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What Ruby Cohn says about Malone in her excellent new book on Beckett, that the texture of the narrator's soliloquy always consists ""of 'fact' in tension with fiction,"" could really be said of most of Beckett's major other works as well. The ""facts,"" of course, are not the ordinary autobiographical ones, but, rather, Beckett's deeply personal, peculiarly twilit sense of despair, of unmitigated horror at existing at all -- and yet mitigated, in the end, by Beckett's peerless pursuit of language, his assault on the Void through which he keeps insinuating his hilarious ""wordy-gurdy"" of ""loss"" and ""less,"" a crazy endurance record which has about it, finally, a quality of epic comic grandeur. Beckett with his puns, his sneers, his sighs, his obsessive tall tales about the devastating human comedy is very funny indeed. And not necessarily in a misanthropic way, for his sardonic tone always inescapably blends with a counter tone of sadness, regret, pity. His homely, hapless moods and frustrations are far beyond the wild, neurasthenic pessimism of existentialist literature. Beckett is the thinking man's clown, the martyr's comic. And one of the virtues of Ruby Cohn's scrupulous account of Beckett's various genres and masks is how often she reminds us that, willynilly, we are characters in a Beckett world, for to exist at all in the 20th century we must, now and then, suffer a bit of martyrdom, too.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press