t’s time for a new season of writing4godot. I’d like to begin by talking about why I’ve chosen the play Waiting for Godot for my patron saint.
The play, Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett in 1952, is basically the story of Vladimir and Estragon, two vagrants, talking under a bare tree about going somewhere, but not going. They are waiting for Godot. Two troubling new people arrive, who then leave, while the first pair goes on doing nothing. An emissary from Godot appears, cancelling the planned meeting, promising one for the next day. The second act follows the same pattern, with a few adjustments. At the end, Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting for Godot.
WHO IS GODOT?
Well, they don’t really know. They think they’re waiting in the specified place, near a tree, but they’re not sure. Estragon insists that all is well; they were in this very spot yesterday. “You recognize the place?” Vladimir asks. Estragon replies, “I didn’t say that,” and then adds, “That makes no difference.”
The reasonable connections of meeting a person in a certain place are dispensed with. They don’t know if it’s the right place. They have been there before, yesterday even, although no one recognizes the spot. And what’s even better is that it doesn’t make any difference if they recognize it or not. So how in the world will they know if they’re in the right place to meet up with this Godot? Well, they won’t. This, we might say, is absurd.
THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
And in fact, Beckett’s play is a definitive work in the theatre of the absurd. One definition of the absurd, which I enjoy, is this: “The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd; rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.” (Your friend and mine, Wikipedia.)
I think this idea of the mind and the universe operating simultaneously is a way of looking at the logic of the play. (Some say there is none.) The fundamentals of waiting are thrown up in the air like a deck of cards, where the person, the place, and the hour are uncertain. Now the existentialists among us, concentrating on the individual as a free agent, would not be happy about this and would dread it. In fact, existential dread is a thing. But our Vladimir says, “That makes no difference.” No dread.
If you don’t have dread, and “a” is not a prerequisite for “b”, what is there? The answer, my friends, is this: we have a laugh. We don’t strive; we don’t fret; we don’t problem-solve. (At least not yet in the play.)
ACT I FINISHES
Two strangers then enter the scene, Pozzo, whose name rhymes with Bozzo (Bozo the clown was on tv in 1949) and Lucky, who is a slave, although the two positions could have been reversed, says Pozzo, according to destiny. This is the troubling part of the play. Lucky is asked to dance and to think and when he does, Lucky presents an extended, incomprehensible soliloquy, where words and occasional phrases can be pieced out, but not anything coherent. At the end of the act, Pozzo and the tramps try to hear a watch ticking, but what they hear is the heart. Lucky and Pozzo then leave, although Vladimir thinks they’re going the wrong way. A boy unexpectedly arrives, a messenger from Godot, who says that M Godot will not be coming today, but surely tomorrow. The vagrants are discouraged and discuss the moon, “pale for weariness.”
Repeat. Same tree, albeit with a few leaves. Same waiting for Godot, with the same reflections, such as, “We are all born mad; some remain so.” They also pray to God for pity. Lucky and Pozzo come again, although this time Pozzo, now blind, is calling, “Help!” and “Pity!” When Pozzo asks the vagrants, “Who are you?”, Vladimir answers, “We are men.” As before, Lucky and Pozzo leave, with Lucky, now mute, putting the whip in the blind Pozzo’s hand. The boy arrives with the same message, Godot will come tomorrow. The play concludes as the vagrants plan to go, although the stage directions say, in the play’s last words, “they do not move.”
Simply put, futility with a laugh?
Writing has that taint of futility, where you are writing for nobody to nobody. Might as well call nobody Godot. And the agents and the publishers are very Godoish with their promises deferred.
And yet, writing is playful, funny, provocative. It’s a very well-kept secret how much fun it is. I love the funny / tragic simultaneous arising of self and universe in all its contradictions. At its best, writing (and the arts) takes us off the treadmill and takes the reader off it too, where we can dance beneath the beautiful, pale, weary moon, weary “of climbing heaven and gazing on the likes of us,” in Estragon’s view. And while we’re off that treadmill, think what else we can do!
Welcome to writing4godot.
It also happens that Beckett lived in Paris and wrote this play in French, before translating it himself into English. I, too, lived in France for many years, and so the blog includes stories about France, and all things French, plus the play, and well, a little of this and the absurd that. Enjoy!