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Seeing Things: literature and the visual

Peter Vernon

Loose Signatures: Samuel Beckett and the Livre D'artiste

Derval Tubridy

Texte intégral

1Throughout his writing Samuel Beckett demonstrated a great affinity with the visual image and a perceptive understanding of the nature of the visual arts. Whether he was working with close friends such as Avigdor Arikha, renowned artists such as Jasper Johns, or giving permission to little known art-students such as Delias Henke, Beckett’s texts collaborate with the vibrant and diverse imagery of these artists to produce limited-edition works of great power. This paper explores the relationship between Beckett’s writing and the visual image in the livre d'artiste, looking in particular at Beckett’s work with Jasper Johns in the making of Foirades/Fizzles.

2Taking Derrida’s notion of elliptical change as a starting point for a reading of Foirades/Fizzles, this paper looks at the processes of appropriation and repetition through which the texts and the images in the livre d'artiste are formed. I would like to explore how the circularity of Beckett’s texts is refigured in Johns' etchings. In both word and image, detail and overview are juxtaposed in a variety of combinations which invites a reading of one in the light of the other. Through an examination of the sources of the images in the engravings and in the prose and an analysis of the process of translation of both word and image, I would like to see whether Foirades/Fizzles challenges the status of authorship and reorientates our notions of space and time.

  • 1 Johns worked on the etchings at the Atelier Crommelynck in Paris during 1975, producing anything u (...)
  • 2 Minuit: revue bimestrielle, ed. Jérôme Lindon; "Foirade" ["Il est tête nue,..."], no. 1, Nov. 1972 (...)
  • 3 In the second fizzle of the Petersburg edition, "He Is barehead", Beckett makes reference to Milto (...)
  • 4 Mark Rosenthal notes that Jasper Johns was approached by Vera Lindsay shortly after he finished a (...)

3Foirades/Fizzles is a book containing five texts by Beckett and thirty-three etchings by Johns. It was edited by Vera Lindsay and published by Petersburg Press in 1976.1 The book is distinctive in that each of its constituent parts refers to earlier works by both artist and author. Beckett’s five texts had been originally written in French during the 1960’s and had already been published in the periodical Minuit in 1972 and 19732. Beckett translated these texts into English in 1974 for the book since Johns declined to work with previously published work. Both the English and French texts were published in Foirades/Fizzles, the latter preceding the former. In these short prose pieces Beckett draws on themes and motifs from his earlier work such as from an Abandoned Work, How it is, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable and Texts for Nothing, and from the works of writers such as Dante and Milton3. Johns chose to work with imagery from his painting Untitled of 1972 saying this is what I should do for Beckett because I won’t ever have anything that will be more appropriate’.4

4Johns also included imagery from his earlier series of numbers which he developed in different media between the years 1955 to 1963, imagery which provides the basis for the numerals which introduce each fizzle. Johns' transposition of images encountered on the street into an art work, and his insistence on appropriation rather than invention, can be described as a form of collage, as a process whereby disparate elements from previous works are integrated to create a new form. This technique of collage:

  • 5 This passage is translated by Gregory L. Ulmer as: "to lift a certain number of elements from work (...)

consiste à prélever un certain nombre d'éléments dans des œuvres, des objets, des messages déjà existants, et à les intégrer dans une création nouvelle pour produire une totalité originale où se manifestent des ruptures des types divers (Group μ, 978,13).5

5The texts and the images of Foirades/Fizzles do not serve as illustrations or representations of each other for "they themselves can only be read within the operation of their reinscription, within the graft" (Derrida, 1981, 355). The book provides asite in which text and image:

are transformed, deform each other, contaminate each other’s content, tend at times to reject each other, or pass elliptically one into the other and become regenerated in the repetition, along the edges of an overcast seam. Each grafted text continues to radiate back towards the site of its removal, transforming that too, as it affects the new territory. (Group μ, 1978, 13).

6The words of Beckett’s texts and the images of Johns' etchings produce meaning through the interplay between both, an interplay which is exemplified by the words and images of Foirades/Fizzles. The Derridean sign is distinguished by its lack of specific referent, its reiterability, and its ability to carry with it traces of previous signification. This paper argues that these characteristics also distinguish the texts and images of Foirades/Fizzles.

7Johns' contribution to Foirades/Fizzles demonstrates such a process of removal and re-integration, whereby he takes elements from his earlier works (which were themselves formed from " preexisting " works, objects and messages), refashions them in a different medium and reorientates their sequence, scale, and relation to each other. Johns' translation of images from the medium of painting to that of etching enables the reader of Foirades/Fizzles to view these images from a variety of different positions simultaneously. As he explains:

Aspects of the painting [Untitled 1972] to which they [the etchings] refer, seem to be illustrated or pointed to. Perhaps one senses that one is looking at one thing which is about another thing. That kind of distancing is interesting to me; not so much in itself, but as one of a number of ways of perceiving. (Geelhaar, 1980,47).

8Beckett’s fizzles also point or refer to earlier texts. Themes and images from previous works are reincorporated in a new context, creating a resonance between the texts in Foirades/Fizzles and between the earlier and the later works. In Marike Finlay’s terms, Beckett "joue et déjoue la thématique et la structure de sa prose qui s'y retrouvent en miniature". (Finlay, 1981, 65-6) Finlay characterises Beckett’s writing as a sort of philosophical exercice which, in a deliberately mocking and paradoxical style, can be read as a "catalyseur critique qui, par association et par superposition des structures, permet d'aller du plus petit au plus grand, du plus grand au plus petit. Entrons dans ce cercle herméneutique" (Finlay, 1981,65-6).

  • 6 In his paper "The making of Foirades/Fizzles" Richard S. Field notes that "writing Foirades/Fizzle (...)

9The circularity of Beckett’s texts is reflected in Johns' etching, where detail and overview are juxtaposed in a variety of combinations, inviting a reading of one in the light of the other. Neither word nor image illustrates or provides an objective commentary on the other in Foirades/Fizzles. Neither preceded the other. Yet the juxtaposition of these words and images forms a work which can be read in a linear or circular manner, allowing the image to inform, and deform, the text, just as the text informs, and deforms, the image.6 It was Johns who decided on the manner in which the texts and the images would be arranged, and it is to the arrangement of these two primary elements of Foirades/Fizzles that we must look in order to understand the work itself. The order of Beckett’s texts in the Petersburg edition is by no means definitive. In Foirades/Fizzles the order is: I gave up before birth, He is barehead, Old Earth, Closed Place, Horn came always. In the Minuit edition of the same year the fizzles are placed in a different order: He is barehead, I gave up before birth, Horn came always, Old Earth, Closed Place. In the Grove Press edition of the same year the order of the five original fizzles is: He is barehead, Horn came always, I gave up before birth, Closed Place, Old Earth. The Grove Press arrangement of these fizzles is similar to that of the Calder edition For to End Yet Again and other Fizzles. However, with the addition of the other fizzles "For to end yet again", "Still", and "Afar a Bird", the complete arrangement of the Calder and Grove Press edition differs.

10Let us look for a moment at the third section of Foirades/Fizzles, entitled "Vieille terre/Old earth". It is introduced by an etching of the number three, the distinctive texture of which resembles a combination of rapid brushstrokes, a badly erased drawing and Max Ernst’s frottage technique. The French text "Vieille terre" follows, and is accompanied by a photoscreen etching of a fragment of a female torso slightly obscured by a splash of ink, under which appear the letters TORSE. A double page etching consisting of a pattern of cross hatched lines on the left and a pattern of irregular oblong shapes on the right separates the French text and the subsequent English text "Old earth". The image which accompanies the English text resembles that which accompanies the French text, but differs in two ways. There is an empty white space in the middle of the image which resembles the shape of the torso fragment of the French text etching, and the letters which appear under this white space spell TORSO.

  • 7 Johns confirms the origins of the striped motif: "I was riding in a car, going out to the Hamptons (...)
  • 8 "Johns was taking a taxi to the airport, travelling through Harlem, when he passed a small store w (...)

11Johns has quoted at length from his painting Untitled 1972 in the etchings of Foirades/Fizzles. The painting in its entirety has been transposed; large passages (the panels) and short sentences (the details of the casts) have been cited within the five fizzles contributed by Beckett. The figure three with which the third fizzle is introduced derives from the series of numbers that Johns painted, in a group and singly, between 1955 and 1963. Each numeral of Foirades/Fizzles is worked individually on to the etching plate in a system of addition and effacement that imprints the final numeral with a trace of its history. The double page etching which separates the French and the English texts of this fizzle is an enlargement or close-up of two panels from the Untitled painting. The etching which appears immediately after the French text derives from the first panel of the 1972 painting. This panel features a network of hatched lines, an image which in its turn derives from the design painted on a passing car which drove past the artist on the Long Island Expressway.7 The sections of strong direct lines juxtaposed against each other which distinguish this etching reflect the vigor of the text’s narrator who can "reach up, grasp the bough, pull [himself] up and go in". The second of the double page etchings derives from the second panel of Untitled 1972, which is a repetition of an image found in an earlier painting, Harlem Light, of 1967. This flagstone image is based on Johns' memory of a small store which was painted to look like red, black and grey stones which he saw while driving through Spanish Harlem on his way to the airport, (Crichton, 1977, 54-5).8

12Each image that Johns uses has broken with every previous context. The image of the torso which features in this third fizzle originated from the body from whom the wax casts were taken. This image was then used in the panel of casts in Untitled 1972, and was subsequently re-used or re-cited in this fizzle. As we read, moving laterally from " Vieille Terre " to " Old Earth ", we witness the image of the torso breaking away from its context within the etching and leaving behind only a trace, the shape or outline of its previous existence. The objectification of the self in "Vieille Terre"-"Vieille terre, assez menti, je l'ai vue, c'était moi, de mes yeux grifanes d'autrui"-is betrayed as successive layers of the representation of the torso, from the wax cast of the body, to the photograph of that cast, to the photo-screen print final image are peeled away to reveal an absence. The narrator’s "other’s ravening eyes" become our eyes as we gaze on the body in Johns' etching. But just as the gaze of the narrator is refused by the "Old Earth": "Not long now, how I gaze on you, and what refusal, how you refuse me, you so refused...", so also, our gaze is rejected by the image of the torso which, in the English version, absents itself from the etching; and "another body" of the closing sentence of Beckett’s fizzle becomes the nobody of Johns' etching.

  • 9 "I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on and she agreed, without opening her e (...)
  • 10 See also Comment c'est, (Paris: Editions du Minuit, 1961), p. 35; "La tête haute nous regardons j' (...)

13It is not only Johns' images which are appropriated from previous work and reintegrated into new contexts where they effect and endure a change of signification. Reincorporation is also a feature of the larger structure of Beckett’s œuvre as characters, locales, actions and themes from earlier works reappear with regularity in later work such as these fizzles. The oppositional "I" "You" dynamic with which the fizzle opens reenacts the subject-object tension of The Unnamable and then alludes to the rejection of the first person in Not I. This dynamic gives way to a loose nostalgia in which the narrator remembers "faces, agonies, loves". These are remembrances which have surfaced already in the hopeless love of Krapps Last Tape.9 They echo again in How it is; "heads high we gaze I imagine we have our eyes open and gaze before us (Beckett, 1977, 32),10 and in Texts for Nothing XI where the themes of the third fizzle are prefigured:

  • 11 Texts for Nothing XI in Beckett, 1967, 125. See also Nouvelles et textes pour rien (Paris: Edition (...)

Evening, evenings, what evenings they were then, made of what, and when was that, I don’t know, made of friendly shadows, friendly skies, of time cloyed, resting from devouring, until its midnight meats, I don’t know, any more than then, when I used to say, from within, or from without, from the coming night or from under the ground.11

  • 12 Embers in Beckett, 1986, 262. See also Cendres in Beckett, 1990, 65, "Il était assis sur une pierr (...)
  • 13 From an Abandoned Work in Beckett, 1967, 142. See also D'un ouvrage abandonné in Beckett, 1967, 16 (...)
  • 14 Samuel Beckett, "Texts for Nothing" I, in Beckett, 1975, 74. See also Beckett, 1961, 121, "C'était (...)

14The image of the narrator’s solitary gaze recalls Ada’s image of Henry’s father "sitting on a rock looking out to sea" in Embers,12 and the narrator and his father in From an Abandoned Work "resting against a huge rock looking out to sea".13 The "childhood sea" of the third fizzle also recalls the first Text for Nothing in which the tale of the sea was specifically "a tale for children".14 The repetition of phrases and images from previous works is reinforced by the repetition of individual words within the French and English texts. The word " you " and the elaboration of the words "refusal", "refused", as well as "refus", "refuse", "refusée", builds up a linguistic tension within the prose creating a sense of anxiety which undercuts the nostalgia of memory.

15These quotations and repetitions introduce a principle of disorder into the text of the third fizzle which causes it to reverberate with the echo of other voices. The strongest voice is that of Dante Alighieri who speaks without introduction, but only within the French text "Vieille terre". Here Beckett grafts a quotation from Dante’s La Divina Commedia into the French text:

Je rentre à la nuit, ils s'envolent, ils lâchent mon petit chêne et s'en vont, gavés, dans les ombres. Tristi fummo ne l'aere dolce. Je rentre, lève le bras, saisis la branche, me mets debout et rentre dans la maison.

16This quotation comes from volume one of La Divina Commedia, Inferno; canto vii, line 121-122: "Fitti nel limo, dicon: 'Tristi fummo ne l'aere dolce che dal sol s'allegra'". In this canto we meet the fourth class of the incontinent, whose sin is that of uncontrolled temper. These sinners are divided into two groups. Those on the surface attack each other relentlessly "smiting each other not only with the hand but with the head and breast and feet and tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth" (Dante, 1971, 105). The second group of sinners have been overcome with sullen resentment. They are sunk deep in the marsh of the Styx (one of the river of the classical underworld), the mire filling their mouths as they say:

We were sullen in the sweet air that is gladdened by the sun, bearing in our hearts a sluggish smoke; now we are sullen in the black mire (Dante, 1971, 105).

17It is the first phrase of this hymn "We were sullen in the sweet air" that Beckett transposes from Dante’s seventh canto to the third fizzle. This citation reinforces the protagonist’s nostalgia for the "moments d'une vie", the "visages, agonies, les différents amours, bohneurs" which he remembers as he gazes at "les différents ceils".

18However, in the English version of this fizzle Beckett omits the quotation from Dante, moving from the sentence: "I come home at nightfall, they take to wing, rise from my little oaktree and whirr away, glutted, into the shadows", straight through to: "I reach up, grasp the bough, pull myself up and go in". The omission that Beckett effects between the French and English versions of this fizzle is replicated by Johns' omission of the torso fragment in the etching which faces the English text. It is interesting that in both text and image, the element which has been omitted distinguishes itself from its surrounds. Beckett’s citation in Italian differs from the language of the main text which is French. Johns' element, the image of the torso, differs by means of reproduction from the rest of his etching. To produce this image of a torso, Johns requested a photoscreen stencil to be made from a photograph of the wax cast of the torso affixed to the last panel of his painting Untitled 1972. Johns transferred the image of the photograph on to the copper plate by passing a sugar-lift solution through the mesh of the screen. The plate was then etched in a normal fashion. This mechanical means of reproduction differs from the lift-ground aquatint technique with which the rest of the image of the etching was created, a technique which entails that the artist works directly onto the copper plate. Johns transfer of image from one context to another is especially powerful with regard to this torso image, where the artist has chosen to use mechanical means to " select and transfer a fragment of the visual continuum into a new frame " thus removing as far as possible the direct involvement of the artist in the transfer of the image (Ulmer, 1983, 85). Johns' method of transfer parallels Beckett’s transfer of the Italian phrase from Dante’s Inferno into the new frame of his French fizzle, without translation, introduction or even quotation marks. Each of these inseminations (of image by Johns and of text by Beckett) is a form of collage in which the cited element disrupts the integrity of the discourse leading necessarily to a double reading:

  • 15 This passage is translated by Gregory L. Ulmer as: "Each cited element breaks the continuity or th (...)

Chaque élément citatif brise la continuité ou la linéarité du discours et convie nécessairement à une double lecture: celle du fragment perçu par rapport à son texte d'origine, celle du même fragment comme s'incorporant à un nouvel ensemble, à une totalité différente. La ruse du collage consiste aussi à ne jamais entièrement supprimer l'altérité des éléments réunis dans une composition momentanée (Groupe μ, 1978, 34).15

19The power of Foirades/Fizzles lies in its ability to interweave heterogeneous elements which, by conjunction and contiguity, produce a signification which draws on, but does not subsume, the alterity of the individual element. Through a process of citation and repetition Foirades/Fizzles generates meaning as process rather than product, and shows how:

Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written (in the usual sense of this opposition), as a small or large unity, can be cited, put between quotation marks; thereby it can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts [...] (Derrida, 1982, 320).

20As we have seen above, the most striking difference between these two texts is the inclusion (in the French) and omission (in the English) of Dante’s quotation from La Divina Commedia. A more fundamental difference, however, is the change in the form of the narrator’s address to the old earth. In the French text the earth is addressed in the third person: "Vieille terre, assez menti, je l’ai vue". In the English text she is addressed in the second person: "Old earth, no more lies, I’ve seen you". The gender attribution which characterizes the French language enables Beckett to play on the ambiguity of "je l’ai vue" being read as "I saw it" or "I saw her". English allows no such ambiguities, and rather than choose between "it" or "her" as the narrator’ interlocutor, Beckett reorientates the form of address to that of the second person. This reorientation changes the dynamic of the address. No longer do we have a triangular relationship between the "I" of the narrator, the "she/it" of the earth, and the implicit "you" of the reader that is present in the French text. In translation, the third fizzle dispenses with the third person, creating an intimate form of address which engages the reader on a more immediate level.

21This direct form of address, "I’ve seen you", immediately implicates the reader as the other of the narrator’s address even as an other is introduced: "it was me, with my other’s ravening eyes". The nostalgia evoked by the line "Bonheurs, quels bonheurs, mais quelles morts, quelles amours", assumes a particular resonance with the possible personification of old earth as she: "Elle va être sur moi, ce sera moi, ce sera elle", a nostalgia which is heightened by the distanciation created through the repetition of "c’est trop tard", "mais trop tard" and "c’était trop tard". The immediacy created by the characterization of old earth as "you" diminishes the sense of nostalgia possible in the English text. The third person plural of "loves, the different loves" to which the narrator refers is farther from the second person singular of "how you refuse me, you so refused" than it is from the third person singular of "comme elle me refuse, la tant refusée". On the level of image, as on the level of text, the "elle" both refuses and is refused, for the image of the female torso prominent next to the French text is absent next to the English text. Just as Beckett dispenses with the third person, "elle" when he translates the French foirade into the English fizzle, so Johns dispenses with his representation of that "elle", replacing it with a blank space which the body of the reader must fill.

  • 16 In her paper "Foirades/Fizzles/Beckett/Johns", Contemporary Literature 1980, vol. 9, pp. 480-510, (...)

22Johns' fragmented image of the female torso was formed through a series of temporal and material layers. The skin of the model’s body impresses itself on the layer of wax which forms the cast of Untitled 1972. This cast imprints itself on the photograph film which is used to engrave the sheet of metal, which is, in turn, impressed on the sheet of paper from which we view the image. The casting off of layers of the body, or more particularly, of the skin in the development of Johns' image finds an echo in Beckett’s image of the cockchafer which sheds its skin periodically; and which, like Johns' image, has a protracted gestation period16. The regulated transformation of one language by another that is at work in Beckett’s writing is enacted by Johns as he translates the images and patterns of Untitled 1972 into the etchings of Foirades/Fizzles in order, as he says, to "observe the play between the two: the images and the medium. In a sense one does the same thing two ways and can observe differences and samenesses-the stress the image takes in different media" (Geelhaar, 1980, 39). Johns works and reworks the image of each etching, pulling on occasion as many as eleven or twelve trial proofs from the same plate, working in such a way "that the image and technique come as one thought, or possibly one might say there is no thought. One works without thinking how to work" (Geelhaar, 1980, 38). Johns' technique is not merely an instrument to convey a reality which exists independent of and prior to that technique, but is directly linked to the signification of the work itself. So also Beckett’s writing seeks to question the way in which language, and literature, works.

23So what are we to make of the way in which both Beckett and Johns appropriate and transform aspects of their own work, and the work of others, in the composition of Foirades/Fizzlesl The varieties of recontextualisation remarkable in Samuel Beckett’s and Jasper Johns' Foirades/Fizzles can perhaps be better understood through Derrida’s notion of repetition which provides us with a prominent way in which we can understand how writer and artist constantly return to the same focus within a different context. In Speech and Phenomena Derrida argues that:

There is probably no choice to be made between two lines of thought; our task is rather to reflect on the circularity which makes one pass into the other indefinitely. And, by strictly repeating this circle in its own historical possibility, we allow the production of some elliptical change of site, within the difference involved in repetition. (Derrida, 1973, 128).

24Derrida uses spatial imagery to describe the difference involved in repetition and this image, with its emphasis on never treading the same ground twice, its almost Heraclitean focus on the impossibility of stepping in the same river twice, is particularly relevant for Beckett’s work in which the same ground can be trod anew, without recognition, and without progress. In Beckett’s late prose, his figures become more and more indistinguishable, and his places more and more the same. Yet each of them are ghosted by the trace of previous text, both within Beckett’s own work, and the greater corpus of Western literature.


Work cited

Beckett, Samuel, 1961. Comment c'est. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—, 1967. No’s Knife. London: Calder and Boyers.

—, 1967. Têtes Mortes. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—, 1972-1973. “Foirades " Minuit: revue bimestrielle, ed. Jérôme Lindon.

—, 1975. No’s Knife. London: Calder and Boyers.

—, 1976. Foirades/Fizzles. London: Petersberg Press.

—, 1977. How it is. London: John Calder.

—, 1986. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber.

—, 1990. La Dernière Bande suivi de Cendres. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—, 1991. Nouvelles et Texte pour rien. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Crichton, Michael, 1977. Jasper Johns. London: Thames and Hudson.

Dante, Alighieri, 1971. The Divine Comedy, vol. I, Inferno (trans. John D. Sinclair). London: Oxford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques, 1973. Speech and Phenomena (trans. David B. Allison). Evanston: North Western University Press.

—, 1981. Dissemination (trans. Barbara Johnson). London: Athlone.

—, 1982. Margins of Philosophy (trans. Alan Bass). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Field, Richard S, 1987. Foirades/Fizzles: Echo and Allusion in the Art of Jasper Johns. California: The Grunwald Centre for the Graphic Arts.

Finlay, Marike, 1981. "Foirades" de Beckett: métonymie à la lettre métaphore à l'oeuvre, embrayage du discourse dualiste" in Ecrivains de la modernité. Ed. Brian T. Fitch. Paris: Minard.

Geelhaar, Christian, 1980 Jasper Johns: Working Proofs. London: Petersburg Press.

Group μ, 1978. "Douze bribes pour décoller en 40, 000 signes", Revue d'esthétique: Collages n ° 3/4. Paris: Union Générale.

Prinz, Jessica, 1980. "Foirades/Fizzles/Beckett/Johns" in Contemporary Literature vol. 9.

Rosenthal, Mark, 1988. Jasper Johns: Works since 1974. London: Thames and Hudson.

Ulmer, Gregory, 1983. " The Object of Post-Cristicism," in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. Hal Foster. Washington: Bay Press.


1 Johns worked on the etchings at the Atelier Crommelynck in Paris during 1975, producing anything up to seventeen trial proofs for each image and using a variety of intaglio techniques such as etching, dry-point, engraving, aquatint, photo-engraving, soft ground and sugar lift. The etchings and the text were printed on paper handmade by Richard de Bas in the Auvergne and watermarked with the initials of Samuel Beckett and the signature of Jasper Johns. The type was set in Caslon Old Face size sixteen point, and hand printed by Fequet and Boudier in Paris. The book, which measures 333 millimetres by 251 (height before width), was bound by Rudolph Rieser in Cologne using handmade paper. It was boxed in linen with an internal lining of colour lithographs by Jasper Johns. The print run comprised two hundred and fifty copies numbered 1-250, thirty artist’s proofs numbered i-xxx, and twenty copies hors-de-commerce. All were signed by the artist and author. See the colophon on the last page of Foirades/Fizzles and the prospectus for Foirades/Fizzles.

2 Minuit: revue bimestrielle, ed. Jérôme Lindon; "Foirade" ["Il est tête nue,..."], no. 1, Nov. 1972, pp. 22-6; "Foirade I" ["J'ai renoncé avant de naître..."], no. 2, January 1973, pp. 40-41; "Foirade III" ("Horn venait la nuit."], no. 2, January 1973, pp. 41-2; "Foirade IV" ["Vieille terre,..."], no. 4, May 1973, p. 71, "Foirade V" ["Endroit clos."] no 4 May 1973, pp. 71-2.

3 In the second fizzle of the Petersburg edition, "He Is barehead", Beckett makes reference to Milton’s Samson Agonistes. The first lines of this poem: "A little onward lend thy guiding hand/to these dark steps, a little further on" are recalled in the second fizzle: "... a little further on he turns right again. And see how now again, yet a little further on."

4 Mark Rosenthal notes that Jasper Johns was approached by Vera Lindsay shortly after he finished a period of work at the Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in Long Island where the proprietor Tatyana Grosman had commented that some of his images reminded her of the writings of Samuel Beckett (Rosenthal, 1988, 30).

5 This passage is translated by Gregory L. Ulmer as: "to lift a certain number of elements from work, objects preexisting messages, and to integrate them in a new creation in order to produce an original totality manifesting ruptures of diverse sorts" in his paper "The Object of Post-Criticism" in the Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster, (Washington: Bay Press, 1983), pp. 83-110, p. 84.

6 In his paper "The making of Foirades/Fizzles" Richard S. Field notes that "writing Foirades/Fizzles plunges one into the difficulties of beginnings and endings. [...] a sense of linear sequence in both suggested and denied. At any point in the book one enters a continuum..." (Field, 1987, 117).

7 Johns confirms the origins of the striped motif: "I was riding in a car, going out to the Hamptons for the weekend, when a car came in the opposite direction. It was covered with these marks, but I only saw it for a moment—then it was gone-just a brief glimpse. But I immediately thought that I would use it for my next painting", in Crichton, 1977, 59).

8 "Johns was taking a taxi to the airport, travelling through Harlem, when he passed a small store which had a wall painted to resemble flagstones. He decided it would appear in his next painting ". When Johns began the painting he tried to find the same wall in order to photograph it was unable. He therefore had to recreate rather than appropriate the image; an obligation which distressed Johns since, as he point out, "what's interesting to me is the fact that it [the image] isn't designed, but taken. It's not mine." (Chrichton, 1977, 55).

9 "I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on and she agreed, without opening her eyes. [Pause] I asked her to look at me and after a few moments-[Pause]...." Krapp's Last tape in Beckett, (1986, 223). See also La dernière bande in Beckett, 1990, 31: " J'ai dit encore que ça me semblait sans espoir et pas la peine de continuer et elle a fait oui sans ouvrir les yeux. [Pause.] Je lui ai demandé de me regarder et après quelques instants [Pause.]..."

10 See also Comment c'est, (Paris: Editions du Minuit, 1961), p. 35; "La tête haute nous regardons j'imagine nous avons j'imagine les yeux ouverts et regardons droit devant nous..."

11 Texts for Nothing XI in Beckett, 1967, 125. See also Nouvelles et textes pour rien (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1991), 193, "Soirs, soirs, quels soirs alors, faits de quoi, et quand cela, Je ne sais pas, d'ombre amie, de ciels amis, d'un temps repu, d'un temps de trêve, avant la medianoche, je ne sais pas, pas plus qu'alors, que lorsque je me disais, d'en dedans, ou d'en dehors, de la nuit qui venait ou do sous la terre...".

12 Embers in Beckett, 1986, 262. See also Cendres in Beckett, 1990, 65, "Il était assis sur une pierre et regardait vers la mer".

13 From an Abandoned Work in Beckett, 1967, 142. See also D'un ouvrage abandonné in Beckett, 1967, 16, "... adossés à un énorme rocher face à la mer lointaine..."

14 Samuel Beckett, "Texts for Nothing" I, in Beckett, 1975, 74. See also Beckett, 1961, 121, "C'était un conte, un conte pour enfants,..."

15 This passage is translated by Gregory L. Ulmer as: "Each cited element breaks the continuity or the linearity of the discourse and leads necessarily to a double reading: that of the fragment perceived In relation to its text of origin; that of the same fragment as incorporated into a new whole, a different totality. The trick of collage consists also of never entirely suppressing the alterity of these elements reunited in a temporary composition." (Ulmer, 1983, 88).

16 In her paper "Foirades/Fizzles/Beckett/Johns", Contemporary Literature 1980, vol. 9, pp. 480-510, Jessica Prinz bases her reading of the third fizzle "Old earth" on an understanding of the cockchafer as a bird. This reading engenders some confusion, a confusion which Prinz attributes to Beckett: "The animal imagery merely contributes to the confusion surrounding the character himself, and Beckett’s prose style is designed to increase rather than decrease the reader's confusion" p. 485. It is true that both cockchafers and birds fly, but here the similarity ends. The cockchafer is a beetle which belongs to the family Melolonthinae. In the spring they fly in large numbers at dusk, mating and feeding on foliage. They return to the soil at first light. Prinz's criticism of Beckett’s prose is founded on the misreading of the cockchafer as bird: "The shifting pronouns and shifting verb tense, the linguistic and logical gaps ("next year there won’t be any [?]),... all obfuscate rather than clarify" p. 485-6. Beckett’s sentence" It’s a cockchafer year, next year there won’t be any, nor the year after, gaze your fill." refers to the particular life cycle of the cockchafer who after mating lay their eggs deep in the soil. The larvae and the immature beetles spend several years underground devouring roots before emerging to recommence the brief cycle of feeding and mating "always at nightfall".


Lecturer in the Department of English, Goldsmiths College London. Her research interests are Twentieth-Century Literature, Theory, and the Visual Arts. She has recently published a monograph on Thomas Kinsella.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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