How is Jean-Francois Lyotard's notion of "the sublime" applicable to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot?Would very much appreciate a detailed answer, and to include reference to Immanuel Kant, if...

How is Jean-Francois Lyotard's notion of "the sublime" applicable to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot?

Would very much appreciate a detailed answer, and to include reference to Immanuel Kant, if possible, please. Thanks

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jean-Francois Lyotard's notion of "the sublime" is actually an extension of Immanuel Kant's own idea as he expresses it in his Critique on the Power of Judgement. In this treaty Kant says that the sublime is

that, the mere ability to think which shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of sense.

This is explained further as a feeling of both fear, anxiety, and awe that strikes us as individuals when we are in the presence of something great or so magnificent that our imagination and our reason battle on what to make of it. It is a process of conceptualization that presents itself materially as one thing, but that our minds and emotions then create into something much greater. Hence, Kant's sublime is interdependent of our own capacity to judge and appreciate beauty.

Lyotard, as a follower of Kant's concept of the sublime, agrees with the idea of imagination fighting reason in the presence of something great for the purpose of conceptualization. In fact, he describes the battle of the imagination versus reason in the following manner:

Sublime feeling is analyzed as double defiance. Imagination [...] does violence to itself in order to present that which it can no longer present. Reason, [..], seeks, [...] to violate the interdict it imposes on itself and which is strictly critical, the interdict that prohibits it from finding objects corresponding to its concepts in sensible intuition.

To both Kant and Lyotard, there is a discord between concepts and things in the way that we, as humans, tend to perceive what we see. Simply put, Lyotard welcomes the "sublime" as an aesthetic response to reality in which we accept what we see and then choose how to perceive it. This would mean that, for instance, two persons could never be able to conceptualize the same thing in the same manner; there is too much personal emotion taxed in the process of compartmentalizing and understanding things.

In Waiting for Godot, the prime example of this trouble with conceptualization comes in the form of the wait, itself. Godot is not the same for every character in the play. For one character it means the solution to a problem, for others it may mean the advent of something, and to others, he may or may not even exist. It is, however, in the process of conceptualizing the purpose and existence of Godot that we find elements of the sublime.

Furthermore, the characters have a vision of life and existence that differs from one another. It is the meaningless lives of the characters, combined with the strong instances of curiosity, anger, injustice and other feelings that they experience in the play, that truly leads the audience to wonder if pain, as a human emotion, has any valid purpose when life really has no real meaning. Will Godot change all this?

Hence, Waiting for Godot shows the awe, pain, and anxiety that, Kant explains, come as a result of facing something truly big. It also shows the battle between reason and the imagination. Without the question of Godot, there would not have been much left for Vladimir and Estragon to question and their existences would have simply remained an endless passing of time. Nothing else would have "shaken" their thoughts except for the idea that Godot, whatever or whoever it is, would be there at some point.