During my latest visit to Book Gallery in Phoenix, I noticed they had a beautiful Limited Editions Club 1989 edition of Samuel Beckett’s Nohow On. While I myself do not have interest in it, I thought I would snap some photo’s of the book for your edification. The book itself is very nicely put together with a luxurious feel inside and out.
I will confess to never having read Samuel Beckett. I have a preconceived bias, based on reviews I have read and what little I know of him, that turns me off on pursuing his writings. From what I understand, his work often pushes the envelope of modernism/post-moderism/minimalism, styles of which I typically turn away from. I can barely get through most Joyce (Ulysses, for instance, was as much fun as a double root canal), so Beckett’s taking this type of writing further, ultimately dispensing with plot altogether, sounds to me like deconstruction for art’s sake, which in my opinion is an affront to what classic literature should strive for. Of course, I understand expressing such negative opinions without actually having read the work is poor form, so I will look forward to some of you out there telling me why I am wrong and what I am missing.
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was an Irish writer, certainly avant-garde, post-moderistic and minimalistic in his approach. He is considered one of the more influential writers of the twentieth century. In 1969 he won the Nobel prize for Literature. His play, Waiting for Godot (1953), is considered his best work. Irish literary critic Vivian Mercier famously wrote of this play that it “has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” His writing often deals with despair and has a sense of pessimism, though often with hints of a will to persevere. Nohow On is a trilogy of three novella’s, Company (1980), Ill Seen, Ill Said (1981) and Worstward Ho (1983). They are “closed space” stories, all taking place in close quarters, which apparently gives Beckett plenty of room for ruminations, a quick perusal of which simply seem to be strange ramblings to me.
The illustrator of this edition is Robert Ryman, who is an American minimalist artist best known for white on white abstract paintings and such he provides for Nohow On. The monthly letter, in talking of Ryman’s images, says that to discover these images is “a breathtaking experience…the discovery of something profound in seeming nothing-ness, a metaphysical exploration of consciousness.” It sometimes is hard for a reviewer to say this, but I will… I discovered nothing profound in looking at these illustrations for quite a number of minutes. What I saw was white and off-white, nothing else. Again, I was looking at these images without the benefit of having read the appropriate text, but I fear no amount of text, certainly not Beckett minimalist text, could sufficiently explain what I was supposed to be seeing in these images.
Simplicity is a virtue, but over-simplification resulting in an inability for most to comprehend the beauty of the whole may result in praise from the high minded for the abstractness involved, but it is a de-evolution of classical artistic purpose that hinders its ability to speak on its own. I am admittedly old-fashioned in my literature and artistic preferences in that I prefer plot and more ‘normal’ use of time and space, and I am currently completely bereft of appreciation in the style’s represented by both Becket and Ryman. However, I do recognize that many critics adore Beckett’s work, so I will strive to open my mind a bit and give his writing a fair shake sometime in the future.
As an aside, this edition is signed by Beckett, which results in the value/cost of the book being quite high.
About the Edition
- Hand-sewn and bound in full black Nigerian Oasis goatskin, with the spine and front stamped in 22 carat gold leaf.
- Printed by David Wolfe at The Shagbark Press in South Portland, Maine
- 100% Cotton Paper made for this edition at Cartiere Enrico Magnani in Pescia, Italy
- Set in 12 pt. English Monotype Bodoni 357 by Jula Ferrarie and Dan Carr at Golgonooza Letter Foundry
- The display type is Bauer Bodoni cast from matrices in the collection of Fundicion Tipografica Neufville, outside of Barcelona
- The six aquatints printed on 200 gram Arches paper in combination with different handmade Japanese papers, at Renaissance Press and Wingate Studio, both in Hinsdale, New Hampshire
- Solander boxes made by hand at Portfoliobox in Providence, Rhode Island from black Italian cotton lined on the inside with grey ultrasuede. The label inlaid on the spine of the box is black goatskin stamped in gold.
- Illustrated by Robert Ryman
- Signed by Beckett and Ryman
In the pictures below, please note that I did not have a great setting to take pictures of this book, since I do not own it. I apologize for the poor photo’s, but I think the beauty of the book will come through. Unfortunately, the illustrations, essentially being white on white, or off white on white, do not show well, in that you cannot see the texture. Having said that, if you think you are not seeing anything but a blank page, you are not too far off!
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