Nietzsche reflected on the abyss that exists between individuals and wrote that in order for friendship to exist, friends must learn “how to keep silent”. In Beckett’s Friendship: 1979-1989 André Bernold explores the affirmative silence inherent in the work and person of Beckett with whom he was linked in friendship over the last decade of Beckett’s life. Derrida wrote that “friendship does not keep silence, it is kept by silence.”
To Bernold, silence is a defining feature of his friendship with Beckett, a silence broken with brief, staccato conversations as much about overcoats and cigars as about literature. Bernold is consistent with other reminisces of Beckett in noting his generosity and attentiveness but what is moving in this book is the carefully noted accounts of Beckett’s rituals, his handwriting and his preoccupation, for one so taciturn, with voice. The observations are sensitive and avoid drifting into the creepy territory inherent with this sort of memoir.
There are unique moments captured which bring nothing but joy like Beckett’s eagerness to hear about the qualities of voice of Bernold’s professors Delueze and Derrida, and the comment that: “According to Milton, I reminded him, angels do not laugh, they only smile. ‘So what,’ he replied while laughing, ‘they are laughing behind our backs.'”
I was a Beckett nut by the time I was twenty and though I visited Paris often towards the end of Beckett’s life never bumped into him as I hoped. Bernold’s story of the two friends coming together in a dark café in Paris brought together by mutations of thought and silence gains its power from imagining myself into that banquette seat across the table from that famous physiognomy.
What does James Knowlson say about friendship in his biography of Beckett?
The deep, affectionate friendship between Knowlson and Beckett was more unexpected given their vastly different personalities, but Bernold says nothing that isn’t congruent with Knowlson’s account.
This is a must read for me. I will have to special order it and, considering the damage I’ve done with recent purchases breaking my resolve not to buy anything new until I read a few languishing titles, I will try to wait a little while. Sounds excellent though.
It won’t disappoint you. I’ve been aware of its existence from Parisian Beckett nuts for ages so delighted it made its way through translation and publication. If this is your sort of thing you’ll also want to read How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett by Anne Atik.
Hello, this is the translator. Many thanks for this thoughtful piece, Anthony.
You can order the book directly from the publisher Lilliput (they are usually prompt):