Thursday, April 20, 2006

Postcard to the Homeland

«What goes by the name of love is banishment, with now and then a postcard from the homeland, such is my considered opinion, this evening.»

Samuel Beckett, First Love.


When Beckett wrote Premier Amour in 1946 (later translated into English as First Love in 1972) ten years had already elapsed since he had left Ireland. In 1946, he decided to leave the English language and to go towards the «langue sans style» that is French. Beckett had already written in French before, but he had now had his «vision», he now knew that his art was to be one of impoverishment or «appauvrissement» ; hence the switch to French and it’s stylelessness. So in the year of 1946, Beckett had exiled himself from Ireland and his «borrowed» yet native English.

Love or what we call love is banishment. Banishment is love. Here the narrator seems to be saying that exile is a sort of love, a love kept alive by postcards received from the homeland. The narrator of First Love like those of the novellas 'The End' and 'The Expelled', has been thrown out, expelled, banished from home. He is living his first love whilst an exile. It is not surprising therefore that these two feelings, which are new to him, should become one, or at
the very least interchangeable. But maybe we are simplifying matters. Maybe what he means is that to love something is to be far from it, that love is only possible from a distance. And that the postcards from the homeland, or the loved one, are images sent by memory, an imagination of memory, to keep that love going. If we take banishment as meaning exile that is.

For banishment is not only a synonym of exile, it also means «being dismissed from one’s presence or mind.» Love in this case would be the state of no longer being oneself, of dismissing
oneself from one’s presence, from one’s mind. «One is no longer oneself, on such occasions…» This is what the narrator tells us a few lines before. The «occasion» in question is an erection, or the sign of passion, of irrational thought. Love then is banishment from rational thought, the homeland moments of rationality. But what if we pushed our interpretation a bit further (at the risk of going too far?) and considered the phallus as symbol of the pen, the erection as the act of writing? Then, one is no longer oneself when one writes, one dismisses oneself from one’s presence, into another, from one language to another. «Such is my considered opinion, this evening.» To consider an opinion is to be rational. After dismissing oneself from one’s presence through writing, there is the rationality of re-writing, of considering what has been written.

In one sentence, Beckett manages to sum up his feelings on his exile from Ireland, his exile from English, and his love of both. And maybe to love them both is only possible by banishing himself from them. So that the postcards from the homeland can keep arriving, now and then, and make him go on. So that he may continue writing postcards to the adestination that is the imaginary
homeland. In 1946 Beckett was only beginning to write his postcards in French, hence «What goes by the name of love is banishment, with now and then a postcard from the homeland, such is my considered opinion, this evening.» Today, with all the postcards he has written, I believe it is safe to say that «What goes by the name of exile is love, with now and then a postcard sent to the homeland, such is my considered opinion, this evening.»

Anton Derridovitch. from 'Exile', Issue 1, November 2004.

12 comments:

Sachin said...

How I wish Anton Derridovitch were still with me to end our untimely Exile. Now we'll toss the wor(l)d and people will never say a word. Just nod with satisfaction my friend. You have not been banished because I have never dismissed your presence.

Anton said...

Thank you, dear Friend.

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