Chris Walker's guest lecture on Waiting for Godot

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Christopher Walker's guest lecture on Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Posted here with his permission.

English 150, fall 2013, UC Santa Barbara

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Chris Walker's guest lecture on Waiting for Godot

  1. 1. Beckett: Waiting, Repetition, Habit The Theatre of the absurd strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought. —Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd
  2. 2. A country rode. A tree. Evening. V: . . . Everything’s dead but the tree. E: What is it? V: It’s the tree. E: Yes, but what kind? V: I don’t know. A willow.
  3. 3. “You cannot step twice into the same stream” Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound. —Ulysses 9.205-06 V: . . . I was saying that things have changed here since yesterday. E: Everything oozes. V: Look at that tree. E: It’s never the same pus from one second to the next (51).
  4. 4. Sisyphus, the Absurd Hero If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. —Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. —Beckett, Worstward Ho Sisyphus, Titian (1549)
  5. 5. Dialogue that says “Nothing” Apart from names, pronouns, and articles, many of the most frequently recurring words in Waiting for Godot indicate stasis and delay: Silence (118); pause (84); Nothing (45). Furthermore, the dialogue is riddled with questions, many of them unanswered. Interrogatives: Note that some of these words appear in relative clauses instead of questions. What? (179) Who? (56) Why? (50) How? (39) When? (32)
  6. 6. Dialogue Without Progression Estragon: In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent. Vladimir: You’re right, we’re inexhaustible. E: It’s so we won’t think. V: We have that excuse. E: It’s so we won’t hear. V: We have our reasons. E: All the dead voices. V: They make a noise like wings. E: Like leaves. V: Like sand. E: Like leaves. (52-53)
  7. 7. A Culture of Waiting Wait times for technological products, movies, consumers goods have generated a market for “seat holders.”
  8. 8. Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? Vladimir: Yes yes, we’re magicians. . . .

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