Coffey discusses a hybrid short fiction work that blends memoir, criticism, and poetry

You ask several times in the book, ‘Why Beckett.” So, why Beckett?

You could ask not only why Beckett but why mention it. I mention it because I think that being transparent about the genesis of such a project is important. It is being honest. Not everyone cares to see process in a work of art, but there you have it. And in Beckett’s work itself, the mechanics of things are stripped down, laid bare. There is very little artifice. But plenty of invention. A principle interest of mine was really “What Beckett?” That is, what would such an innovator be doing today, given today’s technologies and global politics. Whatever I have learned thus far is in this book, to a point.  I am still at it.

What are you learning?

For one thing, I’m learning about what’s not possible and how that can be an assertion. And how to go forward from there. Beckett makes camp in negation, and builds a fire there. He looks out from there into a dark. The famous end toThe Unnamable—“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on”—is no joke. Go to those places in those many dark weird texts where identity comes apart and realize what going on means.

And in any attempt to get a handle on Beckett takes you to into interesting territory—to classical music, Irish history, Continental philosophy, World War II, abstract painting, the French language. For a quiet man his interests were voracious. Beckett scholarship has ranged far beyond those seminal early essays by Maurice Blanchot and Theodor Adorno and the studies by Ruby Cohn and Lawrence Harvey. Now, with James Knowlson’s authorized biography, the recently released four volumes of letters, and the digital manuscript project going on in Antwerp, the study of his works is vibrant all around the world. […]

What inspired you to import a formal organizational scheme from an abandoned Beckett work and then transform by both extension and contraction?

When I ran across Steven Connor’s essay on Beckett’s abandoned work, “Long Observation of the Ray,” I was thrilled to realize that Beckett clearly played with systems. Having read a lot of Mac Low, and John Cage and several of the Fluxus and Language poets, I liked systems. I felt there was virtue in some compositional restraints, but I had never thought Beckett would agree. Yet in his scheme for “Long Observation,” he appeared to explore an interior space—an absolutely closed space—by mechanically visiting nine themes about that place and doing so in orderly waves of prose. At this time, I was working on eight or nine ideas all having to do with Beckett. After reading Connor’s essay, I thought of interleaving my ideas per the Beckett plan. I thought—impossible! But one night, I dreamt that my job was to make large towers out of layers of felt and stones, one upon the other upon the other, and so I got up and cut-and-pasted four themes, one upon the other and so on. I could see that it was working, that the rhythmic delays and resumptions of themes was both exciting and agitating. Its disruption of normative narrative allowed light and silence to splash through.

Visit Michael Coffey’s website for the full Q&A.

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Posted by:Rhys Tranter

Rhys Tranter is a writer based in Cardiff, Wales, UK. He is the author of Beckett's Late Stage (2018), and his work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, and a number of books and periodicals. He holds a BA, MA, and a PhD in English Literature. His website is a personal journal offering commentary and analysis across literature, film, music, and the arts.

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