down in the late 40s (no one seems quite sure when) he took up residence in its burnt-out shell, slept on a pile of damp newspapers, caught pneumonia and died.

You may also remember him from such cover-versions as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ and the young Dylan’s ‘Jesus Make My Dying Bed’.

‘Dark Was the Night’ is currently playing somewhere in space on the Voyager probe.


Beckett fact no. 27.

Cascando is a radio play Beckett wrote in 1962 in collaboration with Romanian composer Marcel Mihailovici, not to be confused with the early poem of the same name ('the hours after you are gone are so leaden...').

You can listen to a recording of it (and of seven other Beckett radio plays) here:

His original title for the play had been Calando, until French radio producers pointed out to him that calendos is a slang word for cheese. A calendeau is a Christmas log, which might also have been confusing.

Unless of course the play had featured the Gorgonzola-loving Belacqua. Handed an insufficiently rotten piece of the stuff by a Dublin grocer he finds only a 'faint fragrance of corruption':

What good was that? He didn't want fragrance, he wasn't a bloody gourmet, he wanted a good stench. What he was wanted was a good green stenching rotten lump of Gorgonzola cheese, alive, and by God he would have it.

There's some cheese in the La Fontaine fable of the 'catawumpus' mentioned in Dream, but whether it's Gorgonzola or not I couldn't say.

The mouse gets away in the end, you'll be happy to learn.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


A cat, blue, yellow and green as was the style of the time, chasing a rat with a communion wafer in its mouth (Book of Kells)

Beckett fact no. 26.

In Watt Dum Spiro, editor of the popular Catholic monthly Crux, reads a letter aloud from Martin Ignatius MacKenzie addressing the problem of host-ingestion by rodents:

A rat, or other small animal, eats of a consecrated wafter.
1. Does he ingest the Real Body, or does he not?
2. If he does not, what has become of it?
3. If he does, what is to be done with him?

And there the matter rests, or appears to. Except that in the drafts of the novel, a theology student by the name of Matthew McGilligan pronounces that ‘the rat, when caught, should be pursued with all the vigour of the Canon Laws and pontifical decrees.’ If his pursuers fail to catch ‘d’ould rat unthil afther what he’s bane an […] done his doolies’, there will be no alternative but to (gulp) – but at this point, much Arthur’s tale later on in the book, the narrative is unceremonially interrupted.

Remembering his time with Watt in part three of the book, ‘Sam’ declares: ‘Our particular friends were the rats, that dwelt by the stream. They were long and black […] And then we would sit down in the midst of them, and give them to eat, out of our hands, of a nice fat frog, or a baby thrush. Or seizing suddenly a plump young rat, resting in our bosom after its repast, we would feed it to its mother, or its father, or its brother, or its sister, or to some less fortunate relative. It was on these occasions, we agreed, after an exchange of views, that we came nearest to God.’

With thanks to Mary Bryden’s Samuel Beckett and the Idea of God. The photograph on the cover of which, by the way, is of the fork in the road at the top of the valley in Glencree.

Balor of the Evil Eye

Likes: evil, eye-related evil
Dislikes: non-evil, eye-related non-evil, non-eye-related evil,

non-eye-related non-evil

In The White Goddess Robert Graves discusses ancient Greek cults that practised human sacrifice, and whose victims were transported to 'some sacred island' for burial such as 'the distant Ogygia, perhaps Torrey Island [i.e. Tory Island] off the west coast of Ireland -- under the charge of magic-making and orgiastic priestesses.'

There is a mysterious Tau cross on Tory, which may bespeak a mysterious Graeco-Hibernian connection, and then there's Balor of the Evil Eye. Extensive antiquarian burrowings have turned up the following evidence for some kind of classical era evidoer exchange programme. I like the sound of a Cyclopean Ciconian. Ahem:

'The Gogonians may be connoted with the troglodyte Ciconians, or Cyclops, to whom Homer so frequently and unfavourably alludes, and the one-eyed Polyphemus of Homer is obviously one and the same with Balor, the one-eyed giant of Tory Isle in Ireland. This Balor or Conann the Great, as he is sometimes termed, was cock-eyed, one terrible eye facing front, the other situated in the back of his head facing to the rear. To this day the fateful eye of Balor is the Evil Eye in Ireland, whence anyone is liable to be o'erwished. Ordinarily the dreadful optic was close shut, but at times his followers raised the eyelid with an iron hook, whereupon the glance of Balor's eye blasted everything and everybody upon whom it fell. On one occasion the fateful eye of Balor is said to have overflowed with water, causing a disastrous flood ; whence, perhaps, why a watery eye is termed a 'Balory' or 'Bleary eye'. That Balor was Gog may be inferred from Belerium or Bolerium, being the name applied by Ptolemy to the Land's End district where still stand the rocks called Gog and Magog. That Balor was Polyphemus, the Cyclopean Ciconian, is probable from the fact that he was blinded by a spear driven into his ill-omened eyeball, precisely as Polyphemus was blinded by a blazing stake from Ulysses. Did the unlettered peasantry of Tory Isle derive this tale from Homer, or did Homer get the story from Ogygia, a supposedly ancient name for Erin?' {snip}

Balor's Teeth, Tory Island

Ego Smith

Beckett fact no. 25.

Asked by Mary Manning to help out with her play Youth's the Season at Dublin's Gate Theatre (above) in 1935, Beckett contributed a character called Ego Smith. Here's a snatch of Smith's part as quoted by Deirdre Bair: 'My conception of the universe is a huge head with pus-exuding scabs -- entirely revolting.'

When Ego Smith failed to go down well the producers, Beckett suggested an offstage character who would spend the play repeatedly flushing a toilet.

The Gate Theatre is not to be confused with the Abbey, especially not with the Abbey toilet or 'necessary house', down which Murphy asked his ashes to be flushed in his will, 'if possible during the performance of a piece.'

Mary Manning features in More Pricks Than Kicks as the very unflatteringly rendered Caleken Frica.

Later in life she became Mary Manning Howe, mother of the poets Fanny and Susan Howe.

Pestilential Hamlet

Beckett fact no. 24.

This is the former barracks, later borstal and now reconciliation centre in the 'pestilential hamlet' of Glencree, as so described in Mercier and Camier.

'How beautiful the bog', Camier tells Mercier. The pseudocouple then pause by the Lemass memorial on the Featherbed mountain:

It was the grave of a nationalist, brought here in the night by the enemy and executed, or perhaps only the corpse brought here, to be dumped. He was buried long after, with a minimum of formality. His name was Masse, perhaps Massey. No great store was set by him now, in patriotic circles. It was true he had done little for the cause. But he still had this monument. All that, and no doubt much more, Mercier and perhaps Camier had once known, and all forgotten.

{end quotation}

Lemass was the brother of Sean Lemass, later Taoiseach, and hence the uncle-in-law of Charles Haughey, a miserable picture of whom at a memorial event on the mountainside I remember from a long-ago Irish Times. Which reminds me of a passage from First Love possibly inspired by the same monument:

What constitutes the charm of our country, apart of course from its scant population, and this without the help of the meanest contraceptive, is that all is derelict, with the sole exception of history's ancient faeces. These are ardently sought after, stuffed and carried in procession. Wherever nauseated time has dropped a nice fat turd you will find our patriots, sniffing it up on all fours, their faces on fire.

{end quotation}

Oscar Wilde was surreptitiously baptised by his nurse at the Catholic adjoining the barracks.

A dinner party in Glencree is mentioned repeatedly in Ulysses.

And then there is Synge's poem 'To the Oaks of Glencree':

My arms are round you, and I lean
Against you, while the lark
Sings over us, and golden lights, and green
Shadows are on your bark.

There'll come a season when you'll stretch
Black boards to cover me;
Then in Mount Jerome I will lie, poor wretch,
With worms eternally.

Louis Wolfson

My schizophrenic aversion to pictures of the author Louis Wolfson means this is a picture of some other Louis Wolfson instead, and a 'solo platinum producer award' winner too, which is either something to do with very advanced DIY metallurgy or the music industry, I'm not sure which

Louis Wolfson (b. 1931) is a New York-born Jewish writer, and author of Le schizo et les langues. For reasons best known to himself, he could not (still can't?) bear the experience of hearing or reading English, and performed ingenious verbal fugues, translating the English all around him into a Finnegans Wake-style soup of more reassuring tongues. Lacanians must have a field day with him. In The Violence of Language, Jean-Jacques Lecercle describes the process:

Like Brisset [see my earlier post], Wolfson does violence to the sentences he compulsively analyses, and sometimes re-analyses. But there is an important difference. He respects the words of the original text, he does not cut them up into syllables. Rather, he ‘translates’ them, using homophony between languages and not just within a language, and combines these translations into sentences that, being written in several languages, are linguistic monsters. Thus, when he hears some workmen saying about him ‘he’s a screwball’—we can understand the urgent necessity of defusing the aggressive potential of the sentence through translation—he produces the following sentence: H(o)(u) i(l) (est ist yest) (un ein odin schab) (écrou Schraube) (Ball balle),where we recognize words in French, German, Hebrew, and Russian, and where I have placed variants he gives between [parentheses], because any variation will do, providing it is not an English word.

{end quotation}

Is Wolfson still alive? Is he still writing? How is his tolerance for English these days?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

It's Stalin! It's God! It's My Dead Twin!

A Vegas stage adaptation of All That Fall? If you say so Colonel Parker!

Beckett fact no. 23.

In April 2003 a seven-year-old boy from Kazakhstan, Mourat Zhanaidarov, was admitted to hospital with stomach pains only for doctors to discover he was in fact 'pregnant' with his twin brother. The foetus had hair, nails and bones and was feeding off the boy's blood supply.

Elvis's twin brother Jesse died at birth, and while he failed to take up residence in the singer's alimentary canal he nevertheless had a profound effect on Elvis's life, if we can trust the comments of the King's guru Larry Geller, which we probably can't. This is after all the man who describes Elvis having a religious epiphany when the face of Stalin appears to him in a cloud in the desert. As Larry tells it:

"It's God!" Elvis cried. "It's God!" Tears streamed down his face as he hugged me tightly and said, "...I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You got me here. I'll never forget, never, man. It really happened. I saw the face of Stalin and I thought to myself, Why Stalin? Is it a projection of something that's inside of me? Is God trying to show me what he thinks of me? And then it happened! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fiber of my being felt it... Oh, God. Oh, God," Elvis kept saying.

And what connects all this to Beckett is his statement to Charles Juliet in 1968 that 'J'ai toujours eu la sensation qu'il y avait en moi un être assassiné.' He goes on to describe the lecture of Carl Jung's he heard at the Tavistock clinic he heard in 1935, and which inspires Maddy Rooney's speech in All That Fall, about the girl who had 'never really been born'. 'Never been properly born', as the addendum to Watt puts it. It's as if, in an improvement on the Kazakh boy and Elvis's predicament, Beckett and his characters are the dead twins.

The Juliet quotation is from his Rencontres avec Samuel Beckett (P.O.L. 1999).

The Sitcom Version

In this, the sitcom version of my life you’ve been watching, this is where it gets funny, this is where you start wetting yourself. The man from next door, the one with the thing, he comes in to ask if we’re still going to the game, except the other man, the one from the place, he’s already here and knows all about that, he’s been here the whole afternoon, since the thing with the brick and the salesman, which started so well and ended in comic disaster, with the blood on the bathroom floor and all, but by now the other man, the one no one likes, this third man comes in and wants to know when I’m returning that nail file of his, the one I’ve had for the last eighteen months, and he’s waving his hands in my face, and they’re filthy, really disgusting, and the first man is still going on about the game, the game!, we’re going to be late, and number two’s all hung up on that salesman, whatever happened to him, he’s in the cupboard or something, and the third man’s waving his nails around, which is when you come in, and how am I meant to fit four people in here? – I’ve only got two mugs and three teaspoons in the whole place the last time I counted, and do you know one another, I ask? And oh yes, number one tells you, you’re that guy with the thing, except he’s meant to be the guy with the thing, and you, you’ve met number two, that time in the hardware shop, with the garden gnome and the brick, another brick, what was all that about, and number three, he doesn’t know anyone, not even me, he’s in the wrong apartment, no one’s ever seen him before, so what is he doing with his feet on my sofa watching TV? And this is just the worst show ever, no one will ever say that catchphrase of yours, the set just visibly shook when you opened the door, I can’t read the autocue, and in fact the whole thing wasn’t just cancelled months ago, it never got past the pilot, it never even got to the pilot: get out of here now, the whole damn lot of you, out out out!


Beckett fact no. 22.

This is less a fact than unsupported hearsay: Beckett's last prose text, Stirrings Still, has 1906 words. I started counting them but lost my place and gave up. Help anyone?

The Darly mentioned in the text is Arthur Darley (sic), a doctor who worked with Beckett in Saint-Lô and the subject of his French poem 'Mort de A.D.' (mort hier pendant que je vivais...).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Osama Audio Recording Security Alert

Osama Bin Laden's insistence on using audio cassette recordings to issue his messages of global apocalypse has raised fears about security levels throughout Al-Qa'eda training camps in Waziristan. 'I can't get batteries for my iPod anywhere round here', one combatant said yesterday, 'so I've been listening to my Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan mixed tape on the old stereo in the canteen all week, and then I come in one day and find that comedy guy here has recorded some long rambling spiel about Kill all the Americans yadda yadda yadda over it. Get your own tapes, Osama. In future I'm breaking the little plastic bits off the top.'

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Look Away Now

Beckett fact no. 21.

Nicolas Chamfort, aristocratic cynic and tosser-off of maxim-sized 'black diamonds of pessimism', to borrow a phrase from Dream; Beckett translated some in 'Long After Chamfort'. Would almost certainly have featured in this series before now but for the following suggestion (look away now batrachiophiles): 'Il faudrait avaler un crapaud tous les matins pour ne rien trouver de dégoûtant dans la journée quand on doit la passer dans le monde.' Swallow a toad every morning and nothing else that happens that day will seem quite as disgusting. You get his drift.

Licking toads, of course, is another matter.

Chamfort died on Beckett's birthday: a shaving accident of the throat-slicing kind, a bit like the Old Boy in Murphy. I trust that morning's toad managed to escape.

Likes: Chamfort
Dislikes: Being eaten by Chamfort

The Inishboffin Chamfort toad


Beckett fact no. 20.

I mentioned the poem 'Dortmunder' in my last post. Dortmunder's a beer, and here's a bottle of it.

In Molloy the hero consumes a bottle of Wallenstein lager when Gaber drops in on him, then worries about Father Ambrose smelling it on his breath and using it as an excuse to palm him off with an unconsecrated communion wafer.

There's no such lager as Wallenstein, but there is a play called Wallensteins Lager by Schiller. Coleridge translated it, and Verdi partly based La Forza del Destino on it. Though Beckett himself hated opera, as he tells us at the end of Proust.



Beckett fact no. 19.

In Arsene's poem about his East India Rubber Duck he refers to the minor Old Testament prophet Habbakuk:

Oh high white brightly burning duck,
Cush's stones are crying yet
Forth from the wall to Habbakuk

Still in Watt, 'Habbakuk' is one of Mr Knott's nocturnal 'dactylic ejaculations'.

He also puts in an appearance in the early poem 'Dortmunder':

Then, as a scroll folded,
and the glory of her dissolution enlarged
in me, Habbakuk, mard of all sinners.

Why Habbakuk? Hard to say. His brief (three chapter) Old Testament has some weird stuff about 'let[ting] thy foreskin be uncovered' and the 'shameful spewing' that shall be on 'thy glory', which may or may not be germane to the poem, given its subject manner (visiting a prostitute).

No less important though is the fact that Habbakuk is not the name of the Old Testament prophet at all. It's Habakkuk. But Habbakuk was the proposed name of a WWII British battleship measuring 2,000 feet in length to be built entirely from ice, thus rendering it effectively unsinkable. Its walls were to be 50 feet thick and its displacement a staggering 2,000,000 tons. The project was never begun.

Its name derived from an Admiralty clerk's misspelling of Habakkuk. Had he been reading Echo's Bones and Beckett's work in progress on Watt? A rubber duck-shaped dreadnought, spewing shamefully and landing the sinners in the 'mard' (Die merde hat mich wieder, as Beckett also says in Watt): that'd've learn the Hun all right!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rolling News

You told me you'd call! You said you loved me! You tell me what last night meant then!

During a drunken rampage on a long-haul flight, the British military attaché to Thailand informed his audience that North Korea is 'untrustworthy'.

Tell me some Welsh chat-up lines or the saint gets it

One in twelve Irishmen is descended from fifth-century High King and St Patrick-kidnapper Niall of the Nine Hostages.

Pine marten: family footwear franchise stock options keep me in tree bark, small furry rodents

The best way to meet a pine marten is to 'butter a tree stump with peanut butter, sit on the ground ("Cosy tussock!") and wait for a pine marten, complete with snowy-white bib, to come and dine by the light of the moon.' (Nancy Banks-Smith, Guardian)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why Bother

Beckett fact no. 18.

Arnold Geulincx, seventeenth-century Belgian philosopher. Want me to tell you about him? Really though, why bother? There'd be a certain Geulincxian logic to that, just sitting here doing nothing and sulking while you tap your fingers. As a good post-Cartesian, Geulincx struggled with the question of mind-body relations. When I type the words 'Why bother?' what makes them appear on the screen in front of me and on my retina? Divine intervention, that's what. My being bothered to do it or not doesn't come into it. If I'm telling you this it's because God is making it happen, no other reason. I'm as free in all this as Molloy is, in the image he remembers from Geulincx, to crawl 'towards the East, along the deck' on a boat going west.

And then there's the snappy little dictum of Geulincx's that Murphy remember in its original 'beautiful Belgo-Latin': ubi nihil vales, ibi nihil velis. Where you're worth nothing, there you're worth nothing. Might come in handy if you ever find yourself stuck for a concentration camp motto. An ivy-league concentration camp of course. But you'd still make them suffer, higher degrees or not.

A doctor once said to me, about a large spot or boil or something on my epidermis: ubi pus ibi vacuit, where there's a large spot on your epidermis you can always be relied to squeeze it.

It's never the same pus from one second to the next, as Estragon says in Godot.

His name is pronounced hyoo-links, by the way.


Boileau: knew a good rump when he saw one

Beckett fact no. 17.

I mentioned the poem about Becky Cooper and her fessade à la mode a few posts back, and have been mentioning backsides more or less all the time, which leads me to these entries from Beckett's Dream Notebook:

Flickem, flapem, over the knee,
Say, Thank you, good dame, for whipping of me

– copied from a book called Flagellation and the Flagellants by one William Cooper, BA, and then on the next page:

The human arse, to quote the Abbé Boileau, is extremely deserving of esteem, conferring as it does the faculty of assiduity.

Just how kinky was the young Beckett? He toyed with the idea of translating the Marquis de Sade, after all. Is the whole backside thing about wanting to be whipped or about the fact that the nether quarters, unlike the front-facing ones, offer no route to parturition?

Early Christian heretics could never make up their mind about sex. While some gnostics thought it was evil, always and everywhere, others decided that, with them having the inside track to God and all, they might as well just do it all the time anyway. What they did agree on was that parturtition was wrong, and when it occurred they resorted to ritual abortion.

It's odd that the gnostic influence on Beckett hasn't received more attention, but for anyone who doubts its presence, consider the 'Mani' (i.e. Manichaean) notes in his theatrical notebook for Krapp's Last Tape and the references therein to the signaculum sinus, the symbolic sealing-in of the body against carnality:

Note that Krapp decrees physical (ethical) incompatibility of light (spiritual) and dark (sensual) only when he intuits possibility of their reconciliation intellectually as rational-irrational. He turns from fact of anti-mind alien to mind to thought of anti-mind constituent of mind. He is thus ethically correct (signaculum sinus) through intellectual transgression, the duty of reason being not to join but to separate (deliverance of imprisoned light). For this sin he is punished as shown by the aeons.

{end quotation}

The constipation being his punishment, presumably. Constipation is a sign of health, in pomeranians. That's from Molloy.

I Love You Gary

Chris loves Suzy. Suzy loves Chris. Chris loves Ziggy. Suzy loves Gary, on a regular basis. Hiya Gary, Ziggy tells Chris. Suzy must go. Chris is staying put. Gary doesn't live there, so he needn't go anywhere. But 'Hiya Gary', Ziggy keeps saying. So Ziggy must go. 'It really broke my heart', says Chris. Chris still loves Ziggy. Maybe he still loves Suzy too. But they had problems. And Gary? Does Gary love Suzy? Was it just a sex thing or something more?

Yesterday's Paper

Beckett fact no. 16.

Four comedy acts that influenced Beckett:

1) The Marx brothers. The hat-swapping routine in Godot originates in Duck Soup.
2) Buster Keaton. Couldn't 'get' the script of Film and suggested some gags (paring a pencil until it disappeared) to spice things up. Possibly because of his disagreements with the film's motto from Bishop Berkeley, esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived). Keaton was a strict Lockean. Hence his life-long feud with Fatty Arbuckle, a well-known Hegelian.
3) Bim and Bom, les comédiens Staliniens as Beckett calls them in the first French text of Godot. Popular entertainers in Civil War-era Moscow. Satirised the Bolsheviks and once so offended a Latvian rifle detachment they shot up the circus and threatened to do the same to the clowns. Bim and Bom are also mentioned in Dream, as well as providing character names in How It Is and What Where.
4) Valentin and Karlstadt (above). Peter Gidal's Understanding Beckett has lots of examples of this German double act's quickfire dialogue, and very Beckettian it sounds too. Here's the opening of their sketch about yesterday's paper:

Man: Hey, did the man who wanted yesterday's paper get it yet?
Woman: Yeah, I've given it to him.
M: Yesterday's?
W: No, today's.
M: But he wanted yesterday's!
W: I didn't have yesterday's so then I gave him today's.
M: When?
W: Today. I promised him yesterday's for tomorrow.
M: Me too; so you don't have to get him yesterday's because I'm getting him the same one.
W: Neither of us can get him yesterday's, because the editorial offices don't have any left. So the man will have to take one from the day before yesterday!
M: But the day before yesterday's won't be of any use to him!

[fast forward...]

M: You don't understand me! Let's say the man had come tomorrow, and wanted yesterday's paper, then today's would've already been yesterday's and yesterday's the day-before-yesterday's! In reality though the day-before-yesterday's would've been yesterday's; did you get that?
W: (very loud) Yes, not in the slightest!

[fast forward...]

W: Mister! I couldn't get yesterday's paper, the one that has what you're looking for...
Customer: Oh, that's not so important -- I just wanted to know the ticket-price at the Zoo!

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Pitch

All right, here's the pitch for my new TV programme.

Larry David with elastoplasts. That's the pitch. It's called Ouch, My Goddamn Nose, and every episode ends with the central character (me) getting punched in the nose and bleeding profusely. For instance, I make an 'ironic' sexist remark to someone in a shop, she challenges me on it, I compound the misunderstanding, and unlike Curb Your Enthusiasm it isn't remotely funny, it's just horrible. Then she punches me in the nose and I start to bleed. The episode ends with me sitting on a park bench bleeding and crying.

In the next episode, still wearing a plaster, I inadvertently send someone an email meant for someone else describing the first person as a complete jerk and waste of skin. We meet, I apologise, the apology isn't accepted, the offended party punches me in the nose and I start to bleed again, and none of this is remotely funny. On the contrary, it illustrates the important point that short of you being Larry David (i.e. the total human population minus one) embarrassing situations are just that, embarrassing, and frequently end in random acts of violence.

By the way, I notice you've put on a fair bit of weight recently. The thing about sweaty male breasts and white shirts is they just don't mix. As least you're not as fat as that other bloke reading this. Who ate all the pies? He did, evidently. The big fat bastard.

Obscure Stuff

Suzann Beckett, a lawyer in Hartford, Connecticut. One letter away from still not being married to Samuel Beckett.

Beckett fact no. 15.

Ten obscure Beckett texts:

1) Le Kid. A 1931 revue parody of Corneille's Le Cid. No known text.
2) The manuscript of Murphy, apparently titled Sasha Murphy. In private hands and never seen or studied.
3) The 1936-7 German diary. Access to an unknown German diary was one of the aces in Knowlson's pack as a biographer, but all we have are extracts in Damned to Fame.
4) The Petit sot poems. In her memoir How It Was Anne Atik describes Beckett disparaging these (or one of them anyway) as his first clumsy attempt to write in French. The reason why they weren't in the Calder Poems 1930-1989, by the way, is that some people believe they aren't by Beckett at all, but his wife Suzanne.
5) F–. This is a Beckett text all right, a Suzanne Beckett text, translated by Samuel and published in Transition in 1949. Except that, in a neat symmetry with the last example, some people think that he-Beckett wrote the original too.
6) Ernest and Alice. An abandoned Endgame-era play whose Hamm figure is confined not to a wheelchair but a cross, with Alice ministering to him. In Reading University Library's Beckett archive.
7) The Way. A short late prose text inexplicably omitted from Gontarski's Complete Short Prose. Available in an eccentric little book by Friedhelm Rathjen called Samuel Beckett und Seine Fahrräder.
8) 'Echo's Bones'. Not the poetry collection, but a late addition to More Pricks Than Kicks in which Belacqua comes back from the dead and has a run-in with Lord Gall of Wormwood and his sidekick Zavorovna Privet. Unpublished.
9) J.M. Mime. An indecipherable but very mathematical-looking mime reproduced at the end of Gontarski's study The Intent of Undoing.
10) 'PSS'. A late poem not in the Calder Poems 1930-1989, but available in an excellent Spanish edition of Beckett's poems, Obra poética completa.


'Winsome, lose some': Alan Benett refusing an interview to a journalist on a paper that had called him 'winsome'.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fundamentalism (cont.)

So low was the papal salary, Pius X was reduced to modelling Laura Ashley curtains on the side

Beckett fact no. 14.

Pope Pius X vigorously denounced Modernism in his 1907 decree Lamentabili sane exitu ('This stuff is well lame'): he'd read Ezra Pound's juvenilia and saw right through him. He is also fondly remembered by Catholic traditionalists for his campaigns against the banjo, postage stamps and the semi-colon. In his translation of Guillaume Apollinaire's Zone, however, Beckett reminds us how misconceived the war between fundamentalism and modernity is, since only reactionaries are always truly up-to-date. As Apollinaire/Beckett write of Pius X:

Here even the motor-cars look antique

Religion alone has stayed young religion

Has stayed simple like the hangars at Port Aviation

You alone in Europe Christianity are not ancient

The most modern European is you Pope Pius X

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Beckett fact no. 13.

This is 'Le Pétomane' Joseph Pujol (1857-1945), virtuoso professional farter.

Dressed in a red coat and silk collar, black satin breeches with matching stockings and patent leather pumps, he played the flute through his backside, did imitations of farmyard animals, of a 'bride on her wedding night' (a shy squeak) with a morning-after sequel (a hearty roar), and even one of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. King Leopold II of Belgium once travelled incognito to watch him perform and tipped him 20 francs.

Here's what Molloy says about farting:

I can't help it, gas escapes from my fundament on the least pretext, it's hard not to mention it now and then, however my great distaste. One day I counted them. Three hundred and fifteen farts in nineteen hours, or an average of over sixteen farts an hour. After all it's not excessive. Four farts every fifteen minutes. It's nothing. Not even one fart every four minutes. It's unbelievable. Damn it, I hardly fart at all...

And finally, the poem Beckett wrote on the death of his father, 'Malacoda', is named after the devil who farts at Dante and Virgil in canto XXI of the Inferno: 'ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.'



Likes: beard-measuring competitions, being a fundamentalist
Dislikes: Salman Rushdie

Declan Kiberd (in his new book The Irish Writer and the World): nationalism and religion may be ideologies but secularism is an ideology too. Also, one of Salman Rushdie's Irish defenders has been a member of the Arts Council, so drop the 'fellow persecuted artist stuff', please. And: Irish people might be expected to sympathize with the anti-Rushdie case because they know all about high-handed Enlightenment values (i.e. the Brits).

Still Declan Kiberd: why can't Rushdie try to understand how annoyed these guys are? What's his problem?

Still Declan Kiberd: because in his secularist way Rushdie is 'just as much a fundamentalist as the Ayatollah'

To recap
'Rushdie must die': fundamentalist

Rushdie says what he wants about his religion: also fundamentalist

Irish academic draws an equivalence between a novelist and someone who wants to kill him. I get annoyed about it. Do I a) burn his book and pass a death sentence on him? b) say how I annoyed I am with him here and leave it at that? For all the difference it makes, since I'm obviously a fundamentalist anyway. We're all fundamentalists now.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Clever Hans

Beckett fact no. 12.

This is Clever Hans, a German horse and a dab hand (hoof) at sums. When asked a question he would tap out the answer with his hoof. A panel of scientists appointed to investigate found that, although Hans' powers were not a case of fraud, he could only solve a problem when the questioner already knew the answer. As he closed in on the right number of taps the questioner's body language displayed a decrease in tension, dissipating altogether when he got to the 'correct' tap, prompting him to stop. This effect, whereby the questioner unwittingly elicits the answer he wants to hear, is now known as the Clever Hans effect.

I mention this because in Watt Ernest Louit returns to Trinity College, Dublin, in the company of one Mr Nackybal, a native of the Burren. Louit has been researching a dissertation on The Mathetmatical Intuitions of the Visicelts, but has lost his notes in the gentlemen's cloakroom of Ennis Railway Station (not to mention being reduced to roasting and eating his dog). But not to worry, because Mr Nackybal possesses the ability to 'add, subtract, multiply or divide the smallest whole number to, from, by or into another', as Louit proceeds to demonstrate Clever Hans-style to the college's research committee.

They can't have been very impressed, as Louit moves on from mathetmatics to the much more adrenalin-charged world of trafficking 'Bando' (condoms, apparently).

Speaking of arithmetic though and Beckettian mistakes, as I was a few posts back: when Watt discusses the millennarian ambitions of the Lynch clan for their collective ages to add up to a thousand, a footnote points out that 'The figures given here are incorrect. The consequent calcluations are therefore doubly erroneous.'