- Samuel Beckett
Bruno Clément and François Noudelmanns’s Samuel Beckett states its goal right from the start, in elegant yet clear terms: “Il est temps de changer d’éclairage et de sortir Beckett de la glose humaniste sur l’absurde, le désespoir et l’incommunicabilité” (9). This book is indeed successful in shedding new light on Beckett’s work, exposing it as one continuous, coherent, and very ambitious project. Both authors of the study have previously made noteworthy contributions on Beckett: Bruno Clément with L’Œuvre sans qualités in 1994, and François Noudelmann with Beckett ou la scène du pire in 1998. While readers familiar with those two works will recognize fundamental elements reappearing in this new book, the overall effect is to provide a tightly meshed, convincing vision of a deliberate, cohesive project that spanned Beckett’s lifetime of writing; the two authors’ perspectives are here combined to re-create the internal logic of this project. The work is eminently readable, divided into twelve short modules that are a convenient format both for Beckett scholars who will be able to read through the work in small increments as they please, and also for novices just getting acquainted with Beckett, who will find it useful in that it is neither overwhelming nor intimidating, yet still provides appealing platforms for diving into Beckett’s work.
We should also point out that this is a beautiful edition, from the front cover [End Page 953] embossed with a diagram of the figures’ movements in Quad, to the textured back cover. In between, we find a two-page spread black-and-white portrait of Beckett; another portrait in color; reproductions of manuscripts, typescripts, published editions, telegrams regarding Beckett’s receiving the Nobel Prize, his own director’s notebooks; production photographs of works for the theater and television. All give an enticing taste of the man and his work. The beauty of the edition could lead one to expect a coffee-table type book, but in fact there is nothing superficial about the scholarship here—the authors have been very effective in remaining accessible without oversimplifying. This work is part of a collection whose stated goal is to spread “French” thought. The series is published by ADPF (Association pour la diffusion de la pensée française), under the auspices of the ministère des Affaires étrangères, and is sent out to French cultural institutions abroad, who in turn share with their partner institutions. The “French” thought being shared here is of course that of an Irishman and native speaker of English, though significantly he wrote much of his work in French, and translated nearly every piece (written in either language) himself.
The first topic broached here, indeed, is Beckett’s bilingualism. The authors point out that this is an essential dimension rather than an external characteristic; rather than an anecdotal detail or evidence of technical prowess, it is an integral part of Beckett’s literary project: “[le bilinguisme] est la mise en oeuvre d’un projet d’écrivain, incompréhensible sans lui” (13). The French and English versions of a text often work together in a manner akin to two parts of a same play, a pair of characters within a text or play, or the dual listening/recording aspect of Krapp’s Last Tape, for example. Thus translating is for Beckett the occasion for a revision but also a continuation: “une sorte de retour qui est aussi une suite et une correction” (17). Even before he began writing in French, Beckett often pondered questions of language and translation. This leads the authors of the present study to distinguish between two periods, the first being the elaboration by Beckett of a project (evident, for instance, in Beckett’s early comments on Dante’s use of language), the second being its execution. The project is deliberately, resolutely destructive, but also entails reinventing conventional articulations (for instance between subject and self, image and perception, voice and space-time), not least through the means of a...