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Theatre Journal 53.3 (2001) 518-520

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Book Review

Sails of the Herring Fleet

No-thing is Left to Tell:
Zen/Chaos Theory in the Dramatic Art of Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett's Theatre:
Life Journeys

Sails of the Herring Fleet. By Herbert Blau. Theatre: Theory/Text/Performance. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press, 2000; pp. viii + 214. $47.50.

No-thing is Left to Tell: Zen/Chaos Theory in the Dramatic Art of Samuel Beckett. By John Leeland Kundert-Gibbs. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999; pp. 236. $43.50.

Samuel Beckett's Theatre: Life Journeys. By Katharine Worth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999; pp. 192. $60.00.

In her recent book, Katharine Worth writes that "Beckett was a magnet for performers and artists . . . before criticism caught up . . ." (146). Samuel Beckett has become one of the most frequently written about authors of the twentieth century, often cited as a seminal figure in the theatrical transition from modernism to postmodernism and in the late twentieth century rise of performance art. Much of the writing on Beckett relies on performance analysis, for although many of his plays involve questioning the void, it often proves impossible to address his writing in the void of pure literary criticism. Both Worth and Herbert Blau have compiled new books stemming from their long involvements with Beckett as friends, artists, and scholars. In another recent book, John Kundert-Gibbs attempts to explore the patterning of several of Beckett's plays through applying chaos theory and zen to analyzing their performance. [End Page 518]

In Sails of the Herring Fleet, Blau, one of the first directors of Beckett in the United States, has collected some of his writings on Beckett from the past forty-three years. As he notes in the introduction, he prepared this collection because he has "sustained, from the rehearsal into the writing, with the writing as a kind of rehearsal, such intimately extended relation upon the unsettling substance of Beckett, turning it over and over" (2). Most of the essays collected here have been published previously, although there is new material as well.

The essays are organized chronologically, tracing the development of Blau's reflections on Beckett and the changes in contemporary theoretical thought. Each of the essays stands on its own merits, but the reader gains from the ways in which the essays speak to one another. For this reason, this book makes an excellent introduction to Blau's thoughts on Beckett and theatre.

Blau's book is continually ghosted by Beckett's thin monograph on Marcel Proust, which Blau asserts in the essay titled "The Oversight of Ceaseless Eyes" "was an already exhaustive preface to poststructuralist themes and the specular obsessions of the discourse of desire" (113). The questions of memory, desire, death, and vision which move through Proust and Beckett drive Blau's reverie-laden prose. He continually revisits the similar images in Beckett, the same turns of phrase and questions of purpose playing on the surface of his poetic language, as he turns ideas and phenomena over in his mind. Clearly Beckett's writing and powerful physical presence in Blau's life have been crucial to the development of Blau's theoretical writings; the chronological scope of this book engenders a highly theatrical memoir of a long and productive association.

Katharine Worth, in Samuel Beckett's Theatre: Life Journeys, proposes to follow "the high road of human feelings" through Beckett's plays (1). Using her friendship with Beckett and her experience with theatrical productions of his writing as her jumping off place, she organizes the book around recurring themes and patterns in Beckett's work. She focuses on several of the "major" plays--Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days, and Footfalls--but makes frequent references to most of the other plays and to adaptations of his non-dramatic works, concluding with a chapter on her own adaptation of Company.

After the introduction, the first two chapters of the book...


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