I finally tracked down the Beckett conversation to which I referred earlier this week; it is reported in Anthony Cronin’s biography Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (1996). In the last year of Beckett’s life, the Irish poet John Montague visited him at the Tiers Temps nursing home. Cronin quotes Montague’s own description of the conversation:
Most of our conversation had been circumspect, cautious and courteous, but now, sensing an opening, I feel brave enough for a direct personal question, even without the ritual glass before me.
“And now it’s nearly over, Sam, can I ask you, was there much of the journey you found worthwhile?”
The blue eyes briefly ignite.
“Precious little.” And in case I did not hear or comprehend, he repeats it again with redoubled force. “Precious little,” and adds, “For bad measure, I watched both my parents die.” (590)
The conversation occurred at the end of a decade, 1979-1989, during which Beckett produced stage and television plays and prose works which perhaps constitute an apotheosis of Beckett’s art. These pieces, absolutely pellucid, minimal, and pared-down, from Company to Stirrings Still, from Rockaby to What Where, are deeply moving journeys towards the center of suffering, still finding some chance of happiness and joy — but “precious little,” emphasis on the first word of the phrase, perhaps (that is the way I regard 1983′s Worstward Ho anyway, which towards the conclusion reads, “Remains of mind then still. Enough still. Somewhose somewhere somehow enough still. No mind and words? Even such words. So enough still. Just enough still to joy. Joy! Just enough still to joy that only they. Only!”).  While one might read Beckett’s response to Montague’s question as a mere symptom of the depression and anxiety to which Beckett was prone, the attitude is still reflected in this late work, which remains the absolute pinnacle of Beckett’s achievement, whatever the continuing popularity of his work from the 1950s.
Among the plays from Beckett’s final decade was the 1982 Nacht und Träume, an intimate and quiet piece that nonetheless is Webernian in its emotional effect. It, like Beckett’s other television plays, is extremely difficult to find; one wishes that some enterprising distributor would collect these on a DVD, as the British Library collected the radio plays a few years back. Below, however, is the play as I found it on YouTube. While the logo in the top left of the screen is disconcerting when watching the play, I offer the production here due to its rarity outside academic collections. The play is best viewed in full-screen mode (click on the box in the extreme lower-right corner of the player, which is available once you begin playing the video).
- Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho: Three Novels. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1995, p. 104. [↩]