This is an early edition, and Becket made numerous revisions over the years; therefore, when using it to follow along with, say, the Beckett on Film r...moreThis is an early edition, and Becket made numerous revisions over the years; therefore, when using it to follow along with, say, the Beckett on Film rendition, one will notice some "wrong" bits in the dialog, and even in small ways the staging, that aren't really wrong. I would've given one more star to a later edition that draws attention to the changes, or includes annotations, and will probably seek out such.
There are good reasons why the play is so famous, and revolutionizing the nature of theatre performance and the "nothing happens, twice" characterization are only the most obvious. To those not overly familiar with the Modernist and Absurdist literary movements, those reasons may be a little inscrutable. I found the collection of notes compiled by Penelope Merritt and available on the Samuel Beckett Resources webpage to be quite helpful, since I don't have time to read the voluminous literature without someone giving me a degree in trade. It certainly drew my attention to more subtle interpretations (Godot = God is just a little too obvious to be the whole thing) and the importance of bits of the text that wer, of course, more deliberately written than I had at first supposed.(less)
Generally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I found...moreGenerally, I greatly prefer to read books in the dead-trees format—actual paper in my hand. This was the first I've read in a long time where I found myself desperately longing, not only for an electronic edition, but for a fully hypertextual version, rich with links. Over the two months I spent on this volume, on and off, I believe two-thirds of my time was spent on the Internet looking up references. At the very least, this book would benefit greatly from extensive illustration: the range of artistic works referenced, from Caravaggio to Millais to Vermeer, is sure to baffle most modern readers without a degree in Art History. Remember Laurent Tailhade? Yeah, me neither.
Frankly, with the state of Liberal Arts education today, I have a hard time believing that much of anyone who has read this in the last 30-40 years has understood but a fraction of it—and reading over the reviews I can find bears this out. Both essays are often seen as little more than an apologia for "drug experimentation." While that is certainly an element of both, it can hardly be taken as Huxley's central point. It was rather Dr. Leary who much later reduced the matter to such a simple and simplistic premise, and even he had more than that to say to those who were willing and able to delve beneath the surface.
Instead, while making the case for the legitimacy of drug use, Doors offers a hypothesis for the mechanism of the experience via the well known reference to Blake and the then-current state of neuro-biological research; to wit, that ordinary perception is a matter of the mind filtering data for survival, while transformed or visionary experience—whether achieved through asceticism, art, or chemistry—opens the mind to all the data available, regardless of its mere survival value, thus allowing one to see through the ordinary to a truer vision of reality. Why, after all, should one need to starve or abase oneself for months and years to achieve such states when the same experience, or a reasonable simulacrum, can be had for the cost of a drug and perhaps a mild hangover?
Heaven and Hell goes on to develop this thesis by comparing the visions induced by exogenous chemicals to the more visionary pieces of art throughout history, as well as elaborating on the religio-spiritual theme. This is where, I believe, a majority of readers are likely to get lost, and thus explains why there are far more extant reviews of the former essay than of the latter. Even with handy art references, the latter is still the more difficult read, with its several tangential appendices and textual digressions. One might almost suppose that the drugs had not yet worn off while he wrote this one. Still, for the persistent, this is a worthwhile sequel, and it is readily obvious why the two are so often packaged together. But keep your browser near at hand, because many of his points are utterly lost without knowing the art to which he refers.
Finally, it is this very lack of illustration, and internal referencing for the modern reader, that prompts me to deduct one star from what would otherwise be a truly stellar recommendation. I continue to hope that the Huxley estate, or whoever controls the copyrights, will consider reissuing this with the necessary supplemental material, perhaps even in a definitive scholarly "critical edition." Were it in the public domain, I might take on such a project myself.(less)