Sunday, April 28, 2013

`Without the Courage to End or the Strength to Go On'

Samuel Beckett, a lifelong enthusiast (if that’s not too strong a word) of Dr. Johnson, might have adopted for his own use the title of the final chapter of The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia: “The Conclusion, in Which Nothing is Concluded.” In his non-concluding conclusion, Johnson hints at the subsequent fates of his characters. Pekuah wishes to become a prioress. The princess decides that “of all sublunary things, knowledge was the best,” and resolves “to found a college of learned women.” The prince “desires a little kingdom.” Imlac (Johnson’s some-time stand-in) and the astronomer are content “to be driven along the stream of life without directing their course to any particular port.” Chapter 49, the last in the novel, concludes with these sentences: 

“Of these wishes that they had formed they well knew that none could be obtained. They deliberated a while what was to be done, and resolved, when the inundation should cease, to return to Abissinia.” 

Beckett’s endings, as in Waiting for Godot, are likewise no endings at all. Vladimir says: “Well? Shall we go?” Estragon replies: “Yes, let’s go.” What follows is the most famous stage direction in modern theater: “They do not move.” 

His story “The End” concludes: “The memory came faint and cold of the story I might have told, a story in the likeness of my life, I mean without the courage to end or the strength to go on.” And the fourth of his “Texts for Nothing”: 

“Then it goes, all goes, and I'm far again, with a far story again, I wait for me afar for my story to begin, to end, and again this voice cannot be mine. That's where I'd go, if I could go, that's who I'd be, if I could be.” 

And most memorably, ambiguously and beautifully, the final words of “Ill Seen Ill Said”: 

“One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.”

1 comment:

Denkof Zwemmen said...

And the famous end to The Unnamable: "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on"