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Beckett: Still Relevant
on April 19, 2004
The Complete Short Prose 1929-1989 is one of the great books to appear in the last ten years. I grew up reading parts in anthology and thin Grove Press editions. At last many of these sparse texts parading around as novels have come together under one cover. Stories like "First Love" and "The End" are among Beckett's strongest works, and "Texts for Nothing" are extremely complex and perhaps the most moving monolgues I know, for they often bring tears to my eyes. Beautiful stuff! You need some sort of literary standard other than Dave Eggers or Cormac McCarthy: I'll take Beckett any day!
Beckett had a big influence on European writing, but his influence is almost invisible on American letters. Sometimes you hear about writers being influenced by Kundera, Borges, or Kafka, but Beckett has eluded the art of writing here, with the exception of play writing. That's unfortunate, because his trilogy of novels and much of his short texts are some of the most intense, beautiful writing in the past half-century. Edward Dahlberg often talked about this sort of great writing: "It was to take me many years to realize that one has to be very lucky to write one intelligence sentence."
After reading the definitive introduction by the writer S. E. Gontarski, I am convinced that Beckett is the creator of "Spoken Word." Take that to the bank! In works such as "Fizzles" and "The Lost Ones" Beckett modulates a disembodied voice that is stripped away of all mimesis, yet it is the same interior voice that permeates all his fiction. Haunting, profound, chilling. I can think of no equal to Beckett's prose writing, except maybe Dahlberg himself. Only if today's hack writing was half as good as Beckett and Dahlberg....
People should read The Complete Short Prose and Three Novels like they read the Bible. Do it now! I know why these books are worth reading! As Dahlberg once said, "What need had I of the sour pedants of humid syntax, or of courses in pedagogy, canonized illiteracy. I saw that anybody who had read twelve good books knew more than a doctor of philosophy." Nevermind these fads, these 20 under 40, and so on. Nevermind.