I'm in London for a few days. An interview at the Warburg Institute, and a test of my Latin—one hour in a room with Jean Bodin and a dictionary, the Droz suite, with a daubed Eugénie peering elegantly down at me. Waiting for me at home were books I'd ordered online—heavy, impressive volumes, like a Taschen facsimile of the Nuremberg Chronicle, and John Wilkins' Real Character. I could swim in an ocean of books forever, I think, never even needing to read.
My father and I take in a show, Beckett's Happy Days, starring Fiona Shaw. (I relish applying the expression 'take in a show' to a Beckett play.) It was the closing night, and the cream of London's intelligentsia, glittering and chattering, was out in full force. Saffron Burrows—Shaw's girlfriend—sat behind us.
In the interval we run into a friend of my father's. Pa expostulates on the idiocy of the audience, how they laughed at every possible moment, without a whit of comedy. I argue, and his friend agrees, that it was nervous laughter. 'They don't feel comfortable with long periods of silence', he says; 'they have to fill it with laughter. . . or coughing'. Nonetheless, he doesn't think Shaw 'had the rhythm of it at all'. My father is more convinced by her performance, full of discomforting grins and sudden, jittery postures. Later he asks me if she had made me understand the play any better. How to answer that sort of question? This is how people who like drama think; it is also the way music lovers think—'I find Gould's reading of the Goldberg Variations so terribly enlightening'. But it is not the way I think. Art for me is essentially a closed system. This is why I don't much like drama, and why I like Beckett. I'm uninterested in the performance. It's the words I want; all the rest might be stripped away, in pursuit of Essence. I think I'd probably be just as happy with Gordon Brown mumbling the script from a print-out. In fact, come to think of it, such a rendition would only heighten the pathos of Beckett's drama.
At Languagehat, meanwhile, the best comment-thread of all time.