Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oh No, Now Nick's Gone and Made Me Like Him

I've been pissed off at the Liberal Democrats for the last couple of weeks ever since I read their manifesto and found that it contained no Northern Ireland section. This made me suspicious that - unlike the Tories and Labour - they saw Ulster as a colony not even worth thinking about, and that they were going to run the place like the goddamn Raj. But now I've gone and read the Guardian this weekend and I noticed this little piece by Clegg on Samuel Beckett. Beckett spent his formative years in Ulster, was a genuine hero of the French Resistance and is with Flann O'Brien one of the few Irish writers to have successfully captured the Mick genius for dead-pan black comedy. I'm still not sure I'd want a Prime Minister who answers every question with "What's the bloody point, mate, we're all gonna die soon anyway," but even so I'm impressed. David Cameron's favourite novelist is Graham Greene which is also a good thing and Brown's choice of James Mitchell is dour and Presbyterian, which I've got admit, I quite like too. Anyway, with permission, I quote the whole of Clegg's article below:
My Hero
Nick Clegg
I've always read a lot, mainly fiction. These days, with three young sons, often the most I can manage is a quick chapter here, a few pages there; but there are still very few nights when I'll get to sleep without dipping in to whatever book I have on the go. So I am grateful to those writers who have made it easy to go back to them, night after night, year after year. They are the greats, and Samuel Beckett is one of them. My first encounter with Beckett was when I was studying in Minnesota and I acted in a student production of Krapp's Last Tape. Back then I remember images of Beckett making as great an impression on me as his work. He always looked so impressive – that beak-like nose, eyes staring dead into the camera – and he had an austerity to him, even when he was young, that makes it very easy to connect the man to the words.
Since then I must have read Waiting for Godot – of course – a hundred times. Every time I go back to Beckett he seems more subversive, not less; his works make me feel more uncomfortable than they did before. The unsettling idea, most explicit in Godot, that life is habit – that it is all just a series of motions devoid of meaning – never gets any easier.
It's that willingness to question the things the rest of us take for granted that I admire most about Beckett; the courage to ask questions that are dangerous because, if the traditions and meanings we hold so dear turn out to be false, what do we do then? But amid the bleakness, there is also humour, and it's no surprise that there are so many comedians among Beckett's fans. His appeal lies in his directness – the sparse, unembellished prose that can make his meticulous stage directions unexpected. He leaves you with a sense that you knew what he meant, even if explaining it back would leave you lost for words. Direct and disturbing – it is impossible to grow tired of Beckett.