Love Sam

March 7th, 2009

The early letters of Samuel Beckett–between 1929 and 1989, when the otherwise taciturn playwright died at 83, he issued some 15,000 missives–have been recently published. As Tom Stoppard has pronounced, “The prospect of reading Beckett’s letters quickens the blood like none other’s, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered.”

Beckett’s correspondence, no surprise, can be wintry. Asked by the Times of London in 1984 for his New Year’s resolutions, the Waiting for Godot author wrote,

“resolutions colon zero stop period hopes colon zero stop beckett”

Moreover, his letters showcase his fondness for likening his literary output to excrement. When he refers to some of his poems as “three turds from the central lavatory,” or when he tells a friend that,

“my next work shall be on rice paper wound about a spool, with a perforated line every six inches,”

it somehow seems fitting that the writer in question is considered to have had the worst penmanship of any 20th century author.

But what the letters showcase best, in the end, is Beckett’s fascination with and reverence for language–hello, words like boniments, obstipation, eviration, poylpus, gantelope and mumper–as well as his antipathy for others’ misuse of it. He writes that D.H. Lawrence is

“a tedious kindling of damp.”

And of Proust:

“a maudlin false teeth gobble-gobble discharge from a colic afflicted belly.”

In short–as Beckett once wrote of his own health–

“the various eviscerations characteristic of [his]  distemper are at the very top of their form.”