I am doing a deep dive into Samuel Beckett, and I feel that I must come up for air. I can’t go on, but I must go on.
I just finished reading The Unnamable, the third novel in the trilogy after Molloy, and Malone Dies. There have been about 20 years intervening between each reading and I have read a lot of other books since including other works by Beckett.
The Unnamable is the story of the self that strives for silence but is obliged to go on. It is about three things: The inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude. It is full of internal contradictions, doubt, and paradoxes.
I keep coming back to Beckett because something about his work resonates. Not only that but I came across an interesting tome by Paul Foster that analyzes Beckett’s work in terms of the “dilemma” presented in his work through the lens of Zen Buddhism. Wow! That is what I said. So, I read The Unnamable in preparation for Beckett and Zen, by Paul Foster.
One of the dilemmas alluded to in Beckett and Zen is the doctrine of grace: grace given, and grace withheld. St. Augustine tells the story of the two thieves that are crucified with Christ, one is saved, and the other is damned. How can we make sense of this division Beckett wants to know? There is a scene in Waiting for Godot where this theme is played out by the characters Vladimir and Estragon.
Then there is the dilemma of human reason confronted by an outrageous relentless irrationality, a universe giving birth to the spectacle of life, of which the main feature is suffering and death.
There is the problem of time which leads to decay and into the abyss. Personal identity and isolation and need I say, alienation?
Distress is at the heart of Beckett’s work which arises from a mental and spiritual confusion resulting from the recognition of the dilemma of existence.
The problem of God. Does God exist? If He does is He an all-loving God or a monster? And what about the Silence of God? Why don’t we hear from Him?
Beckett refers to a fundamental sound resounding in the universe that can only be described as a howl of pain.
That is enough for now. I think I have caught my breath and can now emerge from this rabbit hole that I seem to have fallen into and get about my day.
Spoiler alert! Plot point giveaways straight ahead!
She was discontent. She was married to a country doctor and lived in a small town in France not far from Rouen. Her husband would do anything for her and loved her dearly but he was just a country bumpkin and he bored her. Emma Bovary had two love affairs that did not end well and she ran her household into debt trying to buy gifts for her lovers and trying to keep up appearances. Then, when everything was about to come crashing down on her head and the creditors were at the door ready to repossess all her belongings, she ate a handful of poison and died a painful death. Her heartbroken husband followed soon thereafter and her little daughter wound up working in a cotton factory. A story that one might say had tragic dimensions.
Now, this all might seem rather straightforward, hackneyed, and mundane, but it is not so. One, it is a prototype for many stories just like it that were to be repeated again and again into the future. But, two, it is the writing style Flaubert engages in that holds our attention and keeps us turning the pages. The book has been called a masterpiece and for good reason.
I came upon this novel the same way I come upon so many things in life, by way of another novel: MyLife as a Man, by Philip Roth. In it, Roth refers to Flaubert again and again, quoting him liberally. For example, in a letter to his mistress, Colet, in 1853, which Roth cites as an example to his writing students, Flaubert writes the following: “What seemed to me to be the highest and most difficult achievement of art is not to make us laugh or cry, but to do as nature does – that is, fill us with wonder.” And that is exactly what Flaubert has achieved in this magnificent work, he has filled us with wonder. I was hooked and vowed to read Madame Bovary as my very next novel.
In his description of country life in the small town of Yonville, Flaubert has created some unforgettable characters and has given us a taste of what it must have been like to live among them at that time and place. We have presented to us two funerals and a wedding, and a country fair. They spring to life for us before our very eyes.
We meet such characters as, Homais, the town pharmacist who was a know-it-all and loved to hear himself talk. Leon, a young law clerk who falls in love with Emma. Rodolphe, is a wealthy landowner, and a ladies’ man. Lheureux, is a local merchant, and a moneylender. Binet, the tax collector who retreats to his attic and spins out countless wooden napkin holders on his wood lathe. Abbe Bournisien, the town priest. And an assorted number of other colorful characters.
It is alleged that Flaubert once said, “I am Emma Bovary.” I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim anywhere, but I wouldn’t doubt that he identified with his heroine. Quite frankly, I identified with her as well. She must appeal to the anima that resides in my soul. But more than that she is a romantic figure much influenced by her reading of romantic novels and being in love with love. At one point she muses, “Love, she believed, must come suddenly, with great thunderclaps and bolts of lightning, – a hurricane from heaven that drops down on your life, overturns it tears away your will like a leaf, and carries your whole heart off with it into the abyss.”
Emma also rails against the French Bourgeois society of 19 th century France, which Flaubert also hated. She is trapped in a society where women have no agency and only a limited amount of freedom. Her only power comes from her sexuality.
Flaubert also explores the theme of fate (chance) vs free will illustrated by the following passages:
“You and I, for instance, why did we meet? What chance decreed it? It must be that, like two rivers flowing across the intervening distance and converging, our own particular inclinations impelled us toward one another.” Rodolphe to Emma
“One can’t fight against providence; one can’t resist the smiles of an angel!”
“Our destinies are bound together now, aren’t they?”
“Fate is to blame, only fate!”
And boredom. Anna was bored: “…boredom, that silent spider, was spinning its web in the darkness in every corner of her heart.”
A note about the translation. There is nothing more important to me in the enjoyment of a book written in a language other than my own than a good translation. The version I read was translated by Lydia Davis and it is excellent.
This is what Flaubert had to say about the importance of a good translation: “A good sentence should be like a good line in poetry, unchangeable, as rhythmic, as sonorous.” And Davis has achieved this as the novel reads like poetry and it goes down like drinking a glass of cool refreshing water.
Neil Gorsuch is a big fat liar and the Case of the Praying High School Coach was wrongly decided.
The case was a significant test of how the court balances free speech and religious liberty against the establishment clause, with the court increasingly giving more weight to the former. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took issue with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s portrayal of the facts in the majority opinion; She said the opinion “misconstrues the facts” regarding whether then-Bremerton (Washington) High School football coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayers were “quiet” and “private.”
Gorsuch began his opinion by stating:
“Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks. Mr. Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters. He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Still, the Bremerton School District disciplined him anyway.”
Gorsuch later writes that the evidence makes clear “that Mr. Kennedy has demonstrated that his speech was private speech, not government speech.”
Sotomayor said this was, in fact, a misrepresentation:
“To the degree the court portrays petitioner Joseph Kennedy’s prayers as private and quiet, it misconstrues the facts. The record reveals that Kennedy had a long-standing practice of conducting demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field. Kennedy consistently invited others to join his prayers and for years led student-athletes in prayer at the same time and location. The court ignores this history. The court also ignores the severe disruption to school events caused by Kennedy’s conduct.”
Essentially, there is a lengthy, years-long history in this case that includes suggestions that players might have felt compelled to participate. Sotomayor argues that this was important in determining whether Kennedy’s conduct violated the separation of church and state, even after he was issued warnings and his players no longer participated.
In other words, Gorsuch lied. this is not surprising as we have other liars on the supreme court. Those who lied their way onto the court, saying at their confirmation hearings before Congress that Roe was settled law.
The credibility of the court is at an all-time low and confidence is waning.
Full disclosure: I attended Bremerton (Washington) High school when I was 14 years old. This was at a time when I was losing my religion. I clearly remember being appalled and offended by the religious activity taking place at the High School.
On the 16th we went to the Lady Gaga Show sponsored by the Lake Chapala Society. This is a club for ex-pats. They put on shows and have a beautiful compound with many attractions for members and guests. The show was quite entertaining and the performers were excellent.
A conversation with Al Mitchell. While waiting for the Show to start Al and Maureen were conversing. I was just half-listening and sipping my red wine and enjoying the beautiful day.
Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear the black boot of death.
Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on one foot would wear one on the other foot just to keep their balance.
Me: Whoa! Wait a minute there, Al! Who do you know that wore two boots?
Al (laughing): Well, I can’t remember their names.
Maureen: It sounds feasible.
Me: Give me a name. Name me one person who wore two boots.
Al (laughing): Well, I might have made that up.
Me: You damned right you did! That is preposterous! Your whole story is preposterous! Caught you, didn’t I?
Me and Al both laughing. We “clink” out plastic cups of wine together and let it drop. So it goes.
Later that evening had dinner at the Peacock Garden Restaurant. Al Mitchel, Maureen, and a few others who were at the Lady Gag Show. Later Cindy Joined us.
What I like about Ajijic is the number of fine restaurants it has to offer and the chance to socialize with friends and meet new people.
Ajijic is a great place to wander around to get to know the area and its inhabitants. It is a charming little village of about 11,000 people. Many expats live there and others from around the globe travel to Ajijic frequently. We had friends that were there so we were able to socialize with them while on our visit.
Below is a working farm just around the corner from where we were staying at La Casa Campbell. We walked by it everyday.
The other pictures depict some of the streets near where we were staying . We were walking distance of Lake Chapala so we usually walked there everyday.
The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch
David Mamet is a good writer. That is not to say that he is a brilliant writer. I think not. Although, his plays might be considered so. Who can doubt the brilliance of Glengarry Glen Ross or The Verdict or Wag the Dog. However, these little essays of three or four pages each fall flat. And they are loaded with misinformation, lies, and incorrect conclusions. He sometimes gets his facts right but draws the wrong conclusions. I could disagree with him more on some of these points but I don’t see how. Mr. Mamet seems to have lost his way if not his mind.
There are a few things in the book that do I agree with, and one or two things that I actually identify with. But for the most part it is poppycock.
Here is what I like and agree with:
He says, and I quote: “…works that I have found helpful writing drama: Aristotle’s Poetics. Campbell’s, Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
I have both of these books in my library and have always wanted to read them. I will now be putting them on my TBR list.
“Each characterization of the hero…that does not jibe with our self image takes us out of the story. An invaluable understanding for the story teller.”
And an invaluable lesson for the writer as well.
“The script exists to describe to the cameraman what to shoot and to tell the actors what to say. Everything else is besides the point…The nature of a script is a recipe.”
“We human beings are a bad lot. Unchecked, we divide into predators and food.”
“Great paintings and music can inspire, suggest, soothe, thrill, but they cannot teach, Neither can literature. The arts exit, as does religion, to touch those portions of the human soul beyond the corruption of consciousness.”
OK, you had me all the way up to that last sentence. What exactly is the “corruption of consciousness?” “Most plays are no damned good. The only way to write a play is to write a lot of plays…To write a good play requires talent. There is not a lot of it around.”
“…The journey of the writer and that of the hero are one and the same. Both are forced to make difficult choices.”
“I was raised in the horror of the Chicago public schools…I didn’t learn a goddamn thing. It might have helped my grades if not my education if I ever opened a school book, but I was bored to catatonia…but outside of school hours, I read voraciously and was certainly better read than the teachers.” Now, this I can relate to. I had the same experience going to public schools. But I went to 14 schools in 12 years. My father was a Navy man and I transferred schools quite frequently as we moved around the country whenever my dad got new orders. I did however manage to get a pretty good education, even thought I was bored out of my mind much of the time.
“Samuel Beckett was the greatest dramatist since Shakespeare.”
No argument here. I would add perhaps Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.
“What is art for? It has no use. No more than a sunset…Art has no purpose, but it has a use (direct contradiction, but I know what he means). The oyster cannot use the pearl (cue Steinbeck). Observers may admire its beauty, but that does not allow them to understand the pearl, beauty, or the oyster.”
Now, for what I don’t like:
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war. The offer of Freedom (American constitutional democracy) is at issue, and the tyranny of the left displays the carrot and the stick to a legitimately disturbed populace.” I think the tyranny is on the right and not on the left. And there is ample evidence to support this contention. But I won’t use up valuable space here to refute it. Suffice it to say, I beg to differ. Domestic terror attacks emanate from the right far more than they do from the left.
There is another place in the book at the beginning where Mr. Mamet makes the argument that the left tried to steal the election. This is patently untrue and is rather the other way around. Has he forgotten about the January 6th insurrection when the members of the right-wing stormed the capitol in a failed to overthrow the government? Bill Maher called him out on this on his show and Mamet just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Skip that page.” Unfortunately, he makes similar statements and arguments throughout the book. We should perhaps skip the entire book.
Another heartbreaking mass shooting yesterday at a grocery store in Buffalo New York lies in the intersection of rampant gun violence, racism, white supremacy, and pure evil. While most Americans are not racist fear-mongers a significant portion apparently are. The manifesto written and uploaded to the internet by the shooter references the “replacement theory” that black and brown people will replace white people. This is based on the original theory that “Jews will not replace us” which is an antisemitic trope found in the “Blood and soil “propaganda propagated by Nazi Germany. It is a philosophy based on hate, racism, and white supremacy.
Last year, an Associated Press poll found that about a third of American adults believe an effort is afoot to “replace” U.S.-born Americans with immigrants. In addition, roughly 3 in 10 Americans think additional immigration will cause white, Americans to lose their economic, political and cultural influence.
This is dangerous thinking and fuels right-wing extremism that leads to violence. Also, while I am at it, no one in America needs a military-style assault weapon. The damage these weapons do to the human body and the number of people killed in a matter of seconds beggars the imagination. There are too many guns on the streets of America. It is a national health crisis of staggering proportions. Attention must be paid! Every day a person is killed by gun violence on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky where I live. You take your life in your hands when you are out for a walk at night. We need common-sense gun laws now to make our cities safe again.
Earlier this year, my partner Maureen and I made another pilgrimage to the land down under (the border) to visit the charming village of Ajijic, Mexico. This was my second visit and her first. In order to get to Ajijic one flies into Guadalajara then taxis the rest of the way from there to Ajijic. It’s 54 kilometers and the trip takes about an hour costing 500 pesos with tip.
Waiting for us at our destination was the owner of the Airbn we were staying at, Lupita Campbell. We were very happy with the accommodations which, to say the least, exceeded our expectations. We had an entire guest house, La Casita, at our disposal which was beautifully furnished and full of art. We also had a fenced in yard with a fountain and a cabaña in the back. From the roof we had a magnificent view of lake Chapala.
Ajijic is wedged between the mountains on one side and the lake on the other. Lake Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico and is quite beautiful to look at and to visit. It has a wonderful malecon where you can take an evening stroll and watch the sun go down.
The weather is perfect. We were there in January and it was a little cool in the morning but by noon it was quite warm. No need for heat or central air. The hot water heater was warmed by solar power so we had to wait a bit to get a hot shower.
There is a large expat community living in Ajijic supported by the Lake Chapala Society. They are mainly American and Canadians. The locals sometime refer to Ajijic as “Gringo Land.” We have friends who live there and some who travel there quite frequently and we were planning on catching up with them on this visit.
There are many fine restaurants and shops in the village and is a fun place to visit and socialize.
Once we are through with the 1619 project perhaps, we could move on to the Vietnam War Project.
While we are at it and are stressing over our fighting a proxy war with Russia and fearing the possibility of a nuclear confrontation let us remember that we (the USA) are the only country in history to drop an atomic bomb on another country. And it was we who let the nuclear genie out of the bottle in the first place. One can only hope that we don’t inherit the wind.
And let us not forget we fire-bombed Tokyo, another civilian target, nearly burning that city to the ground. Robert Macnamara, the Secretary of Defense at that time, is quoted as saying that if we had lost the war he would surely have been tried as a war criminal.
This is not to say that we should not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its merciless targeting of civilians, but as the saying goes, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There is a reason we are not signatories to the International Criminal Court.
We can do better and we are doing better I think, but let us not forget from whence we came for he who forgets the lessons of history is forever bound to repeat them. Rather, let us be a beacon of hope to those who love freedom and a keeper of the eternal flame of remembrance for those who have fought and died in war.