Monday, February 23, 2009
Boniments, chiroplatonic, obstipation, eviration, mumper, polypus, gantelope, sinciput
The bad news, or do I mean good news, is that I can’t possibly respond to Beckett’s letters in fewer than 5000 words or so, an occasion of wordshed that should present itself sooner or later. But in the meantime, some notes. It was Beckett’s Normalien friend Jean Beaufret who coined the phrase ‘black diamonds (of pessimism)’, much beloved of Belacqua, and even a cursory first dip in the bran-pan of the Letters 1929-1940 dredges up coruscating (on thin ice) examples in richly abject abundance:
I met Michael Farrell and he destroyed me with an endless disparaging hyperbole on his own bland suspension between the vulgarities of great talent and the roots in the anus of genius now & then. The little tubercular tot in the cot buttons across its double-brested pilche [for double-breasted pilch], the little cheeks meet on the inside, the accumulated wisdom of the world unites the little lips like a zip fastener, and Mr Farrell is glad he is a doctor.
That would be Michael Farrell, author of Thy Tears Might Cease.
Or this, like the last addressed to MacGreevy, McGreevy rather (the a had yet to exfoliate), on Cézanne:
What a relief the Mont Ste. Victoire after all the anthropomorphised landscape – van Goyen, Avercamp, the Ruysdaels, Hobbema, even Claude, Wilson & Crome Yellow Esq., or paranthropomorphised by Watteau so that the Débarquement seems an illustration of ‘poursuivre ta pente pourvu qu’elle soit en montant’, or hyperanthropomorphised by Rubens – Tellus in record travail, or castrated by Corot; after all the landscape ‘promoted’ to the emotions of the hiker, postulated as concerned with the hiker (what an impertinence, worse than Aesop & the animals), alive the way a lap or a fist (Rosa) is alive.
Baby anthrax, chancres or fistulae, few are the epidermal ailments unknown to Belacqua or the young Beckett, and as that last example will have reminded you few are the early letters not pock-marked or at least pebble-dashed with a sprinkling of Gallicisms, a German, Italian, Latin or some other sanies of loutish learning (‘boniments, chiroplatonic, obstipation, eviration, mumper, polypus, gantelope, sinciput...’, protests John Walsh in The Independent.)
And then there are back passages, always with the back passages, Beckett’s long hard days at the orifice. Would Michael Roberts ‘care to a appoint a time do you think for me to bend over. Poets bottoms’ are so very much the same’ (Roberts had sent George Reavey a somewhat baffled response to Beckett’s poetry). Jacob Bronowski is ‘using three turds from my central laboratory’ in The European Caravan. SB must try & arrange ‘a proper booze before I return [to Dublin] – like a constipated Eurydice to the shades of shit.’ His critical intelligence is ‘blafard, gritty lilke the Civic Guard’s anus’ (compare the unfinished joke in Godot about the Englishman in the brothel who asks for a boy, to which the madam replies, ‘I’m getting a policeman’; ‘Oh no, please, they’re too gritty’). His poems are ‘carmina quae legunt cacantes’, songs to be read at stool. But it’s not all backsides, as the spermatic obsession bobs up too with the regularity of a haunted damp patch. Two poems ‘came together one on top of the other, a double-yoked orgasm in months of aspermatic nights & days’, Perugino’s Christ is ‘a lovely cheery Xist full of sperm’, and in the simply marvellous letter of 18 October 1932 to McGreevy, ‘I’m in mourning for the integrity of a pendu’s emission of semen, what I find in Homer & Dante & Racine & sometimes Rimbaud, the integrity of the eyelids coming down before the brain knows of grit in the wind.’
Now then, in some pretence at factuality, some new things we learn about Beckett’s poems, as it is very much Beckett the poet who effectively dominates this volume.
Some cancelled lines from ‘Serena III’, as originally sent to McGreevy:
on Misery Hill brand-new pale livid
oh a most ferocious West African baboon’s
swoon on the lil puce
house of prayer
There is also, much later, an alternative ending to ‘Ascension’:
en reçoit-il une colombe
aussi souvent que moi
A reference in a letter to Nuala Costello to ‘your brother the fly’ is, I suppose, a source for the paragraph of ‘Serena I’, with the indomitable apparatus nodding off for once (more on this in a minute).
Equally, the ‘feet in marmalade’ in the same letter can be compared to the ‘heart in marmalade’ of ‘Enueg II’. The phrase comes from a saying of Pelorson’s mother, was it, ‘les pieds en compote’?
The following extract from a George Reavey poem in French (letter of 23 June 1935) might give fresh impetus to any academic woodworm looking around its native research library for a fresh angle on Irish poetry of the 1930s, since Eluardian inflections notwithstanding its affinities with SB’s own imminent French poetry are unmistakable:
Femmes si réelles votre réalité n’est pas sûre
quant à ce qui est des caresses
signes d’adieu d’étoiles mourantes
apposition des mains mésintelligence
des lèvres et des yeux
l’enchaînement de certains moments
et l’inconséquence de la plupart
Speaking of the 1930s, Beckett’s comments on Devlin’s poetry in 1937 might give at least a few sectaries of Irish poetic modernism pause before the next rehash of the Irish MacSpaunday argument: ‘The Bacchanal I find very very bad, the worst kind of Whitman-Kipling-aling piétinement sur place (...) the process is one of working up the perceived, when it is not a screen for the failure to perceive (...) When he gets metaphysical it is awful.’
And speaking of Beckett’s Normalien friends, as I was doing at the start, a small update to the exhaustively exhausting apparatus: Georges Pelorson (b. 1909), later Belmont, after his wrong-way wartime jump, and author of the Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe – died last December.
And still on the apparatus, I naturally gravitated straight to every reference of my native Co. Wicklow, registering a particular thrill at the obsessiveness of Beckett’s ramblings up over Glencullen, Glencree and down into Enniskerry, whose Powerscourt Arms he frequents thirstily, but when a hilarious account of ‘our old bitch’ getting into a ‘profound coït’ (laying rather than lying doggo, in other words) is followed by a trip a ‘dog abortionist on the upper Dargle Road (...) to have her washed out’, and a note informs us that ‘the one vet listed up Dargle Road, Bray’, is Miss Hilda Bisset’, I’m sorry, quiveringly proud Brayman though I am (and my brother John plays or has played in a football team called Werder Braymen), sorry, where was I, but there is also a Dargle Road in Deansgrange, which, being considerably closer to Foxrock than Bray, I’m assuming is the Dargle Road in question.
If right about this I presume the edition will now be recalled and pulped. For which many apologies to all and sundry.