I can’t go on, I’ll go on

Sketch of scene in Happy Days by Samuel BeckettMet a few old writer friends for pasta, beer and ice cream. I notice how I’m relentlessly trying to stir the discussion away from trivialities and towards writing: technique, process, books, samples, stories of writerly failures and successes. On my way there I read how self-devalorizing Beckett was, apparently unconscious of his own place in the canon. As if he was trying to evade or ignore the building of momentum that would eventually lead to his canonization. He didn’t get much recognition before his fifties. And when it came, it paralyzed him almost entirely. Success for some writers is like when a virgin falls among vampires. Says Beckett:

“I can’t go on, I’ll go on”

I like this mantra. I fear this mantra. (from: The Unnamable, 1954).

The new book of poetry by G. just came out over here. G. whom I know personally became famous at a young age and has struggled with that ever since it seems. Whatever he does cannot live up to the critics’ sharp, inflated expectations of his work, which is expected to become an ‘oeuvre’, a collective that surpasses and smothers its creator. If G. wanted to go back to his earlier, carefree state as a poetic libertine, he’d have to adopt a pseudonym. I don’t care for any of this work myself, inside or outside of the oeuvre: it seems labored and forcibly erudite—in fact, I’ve written pieces like that and I have forgiven myself for them on behalf of my inner insecure learner self—but I don’t value them highly.

Samuel Beckett

Rarely relaxed: Beckett Blue-Eyes

Coming back to the party: I realized what the answer to my last horoscope challenge is:

“What is the longest-running lie in your life?”

My longest-running lie (I like the expression: it suggests a lot of stamina, the despair and glory of marathon) is:

“When I relax, terrible things will happen.”

This credo, alas, kept me going like Beckett, face grimly set in the clay of creativity. It is the cornerstone of my workaholism and my successes, or is it? I do believe it’s a lie, an uncomfortable, painful one, but those are, paradoxically, often the strongest ones. Compare (not mine): “I’m no good and I never will be.” – “I’m never going to find love.” – [please add your own favorite lie] — all of these are self-fulfilling prophecies, of course: believing them manifests their reality. As for my own web of lies, I’ve no clue how to go about it yet.

Any ideas how to truly relax after a lifetime of doing the opposite?

What is YOUR longest-running lie?


About the book “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.–A Samuel Beckett a reader”: I own this book in addition to individual editions of most of the excerpts contained in it. However, I often find myself going here: partly because of the excellent introductions written by someone who knew Beckett, published him, and obviously feels his work from the inside rather than the glib scholastic outside. These days, I use Beckett like a drug, to get me through holes of motivation and doubts of ability: I use Gertrude Stein in a similar fashion. There’s just something about clarity and truth of expression in Beckett’s work that helps me to realign my inner writing magnets. The horoscope line was taken from Robert Breszny’s Free Will Astrology site.

18 thoughts on “I can’t go on, I’ll go on

    • Timmy that is really interesting, because I’m kind of a solipsist at heart, so I’m always questioning my existence, and did such and such happen or was it all a dream of sorts. That kind of thing.

    • Good answer. Solemn. When I was much younger, I burnt with the hot iron of existentialism. I remember a period of almost 2 years where I felt as if I never said anything authentic or original: everything that came out of my mouth seemed to belong to someone else, and since I read a lot, this someone typically was a writer, and since I was specialized on dead writers (I have not moved on from there), I spoke (at least to my mind) like a dead penman. In those days, I seriously doubted my existence, or perhaps only doubted that it was worth anything, which is not much different.

      • My abdominal distress does more to assure me that I am here than anything I have ever said, thought, published, etc. Neitzsche said,
        “The abdomen is the reason why man does not readily take himself to be a god.” I agree, but think intestinal discomfort is at least a reminder that It’s Not Over Yet.

  1. Mine is the same as yours! For many, many years I truly believed that work success was owing almost exclusively to obsessive and unrelenting hard work – in retrospect, I think there was a significant component of talent/affinity that was curiously invisible to me at the time. My goal for 2013: write LESS!

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