When William Burroughs described to Samuel Beckett his famous ‘cut-up’ technique — a text is produced by cutting it up and then imposing a random new order upon the shreds — the Irishman was dismissive, reportedly telling the American: “That’s not writing — it’s plumbing.” It didn’t prevent Beckett from composing short prose in the vein of the Burroughs cut-up style, in 1969.
The result was ‘Lessness’, a ‘story’ of short fragments pitched together at random, yet with seductive shades of meaning.
This text has been converted into a performance piece by The Emergency Room and it’s one of the real treats at this year’s Galway Arts Festival.
Sitting at a long table, beneath a screen pulsating with white light, Olwen Fouéré delivers Beckett’s esoteric text in a vocal style that is splendidly impersonal — akin to a vocoder, and yet human nonetheless.
Wearing headphones, it’s as if she is repeating a signal from a ‘number station’ — those shortwave radio communications that imparted coded messages to spies during the Cold War.
Here, however, the communication is not political. It is a message from that strange metaphysical wasteland that Beckett so often frequented.
The text is indecipherable, but it conjures a vague picture of a grey and infinite ruin-scape, upon which life — even if it is only a “figment” of “passing light” — plays itself out.
Life here is — like the text — somehow redeemed by its meaninglessness. Fouéré’s performance is mesmerising, and for such a slender piece it is affecting and evocative. The rumbling, ambient noise vividly recalls David Lynch’s films, while the coded radio-message shtick might put you in mind of Jean Cocteau’s seminal film, Orphèe.
That Fouéré and her colleagues have not merely ‘staged’ the Beckett text, but can evoke such rich inter-texts as these, is in itself a wonderful feat.
Until July 26.