The Greatest Literary Works

literary works documentation. essay on literature. student paper. etc

Julius Caesar: A man's gotta do....

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

by William Shakespeare
Genre: Play, 1599
Content: Five acts, 2,591 lines, approx. 19,000 words

This play ought to be called Brutus, since the central theme concerns that man's decision to join an assassination conspiracy and the repercussions of his action. Caesar is dispensed with by the halfway point.

However, Julius Caesar's assumption of the Roman dictatorship after the civil war fought against his former triumvirate partner Pompey and his victories in battle celebrated in the first scene of Shakespeare's play make him the most famous historical character of this period. In the play, the republican conspirators fear he will also allow himself to be crowned king. This fear may seem strange to us, since Caesar already had supreme power, but a kingship would usher in imperial power with an hereditary leadership, as opposed to the existing system in which the nobility chose who would rule. You can see that political terms such as "republican" had a slightly different meaning in those days.

But if Brutus, Cassius and the gang killed Caesar to remove a tyrant and to preserve what they considered democracy, then why are they the bad guys in Julius Caesar?

The plot of the play, like the storylines for Shakespeare's other Roman tragedies, was taken from Plutarch's Parallel Lives, written over a hundred years after the assassination, during the height of the imperial power that did indeed succeed the republic — at a time when Caesar and his heirs were greatly admired. Also Shakespeare was writing in England during another greatly admired British monarchy. Sometimes, it seems the only thing Shakespeare considered worse than a bad monarch was the killing of a bad monarch.

And Brutus is not shown in as dim a light as his co-conspirators. He agonizes over the decision to murder Caesar. Both his good intentions and his political naivety are take advantage of by Mark Antony, who turns the tables against Brutus and Cassius. (Writing of Brutus's internal conflicts may have been practice for Shakespeare's creation of his next and greatest protagonist, the haunted Hamlet.) Rather than being portrayed as a bad man, Brutus for Shakespeare is a good man who did a bad thing for good reasons. He is moreover surrounded by characters of less honour. The conspirers Decius and Cassius are deceivers, both of others and of themselves. Mark Anthony is cunning and power-hungry. Only Brutus remains a completely sympathetic character and upon his death he is eulogized by Antony as the "noblest Roman of them all". (Of course, Antony had previously eulogized Caesar as the "noblest man that ever lived".)

All in all, Julius Caesar is morally a somewhat confusing play. Which may be Shakespeare's point. Morality is a shifting battlefield. In this, the play is a precursor to Macbeth, but in that later drama the confusion of fair and foul is eventually put right. The protagonist Macbeth is also a more typical Shakespearean tragic figure in that a fatal flaw — overweening ambition — brings him down. Brutus has no such driving character flaw. His downfall comes about because he didn't have Antony killed when he could have and because he trusted others. He'd make a good study for one of those modern pop-psychology books with titles like Why Good People Do Stupid Things.

It's also mildly interesting that many of the phrases from Julius Caesar that have become well-known are rather meaningless out of context:

"Beware the ides of March"
"Et tu, Brute"
"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war"
"Not that I lov'd Caesar less, but that I lov'd Rome more"
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"
"I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him"

Of greater application are:

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves"
"There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune"
"The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones"

The latter was said by Antony deceptively of Caesar, but applies more truthfully to Brutus. But perhaps the most telling statement is that of Antony at the end concerning his opponent:

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

For me, this is Shakespeare's ultimate message in Julius Caesar. However, confused and contradictory is human nature, it is what we are and overall it is a wondrous thing. For all his terrible mistakes, Brutus is someone we can look up to as an epitome of humanity.

Don't worry, Antony gets his deserts in the sequel, Antony and Cleopatra.

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Macbeth: The Scottish play rewrites history

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

by William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama, Play c. 1606
Five acts,
2,349 lines,
approx. 16,500 words

Macbeth was actually king of Scotland for seventeen years, though you would never get this from Shakespeare's most popular play. Historians consider Macbeth and his wife to have been relatively good and decent rulers, far from the guilt-ridden tyrants of Macbeth. But the factually true story would have made far less effective drama and told us fewer truths about human nature.

It's also strangely appropriate that the play should misrepresent history so drastically, for its central theme is the reversal of good and bad.

Just look at the many dark and tumultuous expressions remembered from Macbeth:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Like a rat without a tail, I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do.

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.

Is this a dagger which I see before me...or art thou but a dagger of the mind?

There's daggers in men's smiles.

Double, double toil and trouble.

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

Out, damned spot!

Not to mention the great and famous monologue of the despairing king in the last act:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life ’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth may be Shakespeare's bleakest tragedy, unrelentingly dark, without those moments of comic relief or frivolity found in Hamlet or King Lear. The dense plot runs thusly:

Three witches, or "weird sisters", are visited by Macbeth and Banquo, who on behalf of Scottish king Duncan have just defeated rebel forces. The witches prophesy Macbeth will become thane of Cawdor and then king. They also predict Banquo's heirs will someday rule Scotland. Immediately after the predictions, the men receive news the king has made Macbeth thane of Cawdor. Encouraged by the prophecy, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to murder the king while he is visiting their castle. Some guards are set up to take the blame for the murder and Macbeth is named king.

Fearing the second part of the prophecy, Macbeth also orders the murder of his friend Banquo and his son Fleance, but Fleance escapes. Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of Banquo. Consulting the witches again, he is told to beware Macduff, but also that no one born of woman has power to harm him and that he never will be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane (his castle). Macduff joins Duncan's son Malcolm to form an army in England to fight Macbeth. While Macduff is away, Macbeth attacks Macduff's castle and has Lady Macduff and her children killed. Lady Macbeth goes mad with guilt and dies. The Malcolm-Macduff army advance on Dunsinane, using branches of Birnam Wood as camouflage. Macduff, who was born by Caesarian section (and thus not "born of woman") kills Macbeth. Malcolm becomes king.

It is also understood that Banquo's heirs eventually become rulers. This prediction may have been included in the play because the patron of Shakespeare's company, King James I of England, was considered a descendant of Banquo.

Some think Macbeth as we know it, Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, is actually an abridged version of a longer play.

The play has a reputation in the theatre for bringing bad luck. It is often referred to as "the Scottish play" to avoid speaking the cursed word "Macbeth", as any fan of the Blackadder TV series knows.

Several film versions have been made of Macbeth, as well as operas by Verdi (1847-65) and Bloch (1910).


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Murder in the Cathedral: Undramatic poetry

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

by T.S. Eliot
genre: Drama, 1935

Murder in the Cathedral is not much of a play. Only two acts with an interlude—a sermon really—between them.

Not much stage action: England's archbishop, Thomas Becket returns to England in spite of the opposition of his former friend, King Henry, who wants the religious power wielded for his own political gains. Becket resists the temptation to capitulate and is slain by four knights, carrying out Henry's unspoken wishes.

It's written in irregularly metred verse, mostly four beats to the line, with sporadic rhyming. A chorus of Canterbury women moan and wail in the background, supposedly representing the hopes and fears of the common folk.

The characters of Eliot's most studied drama are not really individuals but representatives of positions in a moral argument. Becket, who ponders the nature of martyrdom and questions his own motives, is the only one who seems an individual, but he is too good for the real world. Apart from his momentary doubt over the "last temptation", he is too obviously venerated to be sympathetic to anyone who is not already an intense Christian. Despite the meditative tone to the whole work, the only point I found of any intellectual interest was the possibility raised by Becket himself that even the desire to be a saint might itself be selfish.

Murder in the Cathedral is supposed to be the showcase of Eliot's attempt to revive poetic drama. But it comes across as less a work for the stage as a long dramatic poem, and even that's exaggerating the dramatic aspect.

As for the verse itself, if you're familiar with Eliot's poetry you'll soon tire of finding the same images of decaying civilization and the impure material world here. Skulls, bones, rats, broken columns, the horror, the horror, ho hum. All leading to a pathetic prayer for divine mercy at the end. It seems appropriate that the reactionary Eliot goes back to medieval times to find his religious inspiration.

For a number of years, Murder in the Cathedral was one of the few plays, besides Shakespeare's, taught in the schools. I understand it is no longer in such favour. For that mercy, kids can give thanks.


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J. M. Coetzee

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

Novelist, critic and academic John Michael Coetzee is a leading South African intellectual who has made a significant contribution to contemporary South African culture. One of a number of youthful, dissident literary voices speaking against the apartheid regime in the 1970s and 1980s, Coetzee's distinctive prose was identified early on as one of the most eloquent and radical of the period. His work has been compared favourably with Nabokov, Kafka and Conrad, and by the time of mature works such as Foe (1986) he had already achieved international acclaim.

Much of Coetzee's writing reflects either directly or indirectly on recent events unfolding within South African society. Coetzee's task is not an easy one, considering the rapid, often traumatic changes currently transforming and dividing the country. Yet, as his recent Booker Prize-winning novel, Disgrace (1999), demonstrates, Coetzee is a writer ready to meet the challenge. At the centre of Disgrace stands 52-year-old David Lurie, an English professor who spends more time plotting romance with his female students than on the Romantic poetry he is meant to be teaching them. Eventually found out and disgraced by the University, the professor retreats to his daughter's isolated small holding. The personal differences between David and his daughter unfold against this backdrop as tensions rise within the recently emancipated local community. Coetzee's unforgiving vision of South Africa exposes the insecurities of a floundering, but still dominant white culture.

Disgrace illuminates two of the key concerns of Coetzee's work: the historical motivations behind colonialism and its legacies in the post-colonial era. For Coetzee the post-colonial does not signal the formal disintegration of empire, but rather a new, and in many respects more insidious phase of colonisation. For example, his debut novel, Dusklands (1974) comprises two novellas that evoke apparently discrete historical events, one colonial and the other post-colonial, in a manner that clearly asks us to reflect upon their relationship to one another and to contemporary South Africa more generally. The first handles America's part in Vietnam. The second is set 200 years earlier and focuses on a Boer settler in the 1700s. The very different protagonists of these narratives: Eugene Dawn (an expert in psychological warfare) and Coetzee (an adventurer and pioneer), turn out to be involved in strikingly similar forms of oppression.

It is this kind of relationship between oppressor and oppressed in the second part of Dusklands that also structures one of Coetzee's most powerful, disturbing and successful works to date: Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). The novel, which is on one level an exploration of the relationship between barbarity and civilisation, takes its title from a poem by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. Winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the spare, razor sharp prose celebrated in Waiting for the Barbarians has become a trademark of Coetzee's later fiction. Set in an unspecified frontier land, a desert landscape at indeterminate point in time, the novel is an allegorical exploration of the relationship between coloniser and colonised. The Magistrate, who is in charge of the frontier settlement, finds himself caught between the empire that employs him and the barbarians for whom he feels increasing sympathy. Through the conflicted perspective of the Magistrate it becomes apparent that the barbarians are not simply a population 'out there' beyond the frontier occupied by the empire. The shocking, barbaric violence that Colonel Joll deals out to an elderly barbarian and a young child in the opening pages works to draw into question the very distinction between civilised and savage. The barbarians, it would seem, lie at the heart of the very empire that constructs them as other.

Waiting for the Barbarians was followed by the brilliant Booker Prize winning Life & Times of Michael K (1983). The allegorical abstractions of Coetzee's Barbarians are exchanged here for a moving, intimate account of Michael K and his mother. The plight of these two characters, both of whom are physically disabled, gets worse as they find themselves without a secure home or income in a South Africa torn apart by civil war. A dream of a better life in the country motivates their decision to leave the city behind. Their tortuous journey out of Cape Town (Michael pushes his mother in a wheelbarrow) offers little sign of liberation or escape. Michael's mum dies, along with the dream they shared, long before they reach the dreamed of destination. Like Disgrace, the novel evokes a rural retreat, an idyllic setting that ultimately fails to materialise and resolve the problems of the protagonist. (Escape, incidentally, is also the organising theme of Coetzee's most recent novel, Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (2002)). These are often bleak uncompromising works of fiction in which resolutions tend to replace solutions.

Coetzee's critically acclaimed novel Foe signals a temporary departure from the South African landscape. A short, powerful book, it reinvents the story of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe from within the city of London. Re-imagining a canonical novel of British imperialism, it adopts and adapts a distinct strategy within postcolonial fiction (including Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea and Morag Gunn's Prospero's Child), as it writes back to the culture of the coloniser. Foe is ultimately a tale about tale telling: the female narrator, Susan Barton, tells her story in order to find somebody who will publish it. Yet for all its richness and variety of voice, Foe is most notably a novel about silence, the silence of Friday, whose voice Coetzee refuses to represent. Through the silent centre of this text, Coetzee manages to expose the extent to which language, too, is a key instrument of colonisation.

More recently, in work like The Master of Petersburg (1994), Coetzee signals his indebtedness to other literary figures and traditions notably the work of Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment. Coetzee's various influences can also be found within his critical writing, of which Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1999 (2001) is an excellent recent example. Bringing together 29 essays he includes writers as varied as T. S. Eliot, Defoe, Turgenev, Kafka, Rushdie, Gordimer and Lessing, not to mention an account of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.


Professor J. M. Coetzee was born in South Africa in 1940. He studied at the University of Cape Town and the University of Texas, after which he taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He returned home to South Africa to take up a series of positions at the University of Cape Town, the last being Distinguished Professor of Literature. During his latter years there, he also travelled frequently to teach at universities in the US.

His first published book was Dusklands (1974), and this was followed by several further novels including In the Heart of the Country (1977), winner of the Central News Agency (CNA) Literary Award and filmed as Dust in 1985; Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999), both winners of the Booker Prize for Fiction; and Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003). His most recent novels are Slow Man (2005) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007).

J. M. Coetzee also writes non-fiction. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (1988) is a collection of essays on South African literature and culture, and Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews (1992) is a collection of essays and interviews with David Attwell. His books Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997) and Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (2002) are both fictionalised memoirs. He is also a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.

J. M. Coetzee emigrated to Australia in 2002, where he has an honorary position at the University of Adelaide. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

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Genres (in alphabetical order)

Autobiography, Essays, Fiction, Non-fiction


Dusklands Ravan Press (Johannesburg), 1974

In the Heart of the Country Secker & Warburg, 1977

Waiting for the Barbarians Secker & Warburg, 1980

Life & Times of Michael K Secker & Warburg, 1983

A Land Apart: A South African Reader (editor with André Brink) Faber and Faber, 1986

Foe Secker & Warburg, 1986

White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa Yale University Press, 1988

Age of Iron Secker & Warburg, 1990

Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews Harvard University Press, 1992

The Master of Petersburg Secker & Warburg, 1994

Giving Offense: A Study of Literary Censorship University of Chicago Press, 1996

Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life Secker & Warburg, 1997

Disgrace Secker & Warburg, 1999

The Lives of Animals Princeton University Press, 1999

Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1999 Secker, 2001

Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II Secker & Warburg, 2002

Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons Secker & Warburg, 2003

Landscape with Rowers: Poetry from the Netherlands (translator) Princeton University Press, 2004

Slow Man Secker & Warburg, 2005

Diary of a Bad Year Secker & Warburg, 2007

* * Read about books by J. M. Coetzee at - the British Council's book database and global online book club
Buy books by J. M. Coetzee at * Buy books by J. M. Coetzee at

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Prizes and awards

1977 Central News Agency (CNA) Literary Award (South Africa) In the Heart of the Country

1980 Central News Agency (CNA) Literary Award (South Africa) Waiting for the Barbarians

1980 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) Waiting for the Barbarians

1981 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize Waiting for the Barbarians

1983 Booker Prize for Fiction Life & Times of Michael K

1984 Central News Agency (CNA) Literary Award (South Africa) Life & Times of Michael K

1984 Prix Fémina Etranger (France) Life & Times of Michael K

1987 Jerusalem Prize Foe

1990 Sunday Express Book of the Year Age of Iron

1995 Irish Times International Fiction Prize The Master of Petersburg

1998 Lannan Literary Award (Fiction)

1999 Booker Prize for Fiction Disgrace

2000 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) Disgrace

2003 Nobel Prize for Literature

2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) (shortlist) Slow Man

2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (shortlist) Slow Man


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W. H. Auden (1907-73)

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

That night when joy began
Our narrowest veins to flush,
We waited for the flash
Of morning's levelled gun.

But morning let us pass,
And day by day relief
Outgrows his nervous laugh,
Grown credulous of peace,

As mile by mile is seen
No trespasser's reproach,
And love's best glasses reach
No fields but are his own.That night when joy began

November 1931
["Five Songs" II --Collected Poems (ed. Mendelson)]
Copyright (c) 1976, 1991 The Estate of W. H. Auden


* Bahlke, G. W., The Later Auden (1970)
* Bloomfield, B. C., and Edward Mendelson, W. H. Auden: A Bibliography 1924-1969 (1972)
* Bold, Alan ed., W. H. Auden: The Far Interior (1985)
* Callan, Edward, Auden: A Carnival of Intellect (1983)
* Carpenter, Humphrey, W. H. Auden: A Biography (1981)
* Farnan, D. J., Auden in Love (1984)
* Gingerich, M. E., W. H. Auden: A Reference Guide (1978)
* Greenberg, Herbert, Quest for the Necessary: W. H. Auden and the Dilemma of Divided Consciousness (1968)
* Haffenden, John, ed., W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage (1983)
* Hecht, Anthony, The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993)
* Levy, Alan, W. H. Auden: In the Autumn of the Age of Anxiety (1983)
* McDiarmid, Lucy, Saving Civilization: Yeats, Eliot, and Auden between the Wars (1984)
* Mendelson, Edward, The Early Auden (1981)
* Mendelson, Edward, ed., W. H. Auden: Plays (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988)
* Mendelson, Edward, ed., W. H. Auden: Collected Poems (New York: Vintage Books, 1991)
* Rodway, Allan, Preface to Auden (1984)
* Rowse, A. L., The Poet Auden (1988)
* Wright, G. T., W. H. Auden, rev. ed. (1981)

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Animal Farm: A political fairy tale

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

Originally called Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

by George Orwell
Novella 1945
approx. 32,000 words,
91 pages

A political fairy tale

Animal Farm is a work I include on the list of greats only under protest.

It's not that I dislike Orwell. I like most of his work very much. Nor do I consider Animal Farm particularly bad. It's very well done for what it is.

It just does not have the qualities of the greatest literature. I suspect the qualities that have led to its iconic status—and to its placement at number 31 on the Modern Library list of top English-language novels of the twentieth century, ahead of some of the best works of Hemingway, Faulkner, Lawrence and Conrad—are polemical, rather than literary.

Not that I have anything against political novels either, as many of my other choices should prove. But let me ask this: if Animal Farm were a satire on naked, rapacious capitalism, would it be called a modern classic today? How much does its reputation as an attack on communism and the Russian Revolution lead its admirers to overlook its slightness?

Furthermore, much of the admiration for Animal Farm comes from a misunderstanding of its political message. It is not, as many in the West seem to think, a denunciation of revolution in general, nor of socialism in particular. Orwell was some kind of anarcho-socialist himself and his criticisms were directed from within the left at others on the left—namely, at those he considered traitors to the revolution.

The example of the pigs who end up living off the sweat of the other animals, just as the overthrown humans once did, is not meant to illustrate that all revolutions end up replacing one set of exploiters with another, but rather to warn those who would make revolution to beware would-be leaders who would betray the revolution for their personal power and comfort. That obviously was the danger Orwell saw the Soviet experiment falling prey to.

If they had this in mind, would conservative critics still consider Animal Farm a great novel?

Or would they notice then that there is hardly any characterization in this story apart from some one-dimensional labelling (Napoleon is supposedly like Stalin, Snowball is Trotsky, Squealer is a conniving propagandist, Boxer is simple and hardworking, etc.). Little insight into the human heart is revealed, except in the most simplistic, cynical terms (greed overcomes goodwill, people will believe anything). The plot of course is implausible in the extreme, except as an allegory.

Now this does not make the story bad as a fable. In fact, Orwell's subtitle for Animal Farm was A Fairy Story, which has been dropped for most editions around the world. I happened to re-read the book recently while also dipping into Grimm's Fairy Tales. The juxtaposition made me notice that Animal Farm really works in this context, as a far-fetched story of talking animals representing the absurdly exaggerated characteristics of humans, with a moral to be decoded from its conclusion. Which is okay.

It's just not among the greatest literature of modern times in my opinion.


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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Written by eastern writer on Monday, December 31, 2007

by Arthur Conan Doyle
Short stories 1892
approx. 94,000 words
269 pages
@ 350 words/page

The great sleuth in his prime

If you're looking for an introduction to Sherlock Holmes, this is a pretty good choice, as it includes some of Conan Doyle's best mysteries. At this point Holmes has appeared in two novels previously: A Study in Scarlet, in which Dr. Watson first meets Holmes and which features the detective for less than half the story, and The Sign of Four which develops his persona and surroundings further. The Adventures of
Sherlock Holmes contains 12 short stories with the fully developed detective facing some of his best mysteries.

Chances are, however, you won't easily find this particular volume but will more likely get a collection of Sherlockiana that includes several from The Adventures along with some from other volumes. Which isn't bad, because there are great Holmes entries in every volume. Better yet, pick up a complete works (they're cheap enough now) and delve into it at will.

Two of my favourite Holmes' tales lead off The Adventures. "A Scandal in Bohemia" brings him up against the woman who to Holmes will always be "the woman". You may already be familiar with this story as it seems to be one that is often singled out for television treatment (or butchery). "The Red-Headed League" is a real puzzler with one of Conan Doyle's solutions that seem obvious after they are revealed.

The other stories here are also of high quality, ingenious as mysteries and run through with the odd relationship between the arrogant, reclusive Holmes and the affable Watson, the purported chronicler of these cases. [source:]

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An Appreciation of Samuel Beckett:

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'A voice that I felt was speaking in the clearest and most accurate terms
about what it meant to be human and in the world'

by Rick Lopez

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, an event which caused him only embarrassment. Always the recluse, he fled in secret to a small vilage in Tunisia in order to avoid the publicity. When reporters finally tracked him down, Beckett agreed to see them only if they promised not to ask questions. One of the cameramen, obviously sensitive to Beckett's need for privacy, whispered an apology as he took his picture. "That's all right," said Beckett, "I understand."

It was his only public response to the award.

Waiting for Godot, Beckett's most famous work, premiered in Paris in 1953, and the theater was changed forever, its limits and conventions dashed to bits. What audiences found on their innocent night out was a set consisting simply of a scruffy, barren little tree beside an equally barren country road. And there they were, Vladimir and Estragon, a pair of destitutes from the fringes of vaudeville, patiently, and not so patiently, waiting for Godot. And how long will they wait? Why, as long as it takes; until he comes; or until the end, if he doesn't come; or forever. And so it goes, this classic of twentieth-century theater, a tragicomedy in two acts, during which nothing changes, nothing happens (twice), time passes, and Godot never comes.

Godot's brilliance, seen immediately by some, and missed completely by most, lies in its not being about anything. It was something: a situation, simply put and simply presented, of a state we all find ourselves in with great regularity. We wait in line, we wait for our paychecks, we wait for dinner, we wait for our ships to come in, for Friday, for the mail, for a phone call... it's one of our common endeavors.

Another is to "look for sense where possibly there is none" (Play, 1963), heaping meaning upon the meaningless-- and this was another aspect of the play's importance, and of Beckett's work in general: It is so open-ended that we must abandon our habitual need for meaning. And yet audiences rush out to make their myriad decisions on what it all signifies, and the decisions are legion. The most common, and a fitting example of opposites applying for no other reason than that we require it, were the positions that either Godot was God, and Vladimir and Estragon brave Christians waiting for his return; or that Godot was a God who would never come because he didn't exist-- both equally wrong. This think-yourself-to-death confusion on Godot's identity irritated Beckett to no end: "If I knew, I would have said so..." Beckett felt that a classically captive audience of a production at San Quentin Prison understood waiting, and hence the play, perfectly.

"Look Jean, this play is simple! So simple a child could read every word of it. How can you not understand such language!"
--Actor Lucien Raimbourg, answering actor Jean Martin's "What's it mean?" at rehearsals for the premiere of Waiting for Godot (1953)


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The Absurdity of Samuel Beckett

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

by Eva Navratilova

Beckett became popular and well-known more because of Waiting for Godot than any of his other works. His plays, my thesis concentrates on four of them, placed him in the centre of the Theatre of the Absurd, one of the major movements in modern drama since the end of World War II.

This literary dramatic movement, between 1950 and 1960, which revolutionised both English and world drama, connected the dramatists (Edward Albee, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, Vaclav Havel...etc.) whose work is an expression of their personal experience, which Albert Camus characterised as Absurdity in his book of essays The Myth of Sisyphus.i The author's personal experience and intimate feelings are the central inspirational sources of all their theatrical images reflecting both their state of mind and their spirit. The feelings of Absurdity as a literary-creative motivation, connecting a number of literary artists and philosophers, is also evident in the four plays; Endgame, Happy Days, Krapp's Last Tape, and Waiting for Godot, which I am going to deal with.

Beckett presents the reader with four different images of the same, unforeseeable, sudden, fatal, life feeling. In the same way a painter transforms his visions into colourful spots, he transforms his mind into the symbolic language of an imaginary life situation. The reader or the on-looker gets directly into the centre of the author's world as an observer. Beckett's plays are like multidimensional theatrical pictures connecting literary art with visual ones giving us, through the form of play, evidence about the author's personal experience. I consider Beckett's dramatic art to be an expression of his most intimate visions on the fundamental philosophical question about the place of the human being in the surrounding world.

I have divided my thesis into five chapters through which I try to introduce the main themes and motifs recurring in Beckett's plays. At the same time, I intend to point at the way why Beckett's dramatic expression of some basic human philosophical problems corresponds with what was formulated in the fields of philosophy through philosophical language.

After a short introduction (chapter I) and a brief look at the life and personality of Samuel Beckett (chapter II), I attempt to define Absurdity (chapter III), I deal with the problem about how and when it appears and with what human fate it is connected.

In chapter IV I am interested concretely in Beckett's absurd character and the concrete situation in which he is placed. That is, at the same time, Beckett's exclusive theme he deals with in his dramatic writings as well as in his novels.

The next chapter (Chapter V), which is the core of the whole work, is an analysis of the motif of time and the motif of "waiting for" which recurs in the all four of Beckett's plays. The lives of Beckett's characters seem to be unbearable and the end, death, very slow in coming. Here I am interested in the characters' tragic lasting between life and death, which are not mutually exclusive; Beckett's characters live in a state which is a combination of these two and the only thing they long and hope for is the final arrival of "real death" which never approaches quickly.
In the last, quite theoretical chapter (Chapter VI), I deal with the form of the Absurd Theatre which creates the world of the absurd character. I argue that theatre is the optimal form for expressing Absurdity and also make a comparison with epic theatre.

Since Waiting for Godot was first performed (as En attendant, in Paris on 5 January 1953), there has been a flood of criticism, probing not only the "real" meaning, but the influences, the symbols, the style, and the method of Beckett's dramatic work. (As to Beckett himself, he was quite unwilling to illuminate his writings by providing any comment explaining the meaning of his novels and plays.)

This thesis is an attempt to look into Beckett's absurdity through the four images of his four major plays with no exigencies to formulate any general and definitive intellectual reflection by which Beckett could be labelled with a specific attributes. I see Beckett's dramatic work as art which has its own status independent of all of the additional interpretation, as a kind of art which affects mostly the emotions perception rather than the reason.

Read more this book:
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett
Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity
Ch. 4 - Beckett's Absurd Characters
Ch. 5 - Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time
Ch. 6 - The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character
Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Notes & Bibliography


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Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Go.Dot

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Significance Of Names In The Fiction Of Martin Amis, Vladimir Nabokov, John Kennedy Toole, Joseph Heller, Samuel Beckett, John Updike, Will Self, Umberto Eco : Waiting For Go.Dot

The importance of names in literature has nowhere been more typified than in recent attempts to pin down the elusive etymology of Beckett’s Godot. Following that farrago you can be sure that the name ‘Godot’ is missing from any parental ‘Book Of Names’ (although I quite like the idea of pregnant women going around stroking their bellies and saying: “Yes, we’re waiting for Godot…”). One can imagine the bewildered child suffering an intolerable identity problem from having his peers forever arguing about what he ‘means.’

To some, ‘Godot’ has a kind of cosmic signifier in the duality ‘God/Eau’. Less Francophile readings have insisted it should scan as ‘’, a reference to the mental and physical movement that must result from Existential inertia. Perhaps the least credible suggestion, although the most interesting and curious, comes from a bizarre triangular link between James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Tour de France. Some painstaking (or entirely serendipitous) research has discovered that a French cyclist by the name of, wait for it, Godot, rode through Dublin on the 16th June in the early part of this century, the exact day which Leopold Bloom spends milling around Dublin in Ulysses. To me this has a further curious affinity with the ‘’ reading and one of cheery Norman Tebbit’s maxims: on yer bike! Evidence perhaps that Beckett really was a hilarious wag or, simply, a precognitive member of the Tory party?

Charles Dickens was one of the first to really let rip with overblown allusional comic sobriquets and it is in this tradition that a lot of modern and postmodern neologising is entrenched. Writers have always liked a name’s potential to succinctly allude to character and disposition, often spending months deliberating over the final choice. For me, one of the best examples of a truly great fictional name belongs to the central character in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces: Ignatius J. Reilly. The christian name is practically onomatopoeic, suggesting indignation and outrage which, for anyone who has read the book, will almost sound like a definition of our Rabelaisian hero going about his hatred of anything modern. (In a cinema Ignatius loudly proclaims: “This is an abortion!”) There is also the subtle use of the pompous, self-important middle initial that furthers our understanding of the character.

Philip K. Dick’s obsession with duality (probably originating from the fact that his twin sister died when only a few months old) led him to invent some gloriously unlikely names. In Valis one-half of the narrator (as with a lot of Dick’s novels, it is hard to tell) is called Horselover Fat. ‘Philip’ is Greek for ‘lover of horses’; ‘Dick’ is German for ‘Fat’. Similarly, for close watchers of Karaoke by Dennis Potter, the character of Nick Balmer, played by Richard E. Grant, immediately raised suspicion: N. Balmer = Enbalmer, a famous line from deranged Danny the headhunter in the film Withnail And I. Incidentally, this provides further evidence that Dennis Potter (or Pennis Dotter, as A.A. Gill waggish refers to the playwright) was taking the piss with his Channel 4/BBC 2 collaboration. A less subtle form of this codified obscurantism appears in the film Angel Heart, where Robert De Niro plays the character Louis Cyphre, who turn out to be, surprise surprise, Lucifer.

If there is one author who best exemplifies a predilection for names and games of the distinctly literary type it is Vladimir Nabokov. In Bend Sinister there is paronomasias (a ‘verbal plague’ as Nabokov describes it) in Padukgrad where everybody is merely an anagram of everybody else. Nabokov concedes that by their very nature these “delicate markers” will bypass the inattentive reader and that “well-wishers will bring their own symbols and mobiles, and portable radios, to my little party” and concludes that in the end “it is only the author’s private satisfaction that counts.” It was this “wayside murmur” that pleased him the most when rereading his own fiction for the purposes of correction. etc. Nabokov reminds us that reading is a bungee jump (especially first person narratives) where we may become so engrossed in the rush and thrill of the story that we forget we are tethered to the author. Nabokov had a kind of withering, yet paternalistic, disregard for kidding ourselves: he had a fondness for snapping on the ropes and shouting down, “You idiots!”

Nabokov picture

James Wood, in comparing young American and English writing, recently argued for a fiction of unknowingness and against one of omniscient authorial intrusion. But surely this is just the point that Nabokov is making: fiction is a conscious game where the author manipulates the proceedings. There is little escape from this fact (and why should we want to escape it?) What varies is authorial acknowledgement which sounds patronising or exhilarating, according to taste. Some people don’t like the pedagogical voice in modern fiction, don’t like being ‘lectured to’, and some don’t like being told they’re being ‘lectured to.’ Fine. But Woods, and even more recently, the children’s writer Philip Pullman, recent winner of the Carnegie Medal, goes too far in implying that any type of postmodern or self-conscious position cannot co-exist with what they conceive as a ‘pure storytelling’ form.

I can’t help but detect a very conservative sensibility here that has an analogue with the political rhetoric of the “Back To Basics” government campaign: a return to good honest readability, out with this leftie cleverness, elliptical narrative on yer bike! Note also the tedious cyclical nature inherent to both arguments, roughly appearing in the runup to the Booker Prize or a General Election. A recent Dillons survey of MPs’ reading habits (a thinly veiled attempt to annoy Jeffrey Archer, which is fine by me) reveals similarly conservative reading values. Most overrated novelist? Archer, of course, who goes down for obvious political reasons (though it begs the question: who is it that ‘rated’ him in the first place?) Next came Martin Amis, A.S.Byatt and Salman Rushdie, which sounds suspiciously like a list of people you are supposed to say are overrated. Either that or, dare I say it, a list of authors your average MP is a little too sentence-challenged to understand. Well, think about it: all those years of soundbite politics hardly indicates a love of Proust or Joyce, does it?

The importance of a name to plot structure is nowhere more comically heightened than in Martin Amis’ Money, where John Self finds himself the patsy in a financial conspiracy of moviemakers and money shakers. It is the character’s very name that is the source of his downfall. (Skip the next couple of paragraphs if you haven’t read the book). ‘John’ is, I think, the perfect name for invoking the bland anonymity of the giant financial institutions where, in Nabokovian terms, everybody is merely an anagram of everybody else. (Viz. Nick Leeson: a name that should have set alarm bells ringing in itself).

‘Self’ of course embodies the ultimate Eighties Thatcherite ‘ideas’ of individualism and survival. But the apposite brilliance of ‘John Self ‘ is in making it the central twist. Amis has subservient to the greater scheme of things (the plot), just as his character is made to serve the greed of the players around him. It transpires that Self has been signing company documents twice; once under co-signatory, once under ‘Self’: “It was your name.” This literary playfulness and close attention to detail can be traced from Nabokov through the American heavyweights Saul Bellow and John Updike to Anthony Burgess and most recently Amis.

The playfulness which employs hyperreal and ciphered names runs riot in the comic novel, best exemplified by Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Here the names are neither naturalistic or ciphered but faintly ludicrous (viz. Pulp Fiction:“This is America: names don’t mean shit”). There is a phonetic suggestibility of sedition and subversion in the name ‘Yossarian’ (which is noted by one of his paranoid superiors in the book). There is also the double ‘Major Major’ (which has recently been recycled as the title of Terry Major-Ball’s autobiography) and the sub-Dickensian ‘Chaplain Tapmann’. ‘Milo Minderbinder’ is a personal favourite, conjuring up an image of a kind of entrepreneurial mesmerist who also happens to be mentally ill. However, we also have Richard Ford’s ‘Frank Banscombe’, a name redolent of Updike’s great tragicomic figure Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom: thus a more naturalistic name could be said to suit the subtler pastiche and ironic metiers of Ford and Updike.

Names become their strangest when the demarcations between fiction and reality begin to merge into one another . Umberto Eco is a case in point. His non-fictional name is almost too literary, too good, to be the real name of an author. One of Eco’s short stories from Misreadings is entitled Granita and is a twist upon Lolita, where the subject of desire is an old lady. In the Nabokovian version the central protagonist is, of course, Humbert Humbert, the name once again being indicative of a double or split image. The similarity of Umberto to Humbert is striking, and ‘Eco’` sounds like an allusion to the fact that the first name is an echo of the first. Before knowing any better I found myself thinking that perhaps Will Self was a sly allusion to one of his mentors (and mates) Martin Amis. But that would be to confuse art with life. And we all know where that gets us….

[Published August 1996]


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Exchange Link with us

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Do you have any blogs/sites which content about literature or any related topics and wanna exchange link with our blogs?

We encourage you to exchange link in order to increase your page rank and also help other reach a good rank. Exchange link is the simple way to save some interested links so whenever we want to come back, just click on the link.

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Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Read the complete book Samuel Beckett, a Critical Study by becoming a member. Choose a membership plan to an academic-level library with more than 67,000 full-text books, 1.5 million articles, an entire reference set with a dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus plus a collection of digital tools to organize your information.

Publication Detail

Contributors: Hugh Kenner
Publisher: Grove Press
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Year: 1961
Subjects: Beckett, Samuel,--1906-

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Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The information provided in this blog are obtained from many sources and institutions. We will not be held for any responsible for the inaccuracy of the information within this blog.

We appreciate to author who have spent more time to make their work so that we also include the link source from where each article posted here come from. Hopefully this blog will be useful for everyone who are searching for literary information on the internet.

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Beckett Biography: Happiest moment of the past half million

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The life of Samuel Barclay Beckett, 1906-1989.

The story of the Apmonia -- the vain attempt to blend the opposites in the heart of Samuel Beckett -- begins with a case of pneumonia. So afflicted, William (Bill) Beckett, Jr. was sent to Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, at the turn of the century and was nursed there by a strong-minded woman named Maria (May) Roe. They married in a Protestant ceremony in 1901, and would together raise two sons with four years between them, Frank and Sam.

Samuel Barclay Beckett was born -- depending on who you ask, for Beckett's claims on this issue differ from those of legal documents -- on April 13, 1906 in Foxrock, south of Dublin. Later in life, however, Beckett would purport to have memories prior to this event, memories of being in his mother's womb: a situation less blissful than stifling, readily associable with the tight enclosures pondered by the characters and voices in so many of his works. Anthony Cronin describes young Sam as

if anything, an outdoor type rather than an indoor one. He enjoyed games and was good at them. He roamed by himself as well as with his cousin and brother; and though he often retreated to his tower with a book and was already noticeable in the family circle for a certain moodiness and taciturnity, he could on the whole have passed for an athletic, extrovert little Protestant middle-class boy with excellent manners when forced to be sociable.

In short, Beckett inherited his father's sportsmanship and penchant for long walks as well as his mother's severity and skill at the piano.
Beckett studied for his Bachelor's degree in French and Italian at Trinity College, Dublin, in the years 1923-27. Under the tutelage of such influential teachers as Thomas Rudmose-Brown and Bianca Esposito, Beckett absorbed the history and a love of Romance languages and poetry. During a stint in Paris after his degree's completion, Beckett was introduced by his friend the poet Tom MacGreevy to James Joyce, by this time quite famous for his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, both of which Beckett greatly admired. In the years to come Joyce would have an "overwhelming" (Beckett's adjective) effect on his fellow Irishman. As James Knowlson relates, the two men took to each other quickly because they had much in common:

They both had degrees in French and Italian, although from different universities in Dublin. Joyce's exceptional linguistic abilities and the wide range of his reading in Italian, German, French, and English impressed the linguist and scholar in Beckett, whose earlier studies allowed him to share with Joyce his passionate love of Dante. They both adored words -- their sounds, rhythms, shapes, etymologies, and histories -- and Joyce had a formidable vocabulary derived from many languages and a keen interest in the contemporary slang of several languages that Beckett admired and tried to emulate.

Besides becoming his friend, Beckett became directly involved in Joyce's life in two ways. First, he became one of the intimates in the Joyce "circle" (the creative circle, not just the social one) and contributed time and effort to Joyce's work, on occasion taking dictation for what would become Finnegans Wake as well as writing an important essay, "Dante ... Bruno . Vico .. Joyce," for a collection of writings explicating Joyce's method in his last book. Second, his proximity to Joyce brought him to the attention of the writer's schizophrenic daughter, Lucia, whose designs on him eventually became discomfiting for both men.
By the end of the 1920s Beckett had begun to publish his own work. "Assumption," his first published short story, appeared in Eugene Jolas's influential avant-garde serial transition in 1929, and in the next year Beckett's arcane poem on Descartes, "Whoroscope," won a contest held by The Hours Press. Proust (1931), an intriguing and often overlooked work, was Beckett's first and only published critical study of any substantial length. And it was at this time, too, that Beckett started, with little satisfaction, a novel to be called Dream of Fair to Middling Women.
For a short time, Beckett taught Romance languages, but the appeal of academia was short-lived. Beckett's pupils at Campbell College, Belfast, evidently unaccustomed to the kind of hard grading they faced in his classes, made complaints, and Beckett was on several occasions reprimanded by the headmaster who asked whether he understood that the school's students were "the cream of Ulster." They were, Beckett agreed, "rich and thick." On another occasion, Beckett presented a paper to the members of the Modern Languages Society on the avant-garde movement "Le Concentrisme" led by the French poet Jean du Chas -- all of which was pure invention. Several in attendance confidently averred du Chas's importance, without observing the fact of his non-existence. These kinds of incidents led to Beckett's disavowal of teaching as a profession and certainly coloured his attitude in his own dealings with critics.
After acquiring his Master's degree from Trinity, Beckett settled in Paris in 1937. On his way home with some friends one night in January 1938, Beckett was stabbed by a pimp in the street. The blade just missed his heart, but one of his lungs was perforated and he was rushed to hospital. He awoke to find James Joyce at his bedside with his personal physician in tow, who was now under instructions to care for the great author's young friend. Beckett became, in his own words, "the proud possessor of a pleural barometer," and his inner organs became even more sensitive to the climate of the outside world. Beckett's assailant, improbably named Prudent, met his victim during his criminal trial and said in polite French that he did not know why he had done it, and that he was sorry. It was as ludicrous and bizarre an exchange as any in Beckett's own writings.
During his stay in hospital recovering from the attack, one of Beckett's visitors was Suzanne Descheveaux-Dumesnil, a thirty-seven-year-old French woman whom he had met before socially. They grew very close after that and began to meet regularly. Suzanne was a very disciplined woman and dedicated herself to helping Beckett get his work published, and, later, to protecting him from the prying reaches of journalists, hangers-on, and opportunists. Eventually they married in 1961, in Folkestone, England.
1941 brought new grief: news of the death of Joyce, and the invasion of the Nazis. When the German occupation began, Beckett was ostensibly neutral as an Irishman, but he joined the resistance. Beckett became active in the localized intelligence network known as "Gloria." Although he would later dismiss his work with the resistance as "boy scout stuff," the man referred to by that group of operatives as l'Irlandais would be awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1945 for "extreme bravery" for having had "to endure a hard and clandestine life."
Works produced by Beckett in these years -- books like More Pricks Than Kicks (1934), Murphy (1938), and Mercier and Camier (1946) -- while full of interest and appeal, are ostentatious in their literary devices and represent an author still unsure of himself, still too swayed by the encyclopaedic example and influence of Joyce. After the war, a breakthrough was reached. The "siege in the room," as Beckett characterized it, occurred in the years 1946-50, when his focus shifted to ideas of the essential, the minimal, the unadorned. French became his written language, and the problem of expressing -- expressing anything -- became central to his aesthetic. His trilogy of novels, Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953), written at an altogether remarkable pace in French and later translated into English by Beckett himself, is among the greatest prose writings of the century, and these books mark out in their pages a very grim but ridiculously circuitous and laboured path of human life.
When Waiting for Godot first appeared on the stage in the small Théâtre de Babylone in Paris in 1953, the world of theatre was startled (and perhaps a little resentful) to find itself changed. Didi and Gogo, music hall clowns complete with bowler hats, do very little in the course of two acts but wait, wait, wait, for someone named Godot, who may or may not be coming. While many audiences and critics jeered or shrugged and turned away, a perceptive few found a very human drama pared down to its most necessary gestures: expectation, companionship, abuse, hope. The plays which followed -- Endgame (1958), Happy Days (1961), and Play (1963) -- similarly used abstraction as a means to explore the most powerful themes, and to question whether they have any value or meaning.
Death and sorrow are not conjectured upon in these works, but are responses to experience. Beckett kept vigil by both his mother, who died in 1950, and his brother Frank, who fell victim to lung cancer in 1954. Both passings weighed very heavily on Beckett's heart, and he would remember them particularly in the ghostly voices of his later fiction and drama, in the dread of waiting and the search for comfort.
Fame and accolades began to come in the 1960s. Beckett returned to Dublin in 1959 to receive an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, and two years later he won, with Jorge Luis Borges, the Prix International des Editeurs (or Prix Formentor), valued at $10,000. But the biggest surprise came on October 23, 1969, when Suzanne picked up the first in what was quickly to become a persistent series of telephone calls. Her reaction to the news it brought was to exclaim, "Quelle catastrophe!" Beckett had won the Nobel Prize for, in the words of the Academy's citation, "his writing, which --- in new forms for the novel and drama -- in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation." Having remarked that Joyce ought to have won it, Beckett gave much of the Nobel money (over $70,000) away to charities and needy writers (among them, Djuna Barnes and B. S. Johnson).
From Godot onwards, Beckett often found himself sought after by devotees in the forms of actors, readers, artists, performers, publishers, and academics. Privacy was difficult to retain, particularly after the Nobel Prize, but Beckett measured his time and appointments strictly, did not like to give interviews, and avoided talking about his work. All the same, he sometimes found himself in extraordinary situations. In 1955, a German prisoner inspired by an inmates' production of Godot broke his parole and journeyed to Paris to find his master. Roger Blin, the playwright's actor-director collaborator and friend, was forced to accommodate this potentially dangerous man while persuading him that Beckett, who willingly offered to pay the convict's expenses to return to Germany, was unavailable. Told by one admirer on another occasion that he had been reading Beckett's works for years, the author drily replied, "You must be very tired."
Beckett wrote less and less in the 1970s and 1980s, whittling down even more rigorously his work to the barest essentials of expression. Rockaby and Ohio Impromptu (both from 1981) are even more phantasmal and tightly orchestrated than his previous plays. After the first foray into television drama, Eh Joe (1967), he wrote more scripts, including Ghost Trio (1976) and Quad (1984). Upon retiring with no great enjoyment to a nursing home called Le Tiers Temps, Beckett received occasional guests, who were always amazed at his intellect's continued alacrity. Although he continued translating some of his works in his final years, he found writing painful and could do little of it. Suzanne died on 17 July 1989. On December 22, 1989, Beckett died in Paris. They are buried together in Cimitière du Montparnasse, Paris.

Further Reading
There have been three full-length Beckett biographies published, and each of them has its particular strengths. Bair's early effort is admirable for its ambition; Knowlson's is probably the most thorough, though perhaps a little too loyal; Cronin's provides a very Irish flavour and perspective. You can purchase any of the below titles at Apmonia's Bookstore.

Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1978).
James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (HarperCollins, 1996).

--Tim Conley
15 March 2001


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Sufi and the Beloved

Written by eastern writer on Friday, December 21, 2007

[Sufi and the Beloved" takes place in the city or village of Kohlu in the present-day Baluchistan. The culture of Baluchis at that time (1825-1885) was open, festive and colorful. Even the everyday dresses of women were stitched with mirrors, and the men's caps and vests were embellished with the same decorative threads and mirrors.]

Mast Twakkuli was not only a poet, but a mystic and a philosopher. He was born in Baluchistan at the time when Shirani clan was at its peak. Shirani clan was a literary establishment at its glory in early nineteenth century, cherishing music, poetry and mysticism with the love and reverence of saints. Mast Twakkuli in his youth was to excel in all those three spiritual aspects with the prophetic wisdom of a saint and a mystic. His poems, when recited, had the quality of windchimes, delighting all with the scent of rhythm and wisdom. In music, he appeared to soar toward the divine, as if the melodies danced on the very strings of his heart, striving toward perfection. As a mystic, his very soul and psyche sang, where Truth stood rapt, naked, shuddering. When Mast Twakkuli's fame reached a crescendo, the hands of fate caught him by the heels and dragged him into the very ocean of chaos and conflict. The Shirani settlement was attacked by a neighboring tribe, causing ruin and devastation with their pillaging and plundering. The senior members of the clan were outraged, recruiting all males old and young, and urging them to fight the war of honor and vengeance. Young Mast Twakkuli, too, was herded into this machinery of rage and pride, but unwilling to engage in carnage and bloodshed until the daggers of Reason were blunted. Unsheathing the sword of Reason, he was striving toward truce and justice, and pleading with the men's intellect rather than with their emotion.

"Knowing the cause of enmity and warfare, and then dealing with it peacefully is the true measure of valor and honor!" Mast Twakkuli was heard declaring during the fever of war and vengeance. "Befriend your enemies with the fruits of wisdom, and you can conquer even the roots of evil. The flames of revenge smolder forever generations after generations, but the fire of love warms, embracing peace, not conflagration," his appeals were unheeded, and he was forced to fight in a succession of wars he could neither avoid, nor extinguish.

Barely a youth of twenty-five, Mast Twakkuli had known both war and fame in the profoundest deeps of his soul and psyche. Swallowing the former with disgust and revulsion, and the latter with bitterness. Before he knew, the wars were spreading like a murrain. Even the British were taking advantage of the rift amongst the Baluch, the Pathan and the Brahui, the three ethnic groups of Baluchistan who were rising against each other, wearing the armor of zeal and vengeance. The upper highlands, northeast highlands and the date-palm groves were caught in the conflagration of war, driving the British away, but remaining at war with each other in the ethnic struggle for supremacy. Shiranis were in forefront once again, marching toward the Tori mountains as if pressed by fate.

The year was 1876, the British had retreated to their early posts without claiming a victory. Shiranis were still marching ahead, wearing the blemish of zeal on their sleeves and of vengeance in their hearts. Mast Twakkuli could be seen plodding after them with no will to fight, but to seek oblivion. During one of those campaigns, the night was descending quickly, dark and ominous. And the Shiranis had decided to encamp on a nearby hill, overlooking the moats and shrubs. Suddenly, the sky was lit by the bolts of lightning, the claps of thunder following in their wake. Mast Twakkuli was so moved by the fireworks in the heavens that he left his tent, more so to escape his ennui and fatigue than to embrace the fury of the night.

This wandering soldier had straggled far into another encampment, drunk with the wine of beauty and solitude in the night. The night air was cool, and the fury in the sky had abated. The poet, the mystic and the philosopher in Mast Twakkuli was awakening after a long, long rest of months dissolved by years. There was complete darkness in the entire encampment with the exception of one sliver of a light escaping one tent, and he was lured toward it. Now only his heart was thundering, and for some nameless, astonishing reason he was feeling exhilarated. He thought he had entered a paradise where houris dwell, instead of a small tent pitched on the face of this insignificant earth. Before his sight sat a Baluchi girl swathed in a colorful dress embossed with mirrors. Her small, white face was aglow with the purity and innocence of youth, as if carved in marble. To him, she appeared ethereal, bathed in Light of her own perfection! Some dream, drifting and expanding, which could be never touched or possessed. Her eyes were blue and radiant, sparkling like the diamond-stars in the bluest of nights. A beatific smile was alighting on the girl's poppy-red lips, as Mast Twakkuli stood there mute, rapt, dazzled. This beautiful girl was Sammo, the wife of a valiant soldier who had routed the British invaders, and was now trekking after their ammunition abandoned or concealed. Well schooled in the etiquettes of Afghan wars, this young bride was to treat this soldier with kindness and hospitality. In a flash, she had boiled a pot of tea, talking all the while about her husband and his victories, mistaking Mast Twakkuli's silence as some mantle of fatigue and shyness. But Mast Twakkuli's heart was lost, and so was his speech. He was in love, terribly and maddeningly in love. His heart was torn and bleeding, its wounds carving rills of agony and despair inside the very depths of his mute and suffering soul, for he knew his love was hopeless. He was a prisoner to his own code of honor, where Afghani soldiers, whether Baluchi, Pathan or Brahui, dared not covet or possess the wives of other soldiers, even if they were the kins of foes and heathens. So Mast Twakkuli drank his tea in silence, feasting his eyes on Sammo as if sinking deeper and deeper into some tomb of grief and despair. Suddenly, he leaped to his feet, and ran out into the night like a madman, the rivers of agony inside him exploding forth in couplets divine.

"Have you seen my Sammo?" Mast Twakkuli would ask under some spell of frenzy and delirium in response to his friends' inquiries as if he had gone mad.

The mad Lover in quest of his lost Bride! His friends had abandoned him, heeding the call of their own Duty, and leaving him alone to explore the pools of his own insanity. He was intoxicated by his own pain and love, wandering from city to city, and oblivious to the warring world all around him. Whirling like a dervish in ecstasy and singing verses to himself, he was transported to another world, as if wedded to Love and Poverty both. Receiving alms only, when they were heaped before him, and people urged him to eat, hoping to hear more divine verses from his parched, hungry lips. If they asked him any question, he would respond with the same cry of agony which was the root of his madness.

"Have you seen my Sammo?" this cry had become so popular that it was on everyone's lips along with his verses, of which he himself had no recollection. Mast Twakkuli had gone insane, the fire of love blazing from his eyes, and the volcano of agony pouring forth on his lips. He had become a wild spirit, tormented and restless. Wandering aimlessly, and pressed by mad inspiration to sing to his Beloved. Asking everyone on the way, "Have you seen my Sammo?"

The mad lover! Mast Twakkuli's fame had reached far and wide, his verses throbbing on the lips of others as some exquisite morsels of jest or pleasure. One day in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan, he was caught in a whirlwind of jeers and ridicule, a throng of villagers laughing at him, and the children daring to pelt him with stones. One Leghari Nawab, who had heard about his poetry and madness, happened to pass that way where Mast Twakkuli stood reciting in rapt surrender to his own torment and oblivion. Leghari Nawab alighted from his horse, ordering his guards to disperse the loutish crowd. While the people were being hurled away, Mast Twakkuli's agonized cry thundered aloft. "Have you seen my Sammo?"

"I would fetch your Sammo, if you recite a verse for me," Leghari Nawab assured him kindly.

"I have known life Brimming with vengeance More so The tales of love and longings Of lonesome valleys And the gardens Ravished by lust Laments of the lovers In murmuring cataracts Joys despoiled Grief high as a mountain Love! Oh, such divine sin My torment supreme," Mast Twakkuli hugged himself laughingly.

Leghari Nawab commanded his own beautiful daughter to step forward. Drawing the mad poet's attention to this young bloom of a princess, the Nawab murmured, "here's your Sammo."

Mast Twakkuli lowered his gaze, reciting fresh verses as if sinking deeper into the waters of despair. "Pain and surcease Both friends and foes Abide with me Moon Bride With stars in her eyes Has stabbed me With the daggers of her Beauty Sorrow wails in the night And grief awakens To kiss the lips of dawn Beloved is no more Lover is stricken blind,"

Mast Twakkuli raised his eyes, fleeing, as if pursued by the demons. "She is not my Sammo," one echo of a lament was following Mast Twakkuli at his heels.

Mast Twakkuli's madness took him to the road to Mecca, and he participated in the annual rites of Haj. He had become a pilgrim of Love, not Madness. Seeking Truth, not Fulfillment. He was singing verses again, fully aware of his quest to be united with his True Beloved. "My path to love Strewn with tears Summons me back Weeping willows My guide and shadows Soul on fire The fever of Hope Such terrible longing Light upon Light,"

Mast Twakkuli was leaving Mecca. Scattering the jewels of his verses on the way.

"The Art in Living, painted by the ink of blood...that is Love, Soul, Sammo," Mast Twakkuli was heard chanting. Wandering, wandering, always wandering. Desire! one serpent of a flame, holy and eternal," he couldn't hear the new epithet, A Wandering Saint!

Mast Twakkuli had grown old, not even knowing that four decades were left behind in the Memory of Sammo, which was still young. He was back in the same town where he had lost his heart and his youth. He was wedded to his poetry and inspiration, it seemed. Old friends recognized him, and were moved by his despair and madness. They even revered him, applauded his verses, and sought means to appease his sorrow. Mast Twakkuli knew not them, nor any, not even his own self? One evening, he sought one polished rock as his pillow and began to sing with anguished glee. The evening hush was his only companion, for he courted only Silence. He didn't even notice, that an old lady had crept closer, and was crouched at his feet, stealing the nectar of his divine love. "The hour of Union is nigh In the eternal cup of joy The heart awaits in self-surrender The soul too in oblivion Lover with Beloved Bride with bridegroom Life wedded with Death Welcomes Sammo Have you seen My Sammo Beloved..." his inspiration was cut short by the cry of an old lady, kissing his feet.

"I am your Sammo," Sammo lifted her tear-streaked face. Her glorious blue eyes gazing into the very windows of his insanity.

Mast Twakkuli sat there rapt and stunned. A sudden wave of joy washed over his old features, and his eyes were holding the lamps of worship.

"Sammo, my Sammo! My Love Divine..."Mast Twakkuli's whole face was lit up with the light of love. An imperceptible shudder passed through his emaciated frame, and his body fell limp in one peaceful heap.

"Twakkuli!" one heartrending lament escaped Sammo's lips, and she fell dead at the feet of her Lover.

Sammo and Twakkuli are buried side-by-side in Kholu in the Sibi district of Baluchistan. Even in this age and time, the pilgrims flock to their graves, which have become the holy shrines for the lovers and mystics alike.


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Notes of a Skeptical Infidel

Written by eastern writer on Friday, December 21, 2007

Review of V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, First Vintage Books, 1982

Every day I hear the muezzin's call to prayer stirring the Muslim faithful of Phuket, Thailand. My house is equidistant from a Buddhist temple and a Muslim mosque. The Muslim women wear head coverings, some black, some multi-colored, and occasionally all but the eyes of a woman is covered by a black burqah, a trap for the relentless rays of the tropical sun. The men wear their flat caps. Green and white, crescent and star - all the symbols of this desert religion are found here in the jungle.

When we think of Islam we are not liable to think of Southeast Asia first, even though the region is home to the Islamic world's most populous country, Indonesia. Malaysia and Brunei are Islamic, and every Southeast Asian nation has pockets of the faith. Islam has been flung this far through the conquest and missionary work that has made it the world's second largest, fastest growing, and possibly least understood religion.

Over twenty years ago, Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul undertook a journey to four Muslim countries - Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It was a critical time in the history of fundamentalist Islam. Earlier, an American coup had toppled Iran's democratically elected government and replaced it with the Shah. He was deposed, and in his place was erected a theocracy headed up by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Muslim world trembled at the Iranian revolution, because it seemed to provide an alternative to the two dominant powers of the time - Communism and the West. A nation could be founded on a book, the Koran, or so it seemed. Naipaul's question is whether the alternative is realistic. His answer is no. His many reasons are all the more convincing for having come, as it were, straight from the mullah's mouth. Naipaul is troubled first of all by Islam's attempt to use religion as a solution to plainly economical and political problems. The economy is a disaster? Then usury should be banned - because the Koran says so. There is too much crime? Then adulterers should be stoned to death and thieves maimed - because the Koran says so. If only the Koran were applied in every instance (supposing it could be), then all would be well; heaven and earth would be one. Naipaul finds this view touching at times, but ultimately naove and confused.

Much of the impetus behind fundamentalist Islam is a rejection of the West - of democracy, technology, capitalism, and liberty. But the rejection, Naipaul notes, is only emotional, and much of it turns on one issue: the status of women. Muslims spread anti-West messages, but the messages quote Western writers - Schumacher, Toynbee - and they are spread using Western technology - tape recorders, megaphones. Many West-haters have been educated in Western universities; the Pakistani economy is addicted to remittances from workers abroad; other Muslim countries would be poor without oil. Iran Week looks like Newsweek; "Bubble Up" is Pakistan's answer to the soft drink Seven-Up.

Naipaul cannot tolerate this hypocrisy and mimicry. The relationship of fundamentalist Islam to the West is parasitic and ultimately self-defeating, he says. "All the rejection of the West is contained within the assumption that there will always exist out there a living, creative civilization, oddly neutral, open to all to appeal to. Rejection, therefore, is not absolute rejection. It is also, for the community as a whole, a way of ceasing to strive intellectually."

The author is at his skeptical best when he employs the Socratic method, that cornerstone of Western thought. Merely by asking questions, he shows up the inconsistencies underlying the beliefs of the devout. His questions are usually impartial, if persistent. But occasionally his Western bias bubbles up to the surface, as does the notorious Naipaul temper.

Naipaul must always be read with his personal history in mind. From humble origins, he worked hard, went to Oxford, gained fame and fortune. But he uses the fallacy of universal generalization, the folly of all successful men: I did it, so everyone can. Thus, Muslim nations are backward because of lack of effort, and they embrace Islam because praying is easier than learning, raging than working, razing than building. Reflecting on a Pakistani government decree that work cease during prayers, Naipaul writes: "In the courts, not especially active that morning, the azan seemed less a call to prayer than a signal to people who were not doing much to do absolutely nothing."

Elsewhere, Naipaul has suggested that Islam's influence on former Western colonies has been far more destructive than colonialism was. This view is not popular among those who reflexively blame the white man for all ills, but history may favor it. The colonizers stole, but they also built. Islam destroys what had been built -- systems of law and transport and communication, the Buddha statues of Bamiyan, even portions of one's own population but replaces it "with nothing." Fundamentalist Islam attempts to erase the past in much the same way that Communism attempted to do so. The Koran is Mao's Little Red Book; the Islamic state is akin to the Khmer Rouge's "Year Zero"; and the target of the Muslim missionaries is the same as that of the Communist cadres: the poor, angry, dispossessed, ignorant. "Now," writes Naipaul, "they have a weapon: Islam. It is their way of getting even with the world. It serves their grief, their feeling of inadequacy, their social rage and racial hate." Like Communism, Islam is "little more than the poor teaching the poor to be poor." Naipaul could have been writing of Kampuchea when he wrote of an Islamic school in Indonesia: "Such effort, such organization, to duplicate the village atmosphere, to teach villagers to be villagers!"

But neither Islamic fundamentalism nor Communism arose out of a vacuum. Both are responses to a breakdown of traditional ways - a breakdown caused in part by colonialism and the rapid technological advances brought in its wake. For example, a new strain of rice is introduced into Indonesia that grows twice as fast as the old. This disrupts the harvest-based festivals. The old ways die, and Islam swoops in like a vulture to feed on the remains. It may be said indeed that fundamentalism of any kind is a reaction to a perceived chaos, and will recur whenever and wherever chaos seems to reign. It replaces thought with rules, change with immobility, and reason with dogma. It places an immovable object in the way of an irresistible force.

This is the paradox that will shape history for some time to come - the opposition that Benjamin Barber calls "Jihad vs. McWorld." Naipaul's book remains an essential and eminently reasonable account of one side of this conflict, but it gives us no idea how the conflict could be resolved. Reason does wonders in the resolution of reasonable conflicts. Against unreasonable faith, reason has little power.


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A Malaysian Literature?

Written by eastern writer on Friday, December 21, 2007

Former DAP MP Sim Kwang Yang writes about all that ails local literature in his column An Examined Life in Malaysiakini (subscription needed to read the whole piece).

He talks about the divided nature of the Malaysian literary community:

The obvious problem is with the very existence of anything that we can recognise as Malaysian literature. Obviously, there is a body of Malay literature, especially that promoted by the Dewan Pustaka dan Bahasa. All the Chinese newspapers give plenty of space for aspiring writers to develop their talents. I am sure the Indian community also have some literary activity. But do we have a Malaysian literature - for all Malaysians?

He points to a lack of a readership for the local product, rather than a lack of local talent, as being at the heart of the problem. He also mentions Chinese novelists who have gone on to find more fertile ground in Taiwan (and I would so love to know more about them).

Can we blame the political climate for the lack of literature? No, he says:

Something is wanting in our national soul. ... It is all too easy to point to the politics of race and the ensuing repressive climate that stifles the freedom needed for artistic creativity. There is some thing in that. Ours is a much politicised society. When Eric Hobsbawm’s “official nationalism” has invaded and permeated all the public space of the individual at all social and cultural levels, the creative impulse that must spring forth from the nadir of individuality must die a slow death.

On the other hand though, contradictions and adversities are the raw materials of which great novels and poems are made. The ridiculous contradictions of racial unease were given a humorous treatment by Anthony Burgess in his Malayan Trilogy, even if he was also not impervious to racial stereotyping. From the perspective of Edward Said’s post-colonial critique, Burgess was also guilty of telling his story from the colonizer’s point of view. But at least, you can credit Burgess for giving a more human face to the Malayan ‘natives’ than Conrad or Maugham had ever done.

Beside, literature seeks to uncover the truth. Or at least literary endeavour tries to unravel the enigmatic nature of truth. Sometimes, artists must address themselves to the power-that-be. Often, the voices that tell that important story are more powerful than the power that tries to silence them.

He gives the example of writers in the Soviet Union during the communist era - the regime was oppressive, but great literature flourished underground. We have nothing like that level of oppression, and produce much less.

I think that what he says next really hits the mark:

At the end of the day, I think our failure in producing any Malaysian literary classics can be attributed to our failure at building one nation out of a culturally and linguistically diverse population.

It would be very hard for any aspiring writer to escape from the walls of his ethnic prison. The object of his concern is largely limited to his life-experience within his ethnic enclave. His theme, narrative, and the tonality of his treatment are almost bound to be ethnic biased.

Even if the writer wants to step out of his ethnic circle, and venture into the Malaysian form of life that crosses ethnic boundaries, he would be deterred by a whole host of racial and religious sensitivities. There is little room for experimentation. Even when no mistake has been committed, the poor writer may have to confront an angry mob at his front gate demanding his head as punishment for his perceived or imagined insults against certain race or religion.

Of course, there is the problem of language.

I also know of Chinese writers who are trying to write in Bahasa Malaysia. BM is a beautiful language in the right hand, but it has been deadened by politico-bureaucratic usage. The national language is so politicised that people of non-Malay descent will harbour great resistance in using this language for purposes other than official communication .... In any case, literary works that are not produced in BM will be sidelined, because that is the social reality in Malaysia.

The solution?:

Given the splintered nature of our Malaysian linguistic universe, perhaps English is the only suitable medium for the birth of a great Malaysian literature.

And he suggests Malaysiakini hold a writing contest, not at all a bad idea.

But I would say that perhaps one of the most pressing needs is for dialogue. There are, as Sim says, different writing communities who do not know what other writers are doing, and surely the time has come to address that?

::this article is taken from

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Why Translate Indonesian Literature

Written by eastern writer on Friday, December 21, 2007

by John McGlynn

At present it is possible to study every major non-English speaking Western culture through its translated literature; such is not the case with the literature of Indonesia, the fourth-largest and one of the most politically and economically strategic countries in the world.

In all but two universities in the United States (University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley) Indonesian literature, if offered at all, is taught in the department of history, anthropology or linguistics. While the situation is somewhat different in Australia where, because of geographical proximity and for historical reasons as well, knowledge of Indonesia is much more pervasive, the fact is that few scholars of Western literatures are aware that Indonesia has an ancient literary tradition, and that few specialists in Chinese, Japanese, and Indian literatures (subjects in which one can obtain advanced degrees at American universities) have much regard for or understanding of the literatures and, in broader terms, the cultures of Indonesia and other countries of Southeast Asia.

Outside the academic sphere information on Indonesia in the West has generally been limited to the occasional (and, usually, sensationalistic) article on the op-ed page or in the business section of newspapers. Although this situation has changed somewhat as a result of the Asian economic crisis and Indonesia's transition of political power, the world media's memory is short-lived and following the return of economic and political stability to the region, the status quo for news coverage is likely to return.

Partially for that reason, Lontar feels that it is imperative to balance the negative impact that political and economic developments have had on public impressions in the West with information that might have a positive influence on public perceptions. This is the primary aim of both Lontar's publications program and its other activities.

Lontar feels that the only place to begin such a program is at the university level. At numerous universities abroad are already in place Indonesian study programs; a fair number of these universities even have faculty members with the knowledge to teach courses on Indonesian literature in translation. But until Lontar was established the possibility of teaching such courses was virtually unimaginable.

Now, with Lontar's backlog of publications and its future publications list, this is a distinct possibility.


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Muhammad Yamin (1903-1962)

Written by eastern writer on Friday, December 21, 2007

Caption: This is a cover of "Muhammad Yamin dan Cita-Cita Persatuan (Muhammad Yamin and His Ambition to Unite The Old Indonesian Society/Hindia Belanda) historian, poet, playwright, and politician, member of the leftist Murba Party. Yamin became President Sukarno's principal 'myth-maker'. He started his career as a writer in the 1920s, when Indonesian poetry was marked by an intense and largely reflective romanticism.

Di atas batasan Bukit Barisan
Memandang beta ke bawah memandang
Tampaklah hutan rimba dan ngarai
lagi pun sawah, telaga nan permai :
Serta gerangan lihatlah pula
Langit yang hijau bertukar warna
Oleh pucuk daun kelapa :
Itulah tanah airku
Sumatera namanya tumpah darahku.
(from 'Tanah Air')

Minangkabau Muhammad Yamin was one of the pioneers of modern poetry in Indonesia. He was born in Sawah Lunto in West-Sumatra. Yamin started to write in Malaya in the Dutch-language journal Jong Sumatra in 1920, but his early works were still tied to the clichés used in Classical Malay. Yamin debuted as a poet with Tanah Air ('fatherland') in 1922. It was the first collection of modern Malay verse to be published. However, the first important modern novel in Malay, Sitti Nurbaya by Minangkabau Marah Rusli, had appeared in 1922. Rusli's work enjoyed ten years of great popularity. The 'fatherland' to which the title of Yamin's book referred, was not Indonesia but Sumatra. In the title poem In it, Yamin stands on the hills of his native Minangkabau country, praising its natural beauty. Yamin's second collection, Tumpah Darahku, appeared on 28 October, 1928. The date was historically important - then Muhammad Yamin and his fellow nationalists resolved to revere a single - Indonesian - homeland, race and language. His play, Ken Arok dan Ken Dedes, which took its subject from Java's history, appeared also 1928. From the late 1920s until 1933 Roestam Effendi, Sanusi Pané with his poems (Madah Kelana, 1931) and plays (Kertadjaja, 1932; Sandhyakala ning Majapahit, 1933), and Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana were the principal shapers of the Malay language and its literature.

Yamin studied law in Jakarta, graduating in 1932. He worked in Jakarta until 1942 specializing in international law. Yamin's political career started early and he was a active in nationalist movements. In 1928 the Second Congress of Indonesian Youth proclaimed Malay, since known as Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), the language of the Indonesian nationalist movement. Yamin made an initiative through the organization Indonesia Muda, that Bahasa Indonesia is made as the foundation of a national language. Today it is the republic's official language and the principal vehicle for innovative literary expression. Also attempts at writing modern literature have been made in most of Indonesian major regional languages.

During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) Yamin worked for the Japanese-sponsored confederation of nationalist organizations, the Center of People's Power (Putera). In 1945 Yamin suggested to BPUPKI, a committee preparing Indonesian's independence process, that the new nation should include Sarawak, Sabah, Malaya, and Portuguese Timor, as well as all the territories of the Netherlands Indies. Achmad Sukarno (1901-1970), who was a member of BPUPKI, supported Yamin. Sukarno became in 1945 the first President of Indonesian republic. Under Sukarno's long period of power - he was he was stripped of office in 1967 - Indonesia became a leader of the Third World, and developed close ties with China and the U.S.S.R. During and after the struggle for independence Yamin held important posts in the governmental administration. Yamin died in Jakarta on October 17, 1962.

Yamin's first works appeared in the 1920s. He made much use of the sonnet form, borrowed from Dutch literature. At that time among the major writers were national activist Abdoel Moeis (1898-1959), whose central theme was the interaction of Indonesian and European value system. In 1936 appeared Pandji Tisna's (1908-1978) Sukreni, gadis Bali, possibly the most original work of pre-independence fiction, which dealt with the destructive effect of contemporary commercial ethics on Balinese society. Distinctly innovative poetry began to appear in the 1910s. The European sonnet form was especially popular, but the influence of traditional verse forms remained strong. Although Yamin experimented with the language in his poetry, he uphold the classical norms of Malay more than the younger generation of writers, who gradually improved on the new poertry. Yamin also published plays, essays, historical novels and poems, and translated works from such authors as Shakespeare (Julius Caesar) and Tagore.


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Quote on Art and Literature

    "There is only one school of literature - that of talent."
~ Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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