DIZZINESS — A Resource

If one notes the amount of staggering performed or stammered by characters in Waiting for Godot, it can be quite surprising. In fact, few plays contain characters that spend as much time stumbling or tottering about the stage. It is almost as if they are sailors in the midst of a violent squall, but this is not the case.

Scott Evans
Staggering Through Tragedy

As it is a quintessential work, there is a massive amount of literary criticism concerning Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. However, if the text is examined using the analytical framework of the research project Dizziness—A Resource, it reveals staggering and stammering as essential components, a novel approach. These actions establish borderlessness and fragmentation, both terrifying and liberating but ultimately placing the play’s characters in the role of the tragic and absurd. This essay uses research and theory espoused by Ruth Anderwald, Leonhard Grond, Karoline Feyertag, and Francois Jullien as a tool for literary analysis and in doing so shows dizziness as capable of establishing genre. As Estragon and Vladimir stagger and stammer through existential crisis in search of value in an ostensively meaningless existence, their precarious state proves invaluable as a resource that creates that which they painfully lack: hope.

 

STAGGERING THROUGH TRAGEDY:
Staggering and Stammering as the Absurd in Waiting for Godot

 

INTRODUCTION

If one notes the amount of staggering performed or stammered by characters in Waiting for Godot, it can be quite surprising. In fact, few plays contain characters that spend as much time stumbling or tottering about the stage. It is almost as if they are sailors in the midst of a violent squall, but this is not the case. Waiting for Godot happens on a repetitious and “circular” walk in a monotonous landscape, however if one were to look for the “storm” in this play, it would be the postmodern and existential human condition. Beckett changed the use of the actor’s body (performance) and speech (language) from that of a walk to a stagger to reflect a certain truth within a new and bleak, post-Auschwitz society.

 

The monotonous, repetitious, and ultimately absurd actions by the play’s characters mimic an existence without meaning, a fairly gloomy state of being. This outlook may be confused with nihilism, if tragedy is commonplace then there is no tragedy because it is the new norm; if there is no meaning, then communication breaks apart and there is no symbolic system to agree upon, a character’s tragic fall is not possible. This is why some believe that tragedy is dead, and Waiting for Godot exists within a post-tragic era. However, the “absurd man,” a term coined by Albert Camus, finds value in this bleak existence, even if it has no meaning. In fact, the absurd man points out the absurdity of expecting life to have meaning at all.

 

Through staggering and stammering, Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, and even Lucky portray tragic heroes as they lose and simultaneously (unless they fall) recompose themselves. This emulates the courage to survive without meaning and a search for values within this ostensive meaninglessness, as hopelessness should not be confused with nihilism. Therefore, through staggering, the play’s characters place Beckett’s masterpiece within the tragic, rather than post-tragic, genre with absurd and very ordinary heroes (who simply fall from shallow heights). This use of a staggering or stammering through both body and language changes exemplifies how tragedy is approached in order to reflect truth in tragedy after Auschwitz and an existential and melancholy human condition.

 

To examine the role of staggering in Waiting for Godot, clear definitions of “staggering” as well as its cognate “stammering” are first addressed. This analysis also depends on a definition of staggering as “la compossibilité” (“compossibility”), a notion explored by philosophers Karoline Feyertag and François Jullien in Ruth Anderwald and Leonhard Grond’s artistic-research project “Dizziness–A Resource.” The next section discusses and compares the tragic and post-tragic as defined by literary theorist Terry Eagleton, providing a framework in which to place Waiting for Godot and its characters. It is difficult (perhaps impossible) to escape the term “absurd” when analyzing a work that may be considered a cornerstone of the “theater of the absurd.” Therefore, the following section of this analysis explains Albert Camus’ conceptualization of the “absurd man” or “absurd hero,” after which one may place the staggering actions of Waiting for Godot’s characters within the context of post-WWII tragedy. This is followed by an analysis of how staggering is used within the text of the play, both performed and as stage directions. Then stammering as a speech act, within the play, is examined to further illustrate the characters as absurd heroes within the tragic.

 

Through discussing these various approaches to staggering and its aspect of compossibility, this analysis provides a different approach to examining the movement and speech in Waiting for Godot (staggering is riddled throughout), which one may use to place the work within the genre of a specifically postwar tragedy.

 

 

STAGGERING, STAMMERING, AND COMPOSSIBILITY

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has four definitions for the intransitive verb “stagger”:

  • To reel from side to side
  • To move on unsteadily – totter
  • To waver in purpose or action
  • To rock violently

“To move on unsteadily – totter” and “reel from side to side” imply a state of dizziness in the subject, as artists Ruth Anderwald and Leonhard Grond conceptualize in their art-research project “Dizziness–A Resource.” They also note that this state of dizziness may be referred to in German as “Taumel,” but that Taumel does not directly translate into English. According to the online translation tool Dict-Leo.org, Taumel may be interpreted to mean “dizziness,” “reeling,” and/or “stagger.”

 

An etymological look at the word “stagger” interestingly exposes that it is a cognate for the archaic German term “staggeln,” which may also be translated into English as “to stammer” (etymonline.com). According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “stammer” as an intransitive verb is “to make involuntary stops and repetitions in speaking.” Therefore, this analysis defines stammering by the characters in Waiting for Godot as a staggering through use of language. Stammering may easily be described as “moving on unsteadily” through a speech act and thus can be connected to dizziness/staggering as Taumel.

 

Staggering and dizziness do not only have the negative connotations involved with falling because they also contain an aspect of re-composition in order not to fall. Philosophers Karoline Feyertag and François Jullien have discussed the idea of “compossibility” in connection with Taumel, as compossibility refers to the “possible non-separation of opposites, which otherwise would exclude each other” (“Dizziness–A Resource” online). Because Taumel includes both states of mind as de-composition and composition, one composes oneself within these seemingly opposite states. Essentially, a person staggering under a heavy weight (physical or metaphorical) is not simply crushed: inherent in the stagger is the re-composition of remaining upright. Inherently, Taumel exists in a borderless state between the opposites of composition and dissolution, where multiple “worlds” exist: a state of compossibility. In an interview with Karoline Feyertag, Jullien explains:

[T]he moment of dizziness (Taumel) puts into suspension all oppositions, which constitute reason, a suspension of the constitutive determinations of reason, and this very fact of Taumel allows going beyond the separation of opposites, it’s somehow metaphysical. It’s a stage where the opposites are not yet separated and it’s fertile because it’s a stage when thought can come up with new and different determinations. (May 26, 2015)

Jullien could also essentially be describing the stammering subject who creates speech through the breakdown of language and in this composition finds a place to exist in a borderless state: not silent but not exactly using speech for its usual signification. Therefore stammering is not a void of language but contains, in its very fragmentation, communication as a whole, just as staggering implies a movement that contains both walking and stillness. Compossible states are difficult to conceptualize, as Feyertag explains: “[T]here is always this tendency to decide whether it’s this or that, black or white and not being able to think two opposites at the same time and to acknowledge this grey zone or blandness” (Feyertag/Jullien interview).

This analysis of staggering in Waiting for Godot uses Anderwald and Grond’s conceptualization of Taumel as a creative and compossible resource in order to propose that the play’s characters are absurd heroes in the tragic rather than post-tragic mold. Now that the terminology and etymology of staggering in the context of this analysis (and the related concepts of dizziness and compossibility) have been established, a brief comparison of the tragic and post-tragic ensues in the next section.

 

 

WAITING FOR GODOT: TRAGIC OR POST-TRAGIC?

For a definition of the tragic and post-tragic genres, this analysis uses Terry Eagleton’s Sweet Violence, The Idea of the Tragic (2003). A non-reductive discussion of what defines classical forms of tragic theater would take up a much larger work (and in fact that is the basis of Eagleton’s book), so at the risk of grossly over-simplifying, this analysis defines tragedy using conventional belief that there is a tragic hero, usually one in a position of power, who, usually due to a fatal flaw, experiences a downfall: an Oedipus or Othello, for example. However, this analysis will unconventionally discuss the post-tragic first in order to further define what is tragic.

 

The idea of the post-tragic is tied to postmodernism. If the human experience were no longer understandable using the grand narratives of modernity, then the genre of tragedy would be among the casualties. After the horrors of the Holocaust, what could be defined as tragic, or in a broader existential sense, what could hold meaning at all? Eagleton mentions that even though “nothing is […] more tragic than a torment utterly without point, reference, parallel, cause or content, we could still not say that it is tragic” (Sweet Violence 64). Specifically, when speaking of Auschwitz, he comments: “There can be no icons of such catastrophes, to which the only appropriate response would be screaming or silence” (Sweet Violence 65).

 

In the post-tragic view, not only has tragedy become impossible in an existence without meaning, but it also has become (under classic definitions) so commonplace that what was once considered tragic is now the everyday. In a shattered world after Auschwitz, tragic theater, as well as the existence of those viewing it, has lost all meaning. Eagleton mimics post-tragic thought when he asks: “How can there be tragedy when we have forgotten that things could ever be different? […] If human beings are in fragments, then they are not even coherent enough to be the bearers of tragic meaning” (Sweet Violence 64).

 

If one believes that the tragic is no longer possible after the events of WWII, as a form of art or otherwise, then of course Waiting for Godot would be post-tragic. In this case, staggering is simply fragmentation caused by a meaningless and pain-filled existence and stammering only portrays a breakdown in language, exemplifying that tragedy, just like speech itself, ultimately signifies nothing. Eagleton expounds: “On one jaded postmodern view, there is no more alienation because there is really nothing left to alienate, no interiority to be confiscated or estranged […] In this sense, pessimism pushed to an extreme limit returns us to where we were” (Sweet Violence 67). However, does this postmodern form of nihilism truly mimic the human condition? The post-tragic seems to take existentialism past all its possible humanism into a void from which nothing escapes and this is a bleak outlook, indeed. This nihilism is the human existence without hope, but paradoxically a hopeless existence may be seen as tragic and herein lies the rub.

 

According to Eagleton, the concepts of “evil” or hope imply a belief in value (Sweet Violence 65). Those who believe that post-tragic art represents an existential human condition confuse the fact that the existential work does not mimic the search for meaning in a meaningless life; it mimics the search for value in an existence devoid of meaning (Eagleton). The fact that things still have value proves that they do signify something. The apparent meaningless of existence, instead of creating a bleak void, provides an opportunity. As Eagleton elaborates: “[I]f life is meaningless […] it presents a temptingly blank slate on which to inscribe one’s own values, rather than slavishly conform to those of God” (Sweet Violence 65). This opportunity does not mean plays like Waiting for Godot are not tragic because when one adds value, especially hope, to a mundane existence devoid of meaning, the consequences can be disastrous even in their monotony.

 

The characters of Waiting for Godot are far from being the great and powerful kings and queens of classic tragedy, however this simply shows how tragedy has evolved, not its death. The different values pertaining to the human condition after WWII required a change in how tragedy was written and performed, which includes the mimicry of meaninglessness as well as different values in tragic protagonists. According to Eagleton: “[D]eath-of-tragedy advocates […] mean a certain kind of value – immanent, heroic, sacred, foundational – is no longer much in vogue” (Sweet Violence 66). “Tragic” existence is a life devoid of meaning, yet filled with hope, and everyone participates regardless of social stature. The form of tragedy had to change if it wanted to portray some element of truth in the human condition, to actually be “tragic.”

 

Eagleton mentions that Beckett’s tragic “spells the ruin of hope,” but also undercuts the “noble ideals” of classic tragedy in exchange for ordinariness (Sweet Violence 66). What is truly tragic, yet heroic, is the fruitless search for value in a meaningless existence exemplified by hope in those who are the most dispossessed: the poor, the vagabond, the drifter. For the characters in Waiting for Godot, life is stripped to its bareness in a fight for survival: there is no great height from which to fall, no system of meaning that suggests “heights” whatsoever. But even in hopelessness, the opposite is implied—hope—and as discussed above, hope means there is some value, even in the ostensive meaninglessness of existence: a discarded chicken bone can be a feast. This search for value is at the heart of the absurd man’s quest, though its circumstances may be mundane, low, and ultimately tragic.

 

Through staggering and stammering, Vladimir, Pozzo, Estragon, and Lucky attempt to add value to their existence, to fight the overwhelming march of death without any answers. They realize that meaning is absurd and ambiguous; it shifts as often as memory, it draws people along in their misery as a new—modern—fate. However, they continue to compose themselves through staggering and stammering—imposing the “I exist”—despite this fate. What would truly be post-tragic would be if they fell and simply refused to stand back up or if Estragon chose to hang himself (an act he explicitly considers), but this is not the case. Suicide is not the action of an absurd man and nihilism is not his or her ideological anchor. The next section will explain Camus’ concept of the absurd man in better detail to further clarify the connection between staggering and the absurd, tragic hero.

 

ALBERT CAMUS’ ABSURD MAN

In The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays, Camus lays out a blueprint for the “absurd man.” First the absurd man realizes to some extent that the world itself is absurd, as is his or her existence within it. This stems from the individual trying to make sense (reason) of a world that is inherently irrational. Camus states: “This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart” (Myth of Sisyphus 16). People search for a reason they exist—for meaning—and this traditionally leads to religion and similar institutions that explain away the irrational nature of the world by ascribing them to a system. But for those individuals who jettison this comfort in a search for truth in existence, the world is meaningless and terrifying and ultimately absurd. As Camus comments:

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. (Myth of Sisyphus 5)

To be “alien” and estranged from the world is a horrifying condition, but one in which many found themselves after the Second World War and its atrocities. The breakdown in meaning that happens when one refuses to allow institutions (institutions that allow for these same atrocities to happen, explaining them with terms like “evil”) to define meaning in existence may sound familiar from the previous section of this analysis. What is provided the individual in an existential crisis is that “blank slate” Eagleton speaks of, yet, according to Camus, to write on that slate (search for truth) one must proceed with the knowledge that the world is absurd.

 

This knowledge is not enough on its own—it requires action. Camus describes: “[The absurd man] prefers his courage and his reasoning. The first teaches him to live without appeal and to get along with what he has; the second informs him of his limits” (Myth of Sisyphus 49). It takes courage to re-compose oneself. Estragon and Vladimir do not hang themselves and do not succumb to the void of nihilism; they do not try to transcend the human condition, they have the courage to live in a dizzying state, in Taumel. They hope that Godot will arrive and though the world reminds them that hope is futile, they continue to wait. There is borderlessness here, a waiting area that finds its expression in a stagger or a stammer.

 

The very act of the characters’ attempts to use reason only point out the absurdity of the world and waiting for Godot or anyone else they encounter to explain this irrationality makes this search for value a tragic affair. Estragon displays his despair throughout the play, proving that he has hope. As Camus explains: “[M]elancholy people have two reasons for being so: they don’t know or they have hope” (Myth of Sisyphus 49). Estragon also struggles to “know” as his memory proves incredibly faulty. In this mental state, he emulates one who has experienced a great trauma: the trauma of continued existence in a fragmented and absurd world.

 

 

Despite these depressing circumstances, Estragon does not commit suicide and though it may seem that he gives up searching for value in life, it is ultimately his body and speech that, like the other characters, reveal an absurd heroism. Portraying the absurd man is particularly possible in theater. Camus points out: “The theatrical convention is that the heart expresses itself and communicates itself only through gestures and in the body—or through the voice” (Myth of Sisyphus 52). Though the body of the actor may be considered a mask that conceals, paradoxically “through an absurd miracle, it is the body that also brings knowledge” (Camus 59-60). The characters in Waiting for Godot are attempting to gain knowledge—find their place in a meaningless world—through their stagger. This is the compossibility of Taumel: creating knowledge through the possibility of existing in simultaneous mental states of dissolution and composition. Courage does not have to be a conscious choice, it can simply be made manifest through the body, in the face of an absurd world, and the body of the actor is an effective conduit in portraying such an important aspect of the absurd man.

 

 

STAGGERING: THE BODY

All characters in Waiting for Godot stagger at one point or another. This not simply how Beckett’s stage directions are interpreted by various productions; he explicitly directs the actor to stagger. In fact, the play is filled with staggering and this is not happenstance because it creates an impression that every character is living under a great weight. Sometimes the character staggers alone, sometimes entangled with another, regardless the character’s body presents the individual searching for some kind of truth while simultaneously providing the means for bare survival. In this, staggering characters are necessary to provide an authentic reflection of the postwar human condition and the existential questions that arrive therefrom. Staggering portrays an uneasiness, a confusion, and seemingly a lack of control, but this lack is not the result of an individual consigned to his or her fate; it is the lack of any rational system, any explanation as to why things are the way they are: feet hurt, the body feels hunger. Ultimately, no one or thing can ascribe value to an existence such as this and wait as they may Estragon and Vladimir are left to find answers when there ostensively are none.

 

Vladimir staggers often in the play, but usually he does it in tandem (or entangled) with Estragon. There are only two instances when the stage directions have Vladimir stagger alone and interestingly both include his agency. First as mimicry, “Vladimir mimics one carrying a heavy burden” (WfG 33: 25), and second when emulating a tree, “Vladimir does the tree, staggering about on one leg” (WfG 90: 4). It is not surprising that Vladimir loses his balance most often in contact with Estragon, as the latter seems more traumatized by the human condition: losing his memory, begging for scraps, contemplating suicide. Not unrelated, there are occasions when Vladimir must hold Estragon to prevent his falling: “Estragon, no longer supported, almost falls” (WfG 67: 9-10), “[Estragon] hastens towards Vladimir, falls into his arms” (WfG 85: 25-26), “Enter Estragon right, he hastens towards Vladimir, falls into his arms” (WfG 86: 13-14). But Vladimir is not always composed enough to provide support, at times he begins to totter or stagger with Estragon, for example when the stage directions state: “Estragon loses his balance, almost falls. He clutches the arm of Vladimir, who totters” (WfG 19: 7-8), “Vladimir and Estragon totter” (WfG 54: 7), “Estragon gives a leg to Vladimir, staggers. Vladimir takes the leg. They stagger” (WfG 77: 23-25), “Wreathed together [Estragon and Vladimir] they stagger about the stage” (WfG 80: 23-24), and “As before [wreathed together]” (WfG 81: 2-3).

 

As if the aforementioned states of dizziness were not enough, Estragon also occasionally staggers alone: “Estragon drops the handkerchief, recoils, staggers about the stage howling with pain” (WfG 35: 26-27), “[Estragon] imitates Lucky, almost falls” (WfG 46: 14-15), “Estragon almost falls” (WfG 77: 28), “Estragon does the tree, staggers” (WfG 90: 6), “Estragon closes his eyes, staggers worse” (WfG 90: 9), “Estragon pulls, stumbles, falls” (WfG 97: 8). One must imagine an actor playing Estragon would be quite dizzy (and sore) after a performance. He and his companion use the mental state of dizziness in an attempt to find value in existence—at times Estragon needs support, but inherent in the action of the dizzy body is the attempt to re-compose, to find one’s balance and use reason to find his or her limits.

 

The main two protagonists are not alone in this dizzying action. Pozzo and Lucky exhibit the same bodily symptoms of Taumel and there are examples of this in the stage directions throughout. Mostly it is Lucky who loses his balance, resulting in a stagger or a fall: “Lucky starts, almost falls, recovers his senses…” (WfG 28: 16-17), “Lucky pulls the rope, staggers, shouts his text” (WfG 49: 23), “[Lucky] falls” (WfG 53: 26), “Lucky, who totters, reels, sags, but remaining on his feet” (WfG 54: 16-17), “Lucky totters forward […] Lucky totters back” (WfG 54: 18-19), “POZZO (clutching on to Lucky who staggers)” (WfG 90: 21). Lucky is obviously subservient to Pozzo and finds value in existence through slavery, however, Pozzo is far from rational and also loses his memory, much like Estragon. Pozzo, with his “system” (master/slave) that implies meaning, is just as unreliable to lean on as the others who have the terrifying freedom of having to find their own value in meaninglessness. In fact, when in Taumel, Pozzo usually just falls down: “Pozzo collapses” (WfG 98: 9), “They help Pozzo to his feet, let him go. He falls” (WfG 100: 13), “They half release [Pozzo] catch him again as he falls” (WfG 102: 4). Lucky exemplifies the heavy burden of existence without meaning and the lengths one may go to find value in an absurd world where slavery is security and freedom is horror. However, Lucky does re-compose, even under such weight and in tragic conditions, to assert himself as a subject and continue. He does not give in to nihilism and “gets back up” when he falls. Lucky, much like the two protagonists, must stagger to survive; otherwise he would simply be crushed.

 

 

STAMMERING: STAGGERING AS SPEECH

Stammering—involuntary fits and starts in speech—is an action similar to that of a stagger or a totter. It is the bodily manifestation of a borderless area in between language and the absence of meaning. Through the stammer, the body—through speech—exhibits a de-construction and construction of language that exemplifies the fragmented self. Essentially, one who stammers is one who traverses compossibility through speech. In an existence where both its value and fundamental meaning are in question, this speech act correctly portrays the precariousness of the human condition. With sign systems shattered in a postwar society, the stammer is hope and hopelessness, alienation and creation. Starts and repetitions in speech are not always stammering, as the denotation in the text of the play is three consecutive periods, which could also be used to denote a mid-sentence pause. Therefore, though Vladimir and Estragon frequently exhibit both deliberate and fragmented speech, the latter as result of Taumel is addressed in this section.

 

Vladimir stammers often in Waiting for Godot. Curiously, unlike Estragon’s use of the stagger, Vladimir best reveals his search for value in meaninglessness through speech. He is attempting to use reason to understand an absurd existence and yet is confronted with the absurdity of communicating anything within a hollow system. When decrying Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky he says: “To treat a man…like that…I think that…no…a human being…no…it’s a scandal!” (WfG 29: 26-28). This sentence shows both the starting of a new sentence in the midst of the original while also using repetition. Other examples of Vladimir’s stammer include: “This evening…I was saying…I was saying…” (WfG 75: 24-25), “When I think of it…all these years…but for me…where would you be?” (WfG 6: 11-12), and “All the same…that tree…that bog” (WfG 13: 8-9). But the most repetitious and disjointed utterance from Vladimir shows the ambiguity involved in a dizzy state: “Wait…we embraced…we were happy…happy…what do we do now that we’re happy…go on waiting…waiting…let me think…it’s coming…go on waiting…now that we’re happy…let me see…ah! The tree!” (WfG 75-76: 27-2). This sentence is the literary equivalent of a whirling dervish. “Happy” means nothing here, it changes nothing by labeling the two’s continual wait. Vladimir eventually finds “the tree” as an anchor point, snapping him out of his compossible state.

 

Poor Estragon stammers as well: “Pozzo…no…I’m afraid I…no…I don’t seem to…” (WfG 23: 16-17), “Er…you’ve finished with the…er…you don’t need the…er…bones sir?” (WfG 28: 24-25), “Another will come…just as…as…as me, but with smaller feet, and they’ll make him happy” (WfG 62: 20-21). In this last phrase, Estragon finds the thread and composes the sentence. But it is apparent that, similar to Lucky, Estragon staggers much more in his gait than through speech.

 

Lucky only speaks once, when he is asked to do a “thinking” performance during which he rattles off nonsense (academic sounding, emulating the absurdity of the lecturer or intelligentsia in general). Near the end of this performance Lucky is only able to blurt out words in a seeming stammer: “Tennis…the stones…so calm…Cunard…unfinished…” (WfG 53: 8-9). This example highlights the absurdity of trying to find meaning in existence and the unraveling of the language that communicates that meaning. If this is a stammer, then Lucky essentially falls, stuck in a void of silence. Pozzo, on the other hand, though he speaks much more than Lucky, does not stammer at all. There are times when he pauses, sobs, or exclaims, but his language is calculated, it does not de-compose, it is rhetorical even in despair—the language of the institution, the slave master.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Waiting for Godot is a decidedly melancholy affair—waiting around for someone to arrive and explain why one shouldn’t “off oneself” invariably is. The tragedy in the play is invariably tied to the postwar human condition. Things that signify, that relay a certain social status or power, can no longer be trusted. If institutions allowed for the Holocaust to happen then it represents the limit point of irrationality bringing about pain and suffering through a “rational” system. Nothing can tell one why life is worth living or even what has “worth.” The characters stagger about the stage unsure of their place in the world, down in the dirt with the audience it seems, so apparently no tragic “fall” is possible.

 

However, if society itself has experienced a “fall” into meaningless existence and a mistrust of signs, would a fall be necessary to denote a tragic play? Perhaps, rather than entering some new “post-tragic” era in which nihilism and postmodern skepticism take hold, theater had to re-form (re-compose) the tragedy to more accurately represent the human condition: the average person suffering in a search for some value in a meaningless existence. Representing the world as a place full of suffering and pain without purpose (where even knowledge is an illusion) makes Waiting for Godot’s content ultimately tragic. But the world as viewed under this lens is also absurd; it is irrational and ridiculous, in fact it is absurd that humans expect a thing like suffering to have “meaning” at all. Camus’ absurd man transverses this existential crisis by acting in the absurd, using courage to continue pursuing his or her own knowledge and a value in existence as well as using reason to find limits to this condition.

 

It is an absurd idea that staggering is a heroic act—the bodily result of the tragic hero’s mental state—but that is exactly the point. The stagger involves dissolution and re-composition: the character is dizzy, but doesn’t fall. The fact that, in the face of pain, meaninglessness, and no real reason to continue living, Estragon, Vladimir, and at times Lucky continue to re-compose themselves and keep searching for something that gives their lives value. This act of compossibility, of using simultaneously opposing states of mind to create an inquiring “self” is the very stuff from which the absurd hero is made. The staggering journey that lurches in circles in Waiting for Godot is chock-full of tragic elements and pain; it takes courage not to kill oneself out of anger, despair, and hopelessness. The tragic and heroic action of these characters firmly places the play within tragedy redefined and not a post-tragic world without value. While Lucky may still act under the guise of a master/slave relationship that cushions his position, Estragon and Vladimir search (or wait) for a reason to live, conducting themselves with a quite courageous and absurd stagger.

 

 

© Anderwald + Grond

 

LITERATURE

Anderwald, Ruth & Grond, Leonhard. “Dizziness­—A Resource” Artistic-research Project. Accessed 25.05.2017.

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. The RECLAMS UNIVERSAL-BIBLIOTHEK Edition. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co, 2014.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus & Other Essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1955.

Eagleton, Terry. Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Feyertag, Karoline. “In Conversation with François Jullien: Making Ambiguity Fertile is the Present Mission of Thought.” Accessed 25.05.2017.

 

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed 25.05.2017.

 

The Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 25.05.2017.

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