In a 1995 essay, "Editing Beckett," noted Beckett critic Stanley Gontarski writes, "it is no small irony that for a writer so punctilious about his texts—especially their performance—Samuel Beckett's work has been subject to so much inept editing and so many publication blunders that he could lament to his 'official' biographer, James Knowlson, 'my texts are in a terrible mess'" (190). In this same essay, Gontarski cites a number of recent publications calling for a much needed re-editing of Beckett's entire canon, a task that, as Gontarski points out, proves more difficult and complex than one might initially suppose. I offer a small contribution to the colossal endeavor of the re-editing of Beckett's entire canon by focusing on a work not often cited as raising editing problems, but one which warrants attention nonetheless, the teleplay Eh Joe. Rather than detail every single textual variant, I will provide a brief history of the piece and present certain illustrative examples that suggest what issues are at stake in terms of editing and textual criticism and what kinds of novel materials/concerns are relevant (if not central) to a comprehensive contemporary re-editing of Eh Joe.
Eh Joe marks Beckett's first writing specifically for television. Beckett began drafting Eh Joe in the middle of April 1965 at his Ussy retreat house and finished some two weeks later (Admussen 127). Though composed in English, Beckett soon translated the piece into French, and it was first published in France by Minuit in a 1966 collection titled Comédie et actes divers. The teleplay was then published in England in Eh Joe and Other Writings (London: Faber and Faber, 1967). Publication in the United States followed (with some deviations from the Faber and Faber text) in Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces (New York: Grove, 1968), and soon after, with a slightly different text than the Grove edition, as "Eh Joe. A Television Play" in Evergreen Review (January 1969). Faber and Faber republished Eh Joe, with a text revised from its initial publication, in both Collected Shorter Plays (1984) and Complete Dramatic Works (1986). In 1984 [End Page 66] Grove also collected Eh Joe in a publication titled Collected Shorter Plays, "a volume which has created a number of textual problems. Grove decided for that volume not to collect its own versions of the plays but to photo-offset the Faber edition, so the sins of the Grove are the sins of the Faber" (Gontarski, "Re: A brief question"). The only version that approaches the description of "scholarly edition" appears in The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett: The Shorter Plays (1995). This volume reproduces in facsimile the theatrical notebook that Beckett used during the German production of Eh Joe (He Joe), which he directed at Stuttgart in January 1979. While this addition to the publication history of Eh Joe is helpful and interesting for Beckett scholars, it offers no textual transcription of the teleplay and is thus of little use to those first encountering or not wholly familiar with Eh Joe. Before considering the larger theoretical concerns pertinent to editing Eh Joe, I will note specific textual variants and anomalies in the published versions that highlight the "textual history" of the play, a history that, in their recent book, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, C. J. Ackerly and S. E. Gontarski deem "as complicated as any other production with which SB was involved" (164). Comparisons of the latest American publication of Eh Joe in Collected Shorter Plays (Grove) with previous publications of Eh Joe reveal a number of variants. The most recent Grove publications of Voice's first speech in Eh Joe read:
Thought of everything? . . . Forgotten nothing? . . . You're all right now, eh? . . . No one can see you now . . . No one can get at you now . . . Why don't you put out that light?. . . There might be a louse watching you . . . Why don't you go to bed? . . . What's wrong with that bed, Joe . . .( CSP 202)
This opening speech is punctuated by alternating ellipses and sequences of four dots, and after this speech sequences of four dots are usually employed rather than ellipses...