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Depiction of the Body and its Mechanisms in WAITING FOR GODOT
Beckettian notion of the body subscribes to the modernist conception of body as continually being impaired on both psychic & physical levels ; as suffering pain, separation , artistic vacuity, a nihilistic urge. His is a corrupted, imperfect body, fostering the deadened remnants within it of a vague, pre-lapsarian human form, free of the sin of gorging & consequently labouring to bear a never-ending breed of a gluttonous yet always hungry beings .Such that one recounts of what WB Yeats says in ‘Easter, 1916’,”The stone’s in the midst of all“. It is this Sisyphian stone that rhythmically makes its way up & then down both outside & inside the body.
Beckett’s characters see the body as an existential prison house, a ditch like entrapment for the soul. This concept is analogous to the Hindu-concept of ‘Maya’ as an illusory material and physical force that binds the soul into an endless Karmic cycle. Beckett profusely depicts the grotesque, repulsive aspect of the body in his texts; Beckettian bodies are dismembered, bloody, decaying structures, associated with a kind of horror and threat that both suffered and inflicted violence; such that I sense almost a sadist in him who inflicts convulsive, piercing literary pains on his fictional characters, as he clearly sees the human body as unnecessary, almost as the most compulsive factor that causes life and its consequent suffering.
Consciousness, on the other hand, is indivisible and inextensible, as Descartes opined, that which through a ‘causal interaction’, so to say, with the effect it causes on the body, serves to affix the existence(seemingly more concrete than their own existence) of “a personal God”, a vengeful tyrant, whose “divine apathia” threatens to “fire the firmament” and “blast hell to heaven”, to use Lucky’s phrases, one who beats up those who mind his sheep.
In ‘Waiting for Godot ’, there is almost a rejection of the natural coherence of the body. Throughout the play we get a nauseating sense, in fact one can almost smell the pus of failure & dejection constantly oozing out of the characters’ bodies & making its way to the subliminal strata of the “muckheap” from which they have self-confessedly never stirred. However the irony, and perhaps also the relief, is that”It’s never the same pus from one second to another “. So Estragon is more interested in the “worms” that have been gnawing at his vitals & yet he never seems to have quenched this strange, all- absorbing, liminal hunger. His refrain,”I’m hungry” reverberates in the landscape of that god-forsaken wasteland & he raves on.
There is a recurrent imagery of eating, digestion and excretion in Beckett’s works. Food is gorged in not to satiate hunger but to increase it ever more. Eating, in the play, is merely seen as a habit that pushes one towards decadence. So food is no longer the source of nourishment, rather it convulsively strains the pancreas & transforms the body into an animalistic being that devours all that it finds eatable & still finds no satiation . Therefore Estragon rightly says, ”Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets”.
Yet having taken “a difficult birth” “…astride of a grave”, as Pozzo sees it, the characters in the play are constantly seen as encountering ditches (Estragon spends his nights in a ditch) or remembering rivers (Estragon recollects his suicide attempt in the Rhone) or peering into the depths of hats (as Vladimir does); all this is an outward manifestation of the inner voids of unquenched hunger & unassimilated desires that have penetrated their way through the crux of time in their bodies. Still Pozzo adamantly argues that the second morsel of one’s confrontation with one’s existence is “never so sweet…as the first “.
The play has recurrant references to bones , signifying the hardened portions of the human body that are capable enough to take the strokes of unwarranted beatings & troubling prostates. In the beginning of the play, Vladimir contemplates of Estragon being ”a little heap of bones”. Later Estragon is seen relishing the bones thrown away by Pozzo. And though Pozzo staes, “… in theory the bones go to the carrier”, the carrier, Lucky, for the first time, refuses the bones. The bones of the dead which are reqularly chewed by the likes of lucky Gogo strengthen their digestion and reminds them constantly of their ‘death-in life `existence . And after all, as Eliot says in ‘The Wasteland`, “Dry bones can harm no one”
Beckettian drama is often exemplifying a Picasso-like fragmentation of human body, the contours of the body, like in Picasso, are geometrical in terms of space and time. So there is an evident decentering of man in the text and a blatant rejection of the idea of anthropocentricity of man. So the idea of a unified, sustaining body turns upon itself and examines itself.
Notably, the theme of life and death reverberates throughout the play. While living is inextricably linked to the body and the body to eating, dying then is a transcendental yearning, “Of climbing heaven and gazing on the likes of us”, as Estragon sees it. The play subtly juxtaposes the worldly and the sacred. So Pozzo’s basket in Act 1 carries wine and chicken, the food for the body, in Act 2 the sand in the basket is symbolic of human form both rising and collapsing then in this sand.
Interestingly, characters like Gogo and Lucky show an intense yearning to sleep and thus transcend into a less nightmarish, more authentic world . So Lucky sleeps in a standing position, indicating his propensity to readily give up his life. His “ running sore”, the “inevitable” manifestation of the wrath of time, also throttles his throat inwardly. Gogo, on the other hand, sleeps in a foetal position, establishing not only his latent desire to pass into a pre-natal, embryonic stage but also depicts an attempt to cuddle up to the “Mother Earth” and shield his body from the barren seasons of desires and appetites.
Beckett’s notions on the body and its various mechanisms also curiosly align themselves with the Bakhtinian idea of the grotesque body, associating with it a kind of earthliness, a constant deception of the sacred with its continual surrendering to what is seen as petty and profane. Thus we witness a panorama of grotesquerie ‘ erecting` itself on the stage-Vladimir stinks of garlic claiming it to be a tonic for his ailing kidneys; Estragon has stinking feet owing to his repeated attempts at movements in convoluted, circular landscapes that inevitably return back to the core of their vacuum; Pozzo farts, when lying on the ground, he confronts his fear of an impending ennui, and Estragon obviously, in his state, finds it revolting; Vladimir hurries towards the wings to relieve himself to avoid bursting himself; Lucky drips saliva that disgusts Estragon ; Pozzo “absorbs” nicotine inspite of his precautions because it seems easier to digest than air. As Estragon too moans, “I’m tired breathing”
Thus we can state that the verticality of the body, its hierarchical progression of worldly forces, beginning from the mouth to the stomach to the phallus, exerts itself on its horizontal scale of its constant need for satiation, concreteness and coherence. It is “the handful of dust” (‘The Wasteland`)that makes up the body and it is the fear, along with the dust, that the tramps, like all mankind, eat and churn in their stomachs.
The degradation of the body in the texts of Beckett seems to be projected across unlimited expanses of time. In Beckett, one detects the fractured, unhingeable body seeking solace in gross and vulgar verbal and physical forces. And as per the psychoanalytic model, desire and language act as templates for each-other to organize bodies and identities.
I would like to argue that Beckett’s Absurd Theatre, its characteristic haunting minimalism is analogous to the deprived, starved state of the human body that has forgotten to act as a Signifier and has lost its Signified. And so the problematisation of fiction and reality that happens on the stage is transformed into the reality of putrefaction and death, as we “waste and pine,” as Lucky says, and dwindle into incessant nighmares.
Repeated references in the play to Christ, and Estraqon’s comparing himself to Christ, “All my life I‘ve compared myself to him” establish not only the tramps’ deep yearning for divinity but also their recognition of a life devoid of bread and wine, mercilessly substituted with a flesh worn down by not one but repeated crucifixions, and blood that streams no longer from the firmament but oozes from innumerous body pores and then clots as festering wounds.
Elin Diamond in her essay, “Feminist Readings of Beckett” locates the mouth as a feminized reduction of both speech and agency of reproduction. So Vladimir, the mother, the wifely figure to Estragon, symbolizes, in his stinking breath, a stench that has irreversibly invaded not only the female body but also the almost-feminized bodies and the landscapes of the tramps. Critic Grahan Frazer notes the pornographic imagination implicit in early Beckett texts like ‘Murphy’ and ‘All Strange Away’.
So this assemblage of memories which goes on perpetuating its variants is what one continually pukes and then licks back, because this is all one has to detest as well as to cherish. An impaired, diseased body can be seen as emblematic of a diseased soul and the modernist conception of a fractured self. The point is whether one can locate and water the seeds of regeneration that are inextricably fixed in vacuity, and grow hope out of this “stony rubbish”(‘The Wasteland`)
One may seek to discredit Descartes’ doubts on sensuous knowledge through one’s reading of this play and problematise its validity against another philosopher, Strawson’s view of the faculty of touch being the body’s essential quality. Thus the pleasures and perils of the human body, its pagan hedonism are unabashedly interrogated in Beckettian corpus. In a sense, the body becomes the theatre in itself, enacting on itself both its past perversions and joys as well as past repressions and lexical constraints.