Monday, August 10, 2009

So Many Pages, So Much Money

All of the wealthy art and literature types among my readers will be happy to note that the Manhattan Rare Book Company has attained a first edition of Foirades/Fizzles, created by Samuel Beckett and Jasper Johns in 1976, and signed by both of them.

Johns spoke about the project in a 1977 interview with Edmund White:

I met Beckett through the exwife of an art critic. She wanted me to do illustrations to Waiting for Godot, but I said I’d like to work with Beckett on something new. She didn’t seem to understand and kept sending me other published texts. Then, when I was in Paris with Merce Cunningham and his dance company [in 1973], I met Beckett. I told him I wanted to illustrate something new. He looked horrified. ‘A new work?’ He asked me. ‘You mean you want me to write another book?’

I said, ‘Don’t you have some unpublished fragments, just some words or phrases? At that time I was thinking I’d use his words inside the image, phrases included within the picture. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have something like that but they’re in French.’ I told him I don’t read French. He agreed to translate them into English. Only later did I learn what an arduous process translation is for Beckett—he makes something altogether new when he translates. Finally he sent me two or three beautifully polished pieces; they were finished works and not fragments at all. Then I coaxed another one out of him. In the end he sent me five pieces. I decided to print both the French and the English in order to make the book longer and so that people who know both languages could compare the texts. I did etchings of the numerals and derived the other images from two patterns I’ve been working with in the last few years—a wall of flagstones and slanted lines on the diagonal, a sort of cross-hatching.

When I showed the etchings to Beckett he held them very close to his face and scrutinized them for ages, scanning up and down (his eyesight is very bad). I was terrified he’d hate what I had done. I said, ‘Sam, I’ll be happy to explain--.’ ‘No, no,’ he said, ‘it’s perfectly clear,’ and he made approving noises. Then I showed him the endpapers. He said he hoped that I would place the cross-hatching design at the front of the book and the flagstones at the back. I asked him why. He said, ‘Here you try all these different directions but no matter which way you turn you always come up against a stone wall.’

Just $30,000 if you act fast. Significantly cheaper versions of the landmark book can be found here.

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