Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Any hack could instruct him in the elements of his craft"

Just read Hugh Kenner's short but rich Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians. There is much to chew on here, in many ways very complementary with Josipovici, I find. There is also much I'd like to excerpt, in the entirely possible event I am unable to blog about the book in any detail, but for now, this:
Art is the perfect not-doing of what cannot be done, and peer as we will, we shall not discern Beckett doing. We are encumbered by no proof sheets, no keys, no outlines. There is no legend of the fabulous artificer. Not even the Paris telephone directory records his presence, though it did Joyce's. Photographs display the somewhat bemused expression of a man to whom numerous books have mysteriously happened. We do not track theme-words through the text of Comment C'est or Happy Days [as one does through Ulysses, for example - RC], marveling at the master's virtuosity. On the contrary, we note the stubborn (though fastidious) repetitiousness of a man who can barely keep going ("end at last of the second part how it was with Pim now only the third and last how it was after Pim before Bom how it is there is how it was with Pim"). His role is not the engineer's but the scribe's, or the medium's ("I say it as I hear it"). Any hack could instruct him in the elements of his craft, though it is not clear whether he would profit by instruction, for his virtuosity, such as it is, appears to diminish rather than grow accomplished. The early Murphy is at least something like a novel. It has even a timetable, and one would have expected practice to increase its author's facility. Five novels later, alas, he seems unable to punctuate a sentence, let alone construct one. More and more deeply he penetrates the heart of utter incompetence, where the simplest pieces, the merest three-word sentences, fly apart in his hands. He is the non-maestro, the anti-virtuoso, habitue of non-form and anti-matter, Euclid of the dark zone where all signs are negative, the comedian of utter disaster.

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