Lucky’s Spam

Lucky from Waiting for GodotI was cleaning out spam earlier today and I noticed another bout of random acts of spamness: “If you’re not acceptable at this ratio, afresh either you are traveling afterwards the amiss projects or you’re angle and presentation abilities charge a tune-up…” I now see them in a different light, however. I know that their purpose is to seem kind of like English without actually saying anything. This is very similar to Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot: it is one academic cliche after another that has the style of serious argument without any content.

Given the existence—as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattman—of a personal God, quaquaquaqua[1], with white beard, quaquaquaqua, outside time without extension, who, from the heights of divine apathia, divine athambia, divine aphasia[2], loves us dearly, with some exceptions, for reasons unknown, but time will tell, and suffers like the divine Miranda[3] with those who, for reasons unknown, but time will tell, are plunged in torment, plunged in fire, whose fire flames, if that continues and who can doubt it will, fire the firmament, that is to say, blast hell to heaven, so blue, still, and calm, so calm, with a calm, which even though intermittent is better than nothing, but not so fast, and considering what is more that as a result of the labors left unfinished, crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropoppopometry…[4]

There is meaning to be found in this fragment, but it takes digging. Lucky is hypothesizing the traditional Judeo-Christian God, who lives in a realm that transcends time. He (which we must assume given that he has a white beard) loves us, even though he has no emotion. This is a hypothesis, of course, because God is incapable of communicating his feelings in a way that we can understand. What’s more, why God’s love is given to certain people and not to others is unfathomable. God suffers just like we do, but he is able to push through this and live in peace—but not for long. This is a vision of the universe that Schopenhauer would have considered gloomy. For the normal person, it treads very close to a reasonable argument for suicide. But this hardly matters, because one only gets this much meaning out of the speech after great effort. For those sitting in a theater, the speech is nothing more than logorrhoea. However, the fact that a speech about the unfathomability of the universe is itself unfathomable was certainly Beckett’s intention.

Unfathomable Speech: Spam

In Lucky’s speech, Beckett lampoons the language constructs that hinder communication. Today’s spam creates this same kind of language. The purpose of Beckett and the spammers are different, however. Beckett’s purpose is to show how word combinations that sound meaningful can be entirely without meaning; the spammers’ purpose is to create meaningless word combinations that sound meaningful. Thus, it is not surprising that they would sound similar.

The text created by the spammers is not their actual product. Their products are links—viruses that live on a host site; the text is a kind of defense system that hinders their removal. To accomplish this, the spammers wish to create text that is not repeated from infection to infection. There are two reasons for this, I believe: to avoid possible legal problems with posting identical comments for very different articles[5] and to make the work of those checking comments more difficult and error prone (that is, make it more likely that the spam will survive).

In his day, Beckett was not confronted with intentional meaninglessness. People certainly tried to obfuscate, but this was not the main issue. He wasn’t attacking advertising. The much more fundamental problem was people trying to communicate truthfully and succeeding only in obfuscating. Thus, he would not have been attacking spammers, if they had even existed. But his solution to the problem of showing the effects of literary cliche on meaning deterioration is the same as the spammer’s solution to the problem of creating original text that sounds meaningful but is not. The solution: combine phrases in a random way. The difference between Beckett and the spammers is primarily in the phrases chosen. Beckett’s phrases are substantially more complex; the spammers rarely use phrases longer than two words. Also, Beckett takes great care in how he matches these phrases, to make them sound even more compelling. He is subtle and clever in how he combines them. Thus, it is only on a cursory reading that one would mistake one for the other. But the similarity of them in terms of their sound and rhythm is unmistakable.

Intentions matter. Even if the spammers could somehow create great Lucky-like (or Not I-like) speech, their output would still be unwelcome. It would still be evil. I am waiting for the day when Yesterday is used to sell an SUV.

Here is the brilliant, if flawed, scene from the Beckett on Film Waiting for Godot with Stephen Brennan as Lucky:


[1] What exactly is meant by “quaquaquaqua” is a point of some debate. Beckett is in no way a careless writer and so we can’t assume that it is a meaningless statement or an error. There are only two occurrences of it in the whole play and they are placed just as shown here: within four words of each other. It could be a pun on the word quaquaversal, which means “sloping downward from the center in all directions.” This is an appealing interpretation because this certainly sums up the traditional view of monotheistic religions. It could also be a pun on the Latin phrase quaque die (Q.D.), which means “every day.” This too has a certain appeal as it relates to the omnitemporal nature of monotheistic gods, or as Beckett writes, God that is “outside time without extension.” However, having studied the speech in some depth, I conclude that it is a kind of onomatopoeia indicating that Lucky’s mind is having difficulty getting started—like a cold car forced to accelerate too quickly.

[2] These three words (apathia, athembia, aphasia) are quite challenging. By apathia, Beckett is probably referring to the Latin word, which means “freedom from emotion.” Who knows what athambia means. It may mean the state of calmness. Aphasia is an actual English word (in the traditional latinized Greek sense). It means “the loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words usually resulting from brain damage.”

[3] Although it sounds like it, there is no mythology related to Miranda. In Latin, “miranda” means “to be admired.” Does that help? Of course not.

[4] Lucky’s six to seven minute speech is a single sentence without any stops like semicolons. I have inserted some punctuation to make it easier to read. These reflect just my interpretation, although they are in keeping with all performances I’ve seen.

[5] Related to this is the ability to automatically detect such spam. If the link text was always “Happy Happy Joy Joy!” then it would be easy to spot this text and remove the spam infection. If the text is always different, it would not be possible to do this. Although it is easy for a human to read the text that protects these spam links, computers still have great difficulty distinguishing between Beckett and noise.

4 thoughts on “Lucky’s Spam

  1. I don’t even know where to begin with this post. It will take me a while to respond intelligently. All I know is that, in the hands of a capable actor, this speech reduces me to tears (and feeling like it would be completely logic to jump off the local bridge), every time I hear it. And this clip did that for me. But I don’t have the analytic abilities that you do; I only understand what is happening here through instinct and emotion, which is very hard to quantify. I just know that I have felt that torment and desperation; I just know that the exact words that are enacted are a smokescreen; that they have intense meaning and yet no meaning at all; which makes it all the more brilliant.It’s what happens to us in the language centers of the brain when everything else has broken down completely. I work with several stroke victims, and even as a poet, they are helping me to understand that that words are not always where meaning lies. But it’s late and I’m exhausted, so don’t mind me.

  2. That is a very astute observation; I share this emotional connection. I have been memorizing this speech for a one-man show during which I deconstruct various things. What is remarkable about the speech is that it is surprisingly easy to memorize. I had thought it would be very difficult because it is so fragmented. As for actual meaning, the monologue is 10% melody and 90% variation. You are right that the meaning transcends the words. What I think is so great about Brennan’s performance is his desperation to get the words out. "Alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull…" is heartbreaking despite the lack of concrete meaning.

    It is very hard to write about Lucky’s speech because I always feel like I have become Lucky and that what I write is meaningless with a patina of intellectualism.

  3. These people who send spam emails saying "do you wanna get lucky tonite?" how do they get email address?

  4. Make Money Online: Is this spam irony or a serious question? There are little programs that scour the internet looking for things like A@B.C and they add it to their databases. Such programs are very easy to write. You could probably write one in PHP in about 10 lines of code. The same goes for Perl. So be careful about posting your email address online.

    For more information, stop creating Hindi spam and start doing some research.

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