Watt, Saturday: A series of events happening every Saturday from April through June at Cubitt. Admission free.

Curated by Polly Staple

Saturday 4 May 2002

Six people will sit down and as a team read aloud Watt, by Samuel Beckett  at Cubitt. The reading will start at 6.00pm on Saturday May 4 (after a short extract from the book has been read) and will finish sometime during the morning of Sunday May 5. The reading will be continuous. The cast of readers will be made up of one Scottish man, one American woman, one English man, one South African man, one Canadian man and one American man. The audience should bring their own cushions. Refreshments will be available.

In the winter of 1952, Merlin, a British expatriate literary magazine published  in Paris, approached Samuel Beckett and asked if they could read the manuscript  of his novel Watt with a view to publishing an extract from it. One rainy afternoon  Beckett delivered the manuscript to the editorial offices of Merlin at the rue  du Sabor banana-drying depot. Richard Seaver, an American advisory editor  for  Merlin (and later director of Grove Press in New York), has recalled how  ‘a knock came at the door and a tall, gaunt figure in a raincoat handed in a  manuscript in a black imitation-leather binding and left almost without a word.  That night, half a dozen of us – [Alex] Trocchi [editor of Merlin], Jane Lougee  [publisher of Merlin], Christopher Logue, Patrick Bowles, Charles Hatcher and  I – sat up half the night and read Watt aloud, taking turns until our voices  gave out.’

It is this event, 50 years later, that the reading at Cubitt will re-present  and translate. The different national origins of the readers will reflect  those of the original readers of the manuscript in 1952.

The editorial staff of Merlin read the manuscript at Richard Seaver’s flat, with Seaver first reading the passage that Beckett had marked as suitable for publication in the magazine:

Watt had little to say on the subject of the second closing period in  Mr Knott’s house. Here he moved, to and fro, from the door to the  window, from the window to the door; from the window to the door,  from the door to the window; from the fire to the bed,from the bed  to the fire; from the bed to the fire, from the fire to the bed; from  the door to the fire, from the fire to the door; from the fire to the  door, from the door to the fire; from the window to the bed, from  the bed to the window…

At which point it was agreed that Seaver should go back to the beginning  of the book and together the six of them read it through to the end.

The English poet Christopher Logue has remembered how ‘Progress was slow because, at first, the text was so comical. Everyone wanted to read. Patrick was the best: deadpan, following the punctuation. As we read on, the writing unsettled us, became frightening and funny by turns; comedy at its most extreme. We found the use of English astonishing. Rhythmically fine-tuned.  A first of its kind. Beautiful. For us, it was as it must have been for those  who came across the work of Picasso and Duchamp in the 1910s. Or the  poetry of Eliot in the twenties. An aesthetically encouraging shock. As is  usual when one comes into contact with something good, we felt good.’

Issue3 (Winter 1952/53) of Merlin published an extract from Watt.  In the Summer of 1953 Collection Merlin published the first edition  of Watt in collaboration with the Olympia Press.

Booking for this event has now closed.