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Reading Godot

Reading Godot

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Reading Godot
    Book Description:

    Waiting for Godothas been acclaimed as the greatest play of the twentieth century. It is also the most elusive: two lifelong friends sing, dance, laugh, weep, and question their fate on a road that descends from and goes nowhere. Throughout, they repeat their intention "Let's go," but this is inevitably followed by the direction "(They do not move.)." This is Beckett's poetic construct of the human condition.Lois Gordon, author ofThe World of Samuel Beckett,has written a fascinating and illuminating introduction to Beckett's great work for general readers, students, and specialists. Critically sophisticated and historically informed, it approaches the play scene by scene, exploring the text linguistically, philosophically, critically, and biographically. Gordon argues that the play portrays more than the rational mind's search for self and worldly definition. It also dramatizes Beckett's insights into human nature, into the emotional life that frequently invades rationality and liberates, victimizes, or paralyzes the individual. Gordon shows that Beckett portrays humanity in conflict with mysterious forces both within and outside the self, that he is an artist of the psychic distress born of relativism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13202-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Form of Madness: A Sensible Mess
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the premodern era, religion explained both human nature and the human condition. By the end of World War II, philosophy and psychology had not so much destroyed the gospel as rewritten it in secular language. Freudianism and existentialism were exciting new paradigms of Western thought, and although their influence has declined, they provided the intellectual framework for many of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, including Samuel Beckett.

    Ironically, the outcome of the Freudian revolution in understanding human psychology was a view of the species a medieval monk would have found congenial. In the gospel according to Freud, humans beings...

  5. ONE The First Forty Years, 1906–46: Origins of a Vision and Form
    (pp. 19-54)

    Samuel Beckett began his creative ‘‘siege in the room’’ shortly after the siege of World War II and produced during that period his greatest works, includingWaiting for Godot, Molloy, Malone Dies, andThe Unnamable. Decorated for his activities in the Resistance, Beckett had fought against the atrocities of the war, although before that time he had borne witness to nearly half a century of human depredation and suffering. The parameters of his maturation included two world wars, two economic depressions (in Belfast and London), and two civil wars (in Ireland and in wartime France). Beckett observed the gradual spread...

  6. TWO Waiting for Godot: The Existential Dimension
    (pp. 55-69)

    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 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...

  7. THREE The Dream as a Manifestation of Unconscious Language and Emotion: The Conglomerative Effect
    (pp. 70-85)

    The power ofWaiting for Godotderives from its exposure of the emotional life in counterpoint to the existential condition—Beckett’s revelation of the unconscious feelings that accompany the quest for salvation in a world bereft of meaning.Godot’smuch-repeated “ ‘Let’s go.’(They do not move.)” epitomizes not just the tension of individual action in a meaningless world; it also demonstrates the limits of will set against the constraining and deterministic forces of a controlling psyche. Condensing the tension between the human condition and human nature, the “Let’s go . . .” refrain is a key to Beckett’s new...

  8. FOUR The Conglomerative Voice: Cain and Abel
    (pp. 86-96)

    If the conglomerative effect is expressed by each character, Beckett creates, as in a dream, serialized components of what might be called a single, conglomerative voice. This voice retells, in a timeless landscape, the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the primal archetypes of innocence and brutality. The world ofGodotis as mysterious in design as that of Genesis 4; both are set within a universe in which grace and punishment are gratuitously imposed.

    Primordial examples of innocent selfhood and corrupted brotherhood, Cain and Abel are the first children on earth and, as the Bible presents them, are literally...

  9. FIVE The Language of Dreams: The Anatomy of the Conglomerative Effect
    (pp. 97-111)

    Having considered secondary revision and the conglomerative meaning ofGodot‚I can turn to the bizarre, illogical fragments and dialogue exchanges that compose a major part of the play. The dense, cryptic, contradictory nature of this material is accomplished by specific rhetorical devices akin to those described inThe Interpretation of Dreams. The following includes examples of displacement, condensation, plastic pictorialization, and multiple manifestations of paralogic, all of which reject causation and temporal linearity. If, to Freud, intrapsychic mechanisms allow the individual disguised outlets (dreams) in which to express repressed (ego-censored) feelings, for Beckett they become unique poetic techniques with...

  10. SIX “The key word . . . is ‘perhaps’ ”
    (pp. 112-124)

    Beckett’s unique stage rhetoric, in keeping with the complex networking of total mental functioning, animates the play’s every detail, propelling it into multiple transformations. Pozzo’s chicken bones, for example, become the skulls, skeletons, corpses, and charnel houses that punctuate the play, haunting reminders of human destiny. The rock, tree, rope, hats, trousers, pipe, vaporizer, bones, coat, glasses, leaves, stool, and whip merge into a conglomerative object or conglomerative emblem, if you will, of achievement and surrender, hope and suffering—of the continuously assertive but futile act of waiting for personal verification and salvation, for a raison d’être.

    If Beckett’s treatment...

  11. SEVEN Staging the Conglomerative Effect
    (pp. 125-143)

    That Beckett conceived ofGodotin symmetries of visual as well as verbal design is apparent from the productions he directed,¹ his notebooks and scripts,² and the performance instructions he gave directors and actors.³ Just as he merged objects and characters to reinforce the conglomerative effect, he manipulated space to accomplish the same purpose. Beckett’s notes specify, in remarkably detailed diagrams and explanatory commentary, the instances in which specific themes should be developed (for example, 109 instances of waiting), as well as how and where stage movements and gestures should occur. That stage design was of paramount importance to Beckett...

  12. EIGHT Crystallization of a Vision and Form
    (pp. 144-170)

    Beckett is perhaps most ingenious in plotting his characters’ relationships to one another as they share the common plight of passing the time, that is, of living in the act of waiting. In their speech and behavior, Vladimir and Estragon demonstrate the interplay of the rational and emotional components of human behavior. They may be viewed as two separate characters who interact on different levels or, in a sense, as two halves of a single self. In effect, one can view the interplay of rationality and emotion as interpersonal or intrapersonal. In either case, the more instinctual Estragon most frequently...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 171-198)
    (pp. 199-207)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 208-214)