It’s St. Patrick’s Day today. Being that I am neither Irish or a drinker, I haven’t much to do with the common celebrations. As a Catholic my favorite saints are the mystics, the repentant ones, of which St. Patrick is neither–he’s kind of dull. So I wasn’t planning to make a special blog today, but while surfing around I came across Irish author, John Banville’s list of his favorite Irish literary works. Included on his list was a novel by Samuel Beckett, and I thought, “great! I’ll write about Beckett.”
Beckett is one of my favorite playwrights. Like most people who are not in the theater scene, my first and primary exposure to Beckett came from his play “Waiting for Godot,” a play so notoriously obscure and highbrow, Sesame Street has parodied it (you can find it on YouTube along with excerpts from serious Beckett performances.) The play itself is somewhat of a cultural litmus test: those who “don’t get it” accuse the play of pointless nihilism and willful obscurity, while those who claim to get it often praise it with the same degree of platitude Beckett had meant to subvert.
So if you’re not “hip” to Beckett I’ll give you the five minute explanation. Beckett focuses on human beings who human beings who cannot meaningfully communicate with each other. Jokes fly over heads, profound statements are ignored, complaints fall on deaf ears, and pessimism runs rampant. There’s always some degree of anticipation for a moment that never comes, or more Beckett-ian, doesn’t exist. In “Waiting for Godot” there’s only waiting, and “Endgame” famously begins ““Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”
What I love about Beckett is that you can laugh at his plays but at the same time you know he’s talking to you. He’s calling you out for all your banal small talk, the way you try to express your feelings and come up short, your awkward pauses and reliance on cliches. And I’m not as pessimistic as some people who believe meaningful communication is dead in an era of commercials and trite Twitter-ing, but I think we’re more guilty of failure more often than we may think.
Went to my library and picked out a book of Beckett’s fiction to read over the weekend. I highly recommend that if you’re looking for a book to pass the time with you do the same. Meanwhile enjoy this.