Beckett Expo: A sneak peak

Beckett SignI caught a sneak peak last night of the Samuel Beckett exposition that opens today at the Centre Pompidou. It was difficult for me to imagine exactly how an art museum would present the work of a novelist, playwright, and poet, but with all of the audio and video pieces, as well as paintings influenced by or favored by Beckett, the show pulls it off and you can spend hours taking it all in.

I recently took on a small side project of creating a Samuel Beckett crossword, which forced me to research and rediscover the work of one of my favorite authors of the twentieth century. As Professor Tom Bishop discussed in a talk he gave last fall, Beckett criticism often focuses on pessimism, the failure of language, the human condition of blindly, senselessly marching towards inescapable death. Bishop points out, however, that no character in Beckett’s work ever commits suicide, and there is a strange sort of optimism that one can read once they put down the existentialist lens. Godot never arrives, but Bishop asks, would it necessarily be a good thing if he did? The waiting continues, the characters continue to be.

Rather than attempt to delve deeper into Beckettian criticism, I thought I’d list some of my favorite Beckett quotations here, as a primer for those new to his work.

“Il faut continuer, je ne peux pas continuer… Je vais continuer.”
“You must go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.”

“Tant quil ya de la vie, il y a de l’espoir.”
As long as there is life, there is hope.

“Rire ou pleurer c’est la même chose à la fin.”
“Laugh or cry, it all comes out the same in the end.”

“Mais à cet endroit, en ce moment, l’humanité c’est nous, que ça nous plaise ou non. Profitons-en, avant qu’il soit trop tard.”
“But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”

Beckett MouthBeckett PortraitBeckett Ticket

A Woman’s World in 1902

1902 Almanac Cover
Look what I found! I picked up this 1902 almanac at an antique book fair this week. It is packed with the lovliest images of most everything a respected housewife would need to know in 1902: maps (both terrestrial and celestial), wheat varieties, bicycles, pipes, fashion, statues from Antiquity, furniture, jewelry, European rulers, theater seating charts… This reference for daily life is a window to another era, showing the past under a new light. I particularly love the kind of sources that unveil customs and habits ?? sources that simply answer the question, ‘what did regular people do back then?’

The section on health and remedies is particularly revealing. Sadly, we have not made any progress in curing the migraine headache (the recommended treatment is the same today: caffeine and staying far away from light). Nevertheless, modern medecine has proven that, contrary to the 1902 belief, smoking cigarettes (!) probably isn’t the best remedy for a cough or the flu.

The hair styles look complicated to do up every single day, but there was an easy solution to this time-consuming practice: in 1902, it was recommended that women wash their hair once a month (once a week for men). Women would probably leave their hairdo in.

The large calendar section was perhaps the most important for the reader’s role in the family: it was the wife’s job to keep track of the household budget, so each day she wrote down expenses and earnings. At the beginning of each month are ideas for family meals, which was a serious financial responsability. The yearly proportion of earnings that went to food in 1902 is significantly larger than it is today. Food was by far the biggest expenditure: 4 1/2 months of salary per year were spent on it, compared to 2 months of salary for rent, and just 10 days of salary spent on taxes. Other expenditures:
1 1/2 months for “la bonne” (the servant)
1 month for up-keep
1 month for savings
1 month for children’s education
15 days spent on heat
5 days devoted to “les plaisirs” (pleasures)

While I am focusing on the Fin-de-Siècle and Belle Epoque for my dissertation, I have worked extensively on the interwar period as well, which is characterized by a great concern with dropping birthrates. So much has been written about pronatalism in the 1920s and 1930s, I was somewhat suprised to note the same concern in the 1902 almanac (by the way, France pushed a pronatalist policy into the 1980s). I have included this page below, entitled “La Frace sans enfants.” Note the proverb at the bottom: “Household without children, vine without branch.” With all the homemaker had to keep up with in daily life, between theater visits, social calls, sewing, horse and dog shows, agricultural salons, and letter-writing (there is a whole section on that, including handwriting analysis), it is no wonder she couldn’t find time to produce a soccer team of children.

1902 Almanac Enfants1902 Almanac Hair1902 Almanac Inventions

Rouault-Matisse: Correspondances

MatisseJazzMiserere19The Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (that’s a mouthful) is currently showing an exhibition on Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse – two students of the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. The show begins with late 19th-century oils by Moreau and some early works by Rouault and Matisse while still students of the great maitre. The exhibition continues through several decades of art spread over five rooms.

I have a bias towards Rouault, since my work involves visual representations of religious subjects (and I gave a talk last spring on his Miserere series of prints from the 1920s). I must say, nonetheless, that I thought the Rouault pieces outnumbered the Matisse ones. A variety of works are presented, from woodcuts to pastels, gouaches decoupees (notably Matisse’s colorful Jazz) to book illustrations (both artists illustrated Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal at different points in their careers). These represent a half-century of artistic production on the part of the two artists with similar artistic beginnings and quite divergeant paths.

The exposition runs until February 11.

Re-discovering the Nabi Painters

Denis, La Couronne de MargueriteDenis, La Route au CalvaireSerusier, Le Talisman

If you are unfamiliar with any late-nineteenth century art movement but Impressionism, I invite you to explore the paintings of the post-impressionist Nabi group. Similar to the art nouveau decorative aesthetic, the Nabis (a name that means “prophet” in Hebrew) broke with naturalism to paint subjects beyond the visible. Paul Sérusier even went so far as to paint a proto-abstract work inspired by Gauguin’s theories and entitled The Talisman.

The youngest member of the group, Maurice Denis, was also the group’s theorist. Denis wrote in his journal from age 15 about a rebirth in painting, and one that would push the religious experience into the modern world. In his work we see this combination of the modern aesthetic and spiritual subject matter. The Musée d’Orsay is showing room after room of his paintings from 1889 to 1941, in an exhibition that ends January 21. It is well worth the extra euro or two.