As a writer (please forgive me if I call myself a writer) I spend an inordinate amount of time editing. You know, the punctuation, the spelling, the typing errors. I don’t use spellcheck and I’ve never hired an editor to proof my work. Proofing and editing are not glamorous activities I must admit. Not much fun, all those re-reads, those endless deconstructions and reconstructions. But it’s crucial to my writing, such as my writing be. Why? you ask. Because it makes me focus on the grammar! Grammar is important! Grammar creates the flow, the pace, it’s your voice, it’s your way to communicate. Grammar dictates the rhythm of the words and sentences. And, as Mr. Ellington once said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
Which brings me to the subject of Samuel Beckett’s prose. Last week I opened his novel Watt once again. The book is such a delight. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I am always captured by the rhythms and the sense of the words. The Nobel Prize-winning Beckett is best known as a playwright and dramatist, but he also wrote a goodly number of these little novels and stories. They are all quite similar; and they are all spectacular. Besides Watt, he penned Murphy, Malloy, Malone Dies, The End, The Unnamable, and a number of other prose selections. And, as I say, they’re all about the same. Beckett is often heavy and overly repetitive, and sometimes requires some effort, but I find I read and re-read these Beckett novellas all the time, albeit in small doses. I nearly always have a good, laugh-out-loud-laugh when I read Beckett. Like poetry it’s great to read out loud.
As I say, they’re all about the same story-wise. Nothing much ever happens. Yet somehow the story is magnificent. Beckett’s prose is generally a long-winded affair, with ridiculously long, long sentences, and occasionally some very short ones. In the Joycian tradition, Beckett is always playing with us. Always we have the same hapless and hopeless protagonist, the confused cripple hobbling and shuffling across the harsh Irish isle. It’s such a bleak and bleary landscape. It’s sublimely sad. Ah, sometimes it’s just magnificent, so sonorous. And then again, it’s always so ridiculous and absurd that you can’t help but laugh. I am sure that I am missing that dark and gloomy side of Beckett, but for me Beckett has been a joy to read, and I recommend him highly.
I think I aspired to throw in a bit of Beckett into my writing, my two novels, and especially in The Phantom Speaks novella. (Check out Bumba Books)
Anyhoo, we wes talking about de gramma…..
As promised, here’s a recording of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing that I made using a metronome-ish rhythm machine and a guitar and a piano track.