Samuel Beckett is on Twitter, and perhaps we should not be surprised. As a playwright, he was what we would now call an “early adopter” of modern technology. His 1958 play Krapp’s Last Tape made revolutionary use of the reel-to-reel tape recorder the same year RCA manufactured full-size cassettes for home use. His works for radio and television—including All That Fall, which is being presented as part of the 2016 White Light Festival—stretched each medium to their technical limits, producing sights and sounds that had never before been broadcast. And it’s not just his engagement with technology that makes Beckett a natural candidate for Twitter: his compact observations and incisive remarks are perfectly trimmed for our social media age.
Beckett always had a talent for pithy observations about birth, death, and all the pesky stuff that happens in between. In 1984, when The Times (London) asked him about his New Year’s resolutions, he replied: “resolutions colon zero stop period hopes colon zero stop beckett.” His short, sharp telegram cuts to the quick, but also makes us smile at our own obsession with self-improvement. This is the kind of wit and economy that became his signature in plays like Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days.
Beckett’s most quoted line fits comfortably into a single tweet with 69 characters to spare—perhaps one of the reasons it’s tweeted almost every hour of every day. Taken from an experimental late prose work, Worstward Ho, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” has taken on a life of its own. The line is often interpreted as an inspirational slogan, although calling it an anti-inspirational slogan might be closer to the mark. Either way, it succinctly captures Beckett’s restless persistence in the face of uncertainty and difficulty, something that clearly resonates with a large number of people.
Every year, “Fail better” finds its way onto thousands of mugs, memes, forearms, and even, for a time, David Duchovny’s Twitter bio. (Perhaps believing that “the truth is out there” requires a little encouragement.) Beckett’s dry sense of humor and humble personality offer an alternative voice, an alternative way to be. His work is an antidote to our image-conscious times, cutting through the superficial sheen of self-promotion and celebrity.
“Perhaps I am inventing a little, perhaps embellishing...”
To be serious for a moment: Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) isn’t really on Twitter. It’s me, Rhys Tranter, donning the Nobel laureate’s spectacles and wiry hair to share my favorite quotes from his prose, poems, plays, and published letters. I also distribute news, photographs, and events, and try to engage with followers from time to time—that is, when a Samuel Beckett quote is appropriate.
I started @SamuelBBeckett (the middle “B” is for the author’s middle name, “Barclay,”) so that I could share my passion for his writing and the impact it has had on my own life. I first encountered his work in college while undergoing a serious course of medical treatment, and his humor in the face of life’s adversities was the reason I pursued postgraduate study. Since then, I have gone on to gain a Ph.D. on the writer's work and stand on the editorial board of the Samuel Beckett Society.
Twitter was launched almost exactly 100 years after Beckett’s birth, and though much changed between 1906 and 2006, many of the key issues and questions Beckett addressed remain relevant. While a mere 140 characters cannot capture the full range of a writer’s work—such an attempt would be doomed to fail—I tweet to offer a glimpse of Beckett’s unique tragicomic tone. And if I have prompted anyone to pick up one of his books or a ticket at the box office, I will know that I have failed better.
Selected Tweets from @SamuelBBeckett
Rhys Tranter is a writer and researcher based in Cardiff, Wales. He writes at RhysTranter.com.
Top: Pan Pan Theatre's production of Samuel Beckett's All That Fall. Photo by Ros Kavanagh