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krapp's last tape

In Samuel Beckett's short play 'Krapp's Last Tape' (1958) an old man reviews his life, listening to tapes he has recorded every year on his birthday, and making a new recording. Thus a considerable part of the play consists of the recorded voice of a younger Krapp, who in turn talks about listening to tapes from even further back.

In the rendition from NT Gent, 'Krapps Laatste Band', with an impressive role by Steven Van Watermeulen, Krapp's pathetic birthday is further accentuated by a particularly bleak stage design. Beckett's text only mentions a table and a tape recorder, which are here surrounded by a big pile of dirt. Like an archeologist of his own life, Krapp has to dig in the dirt for his clothes, bottles and glasses.

As with many Beckett characters, Krapp's lifelong repeated ritual has by now become an empty, prescribed set of actions, like a cage that he shares with a few old and agonizing memories. In this case we don't just witness the end result (the empty ritual, the fossilized memories), but glimpse various stages of the process. Tragically, however, there isn't all that much difference between the young and old Krapp...

This is Krapp's voice recorded at age 39:

Just been listening to an old year, passages at random. I did not check in the book, but it must be at least ten or twelve years ago. At that time I think I was still living on and off with Bianca in Kedar Street. Well out of that, Jesus yes! Hopeless business. [Pause.] Not much about her, apart from a tribute to her eyes. Very warm. I suddenly saw them again. [Pause.] Incomparable! [Pause.] Ah well... [Pause.] These old P.M.s are gruesome, but I often find them - [Krapp switches off, broods, switches on] - a help before embarking on a new... [hesitates] ...retrospect.

And this is Krapp in the present (age 69), recording a new tape:

Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that's all done with anyway. [Pause.] The eyes she had! [Broods, realizes he is recording silence, switches off, broods. Finally.] Everything there, everything, all the - [Realizing this is not being recorded, switches on.] Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of... [hesitates] ...the ages!

The dramatic device of the tape recordings, presenting mediated memories in various degrees removed from the present, paradoxically emphasizes their fleeting, ephemeral nature - forcing us (and Krapp himself) to see the futility of the ritual. Krapp has lived his life trying to hold on to the past, until on his last tape he concludes that he wouldn't want it back.

The full text is online. See also this essay (in Dutch, PDF), linking the play to Walter Benjamin's lamented loss of aura in mediated reality.


not i

Finally saw some of the ' Beckett on Film ' pieces at the Beckett Centenary Festival in Dublin. The short (45 sec) ' Breath ' by Damien Hirst , ' Act Without Words I ' by Karel Reisz , and ' Not I ' by Neil Jordan . 'Not I… Read the full post »

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