Saturday, November 19, 2011

Waiting for Godot -- "Reading Godot" by Lois Gordon part 1 of many

"Werner Heisenberg and quantum physics, no less than Freud and Sartre, have demonstrated that the limits of our universe are determined by the limits of our measuring instruments, whether they are atomic clocks, blood pressure cups, or nouns and verbs (Gordon pg. 18)

I usually dislike it when humanities' types bring in physics to illustrate some point about relativism etc..., but I make an exception in this case.  It is true that there is a fundamental limit to our ability to locate and measure the momentum of particles precisely, and that ultimately science is about what we can measure, and there are apparently limitations on that, and thus on our ability to know.  We spin our theories based on what we can possibly measure. Perhaps we assume that the limitations of what we can measure are the limitations of the universe itself, an obvious intellectual error, but just as there are undoubtedly aspects of the physical universe beyond our ability to measure, there are perhaps truths of our condition that are beyond nouns and verbs and plays.  Beckett is, according to Gordon, is a quester in the face of the "mess" he descibes.  He describes the quest for order and meaning in a universe devoid of meaning, and whose truth is likely always beyond us.

This, she says, Beckett does in contradistinction to the quests of other modernists:
"He has repudiated the modernists' mission, virtually Dantesque in scope, to recreate a meaningful world by scaffolding its fragments on to the symmetries of historical and mythical patterns.  For Joyce, Eliot, and the others, the fractured present could ultimately be reconstructed in the terms of past traditions and past value systems.  Theirs was an art of positive faith, implicitly based on the boundless power of the human will."(pg. 14)
This will included the Will to Truth, Science(even if the truth is ultimately unpleasant) etc...  It is fascinating that she compares all this to Dante.  I think she is saying they are, despite themselves, seeking the same kind of integration Dante achieved in the Commedia(one of my favorite works, up there with Hamlet and Macbeth, also representatives of a world picture that also could be as totalizing as the medieval world of Dante).  She credits Beckett with being more postmodern, more pessimistic than even the existentialists. She says that the positive in Beckett's work is different than that of the modernists:
"It arises in the absence of any redemptive system, and because it is inevitably eclipsed by inner or outer forces, when it appears it is poignantly ennobling...In the main, however, Beckett's work focuses on the feeling of fragmentation and disintegration that occurs when one lives in the absence of theological or cultural accsurances and when one functions within the a priori constraints of language and the psyche."(pg. 15)
This suggests that the 'scorn' mentioned by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, is a kind of redemptive dimension to existentialism, one that Beckett lacks!

Beckett's characters are unable to lift themselves permanently above their fate; they are, as are Vladimir and Estragon, unable to move, despite their desire to do so.  There is no existential victory over fate, only an occasional poking of the head up before it is pushed back down. In summary, Beckett, who says he was not a philosopher by trade, is already beyond the existential, though the existential dimension runs as an undercurrent throughout Waiting for Godot.

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