Magazine article New Internationalist

Waiting for Godot

Magazine article New Internationalist

Waiting for Godot

Article excerpt

Waiting for Godot is like waiting for Clinton,' ran the headline quotation in the British Guardian newspaper last August. Susan Sontag, the New York writer, pictured amid the rubble of a besieged Sarajevo, had gone there to direct a Bosnian production of Samuel Beckett's well known drama. The story pricked my scepticism. Why was it that artistic activity in Bosnia was newsworthy only when a Western personality was involved? Wasn't there something odd and objectionable about Sontag directing actors, for parts spoken in a language she did not understand, through interpreters?

I can't think of a play as appropriate as Godot,' she was quoted as saying. 'It is about people who are weak and defence - less, abandoning hope of being saved by some arbitrary power.' Didn't that sound like the banal Americanization of an extreme social crisis? On the other hand, I reflected, wasn't Sontag saying precisely that art is not a mere consumerist luxury, but something that must address the political circumstances in which people find themselves? Wasn't her expression of solidarity in staging the play genuine, particularly in view of the personal danger for anyone in Sarajevo at the time?

The answers to some of these questions probably lie in Waiting for Godot itself, 'a tragi - comedy in two acts' first produced in 1955. The play concerns Estragon and Vladimir, two rootless, occupationless but not entirely witless down - and - outs who discover (the first words of the play) 'nothing to be done'. We find them on a country road, on which the only feature is a naked tree. They have seemingly only one purpose in life: to wait for a character called Godot. They cannot move on until Godot comes. Each day brings fresh hope that Godot will arrive, but this hope is each day disappointed. They thus survive in a state of suspenseful, all - consuming anxiety, punctuated by resignation in the face of their absurd condition.

Estragon and Vladimir repeatedly propose parting from one another or committing suicide by hanging themselves from the tree, but they reflect that the tree may not bear the weight of the second body, and each desperately fears the prospect of being left alone. They grasp at any spectacle which offers relief from the situation, such as the appearances of the sadistic madman Pozzo, who drives with a whip an abject slave ironically called Lucky. 'That passed the time,' Vladimir comments when Pozzo and Lucky have gone, which is all that can apparently be hoped for in the absence of any meaning or enlightenment. 'Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful! …

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