“Samuel Beckett kept a copy of The Divine Comedy by his bedside as he lay dying in a Paris hospice in 1989. Oxygen canisters stood nearby for his emphysema but, immersed in Dante, he appeared to be ‘having fun’, remembered the poet Derek Mahon (who visited him a month before he died at the age of 83).”
Q&A with the new President of the Samuel Beckett Society
I recently caught up with Daniela Caselli to chat about her new role as President of the Samuel Beckett Society, an international organization of scholars, students, directors, actors and others who share an interest in the writer’s work. I asked how she first encountered Beckett’s writing, and what she sees as the next step for the Society moving forward:
“My entire career has been shaped by Beckett’s work. As a first year student I took an amazing course on modernism, with a focus on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, taught by Carla Locatelli. It was a revelation, and I never looked back.”
When asked about her plans for the Society going forward, she replied: ‘I aim to develop a Society that is as inclusive as possible, and to develop themes and priorities that reflect the great diversity of the Beckett community.’
Richard Brody discusses the American director’s new film about Hollywood ennui
Perhaps no film in the history of cinema follows the movement of memory as faithfully, as passionately, or as profoundly as Terrence Malick’s new film, “Knight of Cups.” It’s an instant classic in several genres—the confessional, the inside-Hollywood story, the Dantesque midlife-crisis drama, the religious quest, the romantic struggle, the sexual reverie, the family melodrama—because the protagonist’s life, like most people’s lives, involves intertwined strains of activity that don’t just overlap but are inseparable from each other. The movie runs less than two hours and its focus is intimate, but its span seems enormous—not least because Malick has made a character who’s something of an alter ego, and he endows that character with an artistic identity and imagination as vast and as vital as his own.
Rendering Russia’s literary masterpieces into English
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990, they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of “good writing” by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator’s) in these works—to the verbal “polyphony” which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.
Boccaccio’s personal account of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, quoted in Paget Jackson Toynbee’s Dante Alighieri: His life and works
Our poet […] was of middle height, and after he had reached mature years he walked with somewhat of a stoop; his gait was grave and sedate; and he was ever clothed in most seemly garments, his dress being suited to the ripeness of his years. His face was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes rather large than small, his jaws heavy, with the under lip projecting beyond the upper. His complexion was dark, and his hair and beard thick, black, and crisp; and his countenance always sad and thoughtful. Whence it happened one day in Verona (the fame of his writings having by that time been spread abroad everywhere, and especially of that part of his Commedia to which he gave the title of Hell, and he himself being known by sight to many men and women), that as he passed before a doorway where several women were sitting, one of them said to the others in a low voice, but not so low but that she was plainly heard by him and by those with him, ‘Do you see the man who goes down to Hell, and returns at his pleasure, and brings back news of those who are below?’ To which one of the others answered in all simplicity: ‘Indeed, what you say must be true; don’t you see how his beard is crisped and his colour darkened by the heat and smoke down below?’ Dante, hearing these words behind him, and perceiving that they were spoken by the women in perfect good faith, was not ill pleased that they should have such an opinion of him, and smiling a little passed on his way. (more…)
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.
Victor Erofeyev (The New York Times) writes on literature, life and ideology
I get a physiological pleasure from reading Tolstoy, and the more I read him, the greater the pleasure. His words generate smells, sounds, vibrations of feelings and moods. They are broader than any philosophical doctrine, and more significant even than the author himself, whom his words mercilessly exploit. In all literature, perhaps, there never was so “idea-less” a writer who released into the world writing that fills us with admiration of its power, and fear of its candor. (more…)
Writer and translator Lydia Davis talks to Dann Gunn about Beckett and The Emperor of Ice-Cream (via Music & Literature)
A very orderly Greek friend visited me recently, and on stepping into my office and seeing the state of my desk, cried out “Dan! What is that?” He was genuinely shocked, perturbed even, at the sight of the books, papers, unopened envelopes, and assorted debris that flows from several piles over my desk, threatening at any moment to spill off the edges (as it regularly does) and onto the floor. My response was not, I hope, unduly defensive: “It’s a sign that I’m being productive.” Indeed, my desk is clear and tidy only ever for a brief moment after some task has just been completed (or at moments when I remember some unopened bill that needs to be paid). I do like to observe something organized emerging from the apparent chaos; and when that chaos threatens to become a liability, I turn to photos of the studios of artists I admire, of Francis Bacon or Alberto Giacometti, and protest: Now their mess really was a mess.
When I was seventeen, I chose to leave Edinburgh, where I was raised, for the University of Sussex, not least because I had read a book by Gabriel Josipovici entitled The World and the Book; it said on the cover that he was teaching there. What I admired (and still admire) about this wonderful critical work was that it dealt openly and freely with different periods and authors, from different cultures and languages, from Dante to Proust to Saul Bellow. Also mentioned on the cover was that Gabriel Josipovici wrote fiction as well as criticism. In some quiet place within me I seized hold of this as a model: a critic who also writes fiction; a novelist who also writes criticism. I had eight fantastic years at Sussex, taught in an ideal setting by the best teachers imaginable. As it happens, on my very first day I was introduced to my “personal tutor” (what in America would be called my “academic advisor”): Gabriel Josipovici. We quickly got to know each other and have remained friends ever since. The Sussex of those days confirmed for me that one did not have to be (only) a specialist, that one could draw inspiration from many sources, refusing to be boxed in to a single discipline or period or language. I still find that the criticism emerging from this openness suits me best. I have recently been rereading with delight Tony Nuttall’s Shakespeare the Thinker—a book by a former Sussex professor that emerges out of precisely what I’d call the “Sussex spirit.” (more…)