Thursday, July 13, 2006


This is an extract from the presentation speech given on the occasion of the awarding of Nobel Prize to Samuel Beckett, whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year. (Full speech here.)

Part of the essence of Beckett's outlook is to be found here - in the difference between an easily-acquired pessimism that rests content with untroubled scepticism, and a pessimism that is dearly bought and which penetrates to mankind's utter destitution. The former commences and concludes with the concept that nothing is really of any value, the latter is based on exactly the opposite outlook. For what is worthless cannot be degraded. The perception of human degradation - which we have witnessed, perhaps, to a greater extent than any previous generation - is not possible if human values are denied. But the experience becomes all the more painful as the recognition of human dignity deepens. This is the source of inner cleansing, the life force nevertheless, in Beckett's pessimism. It houses a love of mankind that grows in understanding as it plumbs further into the depths of abhorrence, a despair that has to reach the utmost bounds of suffering to discover that compassion has no bounds. From that position, in the realms of annihilation, rises the writing of Samuel Beckett like a miserere from all mankind, its muffled minor key sounding liberation to the oppressed, and comfort to those in need.
There is also a nice defence of Shopenhauer, Pascal, Jonathan Swift and other gurus of gloom...
Mankind has drawn more strength from Schopenhauer's bitter well than from Schelling's beatific springs, has been more blessed by Pascal's agonized doubt than by Leibniz's blind rational trust in the best of all possible worlds has reaped - in the field of Irish literature, which has also fed Beckett's writing - a much leaner harvest from the whitewashed clerical pastoral of Oliver Goldsmith than from Dean Swift's vehement denigration of all humankind.

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