Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beckett and a stream of pee

There’s a famous story that Beckett was so impressed by Jules Renard’s journals that he read one of the entries out loud to a friend and said that this is how he wanted to write.

It is the final entry in the journal. “Je veux me lever, cette nuit. Lourdeur. Une jambe pend dehors. Puis un filet coule le long de ma jambe. Il faut qu'il arrive au talon pour que je me décide. Ça sèchera dans les draps, comme quand j'étais Poil de carotte.”

“I want to get up. Heaviness. A limb hangs outside. Then a stream flows down my leg. It had to reach my heel before I decided. It will dry in the sheets, as when I was Carrot top.”

The reference to Poil de carotte is to Jules’ childhood name, which he made the title of an authobiographical novel.

What did Beckett love about this passage?

For one thing, there is the fact that this is the last entry. In the Journal, the editor discretely makes an appearance at this point to inform the reader that Jules died, thus taking care of any more entries.

Another thing is, of course, an objectivity that amounts to detachment. It is the author’s limb, the author’s pee, the author’s heel. But the prose seems to take its tone from, to blindly grope forward to, the verb secher – dry. One recognizes, here, the underground influence of the stoics. To detach oneself from one’s life is an exercise in which the mind divides and then puts together, thus showing the artifice beneath the appearance. The more one sees the artifice, the less afraid one becomes of the ultimate detachment, which is from life itself. Unlike the stoics, however, the modern temperament no longer believes in that moment of courage. Turn on the machinery of detachment, by all means, but don’t expect anything to be saved.

Which is, of course, how something, the smallest and tiniest thing, is saved. Peeing. Carrot top. That these things, hollowed out by time, insignificant in themselves and, used as a standard, making insignificant those natures of which they formed a part, can open up, still, to something infinitely kind … this is the astonishment of art towards which thhe artist strive through every negation and pettiness.

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