Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Living in Godot's Land

Today is Samuel Beckett's birthday.  Ah, Beckett, the older I get, the more relevant your work seems.  And how that scares me.

I first read Waiting for Godot in grad school, at the tender young age of 25.  I was baffled.  It made sense to me as a response to World War II, as a response to the newly birthed nuclear age.  But as a staged work?  I could hardly stand to read it.  How could audiences watch it?

Of course, not all audiences did.  Some audiences greeted the play with the mindset of my graduate school self:  "What on earth is this?  We didn't come to the theatre for this!"

I used to work at a community college in South Carolina, and for some reason, we had a filmed version of the second act of the play, which I would show to my Brit Lit survey class.  It was fun to watch their reactions.  It's safe to say that Waiting for Godot was like nothing they had ever seen.  And it's a great play to launch a discussion of how 20th century drama was so very different from the drama that had come before.

I am glad that my younger self had no vision of how life--just regular life, not post-apocalypse life--can seem so very much to resemble the lives of those folks who wait for Godot.  Why are we here?  Why are we doing this?  Why don't we do something differently?  Do you have a radish or did we eat them all already?  Think about your daily tasks, especially if you're working in an office, and how much that play resembles office life.

Do we have hope?  The tree sprouts leaves, after all.  Are we really just living the same day over and over again?  Some days I think we are, other days, I'm learning/doing something new--but often, the something new will become cyclical too.  Are we just trapped together, the way that all of Beckett's plays suggest?  Can we not escape?  And where is God (Godot?) in all this.

Ah, the existential questions!

And yet, we're well-trained, aren't we?  Our broken belts won't allow us to commit suicide, and we don't want to leave our lives of circularity, because what if there really is a pay off?  What if Godot really does show up and it will all be worthwhile after all?

And so, in the meantime, we wait.  We wait with the people around us, not necessarily people of our choosing.  We wait, in hope and in despair.

It's called absurdist theatre for a reason. 

It's also theatre that refuses to spoon feed us.  What does it all mean?  At the end of the drama, it's hard to determine.  Beckett doesn't say, "Wake up you dopes!  Shake off your chains!"  Beckett doesn't say, "Don't worry.  It will all be worth it."  The audience is left to make up its own mind.

So, it's off to my Beckettian work place.  Today, I'll finish/polish the schedule of summer classes, knowing that I'll probably have to revisit it several times.  Over the next week, I'll go to multiple meetings that cover much the same material last month's meetings did.  But teaching life felt much the same way:  different students, same writing issues.  I felt in a loop I never got out of, since I never saw students progress through the years.  I taught them and sent them on to the next teachers. 

Life as absurdist theatre:  it's good to have a sense of humor!


Shefali Shah Choksi said...

Many happy returns of the day to beckett! he seemed downright normal and easy to analyze once i met Mother Courage, though!

Wendy said...

Look, a rhinoceros.