Tuesday, May 29, 2007

There's a very moving farewell by John Calder, Samuel Beckett's publisher for thirty years, on the Guardian blog today, linking to this absolute treasure of an article. I particularly liked the record of a meeting between Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs:

‘Tell me, Mr Burroughs,’ Sam said politely, about this cut-up method of yours. I don’t think I quite understand what you do.’

‘Well, Mr Beckett,’ drawled Burroughs in a voice that sometimes sounded southern and at other times Harvard, ‘what I do is this. I take a copy of the New York Times or some other paper and I cut a column in half down the middle or sometimes I fold it. Then I find another text, perhaps one of mine or perhaps a page of your Molloy and I do the same thing.’ Beckett was listening in rapt attention. He opened his mouth, to speak and then closed, it again.

‘Then,’ continued Bill Burroughs, ‘I read across the lines of the two and copy out what I see, so that each line has half of one text and half the other. Later I edit the new version until a whole new text emerges. Then, depending on how it looks, I may cut that up into a third text. And of course I add a word or two where it’s necessary.’

Beckett could contain himself no longer, ’but you can’t do that,’he said.

‘Oh, I do, Mr Beckett, I assure you,’ said Burroughs in an even voice.

Both had been drinking heavily. No one else was listening. Rosset was interested in the two girls who were obviously both girl friends of Girodias who was very much a ladies man, always in love and with a string of simultaneous mistresses. Anything a little kinky fascinated Barney Rosset. The writers were talking among themselves about their own affairs. The argument went on between my two authors, the classically-trained Dublin gentleman from a good middle-class family who had become a Parisian bohemian artist, and the quintessential American from the under-culture of drug addiction and Hollywood-glamourised gangster crime, Wild West and hoboism, totally unable to understand the point of view of the other until they both, quite drunk, slipped under the table at the same time and had to be taken home by taxi."

I've just finished reading Jonathon Coe's biography of B S Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant, which shows how generous Samuel Beckett could be to other writers - sending B S Johnson a cheque for £100 when he was in need. Somehow this story just adds to that.


Anonymous Bosch said...

I enjoyed this entry very much being a reader/collector of Burroughs and Maurice Girodias Olympia press.
Good luck with your reading tonight

Sarah said...

Thanks, Anononymous Bosch - good collection btw.