Monday, February 16, 2009
The Postman Cometh
Beckett fact no. 95.
Hark, they have arrived. Beckett’s letters that is, minuscule margins, shiny paper and all, the latter adding a certain piquancy to Beckett’s wisecrack to MacGreevy (reproduced therein) about the sheet of glass in front of the Perugino Pietà in the National Gallery, Dublin, ‘so that one is obliged to take cognisance of it progressively, square inch by square inch.’ Before I launch into the book though, ten post-related Beckett texts.
1) ‘The Smeraldina’s Billet-Doux’. A love letter, used in both Dream and More Pricks Than Kicks, from Belacqua’s lovelorn German admirer and final wife, transparently (all too transparently for her family) based on Beckett’s German cousin Peggy Sinclair, who died of tuberculosis in 1933.
2) ‘What goes by the name of love is banishment, with now and then a postcard from the homeland’, announces the narrator of First Love. Elsewhere he comments on his private parts as ‘nothing to write home about’, prompting Christopher Ricks to wonder under what circumstances exactly one does write home, on a postcard or otherwise, about one’s genitals.
3) Could the young Beckett but have brought himself, in France or Germany, to cross this final frontier of epistolary taboo, his missives would have been delivered to Foxrock by Mr. Shannon, the ‘consumptive postman’ of Watt, forever whistling The Roses Are Blooming in Picardy, or alternatively Mr. Thompson, the aphasic postman of Dream.
4) ‘that time in the Post Office all bustle Christmas bustle in off the street when no one was looking out of the cold and rain’ (That Time). No doubt to join the queue for one of those stamps reproduced above.
5) And what else but the eventual possibility of buying stamps adorned with his creator in that very building can have tipped Neary over the edge and prompted his attack on Cuchulain’s buttocks (elles n’existent pas) in the GPO in Murphy. And then, to compound the embarrassment of his run-in with an Irish policeman, Neary is escorted from the building by Wylie in search of a pick-me-up from their friend ‘Cathleen na Hennessy’ only to learn from Mooney’s clock across the street that the curse of holy hour is upon them. Perhaps you’d like a drink while you’re waiting, sir?
6) The more hardcore stamp-collector is referred to Moran’s half of Molloy, in which the detective pauses admiringly over the Togo one mark carmine and Nyassa 1901 ten reis in his son’s collection, before rumbling the little bleeder’s fiendish scheme to bring originals along on their journey in his duplicates book.
7) Cooper’s numerous telegraphs from London to Neary in Dublin, as he variously finds and loses Murphy, topped in their imaginative use of the word ‘stop’ only by Beckett’s own 1983 telegraph to The Times:
EDITOR THE TIMES NEW PRINTING HOUSE SQUARE GRAYS INN ROAD LONDON/WC1 RESOLUTIONS COLON ZERO STOP PERIOD HOPES COLON ZERO STOP BECKETT
8) ‘The last time I laid eyes on him I was on my way to the Post Office to cash an order for back-pay’, B reads from a witness statement on the patient in Rough for Theatre II. Our witness reports in detail the patient’s fascination with the piece of dogshit between his feet. Then: ‘When two hours later I emerged from the Post Office, having cashed my order, he was at the same place and in the same attitude. I sometimes wonder if he is still alive.’
9) French letters sign off with military formality, do they not. Even when they’re as acid as the letter that opens Beckett’s hoax lecture on Jean Du Chas, ‘Le Concentrisme’: ‘Il ne me reste que d’exprimer tous mes regrets que cette noble aspiration ne se soit pas réalisée, et de vous prier, Monsieur, d’agréer ma sympathie et mon plus profond mépris’.
10) ‘... unfinished game of chess with a correspondent in Tasmania...’ (Rough for Theatre II).