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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 2 Number 2, 1974.

The Prose Of Samuel Beckett James Atlas

I

THERE IS A moment in Proust's novel when Marcel hears a bird calling through the long afternoon:

Somewhere in one of the tall trees, making a stage in its height, an invisible bird, desperately attempting to make the day seem shorter, was exploring with a long, continuous note the solitude that pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer, so powerful a repercussion of silence and of immobility that, one would have said, it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been trying to make pass more quickly.


This 'long, continuous note' of solitude resonates through Samuel Beckett's work since the publication of his trilogy, Malloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, between 1951 and 1953. With increasing spareness and economy, he has reduced his prose to the point, in Lessness, where a few words are entered on the page, then repeated in various orders or identical phrases until their possible meanings have been exhausted. In his plays, we are asked to observe a stage littered with garbage, while an 'instant of recorded vagitus' (in the O.E.D., the word is obsolete, 'a cry, lamentation, or wail') punctuates the sound of breathing, or listen to a disembodied voice hectoring a hooded, silent auditor (Not I, 1973). What we are witnessing is the termination of an oeuvre designed to die with its author; the trope of immortality, of a work surviving its creator, has been ...


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