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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Light of the World

Beckett fact no. 91.

Ten Spanish and Hispanic Connections in Beckett.

1) Walter Starkie, Beckett’s lecturer in Spanish at Trinity College, Dublin. Sister of Rimbaud translator Enid and author of a memoir, Spanish Raggle Taggle, of his time in Spain. Friend of egregious anti-Semite Charles Bewley and enthusiastic fascist. Laces his translation of Don Quijote with the Hiberno-English ‘Bad cess to you!’ Beckett ‘never rated’ him, Knowlson insists.

2) Calderón de la Barca, Spanish dramatist whose tragicomedy La vida es sueño furnishes Beckett’s Proust with the adage: ‘Pues es delito mayor /Del hombre es haber nacido’ (‘For the greatest crime of man is to have been born’).

3) Francisco de Zurbarán, he of Belacqua’s ‘livid rapture of the Zurbarán Saint-Onan’, represented in the National Gallery in Dublin by a more than usually fluffy and cherub-plagued Immaculate Conception and St Rufina, as reproduced here.

4) I’ve already mentioned, many facts back, the Spanish edition of Beckett’s poems, Obra Poética Completa (Hiperión, 2000), which contains the otherwise uncollected ‘PSS’. The text is trilingual, which means English or French facing the Spanish translation, except in those cases where the original exists in both English and French, leading to pleasing textual constellations such as the shadowing of ‘elles viennent’ by ‘vienen’, and, down the page, of ‘they come’ by (italics this time) ‘vienen’. ‘diferente e iguales’ reads the first; ‘diferentes e idénticas’ answers the second. The first: ‘con cada una la ausencia de amore es igual’. And the second: ‘con cada una la ausencia de amore es la misma.’

4) Salvador Dalí, author of ‘Binding Cradled – Cradled Bound’, as translated by Beckett in This Quarter 5.1, September 1932. Award yourself the rest of the day off if you manage to track this one down.

5) ‘In Patagonia?’, asks the Director in Catastrophe incredulously. This after a reference to ‘the Argentine’ in Embers some years before. A transparent testimony to the growing influence of Jorge Luis Borges on the later Beckett, perhaps after their joint victory in the Prix Formentor of 1961. On another subject entirely, note the reference to Dupuytren’s contracture (from which Beckett suffered acutely) in French Catastrophe, but left unnamed (‘fibrous degeneration’) in English.

6) The great white whale of the Anthology of Mexican Poetry, translated in a spasm of hackwork for UNESCO (the ‘inexhaustible cheese’) in 1950. Someone, somewhere, one day will comb through this book for intertextual echoes of the rest of Beckett’s oeuvre, but… let’s just say I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s always a pleasure to dip into though. There is an abundance of psittacine life in Beckett, and ‘The Parrot’ (after Jose Juan Tablada) adds cheerfully to the ranks:

When the parrot, treading on
my feet, traverses the brick floor,
the black cat, curled up in a ball,
fixes him with amber eye,
glowering diabolic sulphur
at this green and yellow demon,
nightmare of its somnolence.

7) Fernando Arrabal, Spanish dramatist often hitched to the tumbril of the Theatre of the Absurd. Persecuted under Franco, and the subject of a letter of protest by Beckett published in French newspapers.

8) El Greco, via a tribute to the Alba in Dream: ‘Her great eyes went black as sloes, they went as big and black as El Greco painted, with a couple of good wet slaps from his laden brush, in the Burial of the Count of Orgaz the debauched eyes of his son or was it his mistress?’

9) A moment of endopsychic clarity courtesy of one of Thomas MacGreevy’s many Spanish-inspired poems, ‘Gloria de Carlos V’, as quoted in ‘Humanistic Quietism’:

But a moment, now, I suppose,
For a moment I may suppose,
Gleaming blue,
Silver blue,
And the light of the world.

10) I once unwittingly, in polite company, invited a Spanish Beckett reader to translate this quatrain from ‘A Wet Night’, in More Pricks Than Kicks:

No me jodas en el suelo
Como si fuera una perra,
Que con esos cojonazos
Me echas en el cono tierra.

{Quotation ends}

¡Ay caramba! ¡Never again!

1 comment:

George S said...

Walter Starkie's original Raggle Taggle is in fact a journey through Hungary and Romania with violin. I know, I have two copies (don't ask why).

It struck me he was a considerable liar and fantasist but not unentertaining.