Sunday, April 13, 2014

`This Excess of Circumstance'

“Eudora Welty shares with Samuel Beckett the mastery of English prose among writers now living; she is one of the greatest of American writers in all our history…” 

Rare readers and critics discern true kinship among writers, rooted not in nationality or sex but in style; that is, in sensibility. Dull readers and critics think in categories, the more arbitrary the better. In the nineteen-seventies, when Guy Davenport wrote “The Faire Field of Enna” (The Geography of the Imagination, 1981), Eudora Welty was stamped Southern, female, white, “traditional” (and still is) by the pigeonhole-minded. Beckett was Irish, male, white, “avant-garde” (ditto). The boundary separating them was as eternal as the Berlin Wall. The readers they shared were rare and eccentric, and still are. In another essay in the same collection, “Narrative Tone and Form,” Davenport observes that Flaubert took “immense care to animate objective description with damning detail that can be trusted to speak for itself,” and adds: “This is the style of Joyce (including Finnegans Wake), Beckett, Eudora Welty.” And this is from her early Fats Waller story, “Powerhouse”: 

“Of course you know how he sounds–you’ve heard him on records–but still you need to see him. He’s going all the time, like skating around the skating rink or rowing a boat. It makes everybody crowd around, here in this shadowless steel-trussed hall with the rose-like posters of Nelson Eddy and the testimonial for the mind-reading horse in handwriting magnified five hundred times. Then all quietly he lays his finger on a key with the promise and serenity of a sibyl touching the book.” 

Nelson Eddy and the mind-reading horse are nice touches, damning details. Beckett does something similar in Malone Dies, in the fine calibration of his prose: 

“I told myself too that I must make better speed. True lives do not tolerate this excess of circumstance. It is there the demon lurks, like the gonococcus in the folds of the prostate. My time is limited. It is thence that one fine day, when all nature smiles and shines, the rack lets loose its black unforgettable cohorts and sweeps away the blue for ever. My situation is truly delicate. What fine things, what momentous things, I am going to miss through fear, fear of falling back into the old error, fear of not finishing in time, fear of reveling, for the last time, in a last outpouring of misery, impotence and hate.” 

Beckett was born on this date, April 13, in 1906; Welty on this date in 1909.

No comments: