Beckett's Art of Mismaking
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Readers have long responded to Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays with wonder or bafflement. They portray blind, lame, maimed creatures cracking whips and wielding can openers who are funny when they should be chilling, cruel when they should be tender, warm when most wounded. His works seem less to conclude than to stop dead. And so readers quite naturally ask: what might all this be meant to mean?
In a lively and enlivening study of a singular creative nature, Leland de la Durantaye helps us better understand Beckett’s strangeness and the notorious difficulties it presents. He argues that Beckett’s lifelong campaign was to mismake on purpose―not to denigrate himself, or his audience, nor even to reconnect with the child or the savage within, but because he believed that such mismaking is in the interest of art and will shape its future. Whether called “creative willed mismaking,” “logoclasm,” or “word-storming in the name of beauty,” Beckett meant by these terms an art that attacks language and reason, unity and continuity, art and life, with wit and venom.
Beckett’s Art of Mismaking explains Beckett’s views on language, the relation between work and world, and the interactions between stage and page, as well as the motives guiding his sixty-year-long career―his strange decision to adopt French as his literary language, swerve from the complex novels to the minimalist plays, determination to “fail better,” and principled refusal to follow any easy path to originality.
wrath of Achilles or justifying the ways of God to man, the aim of art has been ﬁne making. And then along came an Irishman named Samuel Beckett who ended the whole thing, closed the proceedings, put art to rest, at last, for it was very tired. Such a fable, for that is all it is, tells of what distinguishes our art from the art of the past. It is one thing for an artist to lack talent or vision and thus to make mistakes or make poorly through lack of skill, talent, or time. But it is another
the “big blooming buzzing confusion” (GC 1.5; 1.21). As if reaching the same conclusion as Freud during these same years about the discontent to which civilization consigns each individual, Murphy seeks a special exemption from the dictates of desire, which he dreams might be found in more resolutely residing in the “little world” of his mind. And yet he cannot help wondering if there is not another like him, and The Will to Mismake, or Fish and Chips • 41 cannot check his desire to ﬁnd out.
it. The comparison is both clever and distant. In the fourteenth century, Franco Sacchetti recounted how Dante, passing by a blacksmith’s shop in Florence, heard a smith singing out verses from his Commedia, punctuating the end of each line with a blow from his hammer, and how Dante once observed a peasant driving an ass to market while intoning the Commedia with an “Arri!” at the end of each line to usher along his charge (Sacchetti 1979, 14, 15). However apocryphal these tales might be, The
off, as though ashamed. This isolating effect of laughter, not fed by one’s fellows but, on the contrary, fueled by one’s isolation from them, brought on, in Iser’s observation, “an unprecedented degree of unease which ﬁ nally strangulates the laughter [den Lacheffekt shließlich stranguliert]” (Iser 1979, 7). As is always the case with sociological 14 4 • B e c k e t t ’ s a rt o f m i s m a k i n g data, Iser’s is open to interpretation. But it bears noting that those audiences were
11.281).14 For Adorno, what Sartre and company fail to do is to fail at all. They play dexterously with failure, they represent failure with artistry, but without taking its measure, running its risks, or letting it into their language. They remain at a safe Conclusion • 1 55 distance. The characters on the existentialist stage are made to realize the most devastating things imaginable, and yet their ability to experience and express that devastation is curiously unimpaired. In Adorno’s