Wednesday, December 24, 2008

more Beckett

Some time ago I wrote about Grove Press's sumptuous four-volume collected Beckett, the "Grove Centenary Edition" released two years ago to coincide with SB's 100th birthday. I've been enjoying it, savoring it, for almost two years now – and I've almost read my way thru every last page.

Of course, the Centenary Edition wasn't all that Grove did to celebrate their author's 100th birthday. Mr UPS brought this around the other day: Beckett's most famous play, Waiting for Godot, in a handsome, unjacketed hardcover whose dimensions are uniform with those of the GCE and whose design is close enough (without being identical) to make it clear that this volume is also part of the centenary celebrations. Best of all, this is a bilingual edition, with the original French text on the left page & Beckett's English translation on the right; no more flipping from one's English text to one's tattered old Minuit paperback.

The cynic in me, I fear, smells marketing here. Why only Godot? Why not Godot and Endgame, Beckett's other dramatic masterpiece originally written in French? (And for that matter, since Beckett's English-t0-French translations are as much creative acts as his French-to-English efforts, why not throw in Happy Days and Krapp's Last Tape?) There's certainly space here: the 2006 Grove bilingual Waiting for / En attendant Godot clocks in at 357 pages; that in comparison to only 509 pages in the complete Dramatic Works of the GCE.

I guess it's a matter, in terms of typography, of feast or famine. In the GCE, Waiting for Godot occupies only 87 pages, but they're rather packed pages: fairly narrow margins, stage directions pressed right up against speeches, speakers' names hived off into the left margin. Turning to the 2006 Godot (where the English text takes up 174 pages) is like going from the cramped Oxford World's Classics edition of the King James Bible to a big, airy presentation volume. Margins are vast; speakers' names (in all caps) rest atop speeches; stage directions have paragraphs all to themselves. Really, I can't help feeling, there's too much space. Even as I revel Ronald Johnsonianly or Susan Howeishly in the tracts of white space, I gotta suspect that Grove is stretching things out to make a substantial volume of this.

And as welcome as the bilingual edition is, I'm also a trifle exasperated with what I've called (in reference to the GCE) the "'black box' nature of the textual editing." The 2006 Godot has a teasing introduction by Beckett scholar & textual editor S. E. Gontarski that makes much of the text of this new issue, without ever really showing what's been changed. Gontarski goes over the play's textual history from the first Grove edition of 1954; he spends a good deal of time excoriating Faber & Faber for publishing a "mutilated" version of the play in 1956, and reprinting that text (censored at the behest of the Lord Chamberlain) in 1986, even tho they had access to a 1965 Grove edition that Beckett considered "definitive"; & he draws attention to 2 further revised versions of 1975 and 1955. 

In the 2006 Godot, Gontarski, gloats somewhat anticlimactically, "Grove Press has not only reunited the long separated fraternal twins, the English and French Godot, but has brought British and American texts closer to harmony." Er –– meaning what precisely? Show me the textual notes, guys. You've got over 350 pages to play with here; 15 or 20 pages of texual notes and variants at the end would have been far more welcome than a lot of that beautiful white space in which Didi & Gogo's back-&-forthings echo like Laurel & Hardy in the Sahara. No Shakespeare editor could get away with this.

1 comment:

mjwal said...

Years ago I picked up here in Germany the Suhrkamp Beckett Dramatische Dichtungen in drei Sprachen - remaindered. (The German versions were done by Elmar Tophoven in close conference with B.) It includes everything from Godot to Com├ędie. Try it from Amazon.de. It's offered at E 10.00.