Waiting for Godot

November 04, 2015

This piece of writing is about life and awaiting things: events; changes; expiries; permissions; queuing; taking one’s turn; anticipating; dreading; wonderment; tedium; excited; nervous; in pain; for release?

Life is so vast that just one wait for just one single item is able to throw up all these and far more responses in us over a period of time during which what we desire remains unfulfilled.

But it is not time or life that is fickle so much as our responses to them:

‘Thou art the slave of fate, chance, kings and desperate men’

Good old Job in the Bible has a world turned inside out, goes from riches to rags, and is left only with suffering and the sense of stasis wondering when his pain will end.

And so we are far more conscious of having to wait when the task of waiting is uncongenial – for a bus in the rain – where time’s winged chariot stalls and is loath to hurry by for us.

Hence Job’s impatience with his friends come to console him.

Waiting in mass market society has become at once anathema – I want it now – and inevitable – when in need of receipt of scant public services like health and social benefits.

It is the glossy must-have dangled lures that we don’t necessarily need, apart from our fierce desires to obtain and own, the designer wear, and widescreens, which are offered as instant gratifications; whilst the sterling more sterner stuffs of health and dentistry, public transport and soup kitchens, are those that demand that we queue and wait our turn to be served.

And so what we don’t need, but it makes us upbeat, is instantly available to us; whereas, what we do need, and makes us downbeat, is rationed through time allocation.

The difference and the condition is, that to get the upbeat things, we need to hold disposable income; to get the rationed downbeat services, we plead poverty and admit to some form of penury, which disallows bespoke care for us.  We are not the drunken toff who boarded a bus and was told he must go where the bus route takes him; that it would not take him directly to his door.

The philosophers say that passion is suffering and conversely action is its release and fulfilment.  Hamlet is a case in point. Matthew Arnold withdrew from his Collected Works the poem ‘Empedocles on Etna’, which depicts an old philosopher nonplussed ready to immolate himself in a volcano and so end it all.   Arnold noted that: ‘In this poem there is everything to be endured and nothing to be done.’

The art of waiting is not practiced very well by most of us, we chafe and fret and curse like a tied dog, once our short fuse of patience has been tried, and failed.  For us waiting is that situation Arnold describes – it is a passive suffering of inaction, of enforced inaction. That’s why we get so angry with queue jumpers, and with those who can afford not to wait, but who ‘go private’ in taxis to Harley Street.

In our mass society, there enters in also an element of, ‘all we like sheep’. That niggling feeling that ‘I am not a number – I am a free man’ that raises itself when we are bunched together – normally by ‘the authorities’ to receive like dole our flu jabs or our A&E treatments.  And we rebel.  Sometimes against our fellows, also sat like ciphers beside us, and feeling thinking the self same thoughts. Sometimes against ‘the authorities’ whose schema it is that keeps us tied up and waiting.  Sometimes, if in a really foul mood, against the world and his wife, for being more fortunate or more tolerant than we are.

Like at the start of the Winter sales in London’s West End; when eager-beavers have encamped on pavements for days before the 8am start when the shops open; we gird up our loins at five to eight and sense a rush of adrenalin as we get set, as like under the firing gun in a crucial race, and then the claxton sounds and the turn of the keys is heard in the doors of the store, and there arises a surge of bodies chaotic and animated rushing and tumbling, even coming to blows, so as to get in and get those treasures, that have only been spied through a plate window, or else we have lavished passion on as pictures in a printed catalogue.

Like a reaction upon reaching a critical mass, the restraints are released, and the gloves come off.  The very same phenomenon was seen in the early ‘90s in Eastern Europe, at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emancipation from the Soviet yoke experienced by the Balkan States, till then straitened satellite territories of the ex Super Power.

Immediately, said cynical commentators, ‘the first world war continued from where it left off in 1918’ and the buried hatreds, feuds, and religious and tribal divisions broke loose in a big way, threatening once again the peace of all Europe.  The Soviets had ruled in the Balkans for 50 years with a rod of iron, and had dashed in pieces like a potters’ vessel all those who had murmured a discontent that had reached the ear of an apparatchik.  There had been no room at the inn for dissent, or for dissenters, and if you had any dissatisfactions, you buried them or risked death.

Such utter repression of peoples, itself would have led to deep and chronic frustrations and anxieties, buried anger, and thoughts of revenge – but the Soviets were always too distant geographically and socially, for the suffering Balkan peoples to get back at them effectively.  Much of this pent up resentment and gall must have naturally flowed, when the time had come for it to be released, and the Berlin Wall got demolished, into channels occupied by legacy enemies in these small and bitter nations.

Like a bottle of pop shaken and opened up, but with catastrophic effect, the years of the lean cattle suddenly ended, emotion exploded at first as joy and celebration in a new found liberty, then as a purge of old scores as the wars of division began to erupt, almost by automation.

‘For this relief much thanks.’

The Buddhist in each of us recognises its own suffering through passion and has a sense of having had to endure at least at some points in our lives.  Once the constraints come off it is like receiving a surprise windfall when times are a bit tight – a sense of liberation and joy is complete – ‘In Welchem Luft’

The subject today, to which this has all been preamble, is our waiting, as sentient self-conscious beings, for death.  For is not this what Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is all about? Is this not more or less his whole theme for most of his life work?  Life as ‘a tiresome mole’ - and not as ‘a quickness that my God has kissed’

Does this not appear to give to death a sense of being an apotheosis; a vent, a release, an escape, from the continuum of dread awareness that we shall have to undergo its finality – or whatever?

‘Ay, there’s the rub – for in that sleep of death what dreams may come….?’

And here maybe is the clue to the popularity and the warm embrace Beckett’s drama, and of other creations of other artists of the same ilk, which have been taken to heart by a general public?   Even those persons who gladly have no claim to being ‘arty’ or cultivated know the title at least of ‘Waiting for Godot’ – it is almost a byword and symbol of late modernity, even for people who can name few other late modern artworks.

As such it is a piece in an edifice built (‘By these fragments I have shored up against my ruin’ ) by late modern Western men and women and in use as common currency right now as a short hand, a reduction, a summation, of what life and living signifies ultimately in the light of their totality of experience.