Inspiration Point:Copy-Catting: Closed Space by Samuel Beckett

24 Sep

(I always seem to be doing these videos in my bank robber’s hat…apologies…)

In my last blog I mentioned that when the writer Donald Ray Pollock was learning his trade he had a practice of copying out texts by hand so he could get to grips with, and understand, the nuts and bolts of a story. This inspired me to give it a go, to see what happens and what I could learn from the process. This blog is the outcome of that exploration.  Samuel Beckett is a bit of a passion of mine and this is why I chose Closed Space, one of Beckett’s Fizzles.

Overall,  I really got a lot out of doing this copying exercise. As I copied out Mr B’s text I discovered there’s something very immediate and pure about the process of replication and how it increases your intimacy with the words; so different from the understanding and sense you get when you ‘just ‘ read. You in fact become part of the ‘making’ process- it becomes much more of a dynamic relation.

In my video, I asked the following question: what  IS the difference between needing to say and just saying? So, what  IS the difference? I looked up what ‘to need’ actually meant (we so take the words we use often for granted, don’t we?) and this is what it said:

NEED= necessary duty

Embedded in this we have ideas of obligation, requirement, lack of freedom- no looseness, no chitty-chat- ease or softness only something constraining and conditional like a page or a canvas or a shape.

Where as ‘Just saying’. ….Well:

Just=by a small margin, immediately, directly, perhaps, possibly

It’s about the particular, and about clarity; it’s without weight and without thought (almost), it’s there and then it moves on, not needing to be constrained by form BUT nonetheless the form was there albeit fleetingly. It doesn’t linger and therefore has a particular potency as a  consequence.

I think Beckett, and indeed Closed Space,  is all about that- it’s not about the baggage behind words. It’s about choosing your words carefully so you don’t get caught up in what is unnecessary- what is duty and what is required. And this is what the act of copying out this piece revealed to me. When you read your mind is immediately engaged in a process of deciphering-you’re looking behind the words and focusing on the meaning underneath them and not on the words themselves as objects.  Whereas, when you copy out you become very conscious of both and how they interact with each other. The whole object-subject dynamic becomes apparent.

You see this relationship more easily because there’s distance between your head and your hand; there’s space to analyse and to see, to vision.  I don’t think I would have quite understood this relation  had I just read Closed Space. When you copy it out you become much more in contact with the mechanics of the writing and the care with which it was constructed because you are constructing it too. When you write it out you too are going through a process of construction, and you can see the patterning of each contributory brick  because you’re writing and patterning too. The meaning of the words becomes more important and more alive. The patterns leap off the page and  textures rise to the surface like bubbles on the surface of water:

Dark & Bright           Sum the  Bright Lots          Brilliance of Bright Lots       So Many Bright Lots

By the addition and subtraction of certain words movement and meaning is subtly altered. It’s, I suppose, like the addition or subtraction of a layer of paint, or a pencil line or the smoothing of  slither of clay….

Through this process of replication the meaning  is somehow easier to get to.  Beckett’s patterning draws you down deeper and deeper:  down on to the path where there is  ‘Just room for one. On it no two ever met.’ And it’s a path that is almost beyond words, and where you are alone, where ultimately all we have is ourselves. Just ourselves and our path. Not contained but moving forward, ‘Just’.

Now that’s pretty heavy stuff, and good old Mr B was not the happiest of chaps but he does have a point. However much we are loved or have family and friends etc our ultimate responsibility is to ourselves, and the fact that this sparse language can articulate and address this fundamental issue in such a poignant way is amazing. David Ray Pollock was right; this copy-catting is not only a great way to see  nuances within a text but also a great way to feel the  delicate mechanics behind it.

I think it would be really fascinating to do this with a more verbose text, say Dickens or the like.  Anybody care to try?

Some rare footage of, the usually private, Samuel Beckett:

One of my favourite Beckett poems:

my way is in the sand flowing

between the shingle and the dune,

the summer rains rains on my life harrying fleeing 

to its beginning to its end

my peace is there in the receding mist

when I may cease from treading these

long shifting thresholds 

and live the space of a door

that opens and shuts.


There’s going to be a veritable flurry of ArtiPeeps and CreoKardia blogging this week, so be prepared… We’re introducing a little mini series called ‘Object Stories’ shortly.

Thanks so much  for your interest.

All the very best,

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