As we recall, the Beckett defender himself left Waiting for Godot at my house. I then read it. And, because there’s a certain heady hubris to reviewing a classic piece of literature, you know I’ve got an opinion or two.
I didn’t like it. I thought it was boring and slow and too in love with its own cleverness (yes, yes, I know, stones, glass houses, pots, kettles, fine).
That being said, I can’t stop thinking about it. All yesterday afternoon, I tried to engage Taketoshi in meaningful conversation about what Gertrude Stein could have told us about the French after World War II if she hadn’t died and whether and what we can make of France and Spain’s shared Algerian nightmares. I especially wanted to mull over what having a character named Vladimir in a play first spoken in French meant.
But the Beckett defender was busy riding his bicycle and moving stones from one pocket to another, which tends to be the problem with talking to anyone who loves Beckett about Beckett; they tend to begin to resemble Beckett’s characters. I guess I should have been thankful he wasn’t impersonating a brain in a jar. That would have made conversing even more impossible.
Still, I want to get back to what it means to have an obviously educated but now downtrodden man with a Russian name speaking French.
I guess one of the things that assures me that Godot is indeed great literature is the way that things resonate–you begin to wonder. Here we are knee-deep in the Cold War with Russia sitting there at the edge of Europe but with its reach extending uncomfortably far into the West. And not ten years earlier, it was Russia pouring its people into the meat grinder of war against the Nazis (an estimated 9 million military dead from a population of 194 million) that was crucial to their defeat.
So, on the one hand, it seems like Vladimir is a figure in the play around which an uneasy association of fear and appreciation might play out–the representative of a great loss coupled with a great and voracious power–but the thing I keep wondering about is just how much we might hang on Vladimir, what other associations are fair to let coalesce around him.
What if we go back 150 years before that? What if we think of our friend Sasha Pushkin and his most revolutionary literary invention? No, not just Russian literature, Pushkin invented Russian literature in Russian. It really blows my mind to think about that, that speaking your country’s own language revealed you as a peasant, that until Pushkin made it cool, Russian was the language children spoke to their nannies, but French was the language educated Russians spoke to each other.
Now, you see why Beckett’s Vladimir tugs at me, standing there in his good clothes gone ragged, speaking a language that used to mark him as an aristocrat, but now seems to mark him as one more of history’s losers. Brilliant, really. In the end I think that’s brilliant.