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Sails of the Herring Fleet

Essays on Beckett

Herbert Blau

Publication Year: 2000

Sails of the Herring Fleet traces esteemed director and theorist Herbert Blau's encounters with the work of Samuel Beckett. Blau directed Beckett's plays when they were still virtually unknown, and for more than four decades has remained one of the leading interpreters of his work. In addition to now-classic essays, the collection includes early program notes and two remarkable interviews -- one from Blau's experience directing Waiting for Godot at San Quentin prison, and one from his last visit with Beckett, just before the playwright's death. Herbert Blau is Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor of the Humanities, University of Washington.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-20

I seem to remember something earlier, but the first letter I saved from Beckett was typed, dated 21.9.59, and sent from 6, rue des Favorites, where some days later we met. In the small courtyard to entrance C, there was, as if from a picture I had seen, the bicycle next to the trash can, perhaps the model for Nagg's and Nell's. A woman answered the door, reddish hair, ill-fitting suit-I knew nothing then of Suzanne-and said Mr. Beckett was still at his desk.

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1 Who Is Godot?

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pp. 21-23

Never mind. We ain't talking. You sees the play and you takes your choice. But if you must have questions, there are better ones. Who am I? What am I doing here? "You do see me, don't you," cries one of Beckett's heroes to Godot's angelic messenger. "You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!"

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2 In Memoriam

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pp. 24-25

It may seem paradoxical to celebrate the opening of a theater named The Encore with a play named Endgame; but those who saw Waiting for Gadot might expect the despair of Samuel Beckett to be more ennobled, and salutary, than the politer optimism of lesser men. An elegy with the passion of the Old Testament prophets, the drama is almost unbearably humane.

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3 Notes from the Underground

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pp. 26-55

I have a feeling he really knew there was more to it than that, but a goodly amount of art in our time has been created or talked about to put off people who are always looking for meaning. That is why so much of it has acquired the reputation of being without meaning. The artists encourage this. Eliot says he would tell us the meaning of Sweeney Agonistes if he knew; Beckett says he would tell us who Godot is if he knew.

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4 On Directing Beckett: An Interview

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pp. 56-76

How did it start? There were a lot of little theaters in those days. The little theater tradition had come out of the 1920s. The Bay area was polka-dotted with them-not much, however, that was very memorable in the quality of performance. Actually, there was some adventurous or experimental work (e.g., the Hillbarn Theater in San Mateo or the Interplayers in San Francisco) but, overall, the actors were not very good.

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5 The Bloody Show and the Eye of Prey

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pp. 77-93

I didn't propose the title of this session, "Beckett and Deconstruction," though fortune disposes in ways that might have been foreseen. For I became a father again as I started to work on this essay. I am not speaking, as they do in deconstruction, of the paternity of the text. The major obsession of poststructuralist thought is, to be sure, the question of origins, the allure and (re)lapse of beginnings, the illusory subject of the instituting trace.

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6 Barthes and Beckett: The Punctum, the Pensum, and the Dream of Love

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pp. 94-112

Pathos has had a bad name in the history of the modern; sentimentality worse. Until the last books of Roland Barthes, they seemed like insipid residues of humanism in the era of the End of Man. An honorable exception was always Beckett-the congenital last holdout of humanism-who couldn't shake the pathos for all its running sores, the laughter of mutilations, and whose cruelty never prevented you from having a good cry, right up the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh.

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7 The Oversight of Ceaseless Eyes

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pp. 113-123

That desperate line from Godot seems, in the recessive distance, if anything more forlorn and, in the context of recent thought, just about doubly absurd. For even if Didi were seen, as he (dubiously) appears to be, he is after all only an appearance, and what does the seeing amount to-what does it mean?-if we can't quite count on an identity, an I that goes with the me, an autonomous self or ego, as the stable subject of sight.

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8 Quaquaquaqua: The Babel of Beckett

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pp. 124-138

This may get more theoretical later; somewhat roundabout, but I want to begin with a sort of historicizing preface to what I had intended to say, for I came here directly from Paris, where I saw Beckett last week. He is in his eighties now and, as some of you know, has not been well. But while "the circulation," as he said, "leaves something to be desired," there were two neatly ready glasses on a small writing table, and we toasted each other ...

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9 The Less Said

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pp. 139-141

Astride of a grave and a difficult birth ... he made it hard in mourning to mourn him, fittingly, in anything but his own words. For who was it, after all, that wrote the text of mourning. Or, in its sepulchral orchestration, even hilarious, mourning and melancholia.

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10 Remembering Beckett: An Interview

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pp. 142-166

In all the time I knew him, a little over thirty years, I never gave him anything I ever wrote-except toward the end, once. In the early years, supposition was that Beckett never read anything written about him, whether by friends or by anyone else. That was just a fiction. It was soon apparent to me that he did. But I never gave him anything. A while before he died my wife, Kathy, berated me about it.

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11 Astride of a Grave; or, the State of the Art

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pp. 167-179

There may be times in what I'm about to say when I'm not quite sure what I'm saying-if not quite incoherence, a feeling of disjuncture, because some of what I'm saying was prompted, more or less directly, not by theaters of the dead but by death itself, whatever that may be. None of us, of course, is an authority on the subject, though I did have the peculiar impression, when Elin Diamond called and invited me to speak, that it was partially because my qualifications were improving.

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12 In Short: The Right Aggregate, the Grand Apnoea, and the Accusative of Inexistence

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pp. 180-195

For all the untenability of a singular character or a unified ego or coherent being, and the swallowing up of identity in a serial negativity, there is hardly a body of work in modern literature with so unitary a vision as Samuel Beckett's, along with the readily identifiable tonality of a perpetual voice, stuttering or aphasic, embracing dissolution, affirmed by abrogation.


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pp. 197-202


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pp. 203-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024407
E-ISBN-10: 047202440X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472030019
Print-ISBN-10: 0472030019

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 8 photographs
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance