January 17, 2018
Krapp's Last Tape, Beckett's Last DaysOn this day in 1958 Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape was first performed. According to the authorized biography (Damned to Fame, James Knowlson, 1996), it was one of the author's favorite works -- a "nicely sad and sentimental" play about which he felt "as an old hen with her last chick," Beckett wrote in his letters at the time. It was not bound for the fame of Waiting for Godot and Endgame, but something companionable: "It will be like the little heart of an artichoke served before the tripes with excrement of Hamm and Clov. People will say: good gracious, there is blood circulating in the old man's veins after all, one would never have believed it; he must be getting old."
At something under an hour, Krapp's Last Tape is one of Beckett's longer plays. If it is uncharacteristically sentimental, it is characteristically hilarious and reductive. "I realised that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more," Beckett said in one of his last talks with Knowlson. "I realised that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding." The play almost dramatizes this discovery. For decades, Krapp has been making a tape recording on his birthday, trying to document and decipher his life. On this sixty-ninth birthday, as he plays back "Box three, spool five," he all but gags on the crap he thought to record as a younger man:
Beckett's last years were as Krapp's -- a hopeless compulsion to articulate what words couldn't ever seem to capture, to "fail better." One letter from 1983: "I remember an entry in Kafka's diary. 'Gardening. No hope for the future.' At least he could garden. There must be words for it. I don't expect ever to find them." And another letter several months later: "The wall won't recede and I have no reverse gears. Can't turn either." At about his time he was writing What Where, the play that turned out to be his last, and which ended in tape recorder fashion:
That is all.
Make sense who may.
I switch off.
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