March 31st, 2011 / 3:02 pm
Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & I Like __ A Lot & Massive People & Random

For the shit genre!

Opening my notebook the morning after a night of woozy ambien scribbling is like opening a present: you never know what’s inside. Today there was a note that said, “Beckett—101-2. Shit genre.”

Here is the passage I noted. It’s from Samuel Beckett’s first play Eleuthéria, which was disowned by the Beckett Estate.

Dr. Piouk: What does he do?
Mme. Meck: (With pride) He is a man of letters.
Dr. Piouk: You don’t say! (Enter M. Krap. He reaches his armchair and cautiously sits down)
M. Krap: You were saying nice things about me, I feel it.
Mme. Meck: There isn’t anything the matter with her?
M. Krap: She is unharmed.
Mme. Meck: She is coming?
M. Krap: She’s getting ready for that.
Mme. Piouk: There was a time when you were unaffected.
M. Krap: At the cost of what artifice!
Dr. Piouk: You are a writer, Monsieur?
M. Krap: What gives you leave to–
Dr. Piouk: It can be felt in the way you express yourself.
Mme. Piouk: Where has she been?
Mme. Meck: She is going to tell us.
M. Krap: I will be frank with you. I was a writer.
Mme. Meck: He is a member of the Institute!
M. Krap: What did I tell you.
Dr. Piouk: What genre?
M. Krap: I don’t follow you.
Dr. Piouk: I speak of your writings. Your preferences were for what genre?
M. Krap: For the shit genre.
Mme. Piouk: Really.
Dr. Piouk: Poetry or prose?
M. Krap: One day the former, another day the latter.
Dr. Piouk: And you now deem your body of work to be complete?
M. Krap: The lord has flushed me out.
Dr. Piouk: A small book of memoirs does not tempt you?
M. Krap: That would spoil the death throes.
Mme. Meck: Admit that this is a bizarre way to treat guests.
Mlle. Skunk: Extremely odd.

The shit genre. I love that. I’m stealing that. Whenever someone asks me what genre I prefer I will tell them, “The shit genre, of course.” You’ve never heard of it? You must not know much about literature. (Like Beckett’s characters, I sometimes fantasize about getting sassy with “legitimate” types….)

The text was deemed by Beckett himself to be an “irrémédiablement raté” (an unredeemable failure) and supposedly has never been performed (officially). I think Beckett should have owned up to this “failure” instead of refusing to ever permit publication or performance of the piece. It’s funny to think that Beckett was launching his career as a playwright with a play featuring characters named Skunk, Krap and Piouk (homonymous with crap and puke)—a play about failure and self-annihilation, a play with puns about vomit and feces, full of disdain for bourgeois politeness. After all that, he’s too embarrassed to put it out there?! What about the shit genre! What about letting the shit stink and letting the great odoriferous dimensions of your dump offend and appall and fill those that cling to good taste with disgust?

An article on Eleuthéria says, that the character Henri Krap “is a cynical, sharp-witted, lecherous, aged writer, sharing the same intestinal problem with the later eponymous Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape.” A failed writer with intestinal problems who primarily works in the shit genre—Krap(p) was my adolescent anti-hero. When I was in high school I saw a production of Krapp’s Last Tape twice—I love it that much. The director of the production—a young, absurdist playwright himself—sent me a message on myspace saying he saw me in the audience and that I was his “Yoko Ono” (because I’m Asian?). The outro of the Krapp production was a Philip Glass song. That was a smart choice. It set the mood.

When I was a lonely teenager, I felt RELEASED by Beckett’s words. I would recite lines from his writings to comfort myself while working as a cashier at the grocery store Kash N Karry. I wanted a Beckett tattoo. I wrote a hypothetical letter to him as my admissions essay to Sarah Lawrence. I could talk ENDLESSLY about him—about my adolescent obsession with him, the “humanity” of his writing despite his pessimistic worldview, my thoughts on Cixous’s new book on Beckett, Nothingness, and so forth. I won’t bore you. For now I was wondering, are you for the shit genre or what?

When I was growing up, my father put dog shit in his mouth on several occasions to prove a point. He would say, “Why are you Americans so afraid of poo!” And I would yell, “Dad! Stop it! That’s gross!” For him, the western social construction of disgust and hygiene was a very curious thing. He was hell-bent on demystifying bad odors, feces, bodily fluids…even death and rotting bodies. He didn’t understand why I giggled when he farted while wearing swimming trunks around the house because passing gas was just that natural for him. (Kristeva and her theories of abjection have nothing on this old Chinese man.) He would also smash mosquitoes between his hands—getting all giddy if he caught one full of blood—and would hold the squished bug to my face and say, “Look at it!” I would again have to retort, “Dad! Cut it out!”

Perhaps it was my father’s early compulsory desensitization rituals that left me with a high tolerance for grossness…? Whatever it is—like my father I feel compelled to say, “Look at the shit! WHAT ARE YOU SO AFRAID OF?”

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  1. Ken Baumann

      First tag of: father likes shit — favorite tag ever.

      Enjoyed this! Thank you.

  2. lorian

      oh my gah loved this. my dad made family home videos of his poo. he <3s beckett, too.

  3. deadgod

      The money seeping its way out through stock portfolios, more intricate than any genealogy: what stayed at home in Berkshire went into timberland whose diminishing green reaches were converted acres at a clip into paper–toilet paper, banknote stock, newsprint–a medium or ground for shit, money, and the Word. […] Shit, money, and the Word, the three American truths, powering the American mobility, claimed the Slothrops, clasped them for good to the country’s fate.

      Gravity’s Rainbow

  4. dole

      I support this.

  5. dole

      I support this.

  6. dole

      I also support posting pictures of Beckett whenever possible. His face makes me feel good.

  7. John Oakes

      According to Barney Rosset, Beckett’s American publisher, Beckett offered both Eleuthéria and Waiting for Godot to Roger Blin, who chose the latter in part because it was easier to stage. And the issue of Beckett’s refusing publication is not so clear…but for more on that, read the English translation of the play put out by Rosset’s Foxrock Books some years ago.

  8. Giles Ruffer