March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session with
Arthur Broomfield, PhD
Outburst Magazine, edited by Dr. Broomflield, is a very dynamic journal
dedicated to publishing innovative poetry and short fiction from Irish Authors
I first became acquainted with the work of Arthur Broomfield, PhD, when he honored me by allowing me to publish his excellent short story, "Nimrod" on The Reading Life. (You can read "Nimrod" here.)
Poet and Beckett scholar. Latest publication The poetry Reading at Semple Stadium. Working on a book on Beckett's works, due out the sprin of 2013 .Graduate NUI Maynooth, B.A. English B.A. English, History, M.A. English. Mary Immaculate College ,University of Limerick, Ph D., English/
He lives in County Laois, Ireland and is the editor of the on-line journal Outburst.
Outburst, edited by Arthur Broomfield is a very innovative source of new poetry and short works of fiction. I subscribe to it and have found it a great source of new to me writers.
Q and A Session
- Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire? If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers?
The writers I admire most are those I have published in Outburst. Tara White would be among them. My three best ? Chekhov, Raymond Carver and Frank O’Conor for My first Confession’s so subtle approach to clerical child abuse.
- I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish, and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. what does it say about Irish culture? Whiskey plays a central role in your story "Nimrod", it seems to make conversation possible between the priest and the faith healer.
I can’t deny it’s there (in Nimrod) but Lucky does say something like let’s finish the whiskey.Well alcohol says a lot about the absence of Irish culture. I think Anthony Cronin said there are eight hundred cultured people in Ireland, I tend to agree with him.
- Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father? Do you think he is right and how does this, if it does, reveal itself in your work?
You could hardly apply Kiberd’s thinking to one of the few significant Irish fiction writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, John McGahern. His comment is typical of the post-colonial approach from which Kiberd writes;it tends to read works through a particular view of history and politics and to then fit the work to the approach. I prefer to read the work free of such influences.
- In the the journal you edit, Outburst, you have said that you will only consider publishing "post Beckett" short stories- Could you elaborate a bit about what your meant by that?
A hyperbolic outburst! I would at least like to see works that subvert existing assumptions on areas like form, structure, the subject and philosophical approach. It seems, for many writers, that Beckett does not exist. Of course the academic approach to his works doesn’t help but people should free themselves of that and read Beckett for themselves. We cannot exceed the master but we can learn from him. Too few people ask what is S.B. about, what is driving his works? I often advise people to spend three months reading the first page of The Unnamable. Blanchot asks ‘who is speaking in the works of Samuel Beckett ?’ It is the ideal approach from possibly his greatest critic. If we ask that we cannot escape the fact that language is speaking, that is ,as Blanchot argues, ‘empty language’, language which is decoupled from the assumption of the thing or concept, which S.B. doubts, always, but never negates. Beckett is the ultimate freedom seeker, he wants to free the real ‘empty language’ from what he calls ‘non-being’ (in the screenplay of Film).And of course his extraordinarily subtle use of commonplace words like ‘it, that, what,’ and his selective use of ‘is’ should be studied at leisure by those who wish to say something pertinent to the twenty first century.
- How do regard you Aosdána? Is it a great aid to the arts in Ireland or does it perpetuate closed elitism?
6. Who do you regard as the first modern Irish short story writer?
7 Why have the Irish produced such a disproportionate to their population number of great writers?
8.. What is the best performance of Waiting for Godot you have seen? Have you seen the version with Patrick Stewart?
I have enjoyed all I have seen. I very much like productions with Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy.I haven’t seen the one with Patrick Stewart.
9.. Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country?
I think great writers will creatively engage with, rather than be imprisoned by their culture and history. In any case I am skeptical of most interpretations of the past. In Ireland especially they are often appropriated to advance or espouse a dominant ideology.
10. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?
Its there of course, the Irish holocaust and like the holocaust seems to have left its imprint on the psyche of the descendants of the survivors. I think there is an amount of repressed guilt that looks too hard for absolution by blaming the British for all the woes. What’s more pertinent in this era is the clerical child abuse and institutional scandals ,well our state apparatus, poets (with the honourable exception of Austin Clarke), journalists and novelists have all to share the blame for that for not intervening in something so widespread . It seems the Catholic church managed to exercise a unique control over the Irish mind.
11. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?
The latter, most definitely. The poet may refer to societal or political issues, particularly in matters related to the denial of freedom, but only as a means to the ultimate end which is liberation of language .
12. Often it seems to be said that the lead characters of Waiting for Godot are tramps. Beckett said he had no such idea in mind. There is one reference to one of the characters asking the other where they slept last night suggesting he had no home. Maybe this is part of where the idea comes from. Basically I see no reason to view the characters as tramps, based on the text, other than this. I think Waiting for Godot is a very Irish literary work.
Part of the Irish tradition involves characters in stories and plays swapping exaggerated barbed insults at each other. In many of the fables and short stories of Ireland we encounter strangers having deep conversations with each other. The famines and the times of troubles created many wanderers. A wanderer along an Irish highway might be a sage, a fairy in disguise, or an evil spirit of some kind. People do not quite carry on conversations but have linked monologues. Post WWII Europe produced millions of wanderers, lost souls out on the highway. Those still in their comfortable homes (perhaps kept at the compromise of their values) liked to see the wanderer as but a tramp. It is very hard to admit he may know important truths you do not.
In my post on Kenzaburo Oe's incredible When He Himself Shall Wipe Away my tears (I am seeing more and more the French roots of the Japanese novel) I said
"There is a long established literary tradition of using the insane to say what cannot be accepted by those in fully sunlit worlds. The narrator of The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears has very deep roots in western culture. His ancestors were in the plays of Euripides, his great grandfather was Dostoevsky's underground man, he speaks through Crazy Jane. Oe has stated that he has come to understand the meaning of his own works through reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats."
Waiting for Godot is firmly in this tradition.
OK here is my question, this is from my one and only reading of the play, am I totally off the mark?
You are absolutely right, there is no reference to the two characters being tramps. I have written about this and other misreadings of Godot. I see them as philosophers in a fictional dimension somewhat tilted towards favouring language over perceptions.We should remember that Beckett is a creative artist and a philosopher. No I don’t agree that Godot, can be reduced to something so transient, and so of non-being as Irishness,there is far too much that is linguistically and philosophically profound going on in the text that if we get don’t get we miss the point of Godot. .
13. The literary productivity of Galway is incredible. What is there about Galway's social climate that produces this?
14. "There is the kind of seriousness whose trademark is anguish, cruelty, derangement. Here we do accept a disparity between intention and result. I am speaking, obviously, of a style of personal existence as well as of a style in art; but the examples had best come from art. Think of Bosch, Sade, Rimbaud, Jarry, Kafka, Artaud, think of most of the important works of art of the 20th century, that is, art whose goal is not that of creating harmonies but of overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter. This sensibility also insists on the principle that an oeuvre in the old sense (again, in art, but also in life) is not possible. Only "fragments" are possible. "-Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag
Do you think Beckett belongs in this list? Is he part of the literature of anguish, cruelty, and degrangement?
I think artist’s works show the impossibility of representing perceptions, of presenting the present. Heidegger may be an influence there. Where this frustration can lead to existential angst for some writers with Beckett it leads to a going on beyond what he sees as ‘non-being’ the existential, or perceived world all of which can be doubted, to that whose existence cannot be doubted, pure, empty language. In this interpretation Beckett’s work is supremely optimistic; it goes beyond that which is of the senses and of which the senses cannot make sense, but which must be endured, to the kind of messianic , without the messiah, reality. Beckett’s notion that language is the real sets him apart from all of those mentioned, and from all his critics, none of whom have grasped this significance in his works.
15.. John Synge - is he the second most important 20th century Irish writer? Declan Kiberd seems to suggest this
I don’t much like league tables. For me Beckett is the most important, after that Joyce, Yeats, Synge maybe;McGahern, Kavanagh, Eavan Boland ? I couldn’t say.
16. What qualities do you look for in the poems you publish in Outburst and are you no longer accepting short stories?
Those that challenge. I am not accepting any more short stories.
17. Was Beckett influenced by Alfred Jarry and did he then in turn influence the No plays of Yokio Mishima?
I think he rose above all influences.
18. Oscar Wilde said he never felt Irish until he left the country, could one see Beckett as feeling the same way? How much should be made of Beckett's exile?
End of Q and A
My great thanks to Arthur Broomfield, PhD, for his very thoughtful answers to my naive questions about Samuel Beckett.