Reel Life

Mairead Case contemplates Beckett’s 1958 work Krapp’s Last Tape, a one-act play “about power, ritual, sound, and men, set on a ‘late evening in the future'”:

It is small, a punch: Krapp, a desk, a banana, a closet with a light, a tape recorder, some reels, and some fart jokes. Every year on his birthday, Krapp records a tape about his thoughts and whatever’s happening in his life. Then he listens to it and the ones he made earlier. The play is very funny and very sad and still beautiful. It is barely half an hour — all power, no clutter. There is no one else, not even a dog or a landlady, and since Krapp doesn’t seem cold or hungry or locked in we think yes, okay this is how he wants it. …

The first five minutes — or ten or fifteen — of the play are silent. Krapp shuffles around the stage; he eats a banana, pours himself booze. When he finally speaks — “spool” — it’s funny, like blowing a raspberry at a funeral to make a baby laugh. First Krapp listens to older reels — here he is, throwing a ball for a little white dog; and there in a boat, with a lady who has gooseberry scratches on her thigh — and next he records a tape for this year, his sixty-ninth. He has to restart it a couple times. He is freaking out about his dogs loose in the desert. “Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of… the ages!” Krapp says. “Yes! Let that go! Jesus!” He is passionate and so crabby.

Case imagines a conversation between Krapp and Gertrude Stein:

In all ten years I’ve been reading it though, Krapp never once gets up from that table for real. I want to put Gertrude Stein next to him. Maybe her head is in her hands, or maybe her chin is out, defiant. “If everybody did not die the earth would be all covered over,” Stein tells Krapp, like she says in Wars I Have Seen (quoted also in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely). “And I, I as I” — I as I! I can be someone else a while — “could not have come to be and try as much as I can try not to be I, nevertheless, I would not mind that so much, as much as anything, so then why not die, and yet and again not a thing, not a thing to be liking, not a thing.” I don’t think Krapp would get up, even then.

Recent Dish on Beckett here.

(Video: Part 1 of Krapp’s Last Tape, from a 2006 performance featuring Harold Pinter as Krapp)