The Unanswered Prayers of Nacht und Träume
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Surely no passage from late Beckett is cited more frequently than the motto from Worstward Ho: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (89). These lines perfectly capture Beckett’s inexhaustible devotion to exhaustion, displaying his condensed late prose style while reiterating his resilience to keep going on in the face of failure. Though it is not certain that Beckett regarded the final production of Quadrat I + II as a failure, there can be no doubt that he was greatly disheartened by his efforts to make this “crazy TV piece” (Harmon 383), so much so that he threatened more than once to abandon television and directing forever. Nevertheless, he pressed on to complete production in June 1981. By May 1982, he was already writing warmly again to Dr. Müller-Freienfels at SDR: “‘I often think of you all and wish I could look forward to being with you again. But I fear there is not much invention left in me, crazy or otherwise. Though I keep trying’” (Damned 599). Rather than resign in frustration over his difficulties with Quadrat I + II, Beckett responded as he had after his disappointing experience on Film, determined to try again and to fail better. He succeeded with Nacht und Träume.
KeywordsTrue Image Source Text Mechanical Reproduction Iconic Gesture Involuntary Memory
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- 6.These are the complete lyrics by Johann Mayrhofer as reproduced in The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder (New York: Knopf, 1977), 305. Fischer-Dieskau supplies the German lyrics, and George Bird and Richard Stokes provide the English translation.Google Scholar
- 8.Given Beckett’s fervor for Schubert, he was probably aware that the Lied “Nacht und Träume” is itself the product of creative revision on the composer’s part. Schubert took two different lyrics by Matthäus von Collin, “Nacht und Träume” and “Nachtfeier,” and compiled a third hybrid version of the two, which he then set to music as “Nacht und Träume.” For a comparison of the three versions and analysis of Schubert’s revisionary practices, see Susan Youens, “Schubert and His Poets: Issues and Conundrums,” The Cambridge Companion to Schubert, ed. Christopher H. Gibbs (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997), 112–17.Google Scholar
- 9.Beckett owned the biography in its original German, but I quote from the English translation, Otto Erich Deutsch, Schubert: A Documentary Biography, trans. Erich Blom (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1946), 279.Google Scholar
- 13.For a most useful treatment of the history and significance of the legend, see Ewa Kuryluk, Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism, and Structure of a “True” Image (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1991).Google Scholar
- 15.For a handsome overview of the importance of painting to Beckett in general, and of the pervasive influence of the National Gallery of Ireland in particular, see Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Paintings (Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2006).Google Scholar