Friday, August 25, 2006

Little Chronicles

Like Emerson and unlike, say, Chekhov, Samuel Beckett was a writer of sentences. They were his unit of composition, as the oceanic paragraph was Proust's. A Beckett sentence is often constructed like a discrete, self-contained mosaic that can be fit into a larger pattern. Take this line from Malone Dies, in which the fictional title character contemplates the creation of yet another fictional character of his own:

"It is right that he too should have his little chronicle, his memories, his reason, and be able to recognize the good in the bad, the bad in the worst, and so grow gently old down all the unchanging days, and die one day like any other day, only shorter."

The sentence is as elegantly assembled as a joke or syllogism. It begins reasonably, even compassionately, if one can be said to feel compassion for a fictional character created by another fictional character. "The bad in the worst" hints that something else is going on, something more subversive, and only with that final phrase does the punchline, the booby trap, go off.

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