More Chicks and Dicks: On Samuel Beckett


Joanna Walsh in Berfrois (image–Goppeldangers: Samuel Beckett by Nell Frizell):

The first time I read More Pricks Than Kicks I was assailed by terrible cramps that rippled up and down the front of my torso until I stopped reading. It seemed appropriate. Echo’s Bones is a long short story originally intended as the ‘recessional’ to More Pricks Than Kicks, Beckett’s 1934 collection of stories about Belacqua – Dubliner, eternal student, abject sufferer from his own body: goitre, hammer toe, sexual dysfunction and moral turpitude. Although Beckett had to be persuaded to write the story in order to flesh out the collection, Echo’s Bones gave Shatton & Windup [1] “the jim-jams” and it was rejected. Now here it is, resurrected and larger-than-life, bulked-out by an introduction and notes longer than the text itself.

The beautiful new Faber edition (taking notes, my pencil sunk into what must truly be the Andrex of paper stock) is annotated almost out of existence, making the task of reading nearly as great a labour as digging up your own coffin, as Belacqua (now deceased), finds.

There is much to annotate. In a letter to Thomas McGreevy, in 1933, Beckett says Echo’s Boneswas a “story into which I put all I knew and plenty that I was better still aware of.” Beckett started his career, under the influence of Joyce, by saying everything, and ended up by saying nothing: the less he wrote, the more he was capable of meaning. In a late interview with James Knowlson, Beckett said, “I realised that James Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realised that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding. ”Cut out the style.” as Lord Gall advises Belacqua, several times.

In an essay on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Beckett said of his mentor, “his writing is not about something; it is that something itself.” In Echo’s Bones, Beckett addresses, creatively, the anxiety of what relations words can have with what is. If More Pricks than Kicks is set in a Grosz world of the solidly physical, with its cast of scholars and whores (there are no other women: “Toutes êtes, serez ou futes, De fait ou de volonté putes,” Chas quotes, in A Wet Night) in Echo’s Bones, though set in the afterlife, flesh is still pervasive.

More here.