17/01/2019 by BBC Radio 4
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he’d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it.
Professor of English at the University of Cambridge
Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter
Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Listen Date: 2019-03-18
- I found this slightly exasperating but then I’m biased against the Irish.
- What if Beckett was simply mad or atrocious, Waiting for Godot is terrible and meaningless, but a historical accident has made it be regarded as a classic?
- That’s perhaps a little harsh; but I get the feeling that Beckett’s whole shtick of “I’ll write in French because I’m bad at it and language is inadequate” a sort of wankish self-effacement; and moreover I dislike the absolutism with which language is claimed to be inadequate – though that may have been the panelists more than Beckett himself.