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David McCandless BECKETT AND TILLICH: COURAGE AND EXISTENCE IN WAITING FOR GODOT iL I) eckett's strange achievement in Waitingfor Godot is to provide .13us, exploring the rubble, with the most compelling theatrical image of the courage-to-be."' Thus Herbert Blau implies, whether intentionally or not, a possible kinship between Samuel Beckett and Paul Tillich, author of The Courage to Be and other meditations on modern man's existential plight. Similarly, Lance St. John Butler, undertaking a Heideggerian analysis, quotes Tillich's sermon on waiting in order to support an assertion that the tramps' yearning for an absolute corresponds to Dasein's "comportment toward Being."2 These two allusions to Tillich anticipate my two principal objectives in applying his philosophy to Waitingfor Godot: first of all to clarify the specific nature of the tramps' courage—a courage not always acknowledged by commentators inclined to consider the pair as prisoners of habit and delusion; and second, to offer a reading of the play that goes beyond the seeming futility and insignificance of the tramps' emblematic lives and discloses a possible source of the play's paradoxically uplifting effect in performance . Vladimir and Estragon do not end the play submerged in nothingness . Rather, by finally reconciling themselves to nothingness, they begin to make contact with the infinite and so initiate an authentic search for a new version of God. Tillich undertook precisely the same search and the God that he finds bears a striking resemblance to Beckett's adumbration of ultimate being. I do not offer this resemblance as evidence of direct influence.3 My point is simply that the two men assess notions of being, faith, despair, and salvation from seemingly opposite ends and yet arrive at the same point, generating a new spiritual enlightenment from the abyss of existential anguish. Tillich challenged orthodox belief in an attempt to make Christianity 48 David McCandless49 more responsive to the spiritual crises of an existential age. Thus he asserts that the doctrinal symbols of Christianity are "no longer understood in their original power of expressing the human situation and answering existential human questions."4 He goes so far as to declare the traditional theistic God as dead for him as it was for Nietzsche (CTB, p. 185). Such views disposed him to find more religious insight in modern literature than in modern Protestant teaching. He seems almost to have Beckett in mind when protesting the Christian establishment's vilification ofmodern artists: "They attack as a morbid longing for negativity what in reality is courageous acceptance ofthe negative. They call decay what is actually the creative expression of decay. They reject as meaningless the meaningful attempt to reveal the meaninglessness of our situation" (CTB, p. 140). If Tillich evinces a sympathy for apostate writers, so Beckett, despite his well-known break with his Protestant upbringing, seems to share Tillich's radically Protestant mission of debunking doctrinal symbols and orthodox deities. Estragon's bewildered reaction to Vladimir's casual mention of "our savior," for instance, casts doubt on the validity of this conventional expression. "Our what?" Estragon asks, surveying a scene that offers little evidence or hope ofsalvation. The most gruesome indictment of the traditional deity, however, occurs in Lucky's speech: despite being incapable of passion, speech or movement, He is nevertheless a personal God who loves us dearly—with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell. The God alleged to be personal and loving is actually remote and mysteriously capricious. Those whom He favors are saved. Those whom, for reasons unknown, He does not, are "plunged in torment, plunged in fire." This system ofjustice can only leave man torturously uncertain of his prospects for salvation. This torturous uncertainty is the main theme not merely of Lucky's speech but of the entire play. The deity-figure on whom the tramps depend clearly parallels the "God with white beard" of Lucky's speech. Indeed, at the end of the play, the boy tells a trembling Vladimir that Godot's beard is white. "Christ have mercy on us," Vladimir replies. Godot beats the boy who tends the sheep but spares the boy who tends the goats, a choice that seems every bit...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 48-57
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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