Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Worstward Ho (1983) by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett
Nobel Prize for Literature winner Samuel Beckett
Book Review
Worstward Ho (1983)
 by Samuel Beckett

    Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, and he didn't die until 1989, giving him two decades to exist as a veritable literary saint on earth.  Samuel Beckett is a colossus of 20th century literature and drama.  He has a direct link to James Joyce, the high priest of high modernism, and his own work represents a bridge between the modern and post-modern,   He also was a key avatar in the linguistic turn as it manifested itself both in literature and academia.  Finally, he is an apostle of minimalism, a movement that continues to inform large swaths of varied artistic disciplines.

   At the same time, he was never a huge popular figure.  In popular culture, most people don't know who he is, and if they do, he's vaguely associated with the play, Waiting for Godot- two guys waiting for a person who never arrives.  In popular culture, Beckett is a Simpsons reference.   You would expect Samuel Beckett, who died in 1989, to on a cusp of a revival- 30 years from death represents a generational opportunity to revive the titles of an Author and introduce them to a totally new generation, one who need to purchase copies of the author's titles.

  Among the critical/serious/academic class, Beckett is a saint and participation in that culture requires knowledge of his career high-points, but it's not like he is a hot topic on campus.  Beckett is a given.  He's been a given for a generation.  He was a given in the Bay Area in the early 1990's, where I took a girl on a first date to a Berkeley Repertory Theater production of Waiting for Godot.   Amazingly, that title doesn't make the 1001 Books list, probably because all plays- from Shakespeare onward are excluded from the 1001 Books definition of a "book."   Even without Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett is a key figure in the 1001 Books list, with Worstward Ho the last of his eight titles.

  Murphy, his first title on the 1001 Books list, was published in 1938, giving his included titles a date range of 45 years!  My recommendation, having now read all eight books on the list, is to focus on early Beckett.  Of middle and later Beckett, it can be summarized as "difficult to understand."  Unless you have some vested interest in understanding Samuel Beckett, it's his early novels- Murphy and Malloy, specifically which are the only books that are likely to bring the casual reader something like pleasure.

  It's impossible to pass from the topic of Samuel Beckett without addressing existentialism, an attitude which his entire oeuvre exudes.  Existentialism suffuses much of art after World War II, but Becektt is one of the few artists whose work fully anticipated existentialism before it existed. The idea of the meaningless of existence animates all of his work, and there is some irony in the fact that a man so obsessed with emptiness could create work which has proved to be so full of meaning.

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