The Best Love Letter Ever

 
Samuel Beckett. Photograph by Mary Evans.

Samuel Beckett. Photograph by Mary Evans.

Maybe I lied. It’s not really a love letter. It’s a compliment.

It’s the best compliment ever paid to an artist.

In 1954 Harold Pinter wrote a letter to a friend. In that letter here’s what he said about Samuel Beckett:

The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, way outs, truths, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going, and the more he grinds my nose in the shit, the more I am grateful to him. He's not fucking me about, he's not leading me up any garden path, he's not slipping me a wink, he's not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he's not selling me anything I don't want to buy—he doesn't give a bollock whether I buy or not—he hasn't got his hand over his heart. Well, I'll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.

More than half a century later, in his eulogy to Beckett, Pinter said he stood by every word.

I can’t remember exactly when or how I came across what Pinter wrote. I do remember that when I did, my head rocked back, I thought it was so beautiful. I feel exactly the same today.

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When I want the antidote—to that great jabbering high volume mindfuck that plays nonstop in the public square—I read this. When I want reminding—of what certain artists can do when they quell that chatter and get to work, relentlessly, sparing no one—I read this.

When I need a kick in the ass—a smash-mouth insistence that it’s better to fail doing what’s worthwhile than succeed at something tepid, glossy, or compliant—I read this.

Pinter and Beckett told us we don’t need more preachers and stooges, religious or profane. We're infested with hustlers and gimcrack moralists. They squat in op-ed columns, rotting pulpits, and YouTube, wedging themselves into every orifice they can reach. They dish out adrenaline and analgesics; we give them shekels and blow jobs.

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Pinter and Beckett told us we don’t need more institutions, clans, clubs, or gangs. Sometimes—like when it’s three in the morning, when the sun hasn’t risen on that longest night, and we lie gutted and awake—we want something, someone, different. Someone who says, walk with me a little and I’ll share what I see and feel. You don’t owe me a thing and you never will, which makes us exactly even. We’ll leave the ornaments and anesthetics at home; no big words, jiggers of irony, or cardboard redemption. You can be on your way anytime, tell me to fuck off, hate me, love me, or not give a damn. In the end—which isn’t far—it doesn’t matter. I’ll just keep on walking and looking as long as I can. What you do after our walk is up to you. Same as it always was.

I didn’t lie. It’s a love letter.