Towards Something or Nothing?



 In Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, we behold the sight of Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for something extraordinary to happen. They’re waiting for godot, who they hope will save them.

 We may perhaps feel hopeful for them and wonder: Will their hope of meeting Godot be realized? And, might we hope to delight in any discoveries they make?

 Well the answer is no. The gist of the play is that Godot will be a no show and no discoveries will be made.

 For in Beckett, there is no affirmation of the purpose filled life. There is no sense, as in some other authors, of a long struggle that leads eventually to the recognition of beauty or meaning. 

 No, the point rather of a Beckett play is to realize the absurdity of life - to realize its meaningless and pointlessness.

 Which you and I are supposed to bravely accept - that reality is cold, heartless and impersonal.

 Accordingly therefore, Samuel Beckett isn’t your man if you’re looking for inspiration. For what you will find in Beckett is his assessment that man is a non-knower and a no-can-er. (source unknown)

 Beckett’s effort is to convey that Vladimir and Estragon's hopes, prayers and dreams don’t amount to anything.

 Godot, too, is a fantasy. 

 The message is bleak. Reflecting on the play’s meaning, Peter Watson states: “The play is about humanity - the universe - running down, losing energy, cooling.” (Peter Watson, A Terrible Beauty)

 There is in Beckett no bigger picture, no grander scheme, or larger perspective. In a phrase, there is no spiritual perspective, but only what science had revealed by the middle of the twentieth century - which is that, we are living in a “cold, empty, dark world.”

 I expect therefore that in the light of what I’ve written so far that you will be terribly interested to know that the play, Waiting for Godot, has two acts. In the first act, nothing happens. In the second act, it’s more of the same.  Nothing happens again. Nothing happens twice.

 If therefore you were thrilled during the the first act about nothing - if you just couldn’t get enough of it - well, there’s still more to come in the second act. More about nothing.

 Just imagine the possibility of tripling your pleasure if there had been a third act. 

 Well, the message of the play accords with the philosophy of the theatre of the absurd that, any meaning you uncover will inevitably slip through your fingers.

 Beckett’s play makes clear that life is but a repetitive bore: “He (Vladimir) takes off his hat, peers inside it, feels about inside it, shakes it, puts it on again. He takes off his hat again, peers inside it. He knocks on the crown as though to dislodge a foreign body, peers into it again, puts it on again.”

 "Estragon, with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him. He takes off his hat again, peers inside it, feels about inside it, knocks on the crown, blows into it, puts it on again.” 

 Which is Beckett’s dispiriting point - that whatever you do doesn’t matter and doesn’t mean anything. 

 So Becket has a way of turning something, if there is anything, into nothing. And, somehow, he’s celebrated as a great writer, in spite of his depressing effect.

 It’s the same bleak message in another of Beckett’s plays, Krapp’s Last Tape. As the play begins, we behold ”an old man sitting at his desk in a dank, poorly lit room, full of moulding paperwork, gawping silently into nothingness.

 Krapp, on his 69th birthday, then listens to a tape of himself at 39. He laughs derisively, showing only contempt at his younger self’s foolish idealism.

 In Krapp’s life, nothing has ever been good enough and nothing has ever worked out. As in the case of the last book he wrote. It has sold only 17 copies, but not to people eager to read him. 

 No. His books have been sold to foreign libraries to fill empty shelves. Never to be read by anyone.

 Krapp continues to torture himself by listening to how he had casually let go of a woman with whom he might have had a future. The pain of lost love haunts him.

 At 69, he’s become a sad, broken man. He recalls 'the fire in me' from days gone by. Now, he’s simply 'burning to be gone.'

 The play is thus a focus upon a man who has lived in such a way that he has  ended up in a completely disconnected state.

 Think for a moment of the history of mankind, as when man emerged from nothingness - the ape period, and then the development of basic intelligence through trial and error. Then the various periods - the Medieval, the Victorian, the Modern, the Technological.

 It’s been a neat linear history of progress.

And then comes Krapp.

 History has resulted in Krapp. (Wikipedia paraphrased) 

 Is Krapp inevitable? Well, think of the film, Marty, where Ernest Borgnine plays the part of a lonely, middle-aged butcher living in the Bronx. His life, like Krapp’s, is moving towards nothingness. 

 On Saturday evenings, Marty sits passively at the local diner with his friend, Angie.

 Every week they have the same conversation: “What do you wanna do tonight? I dunno, Angie. What do you want to do?” 

 The two men are living a pathetic pattern, waiting passively for something extraordinary to happen.

 But the film, in contrast to Waiting for Godot, is about breaking a debilitating pattern. Marty will break out of his script of despair to find life and love. It’s a great triumph.

 Now, for any of us, life can sometimes feel like a long, dark tunnel. You don’t know how you got into it. You may feel that you were thrown into it. You think that this tunnel is not what you had in mind. You would never have chosen this fate.

 But here you are in the tunnel. What are you going to do? You don’t know which way to go, or what to do.

 But then you decide that you must do something. So you perhaps head for the entrance, or take a few steps back, or you decide or stay put.

 Your freedom, your power, is that you decide in one way or another. 

 Which was Victor Frankl’s message - that you always have the power to choose, no matter what.

 If anyone knew about isolation, nothingness and the absurdity of existence, it was Frankl, who survived three Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

 In unimaginable circumstances, Frankl chose to go on, focusing on the possibility, against all odds, of seeing his wife again.

 When the war ended, Frankl, a psychiatrist, created a form of psychiatry called logo therapy, based on the concept of knowing one’s meaning

 Everything about Frankl is a source of inspiration.

 In contrast to Beckett, Frankl was the kind of person whose effect wasn’t to turn something into nothing, but to turn what seemed like nothing into something.

 This same kind of positivity pervades as well the writings of the British writer, Colin Wilson. 

 In an interview Colin shared that he had filled his life up with the poetry of Rupert Brooke who he credits with living fully in “that feeling of wide-awakened that you get on a spring morning.” (Gregory Vincent St.Thomasino interview)

 In Rupert Brooke’s writings, says Wilson, there is always the possibility of  "sudden significance, importance and inspiration.”  

 There is always the possibility that something will cause the “breath to stop with a gulp of certainty and happiness.”

 Inspired by this kind of writer, Wilson states that he has tried to live in such a wide-awakened state. He calls it “his occupation to be in love with the universe.

 A total contrast to Samuel Beckett.

 In Colin Wilson’s writings you will not find an emphasis on absurdity, but upon G.K. Chesterton’s absurd good news. 

 You will find Wilson writing about Proust’s uplifting experience of tasting the madeleine dipped in tea.

 For Proust the effect of that taste prompted the comment: “I had ceased to feel accidental, mediocre, mortal.”  

 Wilson asks if Proust’s comment could be squared with the nature of reality? Was Proust’s affirmation “true, or an illusion?" Wilson’s answer? "I would answer true.”

 Wilson then goes after writers like Samuel Beckett, holding them accountable for their focus on nothingness.

“The people who deserve blame are the pessimists, the poisoners of our cultural wellsprings, like Samuel Beckett and William Golding.” (Lord of the Flies)

 Wilson states bluntly that “idiots parrot that Beckett is a great writer. He isn’t. With the exception of Godot, which justifies itself by being funny, he is a dreary shit. And in encouraging the notion that life is a tale told by an idiot, and that our attitude towards it ought to be one of weary resignation, he is an enemy of human evolution.”

 No. The writer is called to be better than that.

 Indeed the writer is called to what Wilson calls the experience of promotion, which is the experience of an extraordinary sense of enlargement. The writer’s responsibility is to elevate, to enlarge, to promote, his readers.

 In Wilson’s book, Poetry and Mysticism, in the chapter on Rupert Brooke, he compares the promotion experience to Proust’s affirmation that he ‘ceased to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal.’

 To feel promoted is actually a realization of Divinity. As Wilson states: “It is a glimpse of who you really are.”

 Well, Colin Wilson has been a hero for 'those who have sought to overcome  alienation.' 

 He’s been a hero to cynics who knew of 'a hundred reasons why the world should go to hell.'

 He’s been 'a hero for those who had thought that 'God was dead.’ (paraphrased from Gregory Vincent St.Thomasino)

 "My optimism,” says Wilson, "is a general basic verdict on human existence, just as the pessimism of Beckett is his own assessment.” 

 Beckett's pessimism, says Wilson, "seems to me to be full of personal weakness and subjectivity - an indication of "poor emotional health.

 The point to be made therefore is that we can live without this pessimism in our lives! We don’t need to fill ourselves with the theme that something always turns to nothing.

"In the sixties," says Swami Shankarananda, "it was fashionable to make movies that violated the heart.”

 "You would leave the theatre with a horrible pain in your chest, and the intellectuals (including me in those days!) would think it was a deepening experience.” (S. Shankarananda, Carrot in my Ear.)

 “But the heart wants peace, harmony and love.”

 "A part of us intuitively loves goodness and truth to prevail.” 

 "A great artist or writer can tune into That and evoke it.” 

 That is what Colin Wilson is saying. The writer is responsible to elevate his readers to that state of promotion, an enlargement such that they no longer feel 'accidental, mediocre and mortal.’

 We can determine to find every possible way to turn what seems like nothing into something.  

 We can become artists whose influence transforms.