Friday, October 4, 2002

Beckettian Notes to “Happy Days”


Just finding a copy of Sam Beckett’s “Happy Days” was a descent into the Dantesque inner rings of Godot. I found a mutilated “withdrawn” (well, a somewhat shy) reject copy from the Livermore Library in the fifth used bookstore on my list as it’s OP and not even listed in the Alameda Co. Public Library system, nor was it carried in the SFSU Bookstore. I couldn’t imagine anyone in Livermore actually reading Beckett, let alone understand it. But I digress.

OK, all those stage directions had my dyslexia stuck in overdrive...I never got past page 17 every time I reread it. I couldn’t tell where I left off, and the deja voodo text began. So I resorted to highlighting all Winnie’s lines in order to read the text....the stage directions had to come last. I wanted the experience of the language, such as it is. (Langue chats and madelines (think Proust, not handbags)...ooops, wrong play, she said earnestly, Wildely clutching at straws in the wrong memory lane...) Did I even notice the structure for all the bawdy parts? I latched onto vignettes as if a lifeline counted for anything. I hardly noticed the purgatorial structure for the trees, er, words. Back to the drawing board.

OK, my Dutch philosopher friend taught me to always read the copyright date, etc., in order to put work into context. © 1961. Scary is the thought that the Fifties were in full swing (no that was the swinging Sixties) the Fifties were in full repression and by this time Beckett must’ve considered himself more Parisian than Irish. Was this play written in English or French? What I hear in Winnie’s voice is a suburban whingeing voice of the 80s. Imagining this play in the 60s is positively mind-boggling. Reminder: Beckett’s “Play” has a similar premise. the fulminating mind at subconscious. Yes I am aware that whatever you read into the text is what it’s about, but it first helps to have a literary pallet or was that palate? I will go with whatever suits the tongue.

As I read “Happy Days”, I am wrestling with playwrights under the prodigal bedcovers. Stoppard, Beckett and Checkov. Checkov who brings the minutia of detail to build a bridge to the “human psychological condition,” (Stoppard quote); Beckett in the idea that he wanted to write a play without words (think minimalism); and Stoppard in his Chekovian reference from the KQED interview with Michael Krasny on the superior craft of the use of microcosms versus overt didacticism...which he acknowledged that he is guilty of in “Night and Day.”

(Note bene: You did ask for marginalia, a literate form of laternalia...where the mind goest...) The parts assemble the whole: Winnie begins her day with a prayer, talks to herself in imperatives: “Begin your day.” Then worries about Willie and the mundaneness of language sweeps us off our feet, we’re somnambulists at the wheel...all the claptrap clichés are dredged up from Victoriana onward. A much quieter rage than Osbourne’s “Look Back in Anger”; Winnie is well padded in platitudes. “Can’t complain” she says and does nothing but. Genuine. She’s 50, her breasts, her memories are buried, and resurrected.

When in doubt, focus on character analysis: Willie is an insubstantial gadfly, Winnie can neither live with nor without, as she is self-defined by how she imagines herself as seen through his eyes. But he’s a bit dim and she can’t shut her gob. No wonder the ‘brolly burst into flames. Because Winnie sees herself only if she imagines herself through Willie’s eyes, it’s O Happy Days whenever he answers, even if in a grunt. Winnie’s day is made if Willie acknowledges her presence, he is an appendage of her ego, a remora eel on the shark belly of relationships. She is keeping up appearances despite all odds. She traverses her life backwards through a handbag. Worries about her figure but even the ground’s getting tight.

Winnie says a line then amnesia wipes her memory banks, she’s having no trouble with words like “setae,” but forgets what a hog is as in “hog setae”... while we’re stumbling over setaes. I was immediately launched into another reality with Artaud or Jenet at the helm and I began to read darker deeds into the words that skim along the surface of social intercourse. What exactly is a hog indeed? Harley Davidsons aside. But I mustn’t tamper with the Ur-text. Nay, the “old style.” A narrative topo map? Becket as minimalist watchdog of language, syntax and meaning.

(I forgot to mention I have thin boundaries between words, things, assignments, this is supposed to be marginalia but the whanking mind has idea of its own so maybe this is a creative response to marginalia...Too close to the genitalia which Winnie does manage to bring to the text. Actually if truth be told, I resist, bristle armor at the idea of typing up marginalia on the plays as the mind is not on a leash even on good days. Whoa! Down, boy.)

Speaking of made-up words? What the hell is an “emnet”? Sounds like Bold Robert Emmet reduced to an ermine or stoat. Sneaking through the subconscious (or one’s pants, if one is a male) on a dare. OK, this could be “Watt” in feminine guise...after Magritte? all those businessmen raining from the golconda smile of the sky. “Empty words,” Winnie would say. At where I imagine the apex of the play to reside, poetry comes into play, what are these exquisite lines?... not like the thrush or the bird of dawning...[in]...The eye of the mind.” If only my eyeteeth could see what they’re chewing on.

Mr. Shower I presume? in the living -Johnstones of first kisses and whatnot. For whom the inventory bell burns. Speak Memory even from a watery grave..full fathom five...even if I can’t fathoim the play, it’s obvious she’s up to her neck in it alright. (Reminder, this is pre Monty Python. Aristotle enters into it. Dux et machina!) One mustn’t lose one’s classics like a misplaced coat. A scary view of Alsheimer’s before it’s begun. That’s what happens when you’re bogged down to the armpits, or the neck. One is both changeless and racing furiously to the finish line at the same time, Winnie is both child and woman with one foot in memory lane and the other in the grave. The problems of being interred thus include copious list of personal grooming do’s and don’ts. Oh happy days...(crescendo of gospel song of the same name...) when Beckett watched, oh when he watched all our sins away. O Happy Days.

CW 810, Thorstenson
Assignment #5
Oct. 4, 2002

No comments: