In a 30-minute documentary produced in collaboration with the Arvo Pärt Centre, the composer discusses the significance of his personal diaries to the formation and development of his music.
I recently finished re-reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, one of my favourite books. Now, I am dipping into the multi-volume edition of his letters. All of the books are secondhand copies, and I am sure that some of them have their own stories to tell. My copy of the first volume once sat on the shelves of a branch of The New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue in Mid-Manhattan.
The letters are collected according to theme. There’s a volume of correspondence covering Merton‘s close friendships; there’s one devoted to poetry, literature, and the vocation of writing; and yet another two that deal with religious experience. The fifth and final volume collects together his letters on “Times of Crisis”. I think I might start with that one.
In these dark times
we look for the light.
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your research interests?
My research revolves around modernism and post-1945 literature, and the essays and books that I have published on Beckett’s work explore its relation to politics, its historical dimensions, and its Irish and European influences. I have been working in the Department of English at the University of York for over ten years.
How did you first encounter Samuel Beckett’s writing?
I must have been about fifteen, I think, when I first heard about Beckett. A friend of mine told me about a play that she had seen in which two actors were trapped in rubbish bins, and I was intrigued! Soon after I came across copies of the early absurdist plays, in the lovely Editions de Minuit versions. I was particularly struck by Oh les beaux jours, with its memorable cover featuring Madeleine Renaud stoically holding her umbrella.
It seemed to me remarkable that a whole play could be made to unfold from that situation, from that image. The author was of no concern to me then, but from that first reading I recall being convinced that the work dealt with colonialism and with colonial wars, and I remember seeing a very literal political dimension within it. The French texts have a peculiar texture; they refract much of what is unsaid about colonial history, and much of what is culturally unsayable about historical injustice, and I was sensitive to that. These were powerful impressions, which stayed with me thereafter. When I began to study Beckett’s work properly, many years later, I did so in light of its Irish literary and historical contexts, and my first monograph was a reappraisal of Beckett’s relation to Ireland. For me, the work is never abstract: it is inseparable from war memory and from the long colonial histories that it invokes. In a sense, this new book was a return to my first impressions: when I started researching, I worked on what is now the final chapter on Beckett and the Algerian War of Independence. (more…)
When did you begin writing?
On one hand, the answer to this question is: since I could write. I was always writing stories when I was a little girl. And reading – I was a very enthusiastic bookworm! I never intended to write poetry; I didn’t think I’d be able to, though I loved reading it. I didn’t see how I could write poetry; I didn’t know how to go about it. But when I was seventeen, for the first time I saw a contemporary poet in action. I heard Kate Clanchy perform her work, and she was brilliant. She showed me that poetry could be accessible, powerful, sexy, exciting. That was the seed, though I didn’t start writing poetry properly until my early twenties, after I signed up for some extra-curricular writing workshops during my Masters degree.
What is it about poetry that appeals to you?
For me, poetry has an immediacy about it. It can speak to us forcibly and directly. It has truth (different from accuracy) and music to it. It can take us somewhere, and continue to do so, because it is so layered with possible meanings. It’s slight compared to, say, a novel, but it can pack a punch far above its weight. I love its rhythms, its urgency, its vitality, its power. (more…)
One year ago today I made a decision to change my life. A cardiology appointment prompted me to think more carefully about my lifestyle choices, and I became motivated to start living according to values of simplicity, humility, and compassion. (more…)
As The Story Was Told (1996), a two-part documentary featuring interviews with authorised biographer James Knowlson, publishers John Calder and Barney Rosset, actress Billie Whitelaw, nephew Edward Beckett, and others. The documentary is notable, in part, for its glimpses of Beckett’s home in Paris and his country retreat in Ussy-sur-Marne.
We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. What led you to put together this new essay collection?
I have been interested in way in which we have come to narrativise and conceptualise the September 11th terrorist attacks for some time now. They occurred shortly after I moved to the UK to start my doctoral studies. I remember, very vividly, standing before the window of a shop selling televisions and the image of the plane hitting the second tower. It seemed unreal, and indeed at the time many commentators noted that it seemed a moment designed for mass televisual consumption. I thought then that my watching this terrible image unfold across multiple screens seemed like something from a Don DeLillo novel. I remember writing a short diary piece about it at the time, how it reminded me of the Airborne Toxic Event in DeLillo’s White Noise. Since then, I have always been keen to see how novelists, dramatist and poets might approach representing something that seemed to defy representation by its vast scale. So, when offered the opportunity by Bloomsbury to put this volume together I jumped at the chance.