Friday, March 6, 2009

Air Beckett

In today's New York Times, Dwight Garner reviews the first volume of Samuel Beckett's collected letters, which, he says, humanize this seemingly inscrutable writer: the young Beckett is "surprisingly affectionate and wholehearted," often depressed but also fired up by literary passions. The letters also reveal odd facts that do not always jibe with our stereotypes of Beckett: at one point, Beckett reveals a wish to be a commercial pilot. In an aside, Garner adds "Imagine what Monty Python could have done with the notion of 'Air Beckett.'"

Well, Monty Python may not have gotten to it, but Ian Frazier did, in a New Yorker humor piece from 1980 titled "LGA-ORD." (It is reprinted in the collection Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker.) An excerpt:
Cruising along nicely now.
Yes cruising along very nicely indeed if I do say so myself.
(Long pause)
Twenty-two thousand feet.
Extinguish the light extinguish the light I have extinguished the No Smoking light so you are free to move about the cabin have a good cry hang yourselves get an erection who knows however we do ask that while you're in your seats you keep your belts lightly fastened in case we encounter any choppy air or the end we've prayed for past time remembering our flying time from New York to Chicago is two hours and fifteen minutes the time of the dark journey of our existence is not revealed, you cry no you pray for a flight attendant you pray for a flight attendant a flight attendant comes now cry with reading material if you care to purchase a cocktail
A cocktail?
Image: First page of Beckett's English translation of Waiting for Godot. Dwight Garner quotes someone as saying that Beckett "had the worst handwriting of any 20th-century author" and having seen a collection of his manuscripts at the Centre Pompidou exhibition 2 years ago, I agree wholeheartedly with that. Nonetheless, the impenetrability of it feels appropriate...perhaps there's some truth to graphology. Image taken from the UTexas website, which owns Beckett's papers.

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