Samuel Beckett and Friends

GodotReading James Joyce is difficult and often injurious to your mental health and the same thing can be said for reading Joyce’s friend and one-time secretary, Samuel Beckett. In fact, sometimes Beckett is almost too obscure. The way I see it, Joyce gives us way, way too much to absorb and understand, whereas Beckett often gives us so little that we’re lost in the void. Or to put it another way, with Beckett there is often no there there (but the lack of there is so profound).

How many times have you read Waiting For Godot? How many times have you seen it performed (at college, on Broadway, in your wind-blasted backyard)? It’s a powerful experience and sometimes it’s hard to explain why. My favorite part is where Estragon snarls: Are you feeling Lucky … punk!

Continue reading

The Remarkable Raymond Federman

FedermanRaymond Federman is one of those authors whose personal story is equally as fascinating as anything most writers come up with. It’s so interesting that Federman uses it as the basic of most of his own writing, with one caveat: Federman insists that he cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. So, this Federman who is the hero of all the novels … is he the real Federman, an embellished Federman, based on Federman, Federman-like, what Federman wishes Federman was, just a horny French Jew who tells a lot of stories?

The reality is that Raymond Federman grew up in Paris as a very recognizable Jew (he calls attention to his nose constantly) until the Nazis marched into Paris and he was initially hidden and eventually smuggled to the relative safety of Vichy France. His family—mother, father, and two sisters—stayed behind and went to their deaths in the Nazi camps. Raymond, of course, did not know the fate of his family and expected to be reunited with them in Paris after the end of the conflict.

Federman’s novel, Return To Manure, tells the story of his three years working on a farm in the south of France.

Continue reading

Syphilis is not a character in Ulysses

JoyceWhen I was studying literature at the university I formulated several rules, some of which are reasonable, and a few that are probably just curious observations and not strong enough to be rules. The first was:

All great English literature was written by an Irish author.

You can provide all the exceptions you want but look carefully and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating too much. The second was:

All great English poets were either syphilitic, consumptive, or diddled their sisters.

This one is more anecdotal than factual but was quite obvious in the period of literature I was concentrating on (now I would add drug use but back then I was so innocent).

Continue reading