Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Writing and Breathing: Proust and Beckett

"And what I'm doing, all-important, breathing in and out and saying, with words like smoke, I can't go on, I can't stay, let's see what happens next."  (Texts for Nothing)

Benjamin on Proust:
 'The wheezing of my breath is drowning out the sorrow of my pen..' But that is not all, nor is it the fact that his sickness removed him from fashionable living. This asthma became part of his art - if indeed his art did not create it. Proust's syntax rhythmically and step by step reproduces the fear of suffocating. And his ironic, philosophical, didactic reflections invariably are the deep breath with which he shakes off the weight of memories. On a larger scale, however, the threatening suffocating crisis was death, which he was constantly aware of, even when writing. A physiology of style would take us into the innermost core of his creativeness."

It is not that there are references to asthma in Proust's, but something like the very rhythm of asthma. The rhythm of asthma is reborn within the unfamiliar terrain of writing. The work does not allude to asthma but incorporates it, uses and tranforms it.

We might compare this with Walter Benjamin's heart condition, the periodic palpitations, which he 'reintroduced' into his writing. Just as his body had periodically to pause, so it is with his prose. Benjamin's insight into Proust is thus simultaneously a mirror held up to his self.

This is what Barthes will name 'style', the revelation and resurrection within the work of the writer's body -

I have been recently reading and rereading, on the tube in the morning, Beckett's Texts for Nothing. I'm on the third rereading. Somehow, you just want to go back in. And yet few texts have been so fugitive. A  bubble or murmur of words over which impersonal flares of sense pass and vanish. But i thought of Proust's asthma, and a phrase from Paul Celan about 'words gasping'. For Beckett's prose seems like a kind of gasping, a way of breathing, that takes place with words and in words. "My words are my tears.."And the gasping of the text and that of the reader are one: we are borne along, without pause, adrift in the current, no sooner grasping at an 'I' than it's slipped into a 'he'...

19/6: Came across this by Prof. Steven Connor, on Beckett and Breathing.



No comments:

Post a Comment