PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
News and Notes
The PN Review Prize 2017 - Coming Soon
ENGLISH PEN: time to join!
English PEN relies on the support of its members and subscribers. read more
Most Read... Daniel Kaneon Ted Berrigan
(PN Review 169)
David Herdin Conversation with John Ashbery
(PN Review 99)
Henry Kingon Geoffrey Hill's Oraclau/Oracles
(PN Review 199)
Dannie Abse'In Highgate Woods' and Other Poems
(PN Review 209)
Sasha DugdaleJoy
(PN Review 227)
Matías Serra Bradfordinterviews Roger Langley The Long Question of Poetry: A Quiz for R.F. Langley
(PN Review 199)
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Gratis Ad 1
Gratis Ad 2
Next Issue Celebrating Tom Raworth: a feature supplement Jane Draycott's Michaux Mimi Khalvati's Sonnets Andrew Latimer talks to Alex Wong, anti-ironist John Clegg's gives us a six

This article is taken from PN Review 234, Volume 43 Number 4, March - April 2017.

‘Just Saying No’: Beckett’s Epistolary Dissidence Drew Milne
IN 1982 SAMUEL BECKETT wrote Catastrophe for the Association International de Défense des Artistes. Dedicated to Václav Havel, then an imprisoned Czechoslovakian dissident, the play was performed in nights of solidarity with Havel, first in Avignon, and subsequently in New York and London. Catastrophe and What Where mark a widely perceived political turn in Beckett’s late plays, reshaping Beckett’s apparently apolitical stance as a writer.

The perception of Beckett as an apolitical writer has since given way to more nuanced readings of what might be called Beckett’s micro-political stances. Aside from French resistance activities Beckett kept private, Beckett’s most public acts of solidarity were with other writers and in resistance to censorship. In the context of the 1980s, however, Beckett’s solidarity with Havel could not simply be understood as the defence of another writer. As a dissident critic of Czechoslovakian communism, a defence of Havel’s human rights and freedom of expression also appeared anti-communist.

Beckett’s published writings could also be described as dissident, but not as explicit criticism of any particular regime, more as a negative no-saying, and a rejection of anything resembling cultural affirmation. Construing Beckett as a dissident writer nevertheless feels superficial. As his late letters reveal,1 Beckett was a persistent no-sayer, turning down requests and blandishments of various kinds in defence of his work’s artistic integrity. As Dan Gunn notes: ‘Sorry to disappoint’ becomes a formula repeated verbatim as often as sixty times during the years represented here’. [p. lxxxix] Beckett is capable of more belligerent forms of refusal, but there’s also a studied ...
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image