This week I attended a very interesting seminar given by Dr. Heather Laird on the ‘Politics of “Going Nowhere”: Resistance and Alternatives in the writings of David Lloyd”. In this talk Dr. Laird dealt with her critique of Lloyd’s latest book on Irish post-colonialism and the emergence of resistant practise in this paradigm. I had not previously had much exposure to the area of post-colonial critical study and found the seminar very interesting in this regard. It is, however, with the use of Samuel Beckett’s How It Is by Lloyd in his analysis which I wish to concern myself in this post.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a great admire of Beckett, particularly in his writing for theatre. I have always had less success engaging with his works of prose. I have read much of Beckett’s most popular work and had never come across How It Is in any of my reading. Indeed, I had never seen it referenced of heard anyone discuss it before the seminar by Dr. Laird. The mention of the piece with regard to Lloyd’s work caught my ear and I endeavoured to investigate further. I was intrigued.
Tracking down a copy on the third floor of the library, I carefully opened an old hard covered edition published in 1964. I truly didn’t know what to expect. The first lines instantly grabbed me.
‘how it was I quote before Pim with Pim after Pim how it is three parts I say it as I hear it’ (1964:7)
I found the prose quite breathtaking. Once I had attuned myself to the subtle rhythms within the unpunctuated blocks of text I could hear clearly the narrative voice within my head. It followed with an ease almost musical. Thirty pages in I rushed to my much thumbed copy of Damned to Fame, James Knowlson excellent biography of Beckett, which is often my first resource when looking for any information concerning the writer. Knowlson writes;
‘Comment c’est (How It Is) proved to be one of the most difficult texts he had ever written… as one reads it, the silence with which he (Beckett) deliberately surrounded himself is almost tangible.’ (1996:461)
This passage describes the effect I experienced on read the prose most eloquently.
How It Is brought to mind Ping, a later work by Beckett, one of the few other prose pieces of his which I have engaged with in a positive manner. In fact I spent some time fascinated by Ping when I first experienced it, so much so that it directly influenced my own first published prose piece. ‘Watching’ was published in Southword 6, the literary journal of the Munster Literature Centre in 2004. I was immensely proud of it at the time. By a strange act of coincidence it was also last week, the week of the seminar, while browsing the shelves of the third floor of the library, I stumbled across it again. Amongst the various journals was a complete collection of Southword. Sadly it is no longer published in print, now only appearing online. It was a strange feeling knowing my own attempt at prose shared a library floor with the works of Beckett, if not the same shelf. I immediately ordered my own copy of How It Is. An email arrived today to tell me it had been dispatched.
Beckett, Samuel. How It Is. London. John Calder. 1964. Print.
Hickey, Kenneth. “Watching.” Southword 6. New Writing From Ireland. Ed. Patrick Cotter. Cork: Southword Editions, 2004. 64-66. Print.
Knowlson, James. Damned To Fame. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. Print.
Reading: Samuel Beckett’s How It Is (Part I). Youtube.com. 28 May 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.