The Drama in the Text: Beckett's Late Fiction

By Enoch Brater | Go to book overview
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Acts of Enunciation

. . . it was just something he said, and the way he said it, that have haunted me ever since. -- All That Fall

Maddy Rooney, née Dunne, "the big pale blur," exists only as an articulation in sound, more real because so singularly imagined. In the radio play All That Fall, 1 Beckett's first work originally conceived as a score for the human voice in fierce competition with other sounds, to be is quite literally to be heard. In this electronic medium, sound makes all the sense there is: voice is presence, presence is voice. "Never thought about a radio technique," Beckett wrote in 1956 in his famous letter to Nancy Cunard, "but in the dead of t'other night got a nice gruesome idea full of cartwheels and dragging feet and puffing and panting which may or may not lead to something." 2 What it led to, of course, is the kind of Beckett that goes "straight into your head," through "the sound of a human voice and its power to evoke an entire world." 3

Beckett's score for the human voice in the radio play All That Fall is both a celebration and a discovery of the medium. A symphony of pace, pitch, pause, and projection, the piece creates enormous tension in physical and textual dynamics by juxtaposing movement and stillness, speech and silence, and movement and silence, thus blending kinetic and linguistic properties. As the work shapes a process that erases the distinction between the verbal and the vocable, "this time we hear," as Linda Ben-Zvi has shrewdly observed, just "what going on entails." 4 John Morris, who traveled from London in July 1956 to meet with Beckett about a broadcasting project, was impressed by the playwright's "sound idea of the problems of writing for radio." In his letter from Paris to Val Gielgud, head of BBC Drama, Morris wrote, "I expect something pretty good. He says his output is unpredictable. Sometimes he works slowly, at others very fast, but he does not wish to be tied down to any definite date."5


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