Sunday, June 16, 2013

`Tableau Vivant if You Will'

An old woman collects wildflowers, yellow ones, and finds a dead man. With Beckett, minute points of grammar and word choice assume unaccustomed importance. He begins: “He was found lying on the ground.” Why the passive voice? Because a corpse is by definition incapable of activity? Then: “No one had missed him.” In Indiana thirty years ago, police found the body of a dead man in a field, in a “state of advanced decomposition,” as they say, and he was never identified. At the scene I thought of “The Groundhog”: “His form began its senseless change.” The police found “no evidence of foul play.” Death invites the soothing cliché. This was an anonymous death capping what remains, to my knowledge, an anonymous life. 

But “One Evening” (Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1995) is the old woman’s story, not the corpse’s. She knows death and seems unmoved by her discovery of the body: “She is wearing the black she took on when widowed young. It is to reflower the grave she strays in search of the flowers he had loved.” In his biography, Anthony Cronin tells us the corpse, in his green coat with mismatched buttons, suggests Beckett’s father and “the essential isolation and pathos Sam conferred on him.” We don’t need to know that. Beckett writes: 

“The old sunlit face. Tableau vivant if you will. In its way. All is silent from now on. For as long as she cannot move. The sun disappears at least and with it all shadow. All shadow here. Slow fade of afterglow. Night without moon or stars. All that seems to hang together. But no more about it.” 

That’s how the fragment, published posthumously, concludes. Beckett discarded it as part of a longer work published in 1981 as Ill Seen Ill Said, which concludes: 

“First last moment. Grant only enough remain to devour all. Moment by glutton moment. Sky earth the whole kit and boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left. Lick chops and basta. No. One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.”

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