Excerpt from Samuel Beckett Is Closed

PART ONE

I.

—It’s not cricket, Sam.

I’ve spent the last three years reading only the
writings of Samuel Beckett.

Tell me a story, she says—that ’ll put me to sleep.

The detention and interrogation operation covered a
three-year period and over 24,000 interrogations.

—So we won’t be here for five days. The prospect of
nine innings gave me a fright. We’d be panting here
through August.

I exaggerate a little: I have read newspapers and
the books of friends and a few literary journals, but
I’ve not wandered in search of other major writers
to discover or reread. I have read (and reread)
only Beckett (and books about his work), while
also becoming a member of the Samuel Beckett
Society, subscribing to the Journal of Beckett Studies
out of Edinburgh University, attending a Beckett
conference, in Phoenix, and visiting the Beckett
Collection at the University of Reading in England,
then Antwerp, with Halifax next, as the Beckett
conferences roll on.

I can confirm that my stories do put her to sleep,
on those occasions when I am stirred to render an
old account or, as happens more often of late, am
summoned by my beloved to perform. This power—to
put people down, to take them under, to usher them
from this side of the veil to the other—Christ, I’m
nodding out myself. What I mean to say is this—that it
is my voice simply that serves as a calmative.

This investigation found only three interrogation acts in
violation of techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual
and Department of Defense. The report found that the
interrogation of a high-value detainee resulted in degrading
and abusive treatment but did not rise to the level of being
inhuman. The report found no evidence of torture.

—I will. That’s our man there? A crisp ale would do
me, in this heat.
—Afraid the best we’ve got here is Rheingold,
[singing] the dry beer. They sponsor this spectacle.
—I’d drink bog water from a galosh right now.
—Two over here!

I am 62 years old. How many years of
reading do I have left? Let’s say 20, which is a
little optimistic but not unreasonable. I’m healthy.
Let’s assume so. My eyes are good.

I mix them up, the rhythms of my speech, all my
cadences, of which I have a few—fast or slow, chipper
or lugubrious, and the accents as well—my old rural
honk or the Irish brogue, for the poetry. And then
there’s the timbre, and the register, and that subtle
interplay of adduction and abduction—I am talking
open and shut here. Puffs of air. It is certainly not the
content of my stories that induces unconsciousness,
or so I tell myself, for I must—in order to live with the
choices I have made!
Which is to say, were I in fact
capable of delivering pure device-agnostic content
that could alter states of being, I should have found
a different career, hiring myself out to surgeries and
day-care centers, say, where putting people under is
to be wished, and then making my texts available (for
a subscription) for others to intone. There I go again,
nearly comatose.

You have been identified as having conducted an
assignment at GTMO, Cuba, since 9/11/2001. The
Inspection Division has been tasked with contacting those
employees who have served in any capacity at GTMO.
Employees should immediately respond to the following:
If you observed aggressive treatment, which was not
consistent with guidelines, respond via email for purposes
of follow-up interview; if you observed no aggressive
treatment of detainees you should respond documenting
a negative response. The above email was sent to 493 FBI
personnel who had served at GTMO.

—Were they in town, I’d have taken you to see the
first-place Yanks.

—Now why is that?
—To see a little professionalism, and the great
Mickey Mantle.
—These are… amateurs then?
—Virtually… and retirees.
—Pensioners—the pure game, for the love of it.
Nothing like it. [Grandly, as if quoting] The presence
of promise is a curse.  [Snidely] Thanks, Mother.
Maa

At this age, I know who it is I want to read—
though, really, have I read all of Shakespeare
or Dickens or (any of) Balzac? Should I? I have
not read the bulk of Proust even—prochaine,
prochaine.
So it is Beckett. I just don’t know why.
The dedicated Beckett reading began as I waited
out the publication of my first book of stories.
These stories were much about identity and
adoption and fathers and heirs both literary and
otherwise and I did not know what the book’s
reception would tell me about myself—I would
have to wait and see. I sometimes think I don’t like
waiting but the opposite is true—I find waiting for
something inherently exciting—and waiting for a
book to be published is particularly exquisite; I
even find waiting for something miserable, like,
say, a colonoscopy, a luxury, as every day that
is not the dreaded day has a certain satin lining.
Even so, during such an interim as prepublication
represents, I was concerned about having a focus
to my activities.

It’s a funny thing—at least I pretend to laugh at it—that
she cannot sleep these days. I don’t mean that she never
sleeps, for she does, and not only with the aid of my
soporifics. She can sleep perfectly well and on her own
in boxcars rolling over land and in the theater houses
of an afternoon, or at the back of the slow taverns we
frequent when we are flush, availing ourselves of the
steam-table fare and the Four Roses. Oh, will she sleep!
But come time for the bedsheets or the pallet or the
rug, I mean night-night, in our kip, she’s as jumpy as a
puppet on a string. Where’d that come from? Rhymes
with spring, now I remember. One of my tropes, spring
is, funny how that happens in these little canters.

The investigating officer was directed to address the
following allegations:
– That military interrogators improperly used military
working dogs to threaten detainees.
– That military interrogators improperly used duct tape
to cover a detainee’s mouth and head.

– That Department interrogators improperly
impersonated agents and other Department officers
during the interrogation of detainees.
– That on several occasions Department interrogators
improperly played loud music and yelled loudly at
detainees.
– That military interrogators improperly used sleep
deprivation against detainees.
– That military interrogators improperly chained
detainees and placed them in a fetal position on the
floor.
– That military interrogators improperly used extremes
of heat and cold during their interrogation of
detainees.

—The men in blue suits and the little caps, what do
they do?
—They enforce the rules.
—We’ll stay on their good side, so.
—Both these teams are new, only two years old.
The league added them—expansion, they called it—
and the rosters are a few kids and a lot of has-beens.
Frankly, Sam, they’re pitiful.

—Oh excellent! Stir in a little fear and we’ll have
catharsis.

—That’s what I think, too, to be honest. You have
the makings of a Mets fan, Sam. I’m going to get you
a cap. For the sun.

—For the shade.

As I woke up each day anticipating an eventual
book launch, and readings and a party and, god
willing, reviews, I didn’t want to make it up each
day, my reading that is. I wanted to have decided
that already, to have had it decided. One of the
things I learned in writing my short fiction was
to interrogate what a given story is about. This
often helped me shape it—or abandon it. So as
I plunged into my Beckett reading two summers
ago, rereading James Knowlson’s biography, and
Beckett’s early stories, and a book about the diaries
he kept while in Germany in the late 1930s, I asked
myself this question: Why Beckett? In the ensuing
months I have chased that ball, let me tell you.
For example, I was convinced I had discovered
that Beckett was the father of an American writer,
which promised to be a shocking revelation, not
only to those who understand Beckett as having
such insight into life’s lack of meaning that he
would never bring another being into it—“They
give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an
instant, then it’s night,” says Pozzo in
Godot—but
a shock as well to the Beckett estate: a sole “heir
of the body?” I became transfixed by the work
of this American writer, little known broadly but
admired and respected by a certain avant-garde,
here and in Europe. Her work is marked by a deep
engagement with a purely American—indeed New
England—tradition of puritanism filtered through a
metaphysics of writing, feminism, and the spiritual
extremism of a historic poetics convinced of God’s
Immanence. This seemed to me not the polar
opposite of Samuel Beckett’s inherited tradition and
his rebellions, but a crafted dissent. This is not me,
her work declared. I am not my father’s daughter.
Not
that father. I have another.

To put her under as she thrashes about the bedsheets
or upon the pallet or the rug, depending on our
whereabouts and our fortunes, I often embark upon
a verbal tour of the seasons. If you are not convinced
by now that it is not my content that has the magic
but my delivery, then ponder how it is that my most
reliable oratory invokes the cycle of the seasons, either
the condensed version or one of the four, in turn, in full,
spring to summer to fall to winter. I mean, how
dull that is. Basically, I am talking about the weather
and yet, the power! You should see it. Magic potion,
my words are. If she is not out cold by the time I get
to winter then it is not me but another chap who has
slipped into the bed chamber with her, as has happened,
but we are beyond that—that was Toledo. By the vernal
equinox, my otherwise jumpy puppet can be found so
shallowly breathing as to seem dead, and she has never
made it conscious to my rendition of Opening Day,
which is a pity as it is one of my most vivid re-creations,
complete with the rural accents and a few clever sound
effects, crack of the bat and such. Shall I? Yes, spring,
for old time’s sake. Perhaps for a little practice, a little
boning up? Tenez-vous bien.

The investigators were ordered to investigate two
additional allegations concerning a female military
interrogator performing a “lap dance” on a detainee
and the use of faux “menstrual blood” during an
interrogation. The investigators were told furthermore
not to limit themselves to the listed allegations. The
investigating team attempted to determine if the
allegations in fact occurred. During the course of the
follow-up investigation, allegations raised specifically
by the two detainees who were subjects of the first
and second “Special Interrogation Plans,” respectively,
were considered. The investigating team applied a
preponderance standard of proof consistent with
the guidelines provided to determine if a particular
interrogation approach fell properly within an authorized
technique. In those cases in which the team concluded
that the allegation had in fact occurred, the team then
considered whether the incident was in compliance with
techniques approved either at the time of the incident or
subsequent to the incident. In those cases where it was
determined the allegation had occurred and to have not
been an authorized technique, the team then reviewed
whether disciplinary action had already been taken and
the propriety of that action.  The team did not review the
legal validity of the various interrogation techniques in
question. Background: Interrogation operations began in
January. Initially, interrogators relied upon interrogation
techniques contained in FM 34-52. These techniques
were ineffective. In October, the Commander requested
approval of 19 counter-resistance techniques,
broken down into three categories, the third being the
most aggressive. The Secretary approved categories 1
and 2 but only one of the techniques in category 3 was
authorized—non-injurious physical contact.

—There’s a stroke!
—That should be caught… attaboy!
—Now they change innings?
—Now the home team hits, if you want to call it
that. You finished your beer? What’s the verdict?

—Bouquet des champignons.
—That bad?
—I’ll get these.

There is no dispute about Beckett having had an
affair with the American writer’s mother in the
late summer of 1936, a Dublin woman with whom
Beckett had grown up in Foxrock. The families
knew each other well. The woman, in 1936, was
already married to an American legal scholar—she
had just returned to Dublin as chaperone for two
unmarried Boston ladies in the style of the day.
But Beckett’s family, wary of a scandal, urged the
end to the liaison. Beckett fled to Germany—as
he had done before when under duress—and the
woman returned to Boston. The daughter was
born nine months later. She looks like Beckett. She
affects a Beckett look, to this day—short cropped
gray hair; she is possessed of the aquiline nose
and what look like Beckett’s gnarled fingers,
possibly from Dupuytren’s contracture, sometimes
known as “the Celtic hand.” Her literary style is
austere, her aesthetic uncompromising, a kind of
literary abstraction.

Such springs as I recall them begin with a sense of a
cool damp emanating from the ground, just thawing,
all kinds of dead matter giving up their odors, to
us, fair children, out to play. The color and cold of
promise! Then the buds dotting the tree branches like
a hesitant code or speech, on the way to another form,
a blossoming, into birds and then the damn bees.
Oh the bees that zither through the air in their dizzy
loops, almost making fun of menace, so harmless, so
necessary, don’t sting me. I can go on, to digging up
the bait from the earth warmed by the burn barrel,
with my Gramps, whose old heavy boot would thump
the spade in but slowly, slowly and then as slowly turn
over a loaf of earth, enlivened by the wriggling heads,
or tails—there is no difference, to me—of garden worms.
He would then gently chunk the hunk apart,
in sections, revealing long annelid strands, purple and
gray, and these would go into this disused tobacco can
with handfuls of dirt and bits of grass, and then we’d
give the trout hell in the stream. I would seldom, if at
all, in my telling, go into the details of impaling these
creatures on a barbed Eagle number 9, and resolutely
never extend to describing the actual tricking of a trout
to lurch at the dangling meal with the fatal business
concealed within, for this was narrative information of
a tenor that might agitate rather than sedate my lovely.

The Secretary issued a new policy accepting twenty-
four techniques. The Secretary’s guidance remains in
effect today. First, it required all detainees to continue
to be treated humanely. Second, it required notification
prior to the implementation of the following aggressive
interrogation techniques: Incentive/Removal of Incentive;
Pride and Ego Down; Mutt and Jeff; and Isolation. Third, it
specifically limited the use of these aggressive techniques
to circumstances required by “military necessity.” The
memorandum did not attempt to define the parameters
of “humane treatment” or “military necessity.” Mutt and
Jeff are the stars of a comic strip that began in 1908.
They are stupid and scheming risk-takers, horse players,
gamblers, one more stupid than the other.

—This is what you would call the home side. Look!
—He keeps running?
—Around the bases, that diamond, really a
square—first base, second, third, home—if he can.
Bobby Klaus—slides into second!

Beckett sent a gift when she was born. He sent
it to America. Most scholars I have spoken to off
the record say the math doesn’t work—more than
nine months between the mother’s return by boat
to Boston and the birth of the daughter. I tired
of doing the math, which proved no such thing—
parturition is 40 weeks, not nine months, for
starters. The math doesn’t rule anything out—or in.
But a DNA test does, proving that the writer is not
Beckett’s daughter but the daughter of the legal
scholar and her mother, a relief, no doubt, for her
mother too was unsure, and often tormented her
young daughter and then not-so-young daughter
that indeed she might be a Beckett.

She would even call for it. In the dark I would hear a
mewing, unmistakably hers, mewing to me, give me a
story
was the translation, tell me a story, put me away.
And I would, happily. To be asked for a tale, a rendition,
with a decided purpose, as if asked for a tool, bring
me the hammer, love
, it was so pleasing. Of course, I
will, dear. And to see her drop under in but a short
while kept me in awe of the powers, not my own, but
of language itself, and our human voice, something
comes from somewhere shaping something that then
is consumed, in these instances like a narcotic or a
draught… what can it be but literature!

Allegation: That Department interrogators improperly
impersonated agents or other Department officers during
the interrogation session. Finding: On several occasions
various Department interrogators impersonated agents
and other Department officers. Technique: Authorized
technique of Deceiving Interrogator Identity. Discussion:
The interrogation chief agreed to stop the practice of
impersonation. The Senior Supervisory Agent was pleased
with the Chief’s rapid and thorough response.

—Look! Play at home…. He’s out!

As an adoptee myself, having wondered about my
origins, who my parents were, for 50 years, and
trying to figure this out while pursuing writing, I felt
for this American writer. I was deeply curious about
how this affected her practice. But I dropped it.

One spring, it was spring cleaning, nothing but industry
around my domicile, the one in which I lived in my
early years, by the grace of some strange relations,
perhaps my parents, I was never sure, only of Gramps
I was sure, that’s what he told me, when I could
understand such things, to call him. He and the others,
there were two or three others, he was the oldest, I
can hazard that without fear of contradiction, would
busy about the brooms and mops and buckets and all
manner of chemistry after the long winter of holing up
indoors, beyond the blizzards.

An interrogator must not pass himself off as a medic, man
of god, or member of the Red Cross. To every technique,
there are literally hundreds of possible variations, each of which
can be developed for a specific situation or source.
The variations are limited only by the interrogator’s
personality, experience, ingenuity, and imagination.

—We remain at love, then?

I thought, that’s not “Why Beckett”—it is her story,
not mine.

The rooms were aired.

Much of the information of value to the interrogator is
information the source is not aware he has.