Non, je ne me suis jamais quitté, libre, voilà, je ne sais pas ce que ça veut dire mais c'est le mot que j'entends employer, libre de quoi faire, de ne rien faire, de savoir, mais quoi, les lois de la conscience peut-être, de ma conscience …Samuel Beckett, Molloy
‘Ne serait-on pas libre?’ ‘A examiner’Samuel Beckett, Molloy
In the fall of 2007, my good friend and close colleague Susan Suleiman and I taught a course titled ‘France and the World’ in preparation for a conference, which developed into the volume French Global, a project written in collaboration with a number of colleagues who all address ‘points of contact and multiple kinds of dialogue that found and inform literary space.’ The entire process allowed us to continue our dialogue of many years and to examine choices that writers make about language, home, and foreignness. In that context, we taught Beckett's Molloy, about which Susan wrote in her beautiful essay ‘Choosing French: Language, Foreignness, and the Canon.’ Beckett is an author to whom I have felt a peculiar sense of connection ever since childhood, since my father used to read to me from his works regularly. Studying him with Susan in that course, I began to ponder questions not only about his choice to write in French or in English, but also about his relationship to music as the other of writing. So when asked simultaneously to think about rereading Proust and to write for this volume, I was excited to continue this exploration in what follows through Beckett's connection to both Proust and music.
What choices do we really have in life? Put another way: How does choice operate within determined constraints? And how does life become art? So asks Proust, and Beckett in his wake. In what follows, I look at an early, middle, and a late work by Beckett in order to trace how Beckett ‘rereads’ Proust, in both a specific and more diffuse sense: Beckett's Proust, Molloy, and, although it may not seem an obvious selection, Words and Music. The first is a direct work of criticism about Proust, the second an indirect reading of certain Proustian themes: space, time, and identity; the last is a collaborative work in which a composer plays an active interpretative role, in this case Morton Feldman, whose composition was inspired by Beckett's Proust.