Peter Conrad on the first volume of the Nobel Prize Winner's correspondence
'Exiled from Ireland and from his native language, Joyce wrote 'Finnegans Wake' in a punning, polyglot idiom of his own invention. Beckett has his own equivalent to this composite babble. As he travels, he is constantly translating, aware that any word is a dubious, untrustworthy translation of a feeling. The "sensation of taking root" disgusts him and makes him think of a malignant polyp; he deracinates himself by carefully standing aside from whatever language he happens to be using, like an alien intrigued and mystified by the dialect of the tribe.Letters in the Observer newspaper.
'He gets through the ordeal of Christmas and New Year in Ireland by giving the occasions their French and German names, Noel and Silvester. A letter written in German declares that it is "difficult, even pointless for me to write in formal English", asks permission "to violate a foreign language" and hopes for a futuristic "literature of the non-word".'
While it is clear that he admires Beckett's work, and is interested in the writer's life, there is a trace of bemusement for the American editors, who seem 'determined to cram most of [the letters], along with their own prattlingly pedantic commentary, into four bulbous volumes.' I happen to be a great fan of the job the editors have done, and love the exhaustiveness of the commentary; in fact, if I have any complaint at all, it's simply that I find the typeface a little on the small side.
You can read Conrad's article in full by clicking here.