Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Godot and Ghosts

Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot deals heavily with the concept of existence. Though the obvious answer is that protagonists Estragon and Vladimir are real, their existence is called into question when Pozzo and Lucky fail to remember their previous encounter with them. Before this incident, however, there occurs a significant dialogue in which Vladimir and Estragon discuss the ubiquitous voices of the dead. Clearly, most people do not think of the spirits of the dead as being “real”. But what if the physical world we know is simply an illusion? What if the spirit world is the only place where truth can live?
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard believes that there is a growth pattern toward truth. Unfortunately, most individuals find themselves stuck between Kierkegaard’s “crisis of despair”, in which they are unsure of what is right, and “paralysis and dread.” Estragon and Vladimir are visibly trapped in a state of paralysis, as evidenced by the end of each act: “Let’s go,” they do not move. This state, however, despite its dire name, is actually rather comfortable – Estragon and Vladimir are not striving for truth or some higher form of knowledge, but rather waiting for someone (or maybe something?) called Godot to arrive and solve their problems for them. This state of existence, though to the audience apparently meaningless and empty, is the one in which most of society dwells.
Estragon and Vladimir become visibly agitated when they run out of matters to discuss and are nearly relegated to the confines of their own minds and forced to listen to the voices which surround them. But what if the voices are more than just constant chatter? Perhaps the reason that the characters are so set against listening to these voices is that only in death can the soul finally see truth – that is, they are pushed beyond physical paralysis into the realization that nothing is certain. This notion can be quite painful and difficult to cope with. Maybe some voices speak of their discomfort at seeing the truth; maybe others lament their own inability to see truth in life. However, understanding that nothing is certain can also be freeing: what if some of the voices are attempting to pass this concept on?
So the question which stands is one of existence. If most of our world is living in a state of denial and paralysis, is the physical world truthful? And if there is no truth in this world, is this existence real? Maybe it is only in transcending the physical realm that truth can be realized, and it just might be that in this reality, truth cannot exist – humanity as a whole is too paralyzed. But the voices are always there, speaking constantly about the world they know. And maybe it would benefit Estragon and Vladimir to try to move beyond their paralysis and possibly comprehend the truth by listening to these ghosts of the past.
And while they listen, perhaps we should listen, too – so long as the voices speak, who knows what they may tell us.

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