The Existential Liberal

Nick Clegg's favorite author is Samuel Beckett! Somehow I cannot imagine a presidential candidate in the US unloading this five days before voting:

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.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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