restricted access Beckett Translating/Translating Beckett (review)
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Reviewed by
Alan Warren Friedman, Charles Rossman, and Dina Sherzer, eds. Beckett Translating/Translating Beckett. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1987. 245 pp. $24.95.

Beckett Translating/Translating Beckett promises much: a "new perspective" that will emphasize "three significant aspects of Beckett's art that have received insufficient consideration," those being "his bilinguality," his exploration of "several verbal, kinetic, and visual media," and his influence on "many other artists." As the final category suggests, the word "translation" is given very wide berth; almost any aspect of what we have traditionally called "creativity" is here called "translation," including the rendering of "not only the metaphysical but also the political world of the twentieth century into powerful tragic images." The editors announce "a new phase in Beckett scholarship," but the proclamation seems hyperbolic; the Introduction has more the ring of a publisher's proposal than an assessment of contents.

And yet with twenty-two wide-ranging essays organized in five sometimes awkward categories, the volume makes good on many of its claims. Part One, "Translations French/English, English/French," aside from developing the editors' mania for dichotomies, does call attention to (even as it fails to, indeed cannot, resolve) what remains one of the most vexing problems in Beckett studies, the relation of Beckett's texts in the language of their composition to their author-translated counterparts. To call them separate texts and be done with it not only doubles the canon but begs the question. Brian T. Fitch convincingly argues that the translated text, in this case Companie, "provide[s] a kind of interpretation of Company." For Fitch the two versions remain "interdependent," and so even the best of arguments brings us back full circle. To the central question, "Which version [the French or the English, or the text in its language of composition or the translation] is the 'real' or the 'better' one?" Majorie Perloff can only note, "Obviously bom and neither." But the pleas of critics in Part One for Beckett scholars to confront the multilingual aspects of the Beckett canon are largely unheeded, even for the remainder of the volume. Linda Ben-Zvi admits, for instance, "Also, what I am saying about the sound structures in How it is will alter in the French translation Comment c'est." The point here is less the blunder (the French, of course, is not a translation) than the fact that most critics don't treat the bilingual nature of Beckett's work, even in volumes at least titularly devoted to that subject.

Part Two, called "Conceptual Transmutations," is the fuzziest of the categories. It includes some fine essays, including Rosette Lamont's epiphany at the Auschwitz death camp, "that Samuel Beckett is one of the great Holocaust writers of our time." In an act of legerdemain, however, the section also includes Richard Keller Simon's attack on all those critics who have seen Beckett as a comic writer (most of whom are represented in this volume, unrepentant). In the following essay, writing on Beckett and Duchamp, Jessica Prinz (wisely) ignores (or perhaps is unaware of) Simon's argument as she notes that "humor is an essential component of their [Beckett's and Duchamp's] work." Certainly, many of the critics in the volume would have welcomed the opportunity to respond to Simon directly. Scholarly disagreements are healthy, but here they resemble an "Exquisite Corpse," as critics add to a whole without knowing what others have contributed. [End Page 722]

Part Three, "Genre Transformations," seems to be a more distinct category than those preceding, because most writers discuss what H. Porter Abbott calls working "against genre," Ben-Zvi's linguistic discussion of "manipulation with phonemes" excepted: against autobiography (Abbott), against the pastoral (Smith), against the whole of drama (Zeifman), against the whole of fiction (Moorjani), and against all genres (Hayman).

Part Four, "Transpositions for Stage and Screen," includes a survey of Beckett's work for television (Bishop), a detailed history of adaptations of Beckett's work by Mabou Mines (Cohn), and a look at the American playwright most influenced by Beckett, Sam Shepard (Brienza). By the fifth and final "Part" the reader may still be looking for the whole...


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