The Sparkle Hid in Ashes: Beckett’s Plays
If, for Lacan, potlatch is the little miraculous stone in the desert of the competition for goods, by a significant coincidence, as early as 1932, Beckett was resorting to a very similar image to articulate his aesthetic position. In Dream of Fair to Middling Women, Belacqua reflects on the value, ‘in the domain of words, of the little sparkle hid in ashes’:
The uniform, horizontal writing, flowing without accidence, of the man with style,
never gives you the margarita. But the writing of, say, Racine or Malherbe, per-
pendicular, diamanté, is pitted, is it not, and sprigged with sparkles; the flints and
pebbles are there, no end of humble tags and commonplaces. They have no style,
they write without style, do they not, they give you the phrase, the sparkle, the pre-
This ‘sprigging’ is another figure for the undetermined condition associated, not with the event itself, but with événementialité. Événementialité is the glint of an instability in Being that is the threshold of the event. Beckett’s ‘sparkles’ resemble what we saw Valéry calling the ‘imperceptible moments’ in Un coup de dés, those fractions of a second in which the possibility of an idea flickers and fades.2 The rigour with which Beckett thinks this threshold is perhaps what Adorno says critics like Lukács detest in Beckett’s work because ‘they themselves have betrayed’ it.3
To sprig a work with sparkles is to produce, explore, mimic the cracks in the homogeneity or, in Beckett’s terms, the ‘uniformity’ of a situation.4
1Dream of Fair to Middling Women (Dublin: Black Cat, 1992), 47–8. Reprinted in DI, 47.
2 Paul Valéry, Fragments sur Mallarmé (Paris: Ronald Davis, 1924), 19.
3 Theodor Adorno, ‘Towards an Understanding of Endgame’, in Ruth Gale Chevigny (ed.), Twentieth Century Interpretations of ‘Endgame’ (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969), 82–114, p. 84.
4 To conflate production and exploration or given and manufactured objects may seem odd. But ‘sprig’ does the same. A sprig is a spray, twig, or shoot; also, specifically, an offshoot or minor