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Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World

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232 Roger Coulibaly Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World Roger Coulibaly The characters, in Samuel Beckett s Waiting for Godot are drifters. They surface with no ambition, no initiative, no
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232 Roger Coulibaly Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World Roger Coulibaly The characters, in Samuel Beckett s Waiting for Godot are drifters. They surface with no ambition, no initiative, no aim. They simply are the ones of the too many suffering multitudes whose lives are left aside by history books, especially in angry years. Vladimir, Pozzo, Estragon, Lucky or whomsoever in Waiting for Godot are involved in what Harris called the paradox of nonexistence (Harris1982: 8). As worldly life is non-exciting, Waiting for Godot expresses man s relation with the supernatural universe by presenting it in concrete terms. The characters, bewitched by waiting for what they seem to already have, move between two worlds, that of dreams and the somber world in which they live their buried existence. Admittedly both realms contain elements of good and bad but the positions of the characters in the struggle are fixed; they are locked in a circle no one can ever overcome nor can every escape from. And there is no hope of a dialogue nor a possible adaptation of man with this universe. Becket s characters are longing for the absolute. Yet this absolute is inherent to the fact of waiting and their stasis is eternal. That is to say, the object of their quest is what they are waiting for. In other words, as men, they surrender to sitology. Of course Waiting for Godot is a play, a work in which to say means to act, to stage, to show what the play voices. Waiting for Godot is the way language refers to the visible world as Professor Gombrich would claim it. Waiting for Godot is a two-act play which unfolds in about one day as suggested by Vladimir in his remarks about Spring (Beckett 1955: 66). In addition to this time we have a longer one which can stand for the characters lifetime. This can appear like eternity: Estragon: Oh...this and that, I suppose, nothing in particular. (With assurance) Yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. Thats been going on now for half a century. (Beckett 1955: 66). A lot happens even though the performance is limited to a single vague spot, a decor embedding a mount (ascension, climbing), a tree (knowledge), a rock (eternity or tooling), and a road (opening to new perspectives and new starts, cf. Jobes 1962: 1119). These elements make the stage, a crossroad in a desolate land, where the small number of characters, come together as associates of misery in wait for the Father (Becket 1955: henceforth refered to only by the pagination). Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World 233 In order to examine Beckett s achievement I want to use a model of textual analysis inspired by the concepts of Tzvetan Todorov, Roman Jakobson and Julia Kristeva. The works of these three theorists (founders to which I am endebted) provide a critical paradigm which enables me to move from a discussion of the largest units of the spectacle down to details of style, while at the same time identifying a crucial homology among the levels of discourse. Furthermore, this approach facilitates discussion of Beckett s treatment of sitology or shitology, not only from the perspective of theme, but also in terms of structure and language which, in an important sense, are the subject of the play. Todorov states that: There are two kinds of interest, and also two kinds of narrative. One unfolds on a horizontal line: we want to know what each event provokes, what it does. The other represents a series of variations which stack up along a vertical line: what we look for in each event is what it is. The first is a narrative of contiguity, the second a narrative of substitutions. (Todorov 1977: 135). Though these two types are present in most writings, in Waiting for Godot the vertical line seems to be predominant in the embedding of materials which creates a cyclic and spatial order, most frequently found in lyric poetry: Vladimir: Time flows again already. The sun will set, the moon will rise, and we away...from here (Beckett 1955: 77). Then Vladimir: We have to come back tomorrow (Beckett 1955: 93). Jakobson (1956) writes that a particular style is created through the syntactic and semantic manipulation of two kinds of connection: contiguity and similarity. He explains that contiguity and similarity in turn arise from the predominance of either metonomy or metaphor both as rhetorical figures within a text and as principles of organization across a larger discourse: One topic may lead to another either through their similarity or through their contiguity. The metaphoric way would be the most appropriate term for the first case and the metonomic way for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonomy respectively (Lodge 1977: 318). With the same drive, Jakobson (1956) suggests the predominance of metaphor in symbolist modes of writing Metaphor proper is often replaced by something more properly called symbol and metonomy in realist modes. Combining both Todorov s and Jakobson s theories allows one to say that the vertical narrative will follow the principle of similarity and substitution basic to metaphor. Cleanth Brooks ably sums up this aspect of the matter: The difference between the terms of a metaphor forces the reader to make his own interpretation. The need to interpret to see the analogy, to intuit the relevant likeness comes out clearly enough when one confronts an elaborate comparison (Brooks 1984: 318). The reader has to involve his own imagination in the comprehension of the writing. Julia Kristeva s (1980) concept of language as a dual symbolic and semiotic process, a poetic language can help to further this analysis. Language as a social practice necessarily presupposes these two dispositions [semiotic and symbolic], though combined in different ways to constitute types of discourse, types of signifying practices (1980: 133). She means language as nomination, sign, and syntax and semiotic as the instinctual and preverbal drives manifest in rhythm and intonation, and anterior Space and Culture 7 / 8 / 9 234 Roger Coulibaly to naming (Kristeva 1980: ). It appears that the horizontal narrative will contain a highly ordered, repressive, rationalist style. The vertical narrative will be conveyed in poetic language. The subject of Waiting for Godot is centrally concerned with the theme of the possession of space. It portrays the difficulty of establishing any sort of close relation in a horizon whose basic quality is distance. We can see it through the characters being tied down to this world (pp ) and the words of Pozzo: The tears of the world are a constant quantity (pp ). Beckett s players are ones too many for the road (p. 53). Their human hands are groping in the dark although they are afraid to meet the dawn. On the surface this is quite normal and looks familiar enough, as if the facts would provide just the right components for a playful Sisyphus Myth (p.72). How then was Beckett to transcribe a situation where so little of the characters internal chaos was externalized in dramatic action and conventional heroics? Pozzo: I am blind... Vladimir: Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?...but in all that what truth will there be?...astride a grave and a difficult birth...(becket 1995: 84-91) Beckett was deeply dissatisfied with daily ritual life as it is conventionally presented and spoken about. And he kept hearing other voices telling another life story: Vladimir:...It is not everyday that we are needed...to all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears... (Beckett 1955: 79). So by necessity in the process Beckett was forced to do violence to narrative conventions, to the rational causality and linear progression of the realist writing. He relies on natural setting, concrete images, to convey intensities of emotions and moods of characters usually described in abstract terms. This is what he does to portray the state of constipation torturing Estragon who finds it burdensome for Vladimir to ease himself when he is around the latter (pp. 17, 32, 59). And though as he says Estragon: Nothing happens, nothing comes, nobody goes, it s awful (p. 41), they keep believing in it (pp ). Accordingly, while emphasis is on the inner life of his main characters, he also directs attention to the material concerns of the society such as the discussion of the carrot-turnip or radish (pp. 20, 68). Like darkness and light, so to speak, Didi and Gogo are presences which modify each other, and their efforts together help relieve the distressing conditions of existence in the community (pp. 35, 71, 76, 79, 81). Many of the happenings have no significance beyond their vivid descriptive quality, but others are very directly related to the theme of the play. Gogo and Didi, for example are associated with the tree, the rock, the road (pp. 23, 32, 40), night (pp. 37, 38, 65, 80, 85, 93) and the circle (p. 52). They can be directly compared with the circle as symbol of regularity, whereas the character of the Boy is connected with prophecy. Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World 235 For instance the Boy never enters the circle fully. He represents life-renewing force. He suggests balance in his nature comparable to that which characterizes nature especially the tree, alternation of time and history of a whole evolution when the elements work in harmony. In this play, the symbolic significance of images drawn from the behaviour of the natural elements is further extended by reference to the boy s disappearance from Gogo and Didi s community. The boy s fading away like twilight indicates a change in the nature of the society and is comparable to the effect which ignorance, the lack of knowing and certainty has on human beings looking for a destination while anchored at home. The boy s passing out of sight marks a break in the ritual of staying and waiting. The other important metaphor in the play is the alternation of sun and night, of light and darkness in the solar cycle. Sun and night are associated with two personalities and with two ways of spending a lifetime and exercising willpower. The sun represents potency, which displays itself openly, and the night represents power which is held in reserve or existence lived underground. The reader is caught in between the life story and dramatized experiences of characters like Pozzo, Lucky and others. So, in many ways Vladimir or Estragon will be the reader s proxy within the text. For example, Gogo pushes and hisses to shit in vain (p. 76), thus having to wait and hoping for release, he cannot stand up (p. 9, 93). On the other side, in the vertical narrative of substitutions which Beckett generates through the technique of embedding as Todorov calls it, the initial story of encounter between Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky and the Child (pp. 30, 52, 77) is repeated with variations. The full meaning of this encounter cannot unfold within the linear progression of the horizontal narrative because, as Todorov explains of the mystery story (or vertical narrative), the crime being committed before us in the opening pages is incomprehensible and the investigation consists in returning to the same events over and over checking and correcting the slightest details, until at the end the truth breaks out (Todorov 1977: 135). The final juxtaposition of territory the place where Vladimir and Estragon are stuck (pp ) against the blind helpless Pozzo, who himself represents humanity, is of considerable significance (pp. 83, 90). Not only is the image visually alluring and pertinent, but also it adds a further item to the play s sequence of tree images; one is led steadily forward from the opening location where Gogo and Didi are sitting on the rock under a leafless tree, to the final symbolic juxtaposition of the leafed tree of knowledge, of life and the tree of retrogression, of death: Vladimir: At the very beginning. Estragon: The begining of WHAT?... Estragon:...Another of your nightmares. (Beckett 1955: 65-66). In this value reversal world: Space and Culture 7 / 8 / 9 236 Roger Coulibaly Pozzo: I am blind. Silence. Estragon: Perhaps he can see into the future...(beckett 1955: 84-85) The tree of knowledge and the tree of physical and heroic retrogression are the same as if the characters feared eternity (pp ), since eternity is a recurring void, that is, the extinction of birth and death in human creative terms. I recall a fragment from Harris (1983) words: What is eternity? Eternity is unbearable womb of endless progression forever and forever: who can bear the terror of gestating eternity, of being locked into a paradox that annihilates birth and death in human creative terms, leaves nothing but forever and forever and forever and forever... It is easy to say world without end we tend to repeat such phrases like parrots, unthinkingly, unimaginatively. Beauty and terror are faces of eternity... (Harris 1983: 22). Beckett, the playwright and artist, has a rather special relation to truth (pp. 50, 88, 90). He is concerned with man s characteristic relation to universal laws and to the kind of world that is subject to them. And that relation has to be perennially rediscovered for example in words like, Or: Vladimir: (sentencious). To every man his little cross.(he sighs). Till he dies. (Afterthought) And is forgotten. (Beckett 1955: 62). Vladimir: And that we should subordinate our good offices to certain conditions (Beckett 1955: 78). Beckett creates his vertical narrative around the mode of presentation and the voices of Vladimir and Estragon. He does not develop them in the traditional realist manner of carefully inter-connected character traits and evolving personalities gradually revealed through psychological motivation and causally-related experiences. Instead we experience the two characters in flashes and from slightly differing angles (the circle, the tree, the rock...) until through repetition, we come to know them. Vladimir and Estragon s voices or personal speaking style seems to be the most important element in the enactment of this tale. They characteristically speak through stories rather than factual explanations or discursive argument. For example, one answers questions the other did not ask (pp.20, 78). Also, Estragon always answers a question or request with a metaphysical remark (p. 16) or a story which wrenches the reader s sense of continuity from its customary logical expectations. Beckett establishes the characters minds and difficulties of communicating with each other, through their environment. I am referring to their apparent cacophony: Vladimir: The same lot as usual? Estragon: The same? I don t know. (...) Vladimir: Sometimes I feel it coming all the same. Then I go all queer. (Beckett 1955: 9-10) The reader is at a disadvantage early in the play because it is only much later, after repeated allusions to visions, dreams of death, and the symbolic importance of the neck, that we will understand the scope of Vladimir s comment. Waiting For Godot: Searching for the True World 237 The misunderstanding which surrounds Vladimir s statement is an initial example of what Jakobson (1956) describes as the bipolarity of language. Of course, Vladimir speaks in metaphors: he is suffering from constipation (pp. 25; 26). Lucky is a literal-minded man (suffering from a variety of aphasia (loss of power to use speech) which Jakobson would describe as a similarity disorder ) to whom a rope around the neck (p. 77) can only be one thing: a metonomy, more precisely a synecdoche, for being led to the butcher s house, for damnation, for capital punishment and, therefore, the logical, undeserved outcome of an unfair act from the loving father who cannot be restrained from a zealous overabundance for creation. Jakobson s bipolar structure is represented in the split narrative and Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, and the Boy s distinct ways of thinking and speaking. For example, Pozzo s language (pp ) or Vladimir s (p. 61) is a language of nomination and denotation relying upon syntactic order, contiguity, relations of cause and effect, that is to say, on metonomy. But with Pozzo thinking... Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher...Cunard...unfinished... (Jakobson 1956: 42-45). Phrases are, as it were, grammatically petrified to do ordinary syntactic work. This thought is not the kind of banal talk of ordinary human beings. The sonorities of the language played off against each other would appear ritualistic declarative sentences like an African attending a priest saying the ad domino in Latin. Syntax however is disrupted through ellipsis, parataxis, and strong, unusual metaphors, particularly in the sentence Vladimir: It s only beginning (Jakobson 1956: 35), where the word beginning arouses expectations which are not met by the ensuing clauses and the reader must go back to beginning to grasp its ungrammatical assertion. Yet these disruptions and surprises call attention to this type of discourse as language. By breaking the repressive language of nomination and denotation, disintegrating the syntax of rationalist and realist discourse, and thereby forcing his language to admit the rhythms, intonations and imagist associations of a semiotic process, Beckett created what Kristeva calls poetic language, a language which replaces linguistic transparency with the opacity of the word as signs. Logical propositions are replaced with instinctual drive (Kristeva 1980: ). There are several stunning examples of Beckett s poetic language which invite analysis, but I will limit my discussion to two: the stage directions, third-person point of view and the firstperson address. The first reveals Beckett creating an inner world of ritual and ecstasy controlled by an informer; the second illustrates his ability to create a convincing speech and therefore a credible and effective lot of characters. Considering the two solitary figures, Vladimir speaks with a different voice, which can be said to be a cry in the wilderness (pp. 32, 40, 76). This cry tells of a lack of control on reality, a loss of identity and a sense of isolation. It is like speaking a foreign language to local people. The introductory and closing scenes of Waiting for Godot, are outside the community of characters, but they reflect Estragon s experiences. His experiences break up chronological time by Space and Culture 7 / 8 / 9 238 Roger Coulibaly using dreams and memories. The hero in the play is also schizophrenic. He has no hold on reality and must search for understanding by getting rid of his constipation in the bush: Estragon: We should turn resolutely towards Nature (p. 64), the large darkness that is his own ignorance. As Vladimir would put it: Another of your nightmares (p. 66). So a nightmare of unreality takes over as the dreamer finds he is no longer the laughing model, but an outside and helpless spectator who has to watch a black shape condense and move forward like the veil of death. As long as he resists the wilderness and the manuring of nature Estragon will not be cured (p. 64). He needs to become part of his landscape: But yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it s covered with leaves. (Beckett 1955: 66) But there are different ways to do this. He can Go to hell (p. 82), that is to let worms inhabit him or he can bury himself in the ground like a stone or a tree or a vegetable in the Sweet mother earth (p. 82). These are Beckett s metaphors for the commencement of madness. Throughout his play, Beckett makes it clear that there is a correlation between shit-going and story-telling, between actual sensuality and textual sensuality. Whereas Lucky is exposed to diarrhea, Estragon is agonizing from constipation (pp , 30, 31, 42). The passage worth quoting goes: Lucky: Given the exi
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