“Your on earth. There’s no cure for that”

Paul Klee, Strange Angel

by Bill Embly

When I think of Samuel Beckett I think of Waiting for Godot, published in 1952 and first performed in 1953, a play about nothing, a play in which nothing happens. I read Waiting for Godot in college. Crossing campus one afternoon I saw a friend sitting on a curb and asked what he was doing. Waiting for Godot, he said. He’s now a neurosurgeon in Milwaukee. The idea for Godot came to Beckett while walking from Paris to Roussillon in southwest France with Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, who would become his wife, walking by night, sleeping in haystacks during the day.
I read Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, in Ireland, while living in a stone cottage on Mt. Eagle, Co Kerry, helping a local stonemason, Bun Wilkerson, restore the cottage for a woman in Dublin. Beckett was born in Foxrock, a suburb of Dublin, in 1906. He died in Paris in 1989. He’s buried at Montparnasse. Three Novels is a trilogy about nothing. Molloy is the interior monologue of the bedridden Molloy. Malone lies in bed in a hospitable or asylum, until he dies. The immobile protagonist of The Unnamable was known as Mahood or the Worm.
I saw Endgame at the Stiemke Theater in Milwaukee. “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”
Concerning his own work Beckett was famously reticent. “What I had to say is in the work itself.” Richard N. Coe, in Samuel Beckett, portrayed him as a nihilist, Buddhist, Cartesian puppet master of soulless puppets, influenced by Descartes, Newton and Wittgenstein, quoting the latter, “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.” What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. Humor was Beckett’s counterbalance for life without hope. Watt, in Watt, had a peculiar way of walking that pre-dated “silly walking.” A dramatic turn and thrust of the leg to the north, followed by the same to the south, to go east.” Beckett compared life to “a slave crawling east on a ship sailing west.
An early autobiographical character, Balacqua, embodied the theme of “idle by conviction,” Beckett’s leitmotif, a theme Coe referred to as a “positive reality” nothingness in the Buddhist sense. Nirvana. Nirvana or nightmare? Balacqua was followed by a host if incarnations tethered to this theme.
A linguist, Beckett was fond of word play, “Mr. Knott. Or Not. Or Knot. Or Naught. Or Néant-Nichts-Nirvana, what you will” reminds me of Hemingway’s Nada prayer in A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” etc. Otherwise there is no comparison, Hemingway was about action, Beckett inaction.
The Milwaukee Public Library has a DVD entitled Beckett on Film that contains Waiting for Godot, several short experimental pieces, a Documentary and Addenda, demonstrating the range of Beckett’s work. Whether on paper, on stage or on firm, Beckett reduced life to its most elemental form. “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” From The Unnamable.
He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.

Waiting for Godot

Oh Beckett please
Oh Beckett please
Tell us what it means
Clairvoyant SoothSayer
20th century savant
Making gray
From black and white
Have we no hope?
of color?
how could you know?
that 2020 would be so
so glumly omnipresent
Look to the east
Call out to the west
China, Italy, Germany,
England, France,
Americas, Mexico, Brazil
The infantile U.S.
India, Viet Nam, Koreas
Laos, Myanmar, Russia
Greenland, Iceland,
Look at each other
And all the lands peoples

Didi and Gogo
He isn’t coming today
He isn’t coming tomorrow
He isn’t coming

But maybe she will