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Coetzee on Beckett

This isn’t really connected to the review below, other than that it came from my desire to read some intelligent opinions of Coetzee’s own, which sent me back to his excellent collection Doubling the Point, the only place I know where Coetzee drops the veil to speak personally about himself as himself.

Beckett’s later short fictions have never really held my attention. They are, quite literally, disembodied. Molloy was still a very embodied work. Beckett’s first after-death book was The Unnameable. But the after-death voice there still has body, and in that sense was only halfway to what he must have been feeling his way toward. The late pieces speak in post-mortem voices. I am not there yet. I am still interested in how the voice moves the body, moves in the body.

Coetzee’s loss of interest in Beckett is only slightly behind mine (for me it is after How It Is). But where Coetzee sees a loss of body, I see a loss of narrative. It makes me wonder: does Beckett’s post-60’s work lose the same thing that can be referred to in two ways, as narrative or as body? I’m surprised that Coetzee didn’t include How It Is as an embodied work, because it appears to me to be his ultimate embodied work, the entire book centering around two bodily movements of Pim and the smaller movements in the mud of the narrator. (On the other hand, The Unnameable is embodied, though static, precisely in its perceptible distance from any sort of mobile body.) When body gives way to pure words or images, Beckett loses some ability to have something happen, and so is left with half a voice speaking.

1 Comment

  1. Of course if Coetzee had an aesthetic capacity and oeuvre behind him which wasn’t but a cold hodge-podge of half styles, one might see his commentary on Beckett less than self-aggrandisement. In no way can one compare the extent and variety of Beckett’s mature work, which began with a masterpiece novel, Murphy, in 1938 and ended 50 years later. The impertinence of this man to compare his work to that of Beckett’s is unfathomable.

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