'All things come to an end': A last meeting with Samuel Beckett
Award winning writer Mark Axelrod recalls a poignant final lunch with Beckett
“How’s the writing going?” I asked. A legitimate question of one writer to another regardless of the legitimate disparity in our talents.
Not well, he said, as he fiddled with his cigars.
“Writer’s block,” I said as a jest to me, to him, but he answered that it had never lasted so long.
Then he looked at me with a smile that masqueraded nothing. A realization that the Muse was finally eluding him and he said, all things come to an end. And I realized that anything I said or did after that comment would never alter the fabric of that day, nor my life, nor his, nor any other life that had been or is or will be touched by his prose, by the supple salience of his prose which breathes across the page.
I had often thought of myself as fairly facile in conversation. Able to pick up and move in any direction. But I suddenly found myself unable to think of anything to say that would liquidate the vacuum of the moment. Fortunately, the coffees came. A caffeinated respite.
I remembered reading, that morning, on the Metro, an article in the now defunct Paris magazine, Passion, titled “Les l00 Poids Lourds Des Lettres” with a picture of a certain Regine Deforges, a writer unknown to me, on the cover. The blurb beneath the title read ““Un hit-parade des l00 personnes-editeurs, écrivains, et...poètes-qui constituent le Tout-Paris des lettres.”
The article certainly piqued my interest since I wondered in what category they had ensconced Beckett since such natives as Michel Butor and Maurice Blanchot and Claude Simon and Nathalie Sarraute were included as were exiles such as Milan Kundera.
But though I looked and looked and looked again, Beckett was missing. Some poseurs were there, yes; some Beckett, was not.
And so I said to him, ‘You’ve been living in Paris for all these many years and yet they haven’t included you among their ‘dinosaures des lettres Francaises.’ You live in France, you speak and write in French, yet they didn’t include you. Why do you think they did that?”
At first he looked puzzled by the exclusion, but then, with another smile, merely said, it’s okay, I forgive them. Maybe it was because he still thought of himself as Irish even after living 50 years in France or maybe it was because the redacteur en chef hadn’t edited the copy or perhaps the staff had thought him dead. At any rate, I didn’t forgive them.
“But when were you last in Ireland?” I asked.
‘68, he said, for a funeral. And then in a transition that wouldn’t have been a stain upon his craft, he said his mother was dead, and his brother was dead, and Blin was dead and so was Jack Yeats.
And one could see the furrowed frown in his forehead as he held his hand to his head, thinking, perhaps repeating thoughts, or losing them, within the confines of time, time in the Vaucluse, Rousillon, with his wife, with others, time with Watt. The furrowed frown.
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