A couple of weeks ago, a reader wrote asking me where JM Coetzee took the quote "little enough, less than little" from in his novel Disgrace. It sounded like a corruption of Beckett to me, but I didn't know. Well, I'm informed today that the Coetzee line is taken from (inspired by) 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Wislawa Szymborska's The End and the Beginning. Her lines read:
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
As for Wislawa Szymborska, I'm afraid I got nothing! Shamefully, I'd never heard of her until my correspondent suggested to me that she was probably the source of Coetzee's quote. Faber have a Poems - New and Collected, 1957-97, Norton have Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, so one of these will no doubt be my next stop. If anyone reading can tell me more, shoot.
Nonrequired Reading is unlike conventional collections of reviews in that the books she chooses, with few exceptions, are unabashedly unliterary. For decades Szymborska has written about books for newspapers in her native Poland, but she chooses her subjects from the sad stacks of rejects that accumulate in a book editor’s office – popular science and how-to books, celebrity biographies and volumes with titles such as The Encyclopedia of Assassinations, Wallpapering Your Home and The Private Lives of Three Tenors. Szymborska says she tried writing conventional reviews: “…that is, in each case I’d describe the nature of the book at hand, place it in some larger context, then give the reader to understand that it was better than some and worse than others.” Then, happy woman, she realized she had little interest in or gift for such writing.