Waiting for Beckett

I continue to wrestle with the contextualization of art—especially my art—even though I am getting better at not caring. If I were to create a beautiful table, there would be a shared context for that table: it’s a table. No one would question the rounded corners or intricately designed legs. No one would wonder why I created this specific table. Everyone would simply appreciate it for what it was to them—even if it was simply something to set things on. Art, on the other hand, is purely symbolic. A book is paper, glue, ink; but unless one understands the symbols represented inside it, it is roughly the same as a rock. Unfortunately, it is not enough just to understand the words as signifiers of things. One could easily read and understand every word in a book and gleem not a single idea from it. Thusly came my idea for a kind of theater that coddles the audience—that teaches it enough to enjoy what it is watching. People want to find meaning in art, but it stands alone—without context. This is why artists of all kinds need to produce a critical mass of work; it usually takes time for others to contextualize the work.

Consider this: Fifty years from now, Tom Stoppard will not be considered the great artist Samuel Beckett is today. This is not to say that Stoppard is not a great writer—I think he is; I am reading Rock’N’Roll right now—I don’t have time to read plays by hacks. But let’s look at Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for a moment.It is basically Vladimir (as Guildenstern) and Estrgon (as Rosencrantz) from Waiting for Godot thrown into the middle of Hamlet. There is nothing new here. Admittedly, it is wonderfully creative and great fun; but it is just a variation (and a minor one at that) on Godot. In fact, I would say that Stoppard is ripping off Godot more than Beckett ever did after he wrote it. Endgame? Happy Day? These plays are in no way variations on the theme of Godot.

Under ordinary circumstances, Waiting for Godot would have been a flop; it would have taken years for it to be seen for its greatness. But it had two things going for it. First, Beckett was James Joyce‘s assistant and I think most people thought he was going to take up where Joyce left off. (Thankfully, he did not; I would love to discuss this, but it doesn’t matter and it is getting off track.) But he was already a respected writer and scholar when he wrote Godot. Second, there is something about the nature of the play—the stripping away of what was still (is still) largely Victorian theater that made the fact of meaning in the play obvious to even the most ossified audience. I specifically mean that the audience could not help but understand that there was meaning in the play—maybe important meaning; I am most certainly not saying that they knew what that meaning was.

Barring the part about getting to work with Joyce, I would prefer to have the life of Stoppard; but oh, how I wish I could create like Beckett!

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