Saturday, April 19, 2014

Second Act, Same Result

Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett

-   further notes

As the second act of Waiting for Godot begins Vladimir and Estragon are in the same place they were at the beginning of the play.  That is it seems to be the same, a country road, a rock to sit upon, a tree.  But the tree has leaves that it did not have in the first act.  The pair enter into a discussion about several things but soon turn to examine the tree, and its leaves.  They cannot agree whether the leaves were there the day before or not.  Is it the same tree?  Are they in the same place?  Where were they the day before?  The play seems once again frozen in a world of bewilderment.  But perhaps this is a variation of what was called the "imponderable" by Ludwig Wittgenstein.  That is the discussion verges on what might be called imponderable evidence.  That is the notion discussed by Wittgenstein near the the end of the second part of his Philosophical Investigations when he talks about "imponderable evidence" as that which is not "documentary" and represents those things for which language has no words.  How can we tell if that tree was genuinely the same tree as yesterday or even that our memory of what happened yesterday is genuine?

This episode in the play is merely one example of the continuing aporia of existence for our hapless heroes.  They are lost in a world that, for moments, appears to be real and not unlike our own; but it quickly diverges into a different world where memory plays tricks or ceases to exist and words cross paths in ways that suggest the dramatis personae are unaware of each other.  Is Estragon beaten every night?  He says he is but Vladimir cannot make any sense out of it.  The upshot of these moments is summed up by Vladimir when he says:
"We wait.  We are bored.  No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it.  Good.  A diversion comes along and what do we do?  We let it go to waste.  Come let's get to work!  In an instant all will vanish and we'll be alone once more in the midst of nothingness! [He broods.]" (p 71)

Pozzo and Lucky, a pair that visited in the first act, return.  But now, unlike his appearance in the first act,  Pozzo is blind and does not seem to recognize Vladimir and Estragon.  The discussion between them, Lucky is dumb (again unlike the first act when he had a soliloquy), is strange when it turns upon the question of time--as Vladimir asks Pozzo, "Since when?" (was Lucky dumb).  Pozzo responds furiously:  

"Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time!"  Upon reflection this seems not to be an unreasonable question.  Don't we all, at times, torment or at least frustrate ourselves with unnecessary concerns about time?  Pozzo continues, "It's abominable!  When!  When!  One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? [Calmer.] They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more." (p 80)

Pozzo and Lucky exit and, after a bit of dialogue with Estragon about whether Pozzo was  really blind or not (another imponderable), Vladimir seems to respond to Pozzo's remark,  "Astride of a grave and a difficult birth.  Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.  We have time to grow old.  The air is full of our cries.  But habit is a great deadener." (p 81)
The play ends the same way the first act ended with the visit of an unnamed boy with the message from Mr. Godot that he will not be coming today, but he will be coming tomorrow.  Vladimir and Estragon agree to wait for another day.  Estragon has the last words, "Yes, let's go. [They do not move.]" 

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.  Grove Press, 1954 (1952).


Brian Joseph said...

Very enjoyable commentary on this James.

As I mentioned I have not read this. It does seem that the thinking that went into this is a type of reasoning that I find fascinating.

The two adjectives that you used in your post that seems to hit the nail are the head are "bewilderment" and of course, "imponderable."

James said...

Thanks for your observation. This play, in spite of its difficulty and meaning(s) that may remain permanently elusive, is enjoyable.
It may even be entertaining although our class discussion found disagreement with that assessment.