|Elie Wiesel, aged 15|
In this sense, then, we may say that Beckett managed the unmanageable, to make art out of suffering, out of the pointlessness of life, out of the absurdity of life, revealing life to be neither Comedy nor Tragedy, but rather a type of Tragi-comedy. This ability made this Irish novelist and playwright, one of the great names of the Absurd Theatre with Eugéne Ionesco, although much recent study regards Beckett as postmodernist. His plays are concerned with human suffering and survival, and his characters are struggling with meaninglessness and the world of the Nothing. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. In his writings for the theatre, we notice the influences of burlesque, vaudeville, the music hall, commedia dell'arte, and the silent-film style of such figures as Keaton and Chaplin. Great artist that he was, Beckett knew suffering, as indeed we all do. In fact, once the Second World War broke out, our great writer returned to France where he fought bravely with the Résistance.
A Personal Note on Silence
There is very little we can say in the face of dying and death, and yet, and yet we desire to say something. It would seem that, like a great author or artist or comedian, we must get the timing right. At the age of 53 I have been to many funerals and the words of condolence we express to the bereaved are often so empty, one might even say meaningless, and yet we know that at some unconscious and symbolic level they mean something both for the bereaved and for us. It is often much later than the funeral service that we can say something that is more meaningful than our first formulaic expression of sympathy at the funeral service proper. For us as a school some years back there was so little we could say at the funeral of a fifteen year old student who had dropped dead, apparently from Sudden Death Syndrome or at the funeral of an eighteen year old boy who had been stabbed to death with two carving knives by another eighteen year old, out of his head on drink and drugs. However, it was our presence, the strength of our support that said more. It was literally our silent solidarity that said anything that possibly could be said in the immediacy of the situation.
These are two words that presage the mitigating factors to the thorny question at hand, and they play a similar role to "both/and" and "yes and no" in seeking to give an answer to a complex problem or intricate mystery. One is always forced to qualify one's statements to get to the root of some intricate problems. That is often why courts are so scarily black and white, because the law in most cases does not allow for more nuanced interpretations of fact. These two words, "And yet" are also the ones chosen by Professor Levine as a title for his last chapter or last essay in this small volume: Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1992). Also these words come from the writings of the great Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel (Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel, 1928 - ) A lot of concentration camp inmates who managed to survive remained silent for a certain number of years, no doubt attempting to process in their souls the sheer hell they had been through. And yet, they could not remain silent forever because the truth/reality they had experienced had to be expressed somehow, to be true to their own souls and to the memory of the thousands who perished around them. Ultimately, something must be said, something must be written, some artifact lovingly and respectfully crafted. In other words, it was the years of restraint, the years of quietness that prepared for the balanced artistic expression of horror.
|A recent picture of Elie Wiesel|
However, great art never attempts to anesthetize the viewer or participant who comes to the gallery, or the reader reads the poem or novel, or the music-lover who goes to the opera or the theatre. Any art which attempts to do that is a false, sham and ersatz art - in which case it ceases to be art at all. Art can bring us down into our own hell/Hades, but it must also bring us up like Orpheus ascending back to the real world, beaten, bruised, broken but never crushed. The therapist must be brave enough to accompany his client down and up, and indeed accompany him/her in answering the question which s/he does not fear to pose: "When all illusions are gone what is there to live for?"
I agree firmly with Professor Levine when he states that "nothing else is strong enough [outside the Arts] to contain the destruction of the self" (Ibid., p. 120) However, I should like to add the words "and hopefully the healing and renewal of the self" after the word "destruction" in the last quoted sentence.
The end of this sequence of 23 posts.