le 15 juillet 2012
This play is mythical for some but it has a less eschatological meaning than "Waiting for Godot". It is more locked up in an individual personality. As much as "Waiting for Godot" could have been seen as deeply schizophrenic, "Endgame" is psychotic, a psychotic vision of the isolated individual in some kind of more than self-centered, in fact self-locked psyche, locked onto himself by himself. And of course we remain in a, obsessively male-dominated world.
There are officially four characters. But in fact two are really active. In the dustbins you have Nagg the father and Nell the mother of Hamm, a crippled and blind individual who is more or less the father of Clov who is his slave, younger, physically active though entirely dependent but maybe not forever.
The room in which these characters exist is a miniature of the psychology of a person who is completely cut off from the world. This person is Hamm. We are inside his brain. For him the world is dead, though he is the one who is a living dead since he is crippled, i.e. unable to move, and blind, i.e. unable to see. He has to be moved around and someone has to see for him and tell him what can be seen. The room has an outside kitchen, an extension that is not the outside world but that is reachable only to one character, Clov who goes to it now and then, though it is the Arlésienne of the play, the one utem you speak if constantly but never see.
Hamm henceforth asks his son Clov to check the world through windows that are too high for direct vision, built too high since windows don't grow on houses that don't grow naturally in the earth, hence purposely positioned too high. There are two windows, Beckett's obsession of duality, one looking over the land and the other looking over the sea, but both land and sea are absolutely desolate, empty, dead. To see through the window Clov has to use a ladder and then a telescope to see what is far away, to have some perspective. I just wonder why they don't use a periscope. After all a house does not come with a telescope, so they could have had a periscope. That would have made things too easy I guess. Beckett wants things to be complicated for his very simple-minded characters.
Hamm lives with vague, evanescent memories of his own parents who are in the trashcans, in other words trashed. Nell, the mother, will appear once only and disappear to be later declared dead. And that will be the end of the first female character of Beckett's plays, a short-lived and sacrificed human entity, a very sexist vision of the woman. Nagg, the father, will appear a first time to ask his "pap", either the tit of a mother or a feeding bottle, or the soft and semi liquid stuff that is fed to babies on the way to more consistent food, and this "pap" is refused. We can see the mother fixation of that grandfather. He has regressed a lot, methinks. He will be given a biscuit (English meaning of course, hence a cookie) by Clov. The second time Nagg comes out Nell will come out too and Nagg will tell her a story, the story of the tailor, a story which has a strange anti-Semite flavour, and yet seems to be a rewriting of some old Germanic medieval story about a brave tailor who kills seven flies at one blow. But this tailor here is incompetent and he asks ever increasing delays because he fails some section of the striped trousers he is supposed to make for an Englishman. "I've made a mess of the seat." "I've made a hash of the crutch." "I've made a balls of the fly." Then these obscene, "indecent" says the Englishman, difficulties are compared to the six days of Genesis, hence with the creation of the world by God. The punch line is supposed to be funny: "But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look at the world ... and look ... at my TROUSERS." And that is a lot more indecent still and totally gay we would say today.
Note in this second appearance of Nagg, first and last of Nell, Nagg tries to reach Nell and kiss her. But the trashcans are too far apart, on purpose of course. No sex we are British, aren't we? Castrating disposition, and disposal, of the two oldies by Hamm himself of course.
The third time Nagg comes out it is at the request of Hamm who wants to tell a story and promises a bon-bon that becomes a sugar plum that will never be delivered anyway. Empty promises, even worse than Indian giver, and Nagg will be pushed back down into his trashcan, or should I say dustbin, dust to dust, hence to death. Nagg goes back into his reservation and will be declared crying in there.
Hamm is the center of this room-world, crippled and blind. He uses still and probably used in the past his parents for his own sake and then rejects them into oblivion or death just the same way he has rejected the world into death. Then he exploits his own son, if he is his own son, to take care of him since he is crippled and blind. And his requests are capricious and tyrannical. Nothing surprising in that. The play is then about the total tyrannical dependence an older crippled and blind father imposes onto his own son, if he is the son, till, and that is the stake, the son sees a boy outside and runs away abandoning his dear father. That's the end. It is finished as is repeated many times in the play, from beginning to end.
The world then is not dead because of some cataclysmic apocalypse decided by God or decreed and implemented by humanity but because of the total self-centered father locked up onto himself. The only people he acknowledges must be his slaves in a way or another, his toys even, and he has the right of life and death over them, or so he thinks.
The game then is not a playful game but it is Clov, Hamm's game, the animal, "mammal" Beckett says in the play, Hamm has hunted and then locked up in his egotistical or is it ego-testicle blindness. The endgame is no longer the end of a game but the end of the venison Hamm has reduced his own son, if he is the son, to be. This works in English, but the French title does not at all carry this double-entendre, double meaning, though "Fin de Partie" may have an open sexual innuendo this time, like the fly of the trousers that had been "made a balls of." Since "une partie" is nothing but a ball, a testicle, generally in the plural, "les parties", hence with another innuendo about a one-balled man, or the castration of one ball. The title anyway implies the end of a game in which Hamm was holding Clov by the balls, so he thought, till Clov saw a boy and ran to him and Clov was the one who was holding Hamm by the balls and his leaving leaves him ball-less. Hamm has lost his game, his venison, but also his balls if we integrate the castrating meaning of the French title, a castrating meaning that is present all the time in Hamm's tyrannical requests and imposition.
A boy is the messenger, like in "Waiting for Godot," that the world is not completely dead, that there is some life out there. But he is only seen by Clov through the window overlooking the land, but Clov's reaction is immediate.
He, a grown man, in his newly donned Panama hat, tweed coat, raincoat on his arm, umbrella and bag, in one word dressed for the road, runs out to meet and capture a boy. Then what? The what! The theme is openly paedophiliac but also the reproduction of Hamm's hunting which may mean that Clov was Hamm's little boy captured in an ancient hunt.
That's where we can doubt the filiation of Clov to Hamm. It is never clearly said but it is probable. He might only be the younger human male Hamm captured a long time ago, and then Clov is on the road running out to do the same in his turn for his own benefit. And the end will be a new beginning exactly similar to the beginning of this endgame.
This play might sound absurd but it is not. It is the realistic denunciation of the enslavement of the young by the old, of their exploitation till the old die or are relegated into the trashcans, or should I say dustbins, of death. Then the young who are now middle-aged take over the hunt, the enslavement and the exploitation till they die or are relegated to the trashcans, etc.
Society is the dictatorship of the old over the young with a purely demographic rotation based on age only, from the older generation to the generation just lower in age forever over and over. There seems to be no escape to that fatality.
This leads to the idea that Beckett was living the years after WW2 in an extremely pessimistic mood. The Cold War led him to see and represent a world that is dead, that has no history anymore, in which biology is the only rule, henceforth and therefore in which survival is only individual provided you can find the slave you need or, if you are too young to be a slave master, the master you need in order to mature to take over later. The survival to which some philosophers want to reduce human life to in the name of science, thus reducing man to a blind mammal.
Beckett's world is a world of total dependence, of total absence of freedom, of total ruins, but all that is totally enclosed in one's own vision of reality that evades any kind of sense and meaning for that particular anyone.
Not absurd but totally and deliriously psychotic as well as anti-historical, un-human and anti-social. Is it Beckett's vision or is it Beckett's representation of a standard vision of his time? No one can answer this question, and certainly not the copyright holder, Jérôme Lindon and then Edward Beckett, who sticks to the letter of the plays and the stage directions and refuses any kind of side-tracked interpretation that could lead to a completely new vision of Samuel Beckett's work. Luckily his power does not extend beyond the borders of France. Beyond one can think differently.
I just wonder what that vision could become if Beckett could see our world of hyper-virtual-reality-communication-cum-social-networking. Could a psychotic post-modern vision of his type survive and thrive in our modern world of total drowning in the multiple and never-ending flow of unforeseen and unforeseeable expansion?
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU