Charlatan Beckett

The biographer Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett’s first official biographer, has passed away, the Times reports: ‘His first words to her, she wrote in “Parisian Lives,” were, “So you are the one who is going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am.”’

Beckett may have hoped so. He certainly gave her that start, for he just gave away two key insights to his work. The etymology of charlatan includes “to prattle,” and “I talk nonsense.” And Charlie Chaplin’s work was fully enjoyed by Beckett. Chaplin was popular in France, and was colloquially called “Charlot.” Many (if not all) of Beckett’s characters seem inspired by the clown, the tramp, the outsider, the vaudevillian villain, whose humor reveals deep suffering truths of the human condition. We could die laughing.

“You might say I had a happy childhood,” Deirdre Bair’s biography of Beckett begins. But the 1978 Times review frowns on the biographer’s focus on what appeared to be Beckett’s lifelong condition of anhedonia. For Bair, Beckett seemed the kind of person who had fun once, but didn’t enjoy it. Of course, Beckett himself fueled this kind of confusion, what he called tragicomedy.

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