Thursday, November 17, 2011

Waiting for Godot and Myth of Sisyphus part 2

     I will continue an examination of Waiting for Godot by introducing a selection from the brilliant book, Reading Godot, by Lois Gordon.  When the actual book arrives from Amazon I will read over everything she has to say.  Gordon begins this section with
"In a world devoid of belief systems, the mind and heart cry out for validation, for the assurance that life has meaning and actions have purpose.  One may accept, as an existential truth, the assumption that despite the individual's endeavors to comprehend or change the world, "there is no new thing under the sun"(Ecclesiastes), and, as Beckett puts it, "the tears of the world are of a constant quantity..."  But one also occupies a world of temporal measurement.  Time passes and one ages, and, facing these inescapable facts, one journeys with tenacious will through the arbitrary divisions of time and space holding onto goals and belief systems as if they were absolute(Bloom pg. 124)

We inhabit both the existential void and also the world of particular time and place.  Like Odysseus searching for his home but lost on an endless sea, we seek solace in the stories of our home culture that give us an enclosed sense, the enclosure we need to derive meaning, whereas we really inhabit a wide-open space with no landmarks, where nothing ever changes, and there is just boundless sea and sky.  In the case of Waiting for Godot, we have a spare landscape with a single tree, which is barren until the second act, when it suddenly has leaves -- one is reminded here of the way time passes on the island of Circe, many years pass without being noticed, have seasons changed between acts?  How long has the waiting been going on?

Godot has meant many things to many people over the years, perhaps it means homecoming and definition.  Without Godot there is purposeless waiting.  But Godot never comes.  The heroes never get home; they don't even have a home.  The world itself is foreign and one is a stranger in it and to oneself.

Waiting, and its weight, must be where people get the analogy between this play and Sisyphus.  As Sisyphus 'waits' until the rock gets to the top and then tumbles down, they wait for Godot.  The wait is arduous, for Godot it is not really a physical exertion necessarily, though Estragon is beaten daily, but the burden is the burden of waiting itself, the need for distraction.  I think of the times when my own mind tries to occupy itself in the presence of menial, tedious work.  I suppose at those moments there is the possibility, for Camus, of a scornful victory over fate.
"For Camus, Sisyphus's perserverence , in literal spite or contempt of the meaninglessness of his task, defined his superiority.  By ignoring the irrationality of his fate and focusing on the blue of the sky and the texture of the rock, he could exult in his defiance of his fate."(pg. 125)
Gordon assures us that Beckett's heroes lack the defiance; they are hardly superior to their fate.  She also reminds us that there is an uncertainty about their location or the day, what they were doing yesterday, or even what they are doing at present.  They constantly repeat the litany that they can't go because they are waiting on Godot.  In all these ways then, Beckett's heroes are not superior to their lot as are Camus' rebels.   

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