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'Philosophy' of Beckett's Work



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10. 'Philosophy' of Beckett's Work


As has been suggested within the chapter Bekcett's Plays: Axiological Development and Comparison, Beckett operates with strongly existential themes and motives. On the other hand, his classification as philosopher or existentialist would be incorrect. Beckett claimed he considered himself "not a philosopher", especially, he was not interested in "the theory of cognition. He took his interest in basic human situations - pain and suffering and previewing them as inseparable, yet ordinary part of human life." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 27)

By one of Beckett's friends, is claimed that "In Beckett's work, also a small polemics may be found over what is happening to a soul after human's death. But this is only imaginary reflection, not philosophical one. Even though it may seem so." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 27) Although Beckett's beginnings were related to reading great philosophers e. g. Kant, Schopenhauer or Descartes, he does not want his literary pieces to work at purely philosophical level. Moreover, in spite of Beckett's respect to Sartre, he found Sartre's work "too philosophical". Therefore, although the subsequent analysis will represent philosophical and psychological concepts, the main focus will be made on the intention to understand certain author's approach, though not nessesarily a philosophical one.

This approach would also explain the concept of Beckett's plays within their performance. In relation to Endgame: there should be "completely muffled and fast course, no rising voice or color - unless it is directly demanded. The utterances should be said rather quietly yet intensively like under inner pressure." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 40) Based from Beckett's concept described above, his dramatic works are not 'dramatic' in terms of exaggeration or displaying a tragedy. Beckett's plays are rather testimonies about the ordinariness of death and human suffering, which are common parts of life.

In commented work Happy Days in translation by František Vrba, with commentaries based on the testimonies of people, who knew Beckett well or have their personal experience with him, there is one of these utterances, where it is claimed: "In our land, a little was told about him. Yet there was a galore of evident mistakes and rumors. Misleading formula á la "Beckett's world without God", "Fascination by Death" or "Deification of Nothingness" only reveal that their authors did not read Beckett, and if they did, they did so superficially only. His world is in the lap of silent God, refusing cheap mercifulness, disregarded, yet inexorably present. Without God, Beckett's man would not have anyone to blaspheme against, anyone to blame for their misery for his cruelty, anyone to blame and doggedly turn one's back on." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 45) This utterance may also reveal Beckett's true concept of God and religious faith.

In terms of the apocryphal being, within the same work, it is claimed that "Above the entrance into Beckett's work, there is an inscription "Birth is our first sin." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 46). This idea would explain why so many allusions to God are present in Beckett's work, especially his plays. This concept also contributes to Jung's idea of being never properly or wholly born, suggesting the imperfection of a man. Even a parallel to biblical Job may be seen, as stated in Old Testament: "Why I did not die in lap already, did not pass away, just after being born from the life of my mother?" (Vrba, Šťastné dny 46). Although not in religious concept, based on analysis of Beckett's plays, it is apparent he may ask the same question. Again a parallel to Le Monde Desert may be seen, especially when taking into consideration the religious concept which clashes with purely existential act of suicide, which is frequent motive and theme of Beckett's plays.

Although Beckett does not want his work to be affected by pidgeholding and it would be wrong to consider it as belonging to Existentialism, he certainly operates with strongly existential motives and themes. Perhaps the most significant one among them is suicide, as mentioned. At this point Beckett's concept is in accordance to idea of J. P. Sartre, who claims that life of a human is absurd and the only way how to fight this absurdity is "to strike back the insult of life absurdity" when the "suicide is the only truly creative act." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 56), i. e. in addition to numerous strongly existential motives which appear in Beckett's plays.


10. 1. A Direct Correlation of Human Cognition and Human Apathy


As mentioned within the analysis of values presented in Beckett's plays, one of the crucial values is human cognition and its limits. The display of growing apathy related to growing cognition is a feature to be noticed very often, especially in postmodern works. Yet, as mentioned in Endgame, "Hamm: the bigger the man is, the fuller he is… And emptier." The growth of knowledge and cognition implies the growth of apathy and alienation.

The works reflecting the First World War experience are more expressionist and their main idea is to confess or reveal the suffering and destruction of mind which the authors had to face also in Second World War, in postmodern era, this experience persists, the need to confess the distress is still actual, yet it is more directed to the finding a general concept of human existence, when the conclusions are following: the human existence is strongly individualized feature, so the protagonists often rely on themselves only and at the end of their lives they tend to close in growing introspection and self-reflection, the growing cognition is directly proportional to the amount of apathy and disillusion, the secular world is previewed as limited, the life is represented by the duty to play certain social role with a destiny attributed to a person without his or her choice, and the whole life then becomes the quest for a real essence of the human being, which is to be found in deliverance and separation from secular needs and desires (here it is possible to find explanation why, in the plays within the Theatre of The Absurd, the human needs are neglected or unfulfilled), moreover, it is the separation from interpersonal relationships, when the features of alienation, degeneration of relationship, dehumanization and being distant to oneself are noticeable.

All the limitation suggested above has the aim to reach a higher principle. At this point, the authors leading a polemic over human existence diverge in opinion whether this detachment from the world and from secular being implies the idea of God's existence or not. In his plays, Beckett also operates with the idea of afterlife and suggests the cyclistic system in human existence. Beckett's works in the field of The Theatre of The Absurd display the life of a person and its closing to death, with the growing suffering, alienation, destruction but also cognition, nostalgia and closing into oneself. Many of Beckett's protagonist 'exchanged' - even involuntarily - the emotions and fulfillment of basic human needs for cognition, as mentioned and developed in chapter Humanistic Concept of Values in Beckett's Plays above.


10. 2. Clash of Reason and Emotions



As Beckett claims, he suffered by bouts of strong emotions that could not be controlled by his will: "But the bouts of fury were worst. They were rising in me like a whirlwind, no, it's not the right word. It was not only rage - it was rising in me but it had nothing to do with that, some days I was feeling anger from morning till the evening and still with no sign of fury, in other days, when I was almost as calm as a lamb, the rage possessed me four or five times. […] No way, it goes beyond the limits of all the judgement, for the reason, as mine has always been, still sharp, to beware." (Vrba, Šťastné dny 38) Beckett himself was strongly reasonable intellectual who had to face the bouts of emotions stated above, thus the clash of reason and emotions may be noticed again.

This clash is reflected also in Beckett's plays at the level of protagonists, e. g. Estragon in Waiting for Godot, Morvan in Rough for Theathre II or the person from sack A in Act Without Words II who are considered as acting based on emotions, they were less-organized more hot-tempered. They all were acompanioned by more reasonable characters: Vladimir, Bertrand or the person from sack B, who was not in verbal contact yet, by his behavior apparently more organized. The co-occurance of these two different protagonists may have its roots in concept suggested in Dante … Bruno. Vico … Joyce., in which Beckett suggest the idea of co-existence of minima and maxima, applied e. g. in Waiting for Godot in terms of emotions (often expressed by motive of crying). This concept was also applied in Not I, as mentioned. Crying is also a feature lowering the dehumanization - Lucky weeps when he hears the utterance of Pozzo, in which Pozzo despises with Lucky. In Rough for Theatre II the Protagonist who is about to commit a suicide may also be said to cry at the end, although this is not stated explicitly - the audience or the reader are told there was something in his face which surprised Bertrand so much, that he took his handkerchief and put it on protagonist's face. Pozzo also cries about the degeneration of his friendship with Lucky in first act.

The co-ocurance of reason and emotions at the level of themes may be noticed in Beckett's radio play Words and Music, in which the words are considered less significant or even binding, havig the function to produce dry phrases only, while music serves as parallel to human emotions and spontaneity. Beckett's approach, which was typical especially in his late literary creation, is represented also in this play. Words are related to reason and when the reason is helpless, music (emotions) are taking over. Within the character of Croak, both the essences are present, fighting each other all the time - the remark towards the co-occurance and contradiction of reason and emotions appears again. It is apparent that the clash between rational and emotional compotent is one of the stimuli which form the dynamics of values.

In terms of analysis, at first, a struggle for reasonable concept and human's understanding may be seen (Vladimir's speech at the very beginning of Waiting for Godot). In Act Without Words I, an emphasis is put on rational concept, while in Act Without Words II the significace of emotions and reason is put at the same level (the different behaviour of men in sacks A and B is noticeable, yet they eventually die regardless their approach to life), i. e. with regard to their individuality. In Endgame, the rational component was stronger than emotions, which apparently decayed with regard to the growth of apathy and alienation. The reasonable concept of mutual compensation suggested in Rough for Theatre I did not succeed, due to individual perception and different personality of each protagonist (sensitivity of the fiddler and cold pragmatism of the wheel-chair man). The rationality and emotions embodied within the protagonists in Rough for Theatre II is dependent on the last tableau, when protagonist is apparently crying, i. e. emotions are more significant (in addition to allusion to unhappy life and intention to commit a suicide - which is not rational acting, yet rather being given up, unlike in Act Without Words I). In Not I, total apathy is suggested. In Words and Music, the emotions are highlighted as well as in the plays which polemize with the theme of nostalgia, the emotions may be said to prevail (Rockaby, Krapp's Last Tape, A Piece of Monologue or Come and Go). Beckett's own procedure and literary development is apparent from the utterance in Come and Go, where it is suggested "Let's not talk about the past anymore. Let's hold our hands as we used to" - a direct request is pronounced to abandon words (and reason) and close in the emotions, dreaming and nostalgia.


10. 3. Habit, stereotype and repetitiveness


In the previous chapter dealing with the analysis of values present in Beckett's plays, it Was mentioned that habit and stereotype are the features contributing to decay of relationship. As pronounced in Waiting for Godot, "habit is a great deadener". Based on the semantic analysis of the expression deadener, it is possible to claim that habit is a means of killing someone inside of his mind. With a reference to Heidegger's idea of inauthentic or apocryphal being, this may be concept for understanding the mechanization of relationships, since it is related to the idea of attributed faith and social role, therefore the mind of the person is subordinated to the social role and thus a person is just following what he or she is expected to do. Therefore, significant values of individuality and uniqueness of existence are denied. In the field of epistemology, habit is also feature which can disable human knowledge or cognition.

It is possible to claim these features are considered as evil, since they contribute to dehumanization of a man and cause his suffering. On the other hand, the human suffering is the feature by which the cognition and gaining detachment are reached. A revolt to this repetitiveness may be found in each play in which the idea of suicide occurs, as well as in Act Without Words I, in which another way to face absurdity and being manipulated may be found. These issues are the crucial ideas of the mechanical system of human existence, as developed above.



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