Monday, June 28, 2004

I have been reading a lot over the last three or four months. It has been books, books, and more books, to the total exclusion and neglect of almost all else. At present, I am going through the delightful Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, who has been a formative influence on my life. I remember the school library being purged of books by Russell after it was revealed that he was the inspiration behind my unorthodox views on the subject of religion. I regret to say that my school teachers were a rather reactionary lot.

Before the Russell book, I had been grappling with a writer who has been a great discovery for me—Samuel Barclay Beckett. At one stretch, I have read four novels, in addition to a play, by this ‘last Modernist’. The play of course was Waiting for Godot—that great mainstay of the Theatre of the Absurd. But more than the play, it was the novels that struck me the most—struck me dumb.

Murphy is a comparatively light work, nevertheless haunting in its portrait of a man who ends up in a mental hospital as a male nurse, so that he may contemplate his situation the more at peace. The odd tone of the work made me suspect that the man behind the work could only have ended up in an institution, like his hero. When I read up on the writer after reading through another three of his novels, I was surprised to be wrong—two years in therapy was all he had to go through!

The three novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable constitute a trilogy and surely is one of the most striking works in all literature. In paring down the superfluities that mask the essence of man, Beckett teeters at the edge of the communicable, and in a performance of literary and linguistic bravado, uses language as a tool of impotent communication, and portrays the mind as a hollow of incomprehensibility. The singlemindedness of purpose which led to the realization of this searing artistic vision is humbling. The trilogy is a madly difficult work, but surely reading it is as easy as facing the breeze when compared to the gargantuan effort it must have taken to bring it to fruit.

I have Aeschylus and Shakespeare waiting at my desk. Surely a surfeit. But I feel like a sinner.