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This report is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Goldberg Variations Lawrence Sail

Goldberg, one of the two bullying interlopers in Pinter's The Birthday Party, demands of the wretched Stanley, whose birthday it is: 'Is the number 846 possible or necessary?', then dismisses his suggested answers (first, 'Neither': then 'Both') with an exhilarating piece of philosophical obfuscation: 'It's only necessarily necessary! We admit possibility only after we grant necessity. It is possible because necessary but by no means necessary through possibility. The possibility can only be assumed after the proof of necessity.' In a different but similarly playful vein Charles Simic, writing in PNR 131, wittily characterises the poet through the ages as Proteus, in one way or another always able to give the slip to officialdom, outflanking any prescriptive establishment and even death. There may be, he suggests, any number of idioms for what is done in the name of poetry, from protest to praise, passion to politics, pilgrimage to philology.

This is not just a matter for the critics and biographers. Most writers have at some point faced the challenge of the possible and the necessary: the need for a personal definition of the art of the possible, and an answer to the war-time postcard which asked, with an implied accusation, 'Is your journey really necessary?' You don't have to be a disciple of Malrow to know that all artistic endeavour is in a practical sense superstructural, predicated more often than not on the assumption of at least a garret in which to starve. Yet there are sufficient ...


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