Fragment and Beckett’s form in That time and Footfalls


Enoch Brater


‘There is no culture to sustain us,’ wrote Paul Klee in 1924, explaining why, though he often dreamed of a work ‘vast in scope, spanning all the way across element, object, content, and style,’ he and his contemporaries were unlikely to achieve more than ‘parts.’1 A year later Virginia Woolf published her essay ‘How it strikes a contemporary’ in the first series of The common reader: ‘It is an age of fragments. A few stanzas, a few pages, a chapter here and there, the beginning of this novel, the end of that, are equal to the best of any age or author. But can we go to posterity with a sheaf of loose pages, or ask the readers of those days, with the whole of literature before them, to sift our enormous rubbish heaps for our tiny pearls?’2 Joyce, devoting seventeen years in a desperate attempt to synthesize all of western civilization into Finnegans wake (‘sheer madness,’ according to Shaw), is, like the lone climber we meet at the end of Beckett’s The lost ones, the last to experience the large scale vision of ultimate ‘chaosmos.’3 While Eliot was otherwise engaged in what Louis MacNeice called mere ‘contemplation of a world in fragments,’4 Pound, defeated by time, Chagall’s ‘river without bounds,’ breaks off The cantos with the final eloquence of silence itself, unfinished and unended. An age of anxiety leaves us with Auden’s ‘fractured atoms.’


Given such an aesthetic predicament, any construction, as Tristan Tzara noted, ‘converges upon boring perfection, the stagnant idea of a gilded bog.’5 The dilemma for the dramatist becomes the subject of his theatre as well: for if experience in the world is chaotic, fragmentary, or merely phenomenal, how can the contingencies of dramatic unity, even the transformational grammarian’s ‘deep structure,’ respect and represent reality on stage? A mimesis of disorder would be no easy matter to set in disciplined motion on the boards. Passion for lucidity and rage for order threaten to subvert both essence and experience of fragmentation. One cannot have it both ways; either there is art or chaos, not chaotic art. ‘Among those whom we call great artists,’ observed Beckett in his dialogues with the art critic Georges Duthuit, ‘I can think of none whose concern was not predominantly with his expressive possibilities, those of his vehicle, those of humanity. The assumption underlying all painting is that the domain of the maker is the domain of the feasible. The much to express, the little to express, the ability to express much, the ability to express little, merge in the common anxiety to express as much as possible, or as truly as possible, or as finely as possible, to the best of one’s ability.’6 ‘Perfection,’ however, ‘c’est pareses,’ as André Breton and Paul Eluard wrote so cavalierly in their Notes sur la poesie. What is needed, Beckett told Tom Driver, is a form ‘of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not say that the chaos is really something else.’7 With no detectable centre and no perceivable outer space, the world becomes shifting and unstable. A dramatic form representing such experience might demonstrate, then, no such Shavian thing as progress, only moments in a spiral of perpetual change. In an age of fragmentation the dramatic artist engages not in linear work-in-progress, but in perennial work-in-process—an aesthetic of the endless middle ‘not on its way anywhere,’ as Beckett writes in From an abandoned work, ‘but simply on its way.’


But a world without a locatable centre is not necessarily an interplanetary ‘black spot’ in boundless space and endless time. It is from this lack of equivalence, this fruitful disequilibrium, that the predicament achieves aesthetic possibility, Beckett’s ‘obligation to express.’8 Fragmentation, a corollary to Beckett’s principle of heightened indeterminacy, can search for dramatic forms as soluble as those stable constructs familiar to us in the comedy-philosophy of Bernard Shaw. Only in Beckett’s case ‘the form and the chaos remain separate. The latter is not reduced by the former.’9 In his recent minimalist constructions Beckett has explored the theatrical possibilities of fragmentation, a process examining the adequacy or inadequacy of a variety of small-scale dramatic forms ‘to accommodate the mess.’


Such technical exploration necessarily results in an experimental short, what Beckett once called a ‘dramaticule’ when referring to Come and go. Condensed as well as contracted, these strange theatre pieces have the same ‘savage economy of hieroglyphics’ Beckett saw in Joyce’s own fragments published as Work in progress. For so many motifs, allusions, and overtones to be wedded together into a single entity involves here an incredibly complex iconographical programme. Beckett’s characteristic extreme brevity, however, places limits on process degenerating into progress: ‘dramaticules’ are too brief to provide us with anything more determinate than feelings, tones, images, sensations, moods. In these pieces intellectual constructs have been subjected to the same constrictions as time and space. Writing about Joyce in 1929, Beckett noticed that ‘this writing that you find so obscure is a quintessential extraction of language and painting and gesture.’10 Simultaneously inspired and frustrated by the ‘absolute absence of the Absolute,’ Beckett demonstrates to what extent fragments may achieve concretion on stage. Reversing Joyce’s method in composing Finnegans wake (and thereby parodying the appearance of fragments from Work in progress in transition and The transatlantic review before the work was printed in its entirety in 1939), ‘dramaticules’ are ‘simply a series of stimulants’ never permitting ‘the kitten to catch its tale.’ Work in regress, not progress, scrupulously omits the ‘stiff interexclusiveness that is often the danger in neat construction.’11 ‘Dramaticules’ point forward to no Joycean synthesis: ‘The more Joyce knew the more he could. He’s tending toward omniscience and omnipotence as an artist. I’m working with impotence, ignorance. I don’t think impotence has been exploited in the past.’12


In the theatre Beckett’s minimalist constructions are grotesque emergences out of darkness. Condensed and highly elliptical, on first encounter Beckett’s ‘dramaticules’ appear to haunt us with surreal landscapes divested of all recognizable proportions, a nightmare vision made familiar to us in Giacometti, Tanguy, Dali, and di Chirico. Whereas in his earlier plays there is more attention lavished on representational detail, details constantly and eloquently subjected to correction, revision, and the shifting ambiguities of audience perception, in Beckett’s recent ‘fizzles’13 there is more concentration and simplification. Persons, places, and things are transmuted into a bold orchestration of shape, texture, and tonality, a highly imaginative synthesis of the constructivist and surrealist modes. A Beckett ‘dramaticule,’ like a Joseph Cornell box, confronts the spectator with an embodiment of elusive incongruities.14 Every attempt to penetrate the mysteries of these ‘anxious objects’ is, in one form or another, the same ‘raid on the inarticulate’ T.S. Eliot saw in poetry. Yet in Beckett’s hands tiny bits and pieces acquire ambiguous meaning and a scale—the scale of miniaturized grandeur—far removed from their modest physical size. And the actual brevity of these plays—the creation of a compressed and very empty space by means of elaborate but minuscule dimensions—affords these works a ‘world’ in which they achieve the kind of imaginative harmony associated with the larger canvases of Endgame or Waiting for Godot.


It doesn’t do, then, to assume that Beckett’s largest works, his novels and his full-length plays, are the most important. Some of the recent ‘ends and odds’15 evoke imaginary worlds as dense as any Beckett has ever made. Footfalls and That time, which had their world première on 20 May 1976 at the Samuel Beckett Season staged in London at the Royal Court Theatre to celebrate the playwright’s seventieth birthday, continue to illustrate a fascination with the possibility of staging a minimalist and fragmentary drama.


In That time the uneasy experience of fragmentation is, for the audience, both visual and aural. The curtain rises on stage darkness which slowly fades up to unveil the immaculate clarity of a modernist’s John the Baptist, a head without a body ‘about ten feet above stage level midstage off center.’16 It is an ‘old white face’ with ‘long flaring white hair’ as if seen, like the exquisite desolation of a disembodied Dali head, ‘from above outspread.’ The image Beckett makes us confront here is at once sensational and intimate, empty but filled with suggestion, deserted, yet full of mysterious panic, an apparition that is never explained and therefore never ceases to pall. Simultaneously sombre and monstrous, the presence cannot be rationalized. Yet on stage its existence is agonizingly real. As the lighting shifts its focus to work subtle changes of tone and angularity on the spectral flesh of Beckett’s visionary head, the image is touched with an ominous foreboding, becoming as shifting and changing as the subject of our dreams. Although the laws of optics do not normally permit such fragmented perspectives and sight-lines on stage, Beckett makes us enter a new world instead of remaining within the theatrical modifications of this one. For in That time Beckett gives visual existence to inner experience. Despite the morbidity and sensationalism of his unattended and unexplained figure, the vision is surrounded by a sense of melancholy as well as mystery.


Beckett’s ‘old white face’ is, as the stage directions tell us, a ‘Listener,’ and what he listens to is as literally and concretely fragmented as his own visual presence. He hears three voices, each haunting him turn and turn about with parts of stories based on times gone by, a past recycled rather than recaptured. The Listener cannot sleep, he cannot rest in peace, for the fragments he hears awaken emotions he is forced to recollect by no means in tranquillity. Although voices A, B, and C are projected from three separate positions (‘both sides of stage and above’) and ‘modulate back and forth without any break in general flow,’ the play which begins and ends with the eloquence of silence is abruptly violated twice by an intermediate and artificial silence of ‘10 seconds.’ During each silence, the Listener’s breath, ‘audible, slow, and regular’ is amplified to engulf the entire theatre; after ‘3 seconds’ the eyes suddenly, desperately open on us, as if trying to remember something, some image, some emotion, some life that might have once been lived. The monologues of memory resume but the helpless eyes are still searching, still staring pathetically into the darkness until weary with weariness they, too, close out what little light the fragments from the past have made them envision. We are, once again in Beckett, inside a head, for the voices we hear, the persistent dream and the continual delirium, are the Listener’s own. There is no release, no relief, no catharsis, no ritual purification, no dénouement. What remains of the past is only the remnant of a threnody, only the tattered shreds of what might once have been a coherent memory and a unified past. Nothing, literally nothing—certainly not the excesses of Wordsworthian lyricism—can bring back the passing hour, for the Listener here finds no splendour in the grass and no glory in the flower. ‘What remains,’ to quote the voice from years gone by which Krapp listens to as he prepares to make his last tape, ‘of all that misery?’ Only a lonely trinity of isolated fragments achieving no mediation and no resolution.


Fragments, however, come in different shapes and sizes, and those offered to us in That time by voices A, B, and C evoke distinct though inconclusive vignettes of three separate moments chiselled from what Beckett calls in Proust ‘the poisonous ingenuity of time.’17 A presents a vivid picture of a grown man’s return to see once again, for the last time perhaps, a setting sacred to youth, a ruin where he hid all alone as a child. B conjures from the ruins of the past an image of innocent young lovers sitting still ‘on the stone together in the sun on the stone at the edge of the little wood,’ vowing every now and then they love each other—’just a murmur not touching or anything of that nature.’ And C sets his pentimento in a portrait gallery where a man, taking refuge from the cold winter rain, sits all alone. It would be tempting to view the three scenes as in some way representative of three ages of manyouth, maturity, and old agebut the ‘unfacts,’ to quote Joyce, ‘did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.’18 All we have here are three pieces of what seems to be a much larger and a much more complicated puzzle. Our attempts to order the bits and pieces, to place them in a hierarchy, a chronology, and a progression, lead nowhere but back to the images themselves. As each voice returns again and again to amplify the scene it has already outlined before, the images take on a reality and a plasticity of their own. Repeated, recycled, redistributed, rearranged, recombined, but never synthesized, the scenes impose themselves on every listener not so much as true but as real. Conditioned by perception as well as the need to locate a semblance of order in the flux of fragmentary phenomena, the memories shaped by the voices from the past may be merely unfolding an inescapable fiction. And as each voice moves forward, curiously, by turning inward and backward upon itself, it is not the possible fictivity of the process which ensnares our attention, but its overwhelming and outrageous authenticity. Echoes from the past, firm, compact, elegiac, melodic, and haunting, hover over us in the same way we see them threaten the security and serenity of Beckett’s disembodied Listener. The tables have abruptly turned and what we have taken as inhuman abstraction has suddenly, horribly become the substance of our own nightmare. Trying to fit the fragments together into some concrete, coherent whole, we find ‘that time’ has disingenuously invaded ‘our time.’


Beckett, of course, has turned the screws on us before, but one of the principal effects of his particular turn of the screw in That time is to make us experience a fragment as an absolute whole, a stark stage presence as painful and tender as a raw nerve exposed to the outside world. Rather than talk about fragmentation within the confines of a safe and timid realistic stage illusion, Beckett has determined to situate us in the midst of all its lurid horror, forcing us to confront dismemberment and dislocation in a variety of elegant permutations and literary combinations.


Belle-lettrists, Joyce’s ideal readers ‘suffering an ideal insomnia,’19 will no doubt preoccupy themselves with excavating fragments from earlier Beckett works buried deep beneath the seemingly barren surface of That time. The ‘ruin’ here resembles the ‘ruins true refuge’ in the ‘false time’ Beckett weaves for us in Lessness, the ‘always winter’ repeats the ‘always winter some strange reason’ of Mouth’s seasonal solstice in Not I, the ‘stone’ recycles the subject of a projected story Malone never gets around to telling, the ‘green greatcoat’ in a variety of altered sizes and shades has been worn by several Beckett heroes before, the figures ‘just blurs on the fringes of the field’ reactivate ‘Maddy Rooney, née Dunne, the big pale blur’ of All that fall, ‘stock still always stock still’ animates once again the static and immobile attitude of the seated figure in Beckett’s own Still, the Post Office brings us all the way back to the scene of Neary’s memorable shinanagan in Murphy, and the toothless smile of the Listener at the play’s curtain resurrects the specifically dental emptiness of Molloy as well as the orthodontial singularity of Sucky Moll’s ‘bare canine’ shaped like a Cross to represent ‘the celebrated sacrifice’ in Malone dies. Enthusiasts can be counted on to uncover other Beckett shards, but in the process of unearthing the neo-classic remnants of the playwright’s uncanny self-reference, one must not neglect the ‘Shakespeherian rags’ bubbling to the surface of this particular text.


Although That time is hardly the same baroque composition Shakespeare has been able to make in ‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold,’ Beckett does share with sonnet 73 the atmosphere of ‘yellow leaves,’ ‘sunset,’ ‘twilight,’ and ‘Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest.’ Shakespeare’s ‘bird’ from the same sonnet may be only a drowned rat floating downstream as Beckett renders it here, but a vague recollection of the ‘bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang,’ ominously confused with the foray of a rodent, still floats like flotsam and jetsam on the murky surface of That time. The rhythmic desolation of ‘that time’ (‘was that another time all that another time was there any other time was there any other time but that time’), the poignant refrain that appears at least 21 times in the eight pages of Beckett’s playscript, parallels sonnet 49 as well (‘Against that time, if ever that time come’) where the same fretful phrase repeats itself three times in the narrow-room of the poem’s fourteen lines. ‘Devouring Time,’ ‘swift-footed Time,’ is the classic theme Beckett shares here with the Bard. But whereas Shakespeare as sonneteer triumphs over time in the immortality of verse, Beckett as playwright mirrors ‘only dust and not a sound . . . something like that come and gone come and gone no one come and gone in no time gone in no time.’ The light slowly fades and the curtain slowly falls. Only fragments remain, Yeat’s ‘old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can, old iron, old bones, old rags.’ There are no more sugared sonnets; Hamm’s supply of ‘sugarplums’ has run out long ago. We are in the same situation as Listener, isolated and alone: ‘we cannot know and we cannot be known.’20 Riveted in our seats like Beckett’s frozen figure sitting at an empty window in Still, we too are still, still ‘listening for a sound.’ As darkness eradicates Beckett’s disembodied image, silence envelops Beckett’s listeners. ‘Silence and darkness are all I craved,’ sighs one of the three heads in Play, potted so magisterially in an urn, ‘Well, I get a certain amount of both. They being one.’ But in That time Beckett has moved us into the prison-cell of a much bleaker house. In Play the figures are stuck in a triangle which repeats itself twice, creating an illusion of going on endlessly, but still going on; in That time the voices come and go but their brief time on stage has been pathetically short-changed. They disintegrate, dry as dust, into silence and darkness. Even breathing stops. There is, finally and brutally, nothing: only the vague reveries, the blurred image, the faint voices we have heard, like Hamm ‘dripping’ in our head during ‘that time’ we have spent in Beckett’s theatre. Perhaps, as Nell puns in Endgame, it’s all ‘a little vein.’


In Footfalls this mysterious and indeterminate ‘it all’ has become not only the subject of the drama, but its mournful litany as well. Here Beckett discards abstraction for the simplicity of a strikingly realistic image: the stark figure of a woman pacing endlessly from right to left, back and forth, ‘like one of Dante’s damned.’21 Old, bent, rigid, restless, tense, frightened, gaunt, and pitiful, she is, to borrow a phrase from Joyce, quite ‘looney’ in her ‘loneness.’22 Portrayed in London with unforgettable intensity by Billie Whitelaw in a definitive production directed by the playwright himself, the lonely woman of Beckett’s piece makes us ‘hear the feet, however faint they fall.’23 The naturalism of the drama is, therefore, deceptive and severely circumscribed, for, although this play unfolds a whole, unfragmented figure (not the fractured Mouth of Not I nor the disembodied head of That time), the lighting here is ‘dim, strongest at floor level, less on body, least on head.’ Like Bunuel in his obsession with feet and shoes in The diary of a chambermaid or Magritte in his preoccupation with the simultaneity and double-images of the same elements in The red shoes, Beckett makes us concentrate on the ‘clearly audible rhythmic pad’ of seven steps [nine in the Royal Court production] on a strip downstage, parallel with front, ‘width one metre, a little off centre audience right’ but growing shorter and narrower after each fade out. In Footfalls, however, no feet and no shoes can be discerned: May, yet another Beckett protagonist whose name begins suspiciously with an M, is shrouded in a ‘worn grey wrap hiding feet’ which trails behind her. As in the radio play All that fall, it is the sound of the footfalls, not the sight of any part of the human anatomy, which determines the endless time, the boundless space, and the rhapsodic pacing of the ‘faint, though by no means invisible’ subject of this play: ‘the motion alone is not enough.’


Footfalls accompany other sounds: besides human voices which wake us by drowning out the silence for this funereal presence on Beckett’s stage, a faint single chime each time growing fainter divides the play into its three sections and provides its dark, empty closure of diminishing space, diminishing light, and diminishing sound. Like so many Beckett characters before her, May walks, talks, and hears voices: she cannot stop revolving ‘it all’ in her ‘poor mind.’ ‘Who he,’ we ask along with one of Beckett’s more inquisitive heads in Play, ‘and what it?’ We never know for sure: all information is fragmentary. Knowledge is nowhere categorical, everywhere conditional. Besides footfalls and chimes, all we hear in this play is May’s own voice and the low female voice buzzing through her head ‘from dark upstage.’ ‘It all ... it all’ forever eludes our fingertips. In Footfalls there are ‘limits,’ as Beckett tells us in the Addenda to Watt, ‘to part’s equality with whole.’ Caught, like May, in an unnamable world where facts and phenomena float together in a sea of potentiality in that realm prior to resolution, we too, can never cease ‘revolving it all.’ We pace back and forth, right to left. We are powerless to stop the flow.


What returns to haunt us in the fragments Beckett offers us in the three sections of Footfalls is the curious disconnection of similitudes so deftly set in motion between the parts. Part I opens the play with May’s anguished apostrophe to her dying mother, an appeal for communication which the faraway maternal voice answers from Beckett’s radiant void: ‘There is no sleep so deep I would not hear you there.’ M (May) and V (Voice) create a dialogue which is simultaneously time present and time past, for, although the mother’s voice is an echo from the past, May is speaking to her in the endless present dramatized before our eyes. Quite literally in Footfalls, the past is in the present. ‘It’s the future too,’ to quote Mary Tyrone in Long day’s journey into night, ‘We all try to lie out of it, but life won’t let us.’ As May relives the past in the purgatory of her poor mind, time neither progresses nor stands still; instead, it merely continues its rhythmic pacing. Past and present are even more strange than this: we never know for sure whether the dialogue we hear is lifted from history or ‘more real because imagined.’ As we seek to impose limits on the fragmentary pacing of time, all footsteps lead us in the wrong direction. Part I closes in a fade out with the audience, like May, ‘revolving it all’ as the chime rings ‘a little fainter.’ Part II is a monologue for one voice: as we watch May continue her motion on a slightly smaller strip, the same voice we heard from afar in Part I tells us that ‘my voice is in her mind’ and goes on to provide us with some tempting narrative details. ‘She’ has ‘not been out since girlhood’ and ‘she’ is now in ‘the old home.’ The solo voice continues by creating a ‘semblance’ of dialogue within her steady monologue, a two-character exchange between ‘the mother’ and ‘May,’ a simulation of additional voices within her own limited register. The maternal voice anticipates some of our own questions: ‘Does she still sleep, it may be asked? Yes, some nights she does, in snatches, bows her poor head against the wall and snatches a little sleep ... Still speak? Yes, some nights she does, when she fancies none can hear.’ The voice also has an odd sense of humour and a Beckettian addiction to puns; as May shifts the course of her pacing, Voice asks us to note ‘how feat she wheels’ (feat = [archaic] becoming, neat; smart, dexterous). What is May thinking as she speaks aloud, believing she is all alone? Voice says she is trying to tell not how it is, but ‘how it was’: ‘it all . . . It all.’ Fade out and darkness once more, the chime ‘a little fainter still.’ Part III offers us another monologue, this one May’s ‘sequel.’ Here May seems to be telling us a story about Amy (anagram for May)24 and Amy’s mother ‘old Mrs Winter’ (‘whom,’ we are told, ‘the reader will remember’). Who is Amy and who, indeed, is old Mrs Winter? We never find out. As May spins her tale, all we can see is the same ‘tangle of tatters,’ the ‘faint tangle of pale grey tatters’ which defines her own shadowy presence and the limits of our own visual horizon on stage. But what is this ‘strange thing’ we have ‘observed’ as we watch Footfalls take its course? The vision is come and gone before we can answer the question. The chime is now ‘even a little fainter still,’ the lights ‘fade up to even a little less still on the strip,’ but there is suddenly ‘no trace of May.’ Hold fifteen seconds, fade out, and curtain. May, like the Amy of her story, is simply ‘not there.’ ‘Strange or otherwise,’ we hear nothing, we see nothing. Absence is the only presence.


Footfalls, however, leaves us with a series of pictures and a series of sounds which will quite simply not go away. Is Amy May? Who is Mrs Winter? When did May’s mother die? How old is May now? Why is May telling a story? Is the story autobiographical? Why does Mrs Winter remember a scene at Evensong that Amy cannot or will not recall? Why is May pacing back and forth? Why does the illuminated space grow smaller after each fade out? Why does May employ Voice’s device of creating a dialogue within her own monologue? Why does May use a word as strange as Voice’s ‘feat’: ‘like moon through passing rack’ (rack = a wind-driven mass of high, often broken clouds)? Why do the Dickensian ‘tatters’ May trails behind her make us think of Miss Haversham? What are Shakespearean overtones doing in this play, the Macbeth -doth-murder-sleep of May, the endless pacing of Lady Macbeth, and the ‘amen’ stuck in Amy’s throat?25 What are we supposed to make of the ‘certain seasons’ of May, Mrs Winter, and the ‘one late autumn’? Is May dead, too, at the end of the play? What’s it mean, to paraphrase Winnie in Happy days, what’s it all meant to mean? - a sentiment May has Mrs Winter echo in her ‘sequel’ about Amy: ‘What do you mean, Amy, to put it mildly, what can you possibly mean, Amy, to put it mildly?’


Like so much in this short play, our questions are tentative, partial, inconclusive, and fragmentary. To quote from a recent Beckett text designed to accompany etchings by Jasper Johns, ‘Do eyes after such long exposure to the gloom begin to pierce it?’26 The mind, ‘still throwing the javelin,’ forever yearns to see Footfalls steadily and see Footfalls whole. But in this play light is waning, uncertain, undependable, and, strictly speaking, inaccessible. Every question, like every instant of experience, is isolated in the process of time: ‘one two three four five six seven wheel one two three four five six seven wheel’ Only bits and pieces remain, ‘traces blurs signs’ of something gone by certainly not forgotten.


Yet in Footfalls as in That time each fragment, each instant, bleak, isolated, and imprisoned, is perceived not so much as an absolute truth but as an absolute whole, materialized and memorialized through a constant return to the same sights and the same sounds, the same sensuous images and the same haunting voices. The drama portrays a world fallen to pieces indeed, but in Beckett’s hands, concerned with problems of illustration and commemoration, a tiny fragment of experience, a pensum, an image, a lonely voice, or even a faint foot-fall, is filled on stage with as much intensity as silence and darkness itself. Somewhere struggling in the void, neither out far nor in deep, Beckett’s new English plays make us confront pieces of experience as presences, signs rather than things signified,27 offering us isolated moments of beauty and simplicity struggling for life beneath a deceptively barren surface. Dramatizing moments of radiance rather than transcendence, the spectacle of Beckett’s images and sounds, his spectral shapes and his melodic lines, continues its assault against clearly impossible odds. In the process Beckett creates a new kind of drama in the scale of fragment, but a drama which carries beneath its amorphous texture the density and complexity of experience itself. It is Beckett’s raid on the inarticulate, but it is also a challenge in the theatre for transformation and renewal in a world of ever-shrinking possibilities.


1 Harold Rosenberg, Artworks and packages, (New York: Dell, 1971) 48.

2 The common reader: first series, (New York: Harvest, 1953) 240.

3 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, (New York: Viking, 1959) 118.

4 Louis McNeice, Modern poetry: a personal essay, (London: Oxford University Press, 1938) 12.

5 J.H. Matthews, Theatre in dada and surrealism, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1974) 1.

6 Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, ‘Three dialogues’ in Samuel Beckett: a collection of essays, ed. Martin Esslin, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965) 19.

7 Tom F. Driver, ‘Beckett by the Madeleine’, Columbia University Forum, IV, Spring 1961. 23.

8 ‘Three dialogues,’ 17.

9 ‘Beckett by the Madeleine,’ 23.

10 ‘Dante ... Bruno . Vico . . Joyce’, Our exagmination round his factification for incamination of work in progress, New directions, New York, 1972, 15, 22.

11 Ibid, 8, 22.

12 Israel Shenker, ‘Moody man of letters’, The New York Times, 6 May 1956, sec.2, p. 3.

13 Samuel Beckett, Fizzles, (New York: Grove Press) 1976.


14 Hilton Kramer, ‘Cornell’s innocent world,’ The New York Times, 14 May 1975, sec.2, p.1, p.35.

15 Samuel Beckett, Ends and odds, (New York: Grove Press) 1976.

16 Quotations in my text from That time are from the Faber edition, London, 1976.

17 New York: Grove Press, 1957, 4.

18 Finnegans wake, 57.

19 Finnegans wake, 57.

20 Proust, 49.

21 Samuel Beckett, All that fall in Krapp’s last tape and other dramatic pieces, (New York: Grove Press, 1960) 74.

22 Finnegans wake, 627.

23 Quotations in my text from Footfalls are from the Faber edition, London, 1976.

24 Martin Esslin, ‘Voices, patterns, voices: Samuel Beckett’s later plays’, Gambit: International theatre review, vol.7, no.28, 1976. 98.

25 See ‘Beckett’s play,’ Michael Billington’s review of Play, That time and Footfalls in Guardian, 21 May 1976.

26 Quoted by Alexandra Anderson, ‘A preview of Foirades/Fizzles by Samuel Beckett with etchings by Jasper Johns’ in New York arts journal, vol.1, no.2, September-November 1976, 41.

27 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The primacy of perception and other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history and politics, trans. James M. Edie, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964) 15.