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gontarsky - beckett

gontarsky - beckett

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on Beckett
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Published by: asterfest on Oct 30, 2012
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ontarski: Viva, Sam Becke�
Viva, Sam Becke�, or Flogging te Avant-Garde
By S. E. Gontarski
Te surge n goa popuarty o Samue Becetts woror peraps ust tecommerca mage o Samue Becett,as autor,partcuary urng tecentenary year o 2006s sometng o a mxe essng. Ts Becett
 sans frontières,
or, as t s ere terme, transnatona Becett, re ects te extensono a partcuar western European moment, Moernsm as te avant-garesnterrogaton or crtque o te cutura an mora anruptcy o ourgeos Europe,onto a pan-cultural stage where it is now embraced not only by those cultures thatwere the object of its critique but also by cultures where the European moment barely resonated, or if it resonated did so belatedly.
Whether such responserepresents a victory for or signals a crisis in the arts is an issue that itself wantsinterrogation. Are we in the midst of a global triumph of the avant-garde or simply witnessing its reduction to nostalgia or its assimilation into commerceand so into kitsch? In the case of Beckett, 2006 witnessed the commercial and popular embrace of a twentieth-century icon who happened to be not a rock star  but an esoteric Hiberno-Gallic poet. That is, the transnational popularity of theEuropean avant-gare wt cutures tat cou ary ave generate suc racasoca proucton s e y or s an eco o a parae penomenon, Becett asconstructe soca con, te atter event n te growng numer o ausons tom or s wor n popuar cuture were e an s wor are oten reuce toa ew mmeatey recognzae emems, ccs, or catc prases, e trascans, ower ats, or te act o watng tse. Suc popuarty, storte as t s,tnge wt sentment an sportng te trappngs o tsc, remans, noneteess,a measure o s cutura mpact, part o s egacy as e s asore nto anceerate not revere y a twenty- rst-century goa economy, an so acommodity in the culture industry. As the narrator, Sam, perhaps, says of Watt,“One wonders sometimes where Watt thought he was. In a culture park” (77).I opened the introductory essayto
On Beckett: Essays and Criticism
trying toassess that legacy:On 13 April 1986 Samuel Barclay Beckett will mark his eightiethyear, an event that will be commemorated by internationalfestivals, performances and publications unprecedented inan autor’s etme. Suc attenton was neter sougt no partcuary wecome y Becett . . . ut s uy te measure
 Journal of Becke� Studies
of his impact on the literature and culture of the latter half of the twentieth century, on that period now regularly calledPostmodern. (1)What I feared at the time was overstatement, of Beckett’s coming in from the coldin his lifetime, say, now appears more like understatement in the after Beckett.Wtness te openng o Marore Peros presenta aress to te MoernLanguage Assocaton n Decemer o 2006, a year tat as come to e cae teyear o Becett:Ts year mars te centenna o Samue Becetts rt, ante ceeratons aroun te wor ave een a woner to eo.From Buenos Ares to Toyo, rom Ro e Janero to So a,rom Sout Arca were Becett not permt s pays to be performed until Apartheid was ended) to New Zealand, fromFlorida State University in Tallahassee to the University of Reading, from the Barbican Theatre in London to the PompidouCenter in Paris, from Hamburg and Kassel and Zurich to Aix-en-Provence and Lille, from St. Petersburg to Madrid to TelAviv, and of course most notably in Dublin, 2006 has beenBeckett’s Year. Most of the festivals have included not only performances of the plays, but lectures, symposia, readings, artexhibitions, and manuscript displays.
for example, co-sponsored by the French government and NewYor Unverstys Center or Frenc Cvzaton an Cuture,as eature prouctons o Becetts entre ramatc oeuvre,mounte n teatres arge an sma a over Pars, ectures ysuc maor gures as te novests-teorsts Pppe Soersan Hene Cxous, te paywrgts Fernano Arraa an IsraeHorovtz, an te posoper Aan Baou. To roun tngsout, n 2007 te Pompou Center w ost a maor extono an on Becetts wor. . . . Wo, nee, more goa anartist than Beckett? (652)Many of these symposia and performances were financially supported not only byuniversities, foundations, and cultural arms of governments but by banks, airlines,and other corporate entities. One might well ask what drives such acceptance, suchinstitutional enshrinement? In the decades that separate 1986 and 2006, Beckettand his work have continued to accumulate commercial capital, and the corporateembrace of the avant-garde has by 2006 been long established. But the Modernistavant-garde as a popular culture, as indeed
decorative art of our time, and thusthe avant-garde at the moment of its greatest appeal, simultaneously suggests itsegraaton, not te nstant o ts annaton, te nerent cutura crtquesmotere n mass emrace. Does suc goa acceptance represent a untngo te resstance nerent n Moernsm an, or our purposes, n Becetts
ontarski: Viva, Sam Becke�
work in particular? Roland Barthes had already anticipated such rehabilitationof Modernism in the 1960s: “the bourgeoisie will recuperate [the avant-garde]altogether, ultimately putting on splendid evenings of Beckett and Audiberti (andtomorrow Ionesco, already acclaimed by humanist criticism)” (69). The festivitiescommemorating the year of Beckett may have been just such recuperation, such aseries of “splendid evenings” in the culture park.Degraaton may e enemc, mmeate n te arts, o course, as Becett weunerstoo, egnnng at te moment o arts passng nto soca spacewc,roncay, s te ony pace were t cou ope to ave any mpactut exposureto an auence, to te puc, eter troug pucaton, exton, or perormanceegns a process o commo caton. Watever suversve or potca ege awor may ave a n ts narrow context s transorme nto commoty wtncrease exposure, suc as Matsse prnts use to ecorate Las Vegas ote rooms,Salvador Dali neckties, or Ché Guevara T-shirts, radical politics reduced to fashionstatement, and such decorative tokens are readily available for Beckett as well.eBay sellers offer any number of Beckett T-shirts and “signed” photographs, for example, and the recent special anniversary issue of 
GQ 50
lists Beckett asamong the fifty most stylish men of the past fifty years (388). For 
Beckett is ahip trendsetter, a celebutant, one of the fashionistas of haberdashery, “A timelessfigure, both ancient and modern, traditional and (whether he liked it or not) hip,he favored black (which ignited his blue eyes) and wool or tweed coats that couldhave come from any number of centuries.” Little matter that his wife bought hisclothes at the
arché e puces
in St. Ouen, for 
Beckett wore Prada.In our current economy Becett s apparenty sutae or an recommeneto nants. Te current we page Becett or Baess ony a n est, as t procams, “Stmuate your nant’s nteectua eveopment wt Becett or Baes, an ntroucton to some o te most mportantan most cut— terature o te twentet century. I t s never too eary to rea to your ay, ts never too eary to prepare er or grauate scoo.” Te Gunea Pg Teatresanmate
Waiting for Goot 
s aso as muc omage as travesty, we teMuppets’s Monsterpiece Theater’s production of 
Waiting for Elmo
seems to bewholly homage, the beginnings, perhaps, of “Beckett for Babies.”Witness as well graffiti artist Alexander Martinez’s stark community mural of Beckett (used as a cover of this volume). It is located on Blenheim Crescent, just off the Portobello Road, the antique Mecca and tourist destination inLondon’s W11. Beckett’s face, admittedly deteriorating from the moment of itscompletion, something of a quick or instant ruin, dominates the side of a buildingas if he were a local politician, a notable neighbor, or a local hero, which hemay be for the artsy Notting Hill set. The iconic mural, doubtless a heartfelttrute, as, noneteess, a te trappngs o ceerty, o a cut o personaty.Furtermore, an enterprsng Irs group commtte to commercazng gra tart tat cas tse Heterseterspotte te mura, an te mage s eature on

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