The HRC's Beckett Online: Googling for Godot
With "Fathoms From Anywhere: A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition," online in perpetuity, Web-wanderers can plumb the depths of the Ransom Center's Beckett collection, which is among the world's finest
When your Web-wanderings bring you to the Harry Ransom Center's online Samuel Beckett exhibition, you have a choice.
"I can't go on," reads one scrawled line. "I'll go on," reads the other.
Choose the first of these iconic lines from Beckett's novel The Unnamable, and you're promptly thrown back to the page you came from. Choose the second, and you enter "Fathoms From Anywhere: A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition."
The title is taken from a letter Beckett wrote in 1959: "I don't find solitude agonizing, on the contrary. Holes in paper open and take me fathoms from anywhere."
Most avant-garde art looks quaint and time-bound 50 years on. But Beckett's plays and novels remain essentially strange, like visitors from a cultural future. Beckett was so far ahead of his time that we haven't yet caught up with him, and his work retains unnerving power.
Launched on the centenary of Beckett's birth, April 13, 2006, the exhibit will be kept online "in perpetuity," says curator Cathy Henderson, associate director for exhibitions and education at the HRC. (This Friday, Dec. 22, marks the 17th anniversary of his passage to the grave, by the way.)
The exhibit is designed to accommodate those who want a quick dip into Beckett, says Henderson, as well as those who want to swim deeper in the HRC's Beckett collection, which is among the world's finest. "A collector of Beckett first editions will be able to see images of what the first-edition books look like," she notes. You can also see handwritten drafts of the plays and novels and hear passages read by Irish actor Barry McGovern.
Besides deeper layers of information and more interactive and multimedia components than real-space exhibitions allow, an online exhibition also circumvents what Henderson calls "fatigue and label burnout," since visitors can bookmark and return whenever they like.
It's interesting to wonder what Beckett's dazed and dogged characters would have made of the Web. "Too fearful to assume himself the onus of decision," someone remarks of the titular character in Watt, "he refers it to the frigid machinery of time-space relation." Now Watt could just hit the "I'm feeling lucky" Google link over and over.
Perhaps he'd land at the HRC Web site and hear that famous passage from The Unnamable: "You must go on, I can't go on, you must go on, I'll go on, you must say words, as long as there are any where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."
"Fathoms From Anywhere: A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition" is on view through eternity at www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/online/beckett.