May 2011

Referring page



Waiting for Godot

I debated with myself as to whether I should write something on this subject, given the possibility it could be seen in the light of certain events and non-events. I decided to make the point, simply that we spend our lives waiting – for buses, our turn at the butcher’s shop, or for people perceived as able to make some improvement in our lives to make their minds up.

It is not without accident that Christ exhorted us to live for the present moment and savour it to the full. We seem to have a choice between waiting for one “better” thing after another or simply living with what we have. Both past and future are illusions, and seen under this aspect, we begin to taste the notion of eternity.

When I was at school, I found literary analysis and criticism about as boring as any abstract subject to which I was unable to relate like pure mathematics. Theatre and plays are not really my strong suit, but I have found some of the themes brought up in this write-up of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame positively haunting.

I quote a few bits and pieces, which you can read without any attempt of a commentary from me.

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In the context of twentieth-century theatre, his [Samuel Becket's] first plays mark the transition from Modernism, with its preoccupation with self-reflection, to Post Modernism with its insistence on pastiche, parody and fragmentation. Instead of following the tradition which demands that a play have an exposition, a climax and a denouement, Beckett’s plays have a cyclical structure which might indeed be better described as a diminishing spiral. They present images of entropy in which the world and the people in it are slowly but inexorably running down. In this spiral descending towards a final closure that can never be found in the Beckettian universe, the characters take refuge in repetition, repeating their own actions and words – and often those of others – in order to pass the time.

There is the abiding concern with death and dying, but death as an event (i.e., actually becoming ‘a little heap of bones’) is presented as desired but ultimately impossible, whereas dying as a process is shown to be our only sure reality. Beckett’s characters are haunted by ‘the sin of having been born‘, a sin which they can never expiate. Pozzo remarks that ‘[... ] one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second. [... ] They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more’. Death as a final ending, as a final silence, is absent from the plays. The characters must go on waiting for what will never come, declining into old age and the senility which will make of them helpless, dependent children again, but decrepit (…).

Beckett uses the genre of paradox as a means of reminding us that in metaphysical terms we can never arrive at our chosen destination (death).

The characters are consequently engaged in a perpetual act of waiting. Much has been written about who or what Godot is. My own view is that he is simultaneously whatever we think he is and not what we think he is: he is an absence, who can be interpreted at moments as God, death, the lord of the manor, a benefactor, even Pozzo. But Godot has a function rather than a meaning. He stands for what keeps us chained – to and in – existence. He is the unknowable that represents hope in an age when there is no hope, he is whatever fiction we want him to be – as long as he justifies our life-as-waiting. Beckett originally thought of calling his play just En attendant (without Godot) in order to deflect the attention of readers and spectators away from this ‘non-character’ onto the act of waiting. Similarly, he firmly deleted the word ‘Wir’ from the German translation of the title Wir warten auf Godot (We’re waiting for Godot), so that audiences would not focus too much upon the individuality – and therefore the difference, the separateness – of Vladimir and Estragon, but would instead think about how all existence is a waiting.

Time indubitably exists as a force of which the characters are aware in that they become increasingly decrepit, but they have no sense of its continuity. If each day is like all the others, how can they then know that time is really passing and that an end is nigh? Godot is grounded in the promise of an arrival that never occurs, Endgame is the promise of a departure that never happens. This would seem to imply that the characters look forward to the future, yet if there is no past, there can be neither present nor future. So in order to be able to project onto an unlocatable – and perhaps non-existent – future, the characters need to invent a past for themselves. And this they do by inventing stories.

Our strongest defence against the absurdity and the entropy of existence is the necessity – and the joy – of co-creating the text by continually changing its shape as we connect different ideas and images, as we perceive it to be unauthoritative precisely because it is a cento, a patchwork of manipulated quotations.

Make sense who may, for make sense we must.