Beckett’s prose work displays a similarly obsessive repetition, with facsimiles of phrases and characters recurring as the author circled around themes of human loneliness and isolation. S.E. Gontarski describes Beckett body of work as a process of distillation through which “novels were often reduced to stories, stories pared to fragments, first abandoned then unabandoned and ‘completed’ through the act of publication.”
When Lindsay first paired the two artists in 1972, Beckett suggested that they work with the text of Waiting for Godot. Johns rejected the idea, preferring to work with unpublished (i.e. uncompleted) material (we can imagine Beckett’s words fizzling in that unbridgeable gulf in one of the few photos of the pair). Instead, Beckett sent Johns collection of eight prose poems that were eventually published on their own 1976, the same year Petersburg Press produced 250 limited edition copies of Foirades/Fizzles. So much for using exclusive, unpublished work.
Johns selected five of Beckett’s eight fizzles, and then turned to a previous creation of his own. Untitled (1972) is a 6 foot tall panorama of four discrete panels—one of a crosshatching motif that appears in much of Johns’ repertoire, two with flagstone imagery, and a fourth with plaster casts of human body parts mounted on wooden slats and affixed to the canvas. For the Petersburg book, Johns created a series of etchings that refract and rearrange the elements of Untitled (1972): variations on the crosshatchings, obsessively re-printed flagstones, and the body parts of the fourth panel rendered with different textures, contrasts, and scales. To introduce each fizzle, Johns also created stencils of the numbers one through five, a motif that he had been reshaping in paintings and prints for the past 10 years.
Scholars have devoted reams of paper to naming the precise logic that guided Johns in his obsessive duplication of the images in Foirades/Fizzles. “Above all,” says Richard Field, “Johns wished to demonstrate that the four panels [of Untitled (1972)] were not a totally arbitrary assemblage.” As if somehow, by creating variations on these motifs and by pairing them with further discontinuous texts, the reader might be able to invent the pathways that traverse the gulf between the four discrete panels. But whatever hope of clear insight we may have, the book refuses to supply the satisfying synthesis. As Rothfuss notes, when we linger too long amidst the handmade pages of Foirades/Fizzles, “we are left with a vague sense of something amiss.”
The three slideshows in the blog post represent an attempt to trace down the echoes of the fizzled collaboration between Johns and Beckett: the three fizzles omitted from Foirades/Fizzles, paired with other Johns experiments with the imagery from Untitled (1972) and from his settings of numbers. They remind us that the sense of something amiss generated within Foirades/Fizzles also reverberates outwards, recycled again and again in image and text. Or, as one of the fizzles describes:
"Then the echo is heard, as loud at first as the sound that woke it and repeated sometimes a good score of times, each time a little weaker, no, sometimes louder than the time before, till finally it dies away."