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Waiting for Godot: Existentialism, Nihilism and the Theatre of the Absurd

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Wilson Lo

on 7 January 2016

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Transcript of Waiting for Godot: Existentialism, Nihilism and the Theatre of the Absurd

Existentialism, Nihilism and the Theatre of the Absurd
Nihilism is the philosophical view that argues that existence is without objective meaning, purpose, absolute truth, or essential value.
"Nihilism" comes from the Latin nihil, or nothing, which means not anything, that which does not exist. It appears in the verb "annihilate," meaning to bring to nothing, to destroy completely.
Existence itself--all action, suffering, and feeling--is ultimately senseless and empty
Nietzsche characterizes it as a disagreement between what we want it to be and how the world appears to operate = crisis
Examine Nihilism, Existentialism, and the Theatre of the Absurd. How are these features represented in Beckett's play?
Theatre of the Absurd
drama pieces that agree with the philosopher Albert Camus' view
started in the 1950s
wasn't recognized until 1962 by Martin Esslin
Samuel Beckett is recognized as one of the primary playwrights of this
show absurdism
no purpose
Waiting for Godot is one of most famous in this type of theatre
characters have no hope, bewildered or anxious
characters relatively flat
plots are illogical
repetition happens but slowly
setting is plain and simple
usually no resolution to problem
used to mirror the world we live in
When we look at Beckett's play, we see many existentialist themes developed.
The Absurd plays a huge role inside Waiting for Godot (as previously said)
In addition, Beckett has his characters question their own existence ("You have seen me, right?")
Openly critical towards Christian scripture (Two thieves, their all ignorant apes)
Waiting for Godot == Waiting for BOOTs, and knowing the role boots and clothing take in the play, we can say that Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for their purpose in life.
It Is...
A philosophy that directly deals with the individual
Similar to Nihilism in that it holds that life lacks purpose.
Like Nihilism, it is atheistic in nature; without a God, the universe lacks an purpose.
Relates to the Absurd; the clash between the person's need for a purpose and the universe's lack of one.
It directly relates to the existence of the self, as well as the freedom of person's
It rejects determinism, holding that people must rise above the irrationality of the universe
Holds that people are directly responsible for their actions, and can assign a purpose to life.
Existentialism in the 20th Century
Existentialism in Waiting for Godot
History of Nihilism
Philosophers have believed for centuries that no intrinsic, inherent meaning exists in the universe. (Søren Kierkegaard)
Nihilism vs. Existentialism vs. Absurdism
It saw it's beginnings in the 19th century with the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
Popularized post-WWII -- response to the revelations and situations directly caused by the war.
"The Myth of Sysyphus", an essay by Albert Camus, hits many existentialist pieces found within Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Deals with the "central question to philosophy", the question of suicide
Uses the Greek myth of Sysyphus as analogy
Concludes that the purpose of life is The Revolt against The Absurd.
Beckett and Nihilism
Responses of nihilistic approach rooted in despair: despair over the loss of God, despair over the loss of objective and absolute values, and/or despair over the postmodern condition of alienation and dehumanization.
Following Great Depression and World War 2, there was a deep sense of despair and loss of values
Beckett himself, having been living in Paris during Nazi occupation and being part of the French Resistance, experienced first-hand the impacts of war.
In post World War II France there was also a crisis of moral order. Moral standards had flip-flopped more than once with the occupation and exit of the Nazis in France.
Kierkegaard posited an early form of nihilism (levelling): process of suppressing individuality to a point where the individual's uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in his existence can be affirmed
The Russian Nihilist movement was a Russian trend in the 1860s that rejected all authority.
Nihilism in Waiting for Godot
"One daren't even laugh any more."
"Dreadful privation."
"Merely smile. (He smiles suddenly from ear to ear, keeps smiling, ceases as suddenly.) It's not the same thing. Nothing to be done."
"Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!"
"No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it."
Existentialism is the belief that through a combination of awareness, free will, and personal responsibility, one can construct their own meaning within a world that has no inherent meaning by itself.(Jean-Paul Sartre)
Nihilism is the belief that not only is there no inherent meaning in the universe, but that it’s pointless to try to construct our own as a substitute. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Absurdism is the belief that a search for meaning is inherently in conflict with the actual lack of meaning, but that one should both accept this and simultaneously rebel against it by embracing what life has to offer. (Albert Camus)
Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche: We find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis. Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of "physiological decadence", nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age.
Nietzsche stated that belief in Christianity provides people with intrinsic value, belief in God (which justifies the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge.
Many people think that Nietzsche was a nihilist, but he isn't. He wrote a great deal about nihilism but that was because he was concerned about the effects of nihilism on society and culture, not because he advocated nihilism.
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