Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Assumption" by Samuel Beckett


"Assumption" (1929, 7 pages)  by Samuel Beckett

Irish Short Story Week
March 11 to July 1
April 9 to April 16
Nobel Prize Winners Only






My Prior Posts for ISSW Year Two


Imagine you are walking into the final examinations for your MA in creative writing only to find your committee has been replaced by the gentlemen in our collage.  How do you feel?



I think I am starting to see some of the things that might be core properties of the Irish Short story:   a respect for knowledge for its own sake, a recasting of current experience in ancient patterns from folklore, a love of the  beauty of words, a certain lilting style and a concern with the power of the church.    One can also see a seeking of dramatic relationships with women.  There is also a strong ego behind these stories, often a very masculine one.  There is a foreboding of disaster in many of the stories and a sense that forces way beyond our control, capricious often irrational forces, shape our lives.


Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week, March 11 to July 1.   All you have to do to join us is to post on one or more Irish short stories or a non-fiction book that relates to Irish literary culture and let me know about it. I also welcome guest posts.   Everything you need to participate is in the resources page including links to 1000s of stories.   I am opening up the event to Latin American writers of Irish descent.   This will be harder for those of us who do not read Spanish to explore (there are stories in English) but it is important to me to show the vast influence of the Irish Short Story Writers.  I am also as of now opening the events to Irish New Zealand writers.  I plan to add resources on these areas soon but I do need help on the Latin America Irish writers.   There are plans for Argentine Irish Day.



Samuel  Beckett (1906 to 1989, Dublin), most famous for his play Waiting for Godot (in my post on this story I tried to talk the influence of Beckett on Yokio Mishima's plays) wrote some short stories early in his career.   Beckett has a very strong claim to be the most influential playwright of the 20th century.    Beckett, like Joyce, was a deeply learned man in search of meanings in the ordinary surfaces of life, into mythologizing our experience.      He won the Nobel Prize in 1969.    He attended Trinity College in Dublin.    

Beckett lived much of his adult life (from 1939) in Paris.   He was part of the French Underground resistance during WWII.   He wrote some of his works in French.   He spoke harshly of Ireland on many occasions.  In spite of this he was very Irish.    Beckett's influence is just huge, even writers who have never heard of him are under his influence.    Beckett is an artist of the highest order.   He has a reputation as a "deeply profound but highly obscure" writer of works that baffle on first contact (and beyond).    

I did not really know what to expect in the short stories of Beckett ,other than to expect something out of the ordinary.   For sure I was not wrong!. After first reading  "Assumption" (first published in a literary journal edited by Joyce)     I had four reactions.

Please join us- Ruprecht
The first was that the prose was startlingly beautiful, the second that a profound truth is being set out for us, the third that the author of this story is a very serious artist and my fourth reaction was "huh??"   The prose seems to compress 1000s of years of human history in its lines.    I cannot really feel confident to say what this story is about (I read it  5 times-not from a sense of duty, just because I enjoyed the experience of reading it so much) but I will give my reaction  and try boldly to say how it  fits in the Irish Short Story Tradition.

"Ok now who is this we are waiting for""-Rory
"Assumption" is loosely  about the poet, Robert Browning (1812 to 1889) and his relationship with Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 to 1861), author of Sonnets from the Portuguese.     It reads almost like a cryptic text of a timeless cult devoted to the worship of literary beauty, written without a care to whether it can really be "understood" or not.   As the story opens we meet a buffoon swinging steadily on his stick while an organist dreams with his hands in his pockets. One could have a lot of fun unpacking that sentence.    We learn an artist does not concern himself with the ideas of the  "unread intelligentsia".

Like Joyce and Yeats, Beckett is self-consciously and intentionally elitist.   There are some incredible lines in the story about the contrast of Beauty to Prettiness that I will be thinking about for a long time.   Thanatos  is by the side of beauty and Eros on Mount Parnassus.    Browning meets Elizabeth.    She understands him and tells her story in a clear but vulgar fashion.     She shatters his intensity as an artist with her intrusion.   When she finally leaves his life he feels something vital, his demonic forces, have been drained from him.   The vampire like images of this go to the roots of Irish folklore.   There is much more in this beautiful story.   What  are we to make of the woman in the last lines of the story who is found "caressing his wild dead hair"?

Carmilla, we can
work together and
control this event-Eachna
"Assumption" does read like it was written by someone who could have "fact checked" Finnegan's Wake.   


I think I am starting to see some of the things that might be core properties of the Irish Short story:   a respect for knowledge for its own sake, a recasting of current experience in ancient patterns from folklore, a love of the  beauty of words, a certain lilting style and a concern with the power of the church.    One can also see a seeking of dramatic relationships with women.  There is also a strong ego behind these stories, often a very masculine one.  There is a foreboding of disaster in many of the stories and a sense that forces way beyond our control, capricious often irrational forces, shape our lives.

"Assumption" can be read online at  Google Books.

I am inviting everyone to join
our event-Carmilla
I will next post on a short story by William Butler Yeats.

Mel u

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