Tuesday, 16 February 2010
The privilege of learning about literature
I have a longing to go back to university and start from where I left off. It's been creeping up and gnawing at me for the past year now, and it's made me realise how relaxing it was to sit among friends in the courtyards, enjoying the sunshine and some literary greats. Fun, fun, fun.
Those glorious university days ended in 1997 and I remember the last day sitting around sobbing like a loon, wondering if the future world of work and all manner of things grown-up would ever live up to it (I later learned it didn't even come close!) Now 12 years on, I've decided I want to once again become a student at some stage in the future. Nothing comes close to the enjoyment and personal satisfaction of academic research. And I remember so well being immersed in dissertation heaven. Mine was based on Samuel Beckett, one of the great Irish avant-garde writers of the twentieth century. And in true Gillian fashion (making stuff over-complicated!) I tried to dig myself deeper and deeper into a dissertation hole by linking his work to Freud. (It was successful though!)
He was one literary great I was truly fascinated with. Born in 1906 in Dublin he was raised as part of a Protestant middle-class family. Later in life he claimed to have memories of being in his mother's womb. Beckett studied for his degree at Trinity College, Dublin, and during a stint in Paris, he was introduced to James Joyce, who by this time was widely known as the author of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Beckett soon became very much part of Joyce's life, joining his inner circle. For a short time, Beckett taught languages, but the appeal didn't last. His pupils at Campbell College, Belfast, were deemed 'rich and thick.'
One fascinating work of Beckett's is Waiting for Godot, which first appeared at Théâtre de Babylone in Paris in 1953. Act I begins on a country road with Estragon, an old man, trying to remove his boot. Vladimir, another old man, joins him. They begin to chat and while they wait on Godot, they engage in conversation. Two more men, Pozzo and Lucky, arrive, then a boy comes on the scene indicating that Godot will not be there today. (I can tell you're confused!)
When I had the opportunity to see several of Beckett's works dramatised, it was definitely one of the most bizarre theatrical experiences ever. Cue a darkened room filled with about 20 people, and heads appearing in boxes. It was all very accomplished, and for the Beckett devotee, perfectly sane.
If it hadn't been for my time at university, I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to get to know literary greats like Beckett and Joyce, which has made me appreciate the value of education. Malcolm X said education is our passport to the future. And education in the arts and humanities is no less important than science or technology.
Photo: James Joyce, Dublin.