Some excellent responses to my piece on Samuel Beckett. The prize (a free link to me reading “Imagion Dead Imagine,” here) so far to Mr. X with these thoughts:
“The only Beckett I’ve read is Godot, but like you, I also appreciated the sheer candor of it all. Sometimes I think ‘conservatives’ are too quick to dismiss such things as nihilistic, reductionist, etc. This is odd, considering so many of the western greats we seek to conserve were similarly open to the possibility of near nothingness (it’s the ‘near’ that separates the skeptics from the scoundrels). I’m not sure this always was the case. For instance, I came across an excellent Michael Novak review of Tillich in Commentary the other day, written some 35 years ago. The good protestant theologian had quite a lot to say about ‘non-being,’ as did Niebuhr, another popular subject of Novak’s. But today, it’s all C.S. Lewis and Tolkien (God bless them both). I could offer secular examples as well — whatever happened to David Hume?? In any case, I can’t help thinking that the conservative intellectuals of yesterday were far more willing to confront the dark deep than they are today. Maybe it’s the culture wars, resulting in angry nihilists on one end and happy Judeo-Christians on the other. Maybe it’s just the dumbing down of society in general. Or maybe I’m simply ascribing some sort of nostalgic superiority to an era of which I was no part. But it certainly does feel like the American conservative movement has become a wee bit sterilized of late.
“I guess what I’m saying is this: Much of what Beckett — and to similar extent your own writings — represent is a sense of the tragic. ‘The tragic sense’ is a far more plausible and lasting retort to nihilism than exuberant religiosity/Liberalism. It’s constantly wrestling with the sad and terrifyingly elusive, thereby more genuinely appreciative and protective of the true, good and beautiful. We need more of this at NR.”
[Derb] One thing I’d add to X’s speculations is the decline of Protestant theology. Where are today’s Tillich and Niebuhr? I think he’s a bit unkind to C.S. Lewis, though. (Yes, this is me saying that.) The old don was well aware of the Void and the duty of thinking people to confront it — read the last of the “Narnia” books. I don’t think he did a particularly good job there, but at least he didn’t cop out.
On the larger question of how Beckett’s outlook squares with a religious one, I think there’s a long essay to be written. (I suppose it already has been.) Beckett was irreligious but not, so far as I can detect, anti-religious. (Notwithstanding the famous line about God in Endgame: “The bastard! He doesn’t exist!”) And the ground he was plowing has by no means been neglected by religious thinkers, as Lyle points out.
In literature, too, it isn’t hard to come up with Beckettian passages. I’m thinking of the “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech in Macbeth, of which Kenneth Clark said: “How unthinkable before the break-up of Christendom, the tragic split that followed the Reformation; and yet I feel that the human mind has gained a new greatness by outstaring this emptiness.”
OK, that’s enough for today of what H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N called “dip tinking.” It’s another pefect spring day in the burbs. I’ve got mulch that needs spreading, next winter’s wood to stack up, and a roof panel that needs replacing on the tree house.
“Let us, then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.”