“Waiting For… Well, Something.”
Michael Phelan O’Toole
The Modern Predicament – Question 1.
Human Values, Personal Freedom, and The Arts
Professor Robert Tarutis
April 14th, 2008
After birth, there is one thing for certain in this life; death. In between that there is a whole mass of time; a series of moments that collectively add up to our tenure of existence on the planet. We have no choice but to think before we can act, and
regardless of the amount of physical distractions we engage ourselves in, eventually we come to that same sense of wonder that Aristotle proclaimed philosophy is born out of. With this wonder come basic questions like the familiar “Why are we here?” Unlike our bodies, these questions do not die, but only multiply. We exist and fill our days, ever waiting for the grander meanings to become apparent. Much like Sisyphus in The Myth of Sisyphus, we are forced to engage ourselves in meaningless labor. In the thick of this grind, we search for meaning. We wait around for something more to finally show, much like Vladimir and Estragon do for Godot in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.
Waiting For Godot illustrates that the act of waiting carries with it an intrinsic assumption of some kind of payoff. For enduring “the wait,” or a void in action, we expect something in return. If not for the made structure of our ritualistic daily activities and categorization of information, life surely would feel as chaotic and given to happenstance as it is. Overall, if not for the distractions we create, we would greater realize, although infinitely complex in its presence, how simple life truly is; we are here until we are not, with one long waiting period in middle. And given the sometimes tumultuous challenges of our current structure, in the most spectacular sense, knowing
that our two certainties are but the current rigors of existence, and its unfamiliar, epic counterpart, death, we expect some type of salvation, given our endurance. Vladimir and Estragon, though they admit that, should the mysterious Godot arrive, they would not know him, they continually wait and hold him in high regard. The waiting itself becomes much weight to bear, and we see them begin to distract themselves through menial activity. They are consumed by the anticipation of Godot’s arrival, and to them, if this ultimate goal does not occur, existence is not worth it. Rather than relish in the simple pleasures experience, they have put all their stock in Godot, and thus cannot leave from where they assume they will meet him. It is interesting to note that, upon his continued absence, both characters contemplate suicide. As Camus notes from “An Absurd Reasoning” in The Myth of Sisyphus, the decision not to exist anymore is an inherently serious issue, as it grapples with whether or life is worth living. To truly know this, one must figure out how to evaluate worth, and whether or not the unknown of death is an option. Unable to commit suicide, the main characters of “Godot” are told the man will arrive the next day. They are continually enticed at the possibility of his arrival. The irony lies in the fact that while they speak great things of him, they do not truly know him, or when he will arrive. They hope Godot will bring them greater things in their life, however, in waiting for him, their lives become dull, they become dependant, and time is wasted.
“Godot” appears to represent a godly figure, with the story illustrating the woes of non-existential thinking; dependency on religion, general routine, or authority figures. Beyond the tangled web of religious connotation, in reality, being “saved” means many
things, and is at the core of our basic human needs and desires. With the anxiety of the unknown, in waiting, comes a sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Waiting denotes a certain anticipation for what is to come, and positive or negative, it is scarier than simply relishing in the present moment.
In looking at Sisyphus, and his ceaseless struggle to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it fall down again once he forces it to the top, we see that he truly represents what it means to be human. Though conscious of the agony of there being no explained purpose in his circumstance, he focuses on his task, driven by the possibly of discovery through the work. When he reaches the top with the boulder, in that moment, there must be some celebration in his success. However, much like for us, success is not final, and the boulder again rolls back down. In this moment, there is anger, confusion, and surely some amount of hopelessness. Yet, again, bearing that there is no access to any other activity to engage in, in his battle with the boulder, he must feel useful, and continually motivated, in that, even if only in concept, the possibility of getting the boulder to stay at the top taunts him. Though he may be conscious of the absurdity of his actions, should he stop, he would be lost in existential misery, and betray his goals. Indeed, his greatest triumph lays in not crumbling over the absurdity before him.
Like Sisyphus, we are continually engaging ourselves in activities inconsequential to our ultimate end. Although we are concerned with leaving a legacy and building something through our actions, these are abstract concepts. Given that we are bound to
time and space, as individuals, we are powerlessly moving toward nonexistence. We are indeed rolling the proverbial rock up the hill, only to watch it fall down again. In our world of uncertainty, not only in it’s absence of overtly evident purpose, but in the fact that none of our actions are truly permanent, it is through the exhilaration of living in the moment that we can buck the absurdity contained in our organized routines.
In Camus’s dissection of what it means to truly know versus perceive, we see that in order to thrive, aware of the absurdity that static purpose and permanence is an illusion, we must be willing to embrace our own system of progressive thought. Specific philosophical questioning is a vast indulgence when compared to the importance of the acceptance of the absurdity in existence. As exemplified in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, to lose oneself in anticipating higher purpose supplied by someone else seems as good as death. If a person does believe in a place after life, but is only driven to achieve based on the hope of later reward, they are evidently locked in the same dependence upon “tomorrow” that Camus writes of, albeit in a grander sense. Through The Myth of Sisyphus, it is shown that even in the most painstakingly, routine acts, there can be greater meaning found, if one is open to the purposelessness, and the fleeting nature of time. In Sisyphus’s one continual act, though his goal in affirming the boulder at the top of the hill may be futile, his unshakable determination in making the attempt with vigor is noble and spirited. In this way, he represents how, though without comfort of ultimate knowledge, it is through our trials and conscious experience that we live most. In “The Matrix” terminology, we are “taking the red pill,” given to freedom, and also condemned to realize that with it comes loss of total control in defining our world.