Samuel Beckett Beckett, Samuel (Vol. 10)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Beckett, Samuel 1906–

Beckett is an Irish-born playwright, novelist, poet, critic, essayist, short story writer, and translator who now resides in Paris and writes predominantly in French. In Beckett's drama, the traditional literary concepts of time, place, dramatic language, and character are suspended, as the playwright explores the meaning of existence and its presentation. The viewer is presented with fragments of sentences in the place of dialogue, and characters whose identities and even names remain in question. The recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1969, Beckett continues to influence contemporary drama and to inspire critical exegesis as perhaps no one else has in contemporary literature. (See also CLC, Vols. 1,2,3,4,6,9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Alain Robbe-Grillet

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The human condition, Heidegger says, is to be there. Probably it is the theater, more than any other mode of representing reality, which reproduces this situation most naturally. The dramatic character is on stage, that is his primary quality: he is there.

Samuel Beckett's encounter with this requirement afforded a priori, an exceptional interest: at last we would see Beckett's man, we would see Man. For the novelist, by carrying his explorations ever farther, managed only to reduce more on every page our possibilities of apprehending him. (p. 111)

Thus all these creatures which have paraded past us served only to deceive us; they occupied the sentences of the novel in place of the ineffable being who still refuses to appear there, the man incapable of recuperating his own existence, the one who never manages to be present.

But now we are in the theater. And the curtain goes up….

The set represents nothing, or just about. (p. 112)

This is called Waiting for Godot. The performance lasts nearly three hours.

From this point of view alone, there is something surprising: during these three hours, the play holds together, without a hollow, though it consists of nothing but emptiness, without a break, though it would seem to have no reason to continue or to conclude. From beginning to end, the audience follows; it may lose countenance sometimes, but remains somehow compelled by these two beings, who do nothing, who say virtually nothing, who have no other quality than to be present.

From the very first performance, the virtually unanimous critics have emphasized the public character of the spectacle. As a matter of fact, the words "experimental theater" no longer apply here: what we have is simply theater, which everyone can see, from which everyone immediately derives his enjoyment.

Is this to say that no one misjudges it? Of course not. Godot is misjudged in every way, just as everyone misjudges his own misery. There is no lack of explanations, which are offered from every side, left and right, each more futile than the next.

Godot is God. Don't you see that the word is the diminutive of the root-word God which the author has borrowed from his mother tongue? After all, why not? Godot—why not, just as well?—is the earthly ideal of a better social order. Do we not aspire to a better life, better food, better clothes, as well as to the possibility of no longer being beaten? And this Pozzo, who is precisely not Godot—is he not the man who keeps thought enslaved? Or else Godot is death: tomorrow we will hang ourselves, if it does not come all by itself. Godot is silence; we must speak while waiting for it: in order to have the right, ultimately, to keep still. Godot is that inaccessible self Beckett pursues through his entire oeuvre, with this constant hope: "This time, perhaps, it will be me, at last."

But these images, even the most ridiculous ones, which thus try as best they can to limit the damages, do not obliterate from anyone's mind the reality of the drama itself, that part which is both the most profound and quite superficial, about which there is nothing else to say: Godot is that character for whom two tramps are waiting at the edge of a road, and who does not come.

As for Gogo...

(The entire section is 13,810 words.)