japonisme: gooseberries

11 June 2008


(a writer on his 69th birthday,
listens to a tape-recording he had made on his 39th birthday)

-- upper lake, with the punt, bathed off the bank, then pushed out into the stream and drifted. She lay streched out on the floorboards with her hands under her head and her eyes closed. Sun blazing down, bit of a breeze, water nice and lively. I noticed a scratch on her thigh and asked her how she came by it. Picking goose- berries, she said. I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on, and she agreed, without opening her eyes.


I asked her to look at me and after a few moments -- (pause) -- after a few moments she did, but the eyes just slits, because of the glare. I bent over her to get them in the shadow and they opened. (Pause. Low.) Let me in. (Pause.) We drifted in among the flags and stuck. The way they went down, sighing, before the stem! (Pause.) I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.


Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth.......

from Krapp's Last Tape © 1958 Samuel Beckett 1

The late Takahashi Yasunari, who initiated Beckett studies in Japan, described affinities between Beckett’s drama and classical Noh theatre. Noh crosses borders between reality and dream, between life and death. Beckett’s art too undermines dualistic thinking and transgresses various borders. 2

Noh is closely connected with the ancient Japanese belief in the unpacified spirit of the dead. The unquenched passion of love, grief, or hatred endows the dead with a sort of immortality, and the ghost is compelled from time to time to emerge out of the Buddhist purgatory in a corporeal form that was his or hers in life and visit the world of the living in order to gain a partial relief from present torments by telling someone the story of his or her agony. 3

clearly, though, this is not singularly japanese. in hamlet too, for example, the living are asked to complete tasks for the dead.

in addition to the pivotal addition of ghosts (the personages of the past), the accoutrements of japanese theater had an influence on beckett as well.

"Beckett keeps approaching with ever increasing seriousness an austere theater, both in its skeletal bareness of structure and in its thematic obsession with past and memory ... It is a triumph of Beckett's art that he has successfully incorporated the very structure of the split soul of the modern man ... And Krapp is of course utterly incapable of exorcising or pacifying his former self.

Beckett started writing plays at the point in the history of the Western theater where all the realistic conventions of drama, including the assumption that the theater has nothing to do with the sacred, broke down, and it seems to be that, in his ruthless effort to strip the theater of everything that is not absolutely necessary, he has arrived somewhere close to where [the Japanese] started six hundred years ago.

Yeats had a significant influence on the history of world theatre in the 20th century, principally because he incorporated into his later plays, theatre techniques from the Japanese Noh to create a minimalist "theatre of the mind." Many theatre artists, including Samuel Beckett, are in his debt. 4

Noh is Japan’s “most classical” form of drama akin to Greek tragedy. Its roots lie in religious ritual, where the miraculous appearance of old gods, releases the players from the rigours of earthly life into the purity and clarity of the spirit world. The purpose of Noh is neither narrative nor moral, but is simply an attempt to express beauty -- the essence of Noh is that true art is felt, not understood.

This may seem a little removed from Beckett’s tramps, dustbins and reel-to-real replays. However the spaces, the purity and clarity are there. In Noh the drama strives to reveal its own essence. In Beckett, all we (we all) face is situation, just situation. The essence never arrives, except that the non-arrival itself, may be the essence. Just as Noh flows between reality and dream, life and afterlife; Beckett challenges dualistic thinking and crosses borders of language, genre, culture, bringing the ultimate questions into the commonplace -- and then asking if the questions matter. 5

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's poem - so beautiful. Thank you.

PS - i do hope this gets thru to you. I am an old technophobe, and i have no idea what to do about the googleblogger-openID-name/url-thingie. none of those seemed doable so i checked anonymous, and just signed my name to the comment. if you want to delete it i hope you at least read it first. Up to you.

13 June, 2008 05:01  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

you did good, peggy. thanks.

13 June, 2008 07:30  
Blogger Thomas said...

You have an amazing blog. I found your site a while ago but only tonight got the chance to sit and go through the archive - I have saved a ton of stuff. I was ready to recommend E.A. Hornel after seeing some similar works on here... but then I came across your post on him. Truly comprehensive and inspirational!

14 June, 2008 14:55  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you so much, curator--and welcome!

14 June, 2008 18:35  
Blogger Michael Craig - Copernicus Films said...

This the 2nd or 3rd time I've looked at your site. It really is quite a rare and unique site with lots of intersting nooks and crannies. I liked this short peice about Beckett and Noh drama.

13 September, 2010 02:22  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you so much, and thanks too for your visits

13 September, 2010 11:10  

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