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For Art’s Sake

May
5
2006

We were sitting around the dinner table digesting, a whole crowd of us with our assorted offspring, and someone brought up Samuel Beckett, probably one of my cousins’ college-age kids, certainly not one of mine.
Minimalism at its finest,” my cousin Mark said with confidence, swirling his Gran Marnier around in a snifter. Mark is a regular attendee of the New York theatre (The “r-e” is deliberate. Mark doesn’t attend the “e-r”), so I usually take his advice, even when presented as a proclamation.
I’d seen a Beckett play. Breath lasted for less than a minute and was presented prior to a performance of a local community choir. (The how and why of this pairing haunts me to this day. Why oh why, did I not investigate?)


Now, I pride myself on being able to shovel manure with the best of them. Had I been in the mood I would have discussed with my cousin the brilliance of shaving the human experience down to a primal scream representing the futility of life. I would have pretended that I had been enlightened by the viewing of a trash-strewn stage accompanied by wailing as a precursor to a melancholy rendition of “Deep River.”
Instead I snorted.
Well, maybe not a snort, but a guttural nasally sort of sound, not very “feminine” and I’m definitely capable of being more eloquent. I chalk it up to being on our third bottle of wine. I had given up trying to muster my old urban sophistication a bottle ago.
I’m from Virginia now, by God. If I want to experience screaming in the midst of trash, I’ll walk into my son’s room.
The play was originally presented as part of the Broadway show Oh! Calcutta! and sent by Beckett to the author on a 3 x 5 postcard. This should give you an idea of the complexity of Breath.
“I sense disagreement,” Mark said, with this bemused smile on his face that made me want to slap him (or at least reveal to his whole neighborhood that he used to sleep with a stuffed animal that looked like Huckleberry Hound).
I related my Breath experience and Mark sought to teach me the profundity of the work. I told him I could imagine Beckett laughing about the gullibility of the ostentatious art community and he told me that I was precisely the type of person that Beckett abhorred – the pedantic.
Ow.
“Pedantic” is a bad thing. He was basically telling me that I could not think beyond what others had taught me.
So I shut up about Breath and all the other Beckett-like performances I’d heard about (including Not I, featuring no more than a pair of lips). I think I even praised Waiting for Godot, which I’d read, but never seen actually performed.
I slunk back to my hotel room, sufficiently chastised and feeling like a bumpkin. I haven’t spoken to Mark since that visit last summer, mostly because he reduces me to my childhood self and I have an uncontrollable urge to call him Freakface, an eight-year-old’s version of Pompous Ass.
Far be it from me to put limits on what constitutes art and what does not. But in the trite vernacular of the pedantic, let me just say, I know what I like. Everything else just kind of makes me wonder about those that created it and those that bought into it. For instance, I would just toss this into the dumpster. But what do I know?
So I accepted my role as unimaginative slug amongst the enlightened elite. Mark could entertain his sophisticated friends with stories of his good-hearted, but backward country cousin and her obvious cluelessness as to the glories and insights of Samuel Beckett.
Then I read this, courtesy of Jagosaurus at Hillbilly, Please. (Jag finds the most wonderful eclectic links.)
Agreeing with The Onion has to give me some air of sophistication, don’t you think? Although I’ll admit this is much more eloquent than snorting.

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