The term “Theater of the Absurd” was coined by Martin Esslin in his book “The Theatre of the Absurd” published in 1961. The purpose of this paper is to apply deconstructive methods in analyzing a play of one of the most prominent playwrights of this movement; Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. Created by the characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd, “Waiting for Godot” on one hand present insights about the issue of blindness of the reader and becomes a text of jouissance on the other, by touching upon various deconstructive notions which will be discussed in this paper.

One should wonder the reasons of why the literary texts which belong to the Theatre of the Absurd provides a deconstructionist analyzer a space on which one can sufficiently work in order to point at the concepts such as the unreadibility of the text, jouissance, either the self forgetting, ignorant or the creative reader together with the death of the author, the problem of concretization and the reader’s voluntary blindness. A possible explanation for coincidence of deconstruction with the Theatre of the Absurd is related to their emphasis on the problematic of the “literariness” of the text. The Theatre of the Absurd is essentially a part of the “anti-literary” movement; tending towards a “radical devaluation of language” by which the happenings on the stage “transcends, and often contradicts, the words spoken by the characters.”[1] The distinction between what happens on stage and to which those actions signify presents empty signifiers whose meanings cannot be determined by the ways in which they are visually manifested. While on one hand, the declaration of empty signifiers on the stage that correspond to devaluation of language and irrationality of purposes, ideals, and meanings in general, refers to Sartre’s Existentialism which tends to explicate human irrationality in a logically constructed fashion; the Theatre of the Absurd “strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought.”[2] The texts of the Theatre of the Absurd not only abandon to represent the proper relation between the signifier and the signified rationally and in accordance with the established societal or literal discursive modes; but they also devaluate the language, illustrates the text with empty signifiers, gaps and creates inconsistencies in narrative.
“Waiting for Godot” consists of two acts both of which end by the characters’ desire to die.[3]Vladimir and Estragon have been waiting for Godot to come and since he doesn’t come, they consider committing suicide. Besides, Estragon arrives both acts by getting beaten, however the cause of violence is unknown. Throughout the play Estragon constantly forgets not only the existence of Godot but also himself. It is Vladimir who reminds Estragon that they’re waiting for Godot on many occasions. Although Vladimir seems to be the most conscious character who insists on waiting for Godot, his actions lack concretization. In the second act, when Pozzo asks him to describe his surroundings, Vladimir reacts as follows: “It’s indescribable. It’s like nothing. There is nothing. There is a tree.”[4] The tree is the only object that he can concretize; though one can hardly call this concretization since the tree is the only visual element which exists without a doubt. In this regard, Vladimir resists concretization; hence he realizes the self-ignorant reader and the reader’s voluntary blindness. As a reader, Vladimir doesn’t know how to read. “What most threatens reading is…” states Blanchot, “the reader’s reality, his personality, his immodesty, his stubborn insistence upon remaining himself in the face of what he reads – a man who knows in general how to read.”[5] In this statement Blanchot reacts against reader-response literary criticism which encourages the reader to fill in the blanks, to imagine what happens in a literary text and to visualize it. On the contrary, deconstruction suggests that the reader should be blind and ignorant; the reader is not obliged to fill in the blanks since the reading is accompanied by the blanks themselves. Hence whenever one fills in the blanks, the text is consumed. In this regard, Vladimir metaphorically represents the self-ignorant and the blind reader, who resists concretization of the text.
In addition to Vladimir, Estragon also represents the blind reader who constantly forgets everything about himself during the play. However Estragon isn’t the only character who forgets himself and his surroundings. Pozzo says: “I don’t remember having met anyone yesterday. But tomorrow I won’t remember having met anyone today. So don’t count on me to enlighten you.”[6] Similar to Vladimir, Pozzo is consciously and voluntarily blind. Boy – Godot’s messenger – is also blind since he tells Vladimir that he doesn’t recognize him although he visited him yesterday.[7] Furthermore, Vladimir and Estragon constantly tend not to think; “we are in no danger of thinking anymore….Thinking is not the worst….What is terrible is to have thought.”[8] In this respect, their ignorance in thinking realizes the ignorant reader who doesn’t know how to read.
Among the characters in the play, Lucky deserves a special interest. Between him and Pozzo, there is a master-slave relationship as Lucky doesn’t revolt and he always obeys to what he orders. Besides, he doesn’t talk; he is silent. And when he talks, he utters a long triad, which is nonsense.[9] Although every word he utters belongs to an existing language, his triad is devoid of meaning. Firstly, Lucky’s meaningless speech points at the notion of pure language which, for Benjamin, “no longer means or expresses anything.”[10] Secondly, in Lucky’s triad, the language suffers, so does the reader; and as Lucky kills the original language with expressing it without referring to a particular meaning, not only he frees the language from the illusion of reading and manifest the death of the language[11] but his expression also underscores the notion of (un)readibility. In the act of reading, the reader is reading but at the same time he/she is struggling. Besides, unreadibility implies that the reference doesn’t directly refer to a referent in a literary text. Hence one can mention of mise en abyme since the text performs in itself throughout a process at the end of which the loss of origin in the literary text occurs due to the disconnection between the referent and the reference.
So far we’ve been investigating the self ignorant and forgetting characters resisting concretization and the inconsistency in narrative by referring to the notion of mise en abyme. Furthermore, one should acknowledge the role of the author within this “absurd” nature of the play. When asked what was meant by Godot, Samuel Beckett answers: “If I knew, I would have said so in the play.”[12] This implies that not only the characters but also the author possesses a lack, exists in an abyss; even Beckett, as the creator of the text, doesn’t know what the name, “Godot” signifies. Hence the author is not the all-knowing person; despite he is the creator of the literary text, he isn’t in full possession of it. One might conclude the situation of the author in other words: “As institution, the author is dead.”[13]
In producing his text, Beckett devaluates the language in order “to communicate the incommunicable.”[14] Godot is the incommunicable, which can only be communicated by the devaluation of language, by mise en abyme, self-forgetfulness and voluntary blindness of the characters. Moreover, one can underline a paradox of communicability as follows: One can only communicate the incommunicable as the communicable can already be communicated. In this paradoxical situation regarding communication, Beckett’s text calls for the reader, in order to realize its existence; since the reader “makes” the book, the work, become a work beyond the man who produced it…”[15] In addition to the reader and the author who cooperate in the fulfillment of the literary text, the characters in the text might also take action. In the end of the first act, Boy comes in and Vladimir asks him a number of questions. Although the boy doesn’t say anything about Godot’s whereabouts, when Estragon asks Vladimir about their conversation with the boy, Vladimir answers: “He said Godot was sure to come tomorrow.”[16] At this point, Vladimir represents the creative reader; who, together with the author participates to the fulfillment of the literary text. Besides, by saying Estragon that Godot will come the next day, he contributes to the literary text by enabling the continuation of the narrative.
On the other hand, Beckett gets help from “silences” in the text; that are literally represented after the dialogues with expressions such as “silence” or “long silence” whose duration is unknown. Silences enable a discontinuity by intervening to the text. Beckett occasionally suspends the narration by silences, since he intends to communicate the incommunicable. Words and sentences, as the basic and fundamental elements of a literary text are constantly overthrown, whilst the silent gaps within the text signifies nothing, but the limit of language not only for the characters but also for the author. The author lacks in possessing the text by illustrating it with proper discourses and rational explanations; hence he communicates the incommunicable by inviting the reader to take part within the text so that the text could realize its existence. Consequently, the text proves that it desires the reader.[17] Eventually, in the togetherness of the author and the reader, “reading does not produce anything, does not add anything. It lets be what it is.”[18] In the meantime, the incommunicable cannot still be communicated in the realm in which not only the reader and the author is lost in an abyss but also the characters in the text – the text itself – continue to wait for Godot and repeatedly fail since neither the author nor the reader can fill in the gaps of the text and direct those to proper, rational, communicable meanings, discourses, referents.
The gaps as silences, actions of self ignorant characters or the inconsistencies of the narrative in Beckett’s play bring forth the unpredictability of jouissance.[19] In the end of the play, Estragon and Vladimir decide to leave, however the author says that “they do not move.”[20] Once again, there is a disconnection between the signifier and the referent. Besides, with the compulsion to repeat which derives from the death drive in the end of both acts, one can conclude that Vladimir and Estragon are having pleasure in the act of waiting. Moreover, pleasure turns into jouissance on certain occasions. According to Barthes, a state of jouissance is created when one seeks out the reader “without knowing where he is.”[21] Eventually, Vladimir and Estragon, without knowing where Godot is, enter a state of jouissance. Besides, one can suggest that silences in the play correspond to the states of jouissance since Barthes establishes the opposition between the text of pleasure and text of jouissance as follows: “Pleasure can be expressed in words, jouissance cannot.”[22] In this regard, Barthes underscores that jouissance can be achieved not only directly by the content or the structure but by the abrasions or the gaps in the text.[23]
In sum, not only the silences but also the gaps, inconsistencies, irrationality of characters, devaluation of language, the failure of the author in possessing his creation and the loss of origin in language as the sources of jouissance render Beckett’s play as a “text of jouissance”, which imposes a state of loss, discomforts, unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of the reader’s tastes, values, memories and brings to a crisis the reader’s relation with language.[24]
[1] Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd.” New York: Vintage Books, 2004. p.26.
[2] Ibid., p.24.
[3] Death drives of Vladimir and Estragon can be interpreted within Lacanian understanding of “repetition compulsion” as the scenes where the characters’ death drives are observed are repeated in the text.
[4] Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” London: Faber and Faber, 2006. p.79.
[5] Blanchot, Maurice. “Communication and the Work.” The Space of Literature. Trans. Ann Smack. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. p.198.
[6] Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” London: Faber and Faber, 2006. p.81.
[7] Ibid., p.84.
[8] Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd.” New York: Vintage Books, 2004. p. 60.
[9] Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” London: Faber and Faber, 2006. p.36,37,38.
[10] Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator: An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens.” In Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. p.80.
[11] de Man, Paul. “The Resistance to Theory.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. p.84.
[12] Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd.” New York: Vintage Books, 2004. p.44.
[13] Barthes, Roland. “The Pleasure of the Text.” Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill&Wang, 1975. p.27.
[14] Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd.” New York: Vintage Books, 2004. p.88.
[15] Blanchot, Maurice. “Communication and the Work.” The Space of Literature. Trans. Ann Smack. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. p. 194.
[16] Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” London: Faber and Faber, 2006. p.46.
[17] Barthes, Roland. “The Pleasure of the Text.” Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill&Wang, 1975. p.6.
[18] Blanchot, Maurice. “Communication and the Work.” The Space of Literature. Trans. Ann Smack. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. p.194.
[19] Barthes, Roland. “The Pleasure of the Text.” Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill&Wang, 1975. p.4.
[20] Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” London: Faber and Faber, 2006. p. 87.
[21]Barthes, Roland. “The Pleasure of the Text.” Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill&Wang, 1975. p.4.
[22] Ibid., p.21.
[23] Ibid., p.9-10-11.
[24] Ibid., p.14.