John Pilling


It would be difficult to find more dramatic illustration of the abiding fascination of Beckett’s writing than the variety of approaches adopted by critics in response to it. This issue is an attempt to reflect the multiplicity of ways in which commentators seek to elucidate ostensibly difficult and elusive texts. The long and important essay on Embers, which aims to re-assess a play that has been largely neglected, is essentially an exercise in close reading. Not I is given a reading in terms of the myth of Orpheus, which was also invoked in the essay on Enough in issue 4. That time—a work of which it might be said, in the words of How it is, ‘the gaps are the holes otherwise it flows’—is considered in the Formalist manner that largely originated in Eastern Europe. This voice from behind the Iron Curtain is more emotional than it appears to be, and it is not difficult to ‘deconstruct’ the abstractions and make them painfully concrete.


The essay on Murphy raises important questions about Beckett as self-translator which will one day have to be generalized to the whole oeuvre (we hope to be able to print an analogous approach to Malone dies in the next issue); the essay on Watt places the novel against one of the most celebrated modern critiques of the genre; and the analysis of From an abandoned work is the first product of the group investigating the possibilities of an Index of Motifs, which was announced in issue 3. The essay on Beckett’s bicycles could be seen as a kind of avant la lettre approach, showing how a responsible overview may be achieved by the patient study and contextualization of particular motifs. The ‘note on the Saints Macarius,’ the confrontation of Beckett and Brecht in Helsinki, and the re-assessment of the familiar ‘time and space’ approach applied to Lessness complete the remarkably wide range of keys with which, as Watt would say, these critics seek to unlock obscure or simple doors.


The review of James Knowlson’s bilingual edition of Happy days must serve as an index of the kind of tribute which the present editor would have liked to pay him, if words could have been found, now that he has decided to hand over the editorial reins of the magazine that he was almost single-handedly instrumental in establishing. The quality of the issues that he has seen through the press speaks for itself, and if subsequent issues can maintain this quality it will be thanks to the inspiring example that he has set. It will be a comfort to all Beckett scholars to know that he remains on the advisory board of JOBS, which would not have become what it is without his energy, far-sightedness and immense labour on its behalf.


It is very much regretted that the word ‘neared’ was accidentally omitted from the end of the fourth line of the text neither printed in issue 4 at post page-proof stage beyond the control of the editors. The line should read ‘as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared.’ The French original of the extract from Beckett’s current prose work-in-progress which he has so generously permitted us to print has been published in the Minuit house journal (no. 37). Issue 7 will review Beckett’s recently published prose text Company.