Beckett Performs Beckett

While reading Watt I came upon this YouTube of Samuel Beckett reading from Watt. The performance embodies a couple things I think Beckett is trying to do with the book, and, as such, I think it better conveys a sense of these things than I might have by spitting a few paragraphs of verbiage at you here. I’ll simply mention that what I got from this clip was the euphony of the nonsense language and the act of separating words from any meaning.

To speak of my reading of Watt, I got the sense throughout that the book was continually trying to prevent me from attaching any meaning to it, on a word-by-word basis. I didn’t like this, as I prefer for  my words to have meaning, and I feel that the book and I wrestled to a manly stalemate until I reached this section, about 5/6 of the way through:

Three hundred and eighty-nine thousand and seventeen, said Louit, not and seventy, and seventeen. Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr Louit, I heard and seventy, said Mr de Baker. I said and seventeen, Mr de Baker, said Louit, as I thought distinctly. How extraordinary, I distinctly heard seventy, said Mr de Baker. What did you hear Mr MacStern? I heard and seventeen, with great distinctness, said Mr MacStern. Oh you did, did you, said Mr de Baker. The n is still ringing in my ears, said Mr MacStern. And you, Mr O’Meldon, said Mr de Baker. And I what? said Mr O’Meldon. Heard what, seventeen or seventy? said Mr de Baker. What did you hear, Mr de Baker? said Mr O’Meldon.

This brief excerpt comes pages and pages into this discussion, which also goes on for pages and pages. It was here that I simply stopped reading for sense and abandoned myself to the flow of sounds, and what came next was such a pleasant experience that I wasn’t sure it was correct to not have done it earlier.

This is, emphatically, not to say that I think all of Watt is nonsense, or even that one should read Watt completely as an accumulation of sounds, though I do think this section is correctly read as such.

More from Conversational Reading:

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  2. Thought Upon Reading Beckett I don’t know what he’s saying, but I like how he says it. If you’d like to see what I mean, the book is Watt,...
  3. Beckett More coverage for the big Beckett centenary edition from Grove Press. Americans have for the most part read Samuel Beckett in a motley collection of...
  4. Beckett Lectures on Literature The Guaridan: In 1961 an American academic, Tom Driver, quizzed Samuel Beckett about the confusion he found in his writing. Beckett replied: "The confusion is...
  5. Save the Words! One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard of late. A website for rescuing endangered words. And with a word graveyard for those that don’t...

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actually the video says
it’s Jack Emery speaking Beckett . . .

Abandoning oneself to the sensual flow of the text can be a wonderful thing — there are a couple of post-modern works that I’ve read this way one or more times before getting to the point where I could read them for the meaning of the words. Based on my limited exposure to Beckett I expect I would do the same as you did, but way earlier.

Modesto Kid,
In that vein I recommend Vain Art of the Fugue. Have a look at our review.

Here is Beckett speaking about the German TV production of What Where.

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