Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Search while Waiting

Waiting for GodotWaiting for Godot 
by Samuel Beckett

“Vladimir: I don't understand. 
Estragon: Use your intelligence, can't you? 
Vladimir uses his intelligence. 
Vladimir: (finally) I remain in the dark.” 

― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am", is a philosophical proposition by the French philosopher René Descartes. The simple meaning of the Latin phrase is that thinking about one’s existence proves—in and of itself—that an "I" exists to do the thinking; or, as Descartes explains, "[W]e cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt … ." While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception or mistake, the very act of doubting one's own existence arguably serves as proof of the reality of one's own existence, or at least of one's thought. It is the one thing of which one could be certain.

In Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot, there is one thing that is certain as well. It is that the characters, Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting for Godot. Estragon opens the play with the statement, "Nothing to be done." This is a sign that there will be little action in the traditional sense in the play. It is also a metaphysical statement about life, Estragon's life and life in general. As the play opens the dialogue between Estragon and Vladimir sometimes seems like parallel monologues. As often as they answer one another they also veer off on seemingly absurd tangents only to circle around to what seems like similar topics as the dialogue continues. I use the word continue because there seems to be a lack of progress. The setting is "A country road. A tree."; the time, "Evening." And it could be any country road with a lifeless, leafless tree at any time in the past, although from the dialogue one may infer that they are a significant number of years beyond the "90s", which may refer to the previous century. And they refer to the Eiffel Tower; thus they may be in France near the end of the nineteen-forties which is when Beckett began writing his "tragicomedy".

Beckett’s first serious dramatic work has become a landmark in modern theater. It was published in French as "En attendant Godot". According to the publisher, “the story line evolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone – or something – named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree on a barren stretch of road, inhabiting a drama spun from their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, dreamscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as a somber summation of mankind’s inexhaustible search for meaning. Beckett’s language pioneered an expressionistic minimalism that captured the existentialism of post-World War II Europe. " The play is presented in two acts in both of which nothing happens.

Some moments from the opening pages of the first act serve to define the characters and their (imaginary? or not.) world. Estragon seems beaten down as he spent the night in a "ditch" and when asked by Vladimir, "And they didn't beat you?" Estragon replies, "Beat me? Certainly they beat me." Thus confirming that he is not only figuratively, but literally beaten down. Vladimir has a more upbeat tone to his commentary, more voluble yet still spare with words, and sometimes, however briefly, betrays doubts only to quickly move on to a more positive tone of thought. Thought is something that is clearly evident in the manner and words of Vladimir while Estragon is so terse in his remarks, often in the form of questions, that he seems to lack the ability to think. That is, until you pause to meditate on his remarks and they begin to assume metaphysical importance, or perhaps not. Slowly topics emerge from the dialogue: the thieves who were crucified with Christ, the barren tree beside the road, suicide, and others. Yet, the dialogue seems to drift off in directions that one would never expect when discussing these, or any ideas. The unexpected becomes what you expect and the absurd becomes the norm in this play whose characters search for meaning in the nothingness of their presumed existence.

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Brian Joseph said...

I have not gotten around to reading this one but I really must do so.

Great analysis of the two speaks and their differences. Based upon your commentary and things that I have heard, I think that this one would be something that I would come back to me over and over agin through life with ideas to think about.

James said...

You are exactly right. This play bears reading (out loud) and rereading.
One of the most exciting aspects of the play is the way the dialogue expands your perspective on the possible ways of considering the questions posed in the play.
What seems absurd at first may, upon reflection, be a possible alternative, even though it is not necessarily one with which you might agree.