Printer Friendly

Reading and experiencing a play transculturally.

A transcultural poetics of reading is what makes a play go "global," making it, in the process, go beyond its "home base" to "circulate out into a broader world beyond its linguistic and cultural point of origin." (1) It is not merely about reaching out for the "other" through negotiations in culture, civilizations, and concepts, but rather about judging and orienting one's peculiar nativity and cultural exclusiveness for more intense and intricate moves in cross-cultural negotiations of meaning. An "effective life" of a play exists in a vital combination generated through the duality of the work's existence both inside and outside its culture. Reading, performing, and experiencing a play, thus, is like living between cultures, different constellations of beliefs, manners, and languages; it is about finding the "unpeace" amidst contesting territories of power, domination, obscurity, obfuscation, and elision. This "unpeace," at once the site of conjuncture and misjuncture, vitalizes our reading and viewing. Inhabiting and exploring this locus of uncertainty render "strangeness" to our transgeneric perception of a play both as a text and as a performance. Such meditative and performative acts of living on the borders of cultures and traditions help monitor and effectuate the cross-cultural "traffic" leading to wider horizons of experience. However, there exists something that stays undocumented and quaintly fragmentary, avoiding hardened historicist embeddings and "historical efficacy." (2) This is the politics of "trans" in the transcultural that induces a separate order of defamiliarization where identity and difference work at the same instant to transit beyond habitual ways of apprehension. There is a remarkable estrangement in that trans introduces a "strangeness" a liminality, the familiarity with which comes in varying versions of shock, enticement, and freshness. With trans comes the cognitive shift, conceptual inflections, the linguistic transfers and the unease of "profit" and "loss" in cultural translation. Transcultural spaces, thus, inform our experiences--literary, aesthetic, and cultural--with affect, a different set of sentiments and interpretive values. These spaces, generative of an "unpeace," challenge the organicist notion of culture and the tendencies to return to the security of the universals of the human condition and specific cultural codifications. Transcultural encounters creatively destabilize our received understanding of cultural formations and unsettle easy syncretic and synthetic tendencies in the construction of socio-literary significances. The trans in transcultural poetics, in other words, is about going global, not just in additive ways but in a coadunative combination replete with the peculiar modes of substraction and inwardness, where cultural specificities and exemplarities are honestly kept in play, where the Archimedean point and the panopticon are difficult to locate and achieve in such mondializations. Indeed, in such substractions, in cultural specificities and porosities, the potentiality of going global is astutely realized. Appropriating Rabindranath Tagore, this phenomenon can be meaningfully illustrated as the river that while flowing down the mountain knows its water is somewhere connected to the ocean. Being global is not finding one's texture in bland cosmopolitanization; rather, it is in moving beyond such formations to increase the foreignness that is not alienation but studious curiosity, a critical inclusiveness, to challenge the limitations of thought and augment potentialities for connection. Such critical inclusiveness has a strong tendency to fight the conceptual hegemony that certain languages in their predominant circulation and overwhelming number of users create, or rather inflict, on our understanding. There is, instead, exchange and play, borrowing and bartering, trade and profit, deficit and loss. Transcultural poetics influences the planetization of literature (of drama), in profound ways, affecting policed and legislated ways of reception. As Wai Chee Dimock argues:
   Space and time, in short, have no absolute jurisdiction when it
   comes to the bond between texts and readers. Not a preassigned
   grid, they are molded instead by the actions and passions of words.
   They can behave like "a kind of fan", as Mandelstam says.... This
   fan can be folded up, putting Italy in the immediate vicinity of
   Russia and making strange bedfellows out of the fourteenth and the
   twentieth centuries. The now thus begotten does not in the least
   resemble the now legislated by the Soviet government. Stretching
   across hundreds of years and thousands of miles, it is temporally
   and spatially wayward, out of step with any party line, any
   mechanical clock of progress.

      Aiding and abetting this population of nows, all unsynchronized,
   literature stands accused as the enemy of the state. Its projective
   and retrospective horizons play havoc with territorial sovereignty.
   To each of its readers it holds out a different map, a different
   time scale, pre-dating and outlasting the birth and death of any
   nation. Morphologically speaking, literature might turn out to be
   one of the most robust inhabitants of the planet, a species tougher
   than most. We can think of it as an artificial form of "life"--not
   biological like an organism or territorial like a nation but vital
   all the same, and durable for that reason. Its receding and
   unfolding extensions make it a political force in the world. To
   acknowledge this force, we need to stop assuming a one-to-one
   correspondence between the geographic origins of a text and its
   evolving radius of literary action. We need to stop thinking of
   national literatures as the linguistic equivalents of territorial
   maps. (3)

Indeed, transcultural poetics is committed to what I consider to be "worlding" performative interventions, where historicality, contextualism, and a vibrantly alive existence in the "now" result in the past emerging in many "presents" Worlding the text is enactment and ingemination in voices, reanimation in time, in fluidity of concepts, and reading of the writing furthered through intertextuality, translation, and interference. Going global is espousing "contradiction" in reading and occulting performances conducted in different presents. As Laurent Dubreuil succinctly observes: "The rearranging of times in literatures now is different from historical revenance or variations of the invariant. These latter phenomena intervene in literary history. Notwithstanding, the literary site for the conflagration of times is not the intrusion of yesterday in today (that is: what Benjamin sees in history). Being all past and all present, the oeuvre lives to the rhythm of literature's apres-coup." (4) So literature, and drama in particular, within the context of our discussion in the present pages, inflicts violence on time in that they exceed "simple presence" as well as "pure present." (5) And the (in)fusionist transcultural now in going beyond the global submits to abandoning both "phantasms: reader's free play as well as historical unicausality," (6) inaugurating a new literary history. Transcultural engagements, unlike simple comparatist modes of study, are not always complete in that they transform understanding and initiate dislocations within established meaning-patterns. There is a "somewhere" between dreams and events, an interspace, an evocation that is not always representational and has a perversity in conceits and excess. Reading and reception in a transcultural poetics of understanding are always restive, fretting to innovate; however, such restlessness requires the presence of a perceptive patience, the "studious cheek" and not the ruinous license. Deeply critical transactions across cultures and traditions then cannot be without consequence and responsiveness. It is not simply the anxiety of meaning that arrests our attention; our competences and performances are judged and regulated by their connection with politico-institutional structures and religio-cultural specificities that urge a new interrogation into our responsibilities.

Going global is about recircumscription--both in deeper inflection of Herodotus's oikoumeney and home as the world--rather than boundless chaos where globalizing or the worlding are inscribed in subject agencies and the merit and volume of sociocultural inscriptions and ascriptions. Transculturation, as Jean Lamore argues, "is the ensemble of constant transmutation; it is creative and never over; it is irreversible. It is always a process in which one gives something in exchange for what one receives: both sides of the equation are modified. A new reality emerges, which is not a mosaic of characteristics, but a new phenomenon, original and independent." (7) What then is this "new reality"? Do we encounter a dynamic openness when Shakespeare travels performatively to South Africa and China and Beckett's Not I nurtures a tryst with Japanese Zen Buddhism, as Kyle Gillette argues in "Zen and the Art of Self-Negation in Samuel Beckett's Not I"? Sidney Homan in "Snapshots of a Shakespearean in China" shows the potentially intriguing journey of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor when he prepares to direct and teach the play in China. How can this play be experienced under constraints ranging from the necessity of the translator, the rudimentary English-speaking abilities of the audience, the relative concreteness of the Chinese language on a translational axis, and the execution by a cast who spoke very little English? Homan engages deeply with the question of--"How might the Chinese interpret The Merry Wives?--and learns instead about Shakespeare "from a people whose own theater, of course, predated his by thousands of years." This neuters, as Didier Coste argues, the "priority of any single origin." (8) Circumspect about the blase universals of comparative thinking, he urges us to rethink "the one-and-whole both as origin and goal, and thus itself bi-centered. Comparative thinking, as it moves away from that one-and-wholeness in order to make sense, creates its own bipolarities, around which it is up to our anthropological self-consciousness to move--elliptically also in the sense of an omission, an abbreviation, an encryption and a forgetting." (9) Les Essif perceptively demonstrates such configurations and vectors in his "American Students Performing the Foreignness of Human Culture in Foreign Drama" where he directs his students to perform a dynamic infusion of classical texts with new cultural perspectives "highlighting the uncertainties" of foreign culture, foreign language, and life itself--that help "to identify and undermine the 'certainties' that each of the texts has acquired over time through interpretive convention" and the "behavioral conditioning" of the performance group. Essif's transcultural reception of dramatic experiences works through a theater practice appropriated both "to rediscover our socio-human souls by reestablishing our cultural foreignness" and produce acts that are "essentially cross-cultural and uncertain performance artifacts: American students performing a cultural text written in French by an author from a past generation." One can Frenchify, Hinduize, Africanize and at the same time globalize and humanize; one talks about a community and its language and yet in communitas, it unlocks specificities and rigidities into "theatrically human community." So theories come close to each other as do concepts that travel across cultures in encryption and abbreviation; in such proximities and translocationalities, the conceptual exchanges are seen to emerge in literary and paradigmatic incongruities; epistemic contiguities are effected to question the relevance and propriety of comparison; the movement from mere comparison to the (in)fusionized negotiations (10) that trans, when understood as ways of "doing" and "performing," effectuate, configurate, thereby, the literary values in a distinct problematic. The vulnerabilities and empowerment of temporal and spatial border crossing clearly provide the dialogics and unease characteristic of a transcultural poetics of reading.

Does a global understanding of literature need what Rene Etiemble has called "invariants" or the "waves" that Franco Moretti talks about? How important is it for us to see a physically white Desdemona wherever Othello is staged across the world? Natasha Distiller's "Authentic Protest, Authentic Shakespeare, Authentic Africans: Performing Othello in South Africa" addresses the question of obsession with race in the play, the cultural, historical, and political complications that prevail as strong accompaniments when the text finds a stage in South Africa. What does, or can, Othello mean to Africans? How does the definition of the "African" bring about a difference, the multivalence, in the production of Shakespeare's plays, in the reception of Shakespeare in cultures different from those in which the plays were originally set? Distiller rightly asks: "What does it mean when a black African man living under apartheid plays a part written by a white Englishman during protocolonial times intended for another white Englishman to perform in blackface, as indeed the role was predominantly performed until recently?" The transcultural intertextuality accumulates further richness when Loren Kruger in her "On the Tragedy of the Commoner: Elektra, Orestes, and Others in South Africa" investigates the impress and dynamics of tragedy in the background of the incomplete revolution and aspiration for reconciliation in South Africa. Molora, Yael Farber's adaptation of Aeschylus's Oresteia, becomes the transcultural crucible that "stages the collision of national and intimate dramas of violence in post-apartheid South Africa." Gridded onto the similar axis of transcultural exfoliation, The Island: Antigone, as Robert Gordon argues in "Fugard, Kani, Ntshona's The Island: Antigone as South African Drama," has configured "a new intercultural approach to writing South African performance, finding common ground between indigenous African modes of storytelling and ritual performance and European approaches to postdramatic performance in a hybrid theater piece that inscribes Sophocles' text within a South African context" Gordon explains how "Sophocles' Antigone is given 'a local habitation and a name', while the injustice perpetrated in respect of Mandela and his compatriots is located within a 2,500-year struggle for human rights. Artistically, this play reinforced and elaborated the major postcolonial innovation in South African theater constituted by Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, adding the hermeneutic complexity of two hundred years of Antigone interpretations to the originality of the latter play's invention of a 'poor' theater aesthetic expressive of an authentic South African milieu." So transcultural poetics has an amorphousness about it that is also about a dynamicity and aversion to coerce frameworks of reading into hierarchical value systems. Its critical vocabulary is clearly not preordained but has the alterity to look into the historical dimensions, the contextual competences, the interstitialities that rootedness, dislocation, and socioaesthetic filiations and affiliations generate. Fredric Jameson writes: "Each hermeneutical confrontation, between an interpreter and a 'text,' between an interpreter of one culture and the text of another culture, always mobilizes, at each pole of the interpretive encounter, a whole deployment of prejudice and ideology." (11) He argues that the "distance" that separates a text and an interpreter, both of which claim individual affiliation to a particular culture, "needs in one way or another to be lifted, abolished or suspended"; however, this suspension or "fusion" as Jameson points out, "is not be understood as the abolition of difference" not as a kind of ideological neutralizing, but a "preservation of tension, a coexistence within radical difference, a relationship by way of radical difference." (12) However, traveling concepts and paradigms do not have an a priori universal rule of representation and, thus, rely on reflection and evaluation as ways to negotiate the cross-cultural traffic. Rey Chow observes that ultimately "aesthetic judgment involves a reflection of the terms of the reflecting activity (or subjectivity) from within rather than only a reflection of the external object it judges, bringing with it a potential for dismantling those terms precisely as the reflecting activity (or subjectivity) tries to reach for the universal. Defined along these lines, aesthetic or reflective judgment seems poignantly germane to those areas of knowledge production in which problems of radical otherness are the most acute." (13) Indeed, aesthetic and reflective judgments contribute to the politics of comparison and cross-border experiences deeply circumscribed by cultural difference and the denationalization of literature. It can also have the engaging difference of the Hamletmachine, the radical ferment of meaning-making, which is, as Stephen Barker observes in his "Hamlet the Difference Machine" more than "an amalgamation of the synchronic and diachronic critique of revolutionary cultural change." Pushing the edges of disciplinary globalization, Dimock's questions become deeply relevant: "But why should a text not be interpreted in relation to events outside its temporal vicinity? Does simultaneity necessarily confer analytic pertinence? Is it not possible to think of historicity as a relation less discretely periodized, one that emerges over time between any text and subsequent generations of readers?" (14) In "diachronic historicism," texts are experienced to travel across time into new "semantic networks" and, through resonant contextualism, encounter changes in different registers of reception. Reading and performance, thus, in "traveling frequencies" create "resonance" and, as Dimock argues, produce texts with an "unstable ontology" where "across time, every text is a casualty and a beneficiary." Indeed, the "desiring machine" in Hamletrnachine is a necrophiliac, feeding and excavating critical experiences whose anchors can be located across Greek philosophy, Nietzschean thought, a theocentric medieval European worldview, and the "Bible, Buddha, T. S. Eliot, Thackeray, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, Lessing, Artaud, Brecht, Gertrude Stein, W. H. Auden, John Ford, Boris Pasternak, Beckett, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Andy Warhol, James Fennimore Cooper, Holderlin, Joseph Conrad, Randall Jarrell, Federico Garcia Lorca, Karl Marx, Ulrike Meinhof, Squeaky Fromme, Stalin, Honecker" and many others. The trans, thus working through an "explosive bricolage" a literary continuum and mythogeneticism, creates the "performative now" on principles of difference, diffusion, and dissonance. The now is here-after-ever. There is, thus, an "instant" in such an attitude, the pursuit of an instant in its radical presentness, working on the gains of a fraught now, the hope that its perpetual pregnancy generates--"intermittently eclipsed by an awareness of the present as deferment, as an empty excited openness to a future which is in one sense already here, in another sense yet to come." (15) The instant is continually under pressure to lose its instantness, being unavailable to itself, and transcultural poetics is wrestling with the now, which, by filtering through our time, by keeping diverse subjects in company, by enfolding one present into the other, stays ironically "present imperfect." A transcultural poetics of reading has an uncanny dimension to it, turning into a literary zone that Vilashini Cooppan describes as the "disjunctive merging of the familiar and the strange, the present and the past, the repressed and the returned" where no text is pure and original and no work can avoid being "inserted into the globalized processes of migration, borrowing, adaptation, and retelling." Cooppan adds, "Temporally, it haunts, ghosting new texts with the residual presence of older ones, or indeed, old texts with the anticipatory presence of new ones. Because the timeline of the uncanny is not chronological, it invites us to resist the impulse to read only some texts--usually modern, postcolonial, emergent, or otherwise belated texts--in the shadow of their greater others, and to recognize instead a ghostly alienness animating every text." (16)

I. Endgame: The Transcultural Instant and the New Reality

Transcultural poetics, dynamically inscribed into the notion of the uncanny, cannot be immured within the dialectic of the center and the periphery, which has influenced facetiously our universals of critical understanding. Rather, a "new universalism" is under critique and awaits appropriation where the West and the East have ceased to sit on either side of the fence in a triumphalist and imperialist way; rather, decentered thinking has come to change our discourses in an equation where Pozzo and Lucky, as representatives of cross-cultural epistemic and conceptual parameters, as it were, are not master slaves changing batons, but become proficient and productive in their exchanges for each other's configurative identities. The "contact zone" speaks of inequality in power, values, and ideologies; but such inequalities result in freedom--echoing Alexis de Tocqueville (17)--to create spaces to test the limits and frontiers of negotiation. Equality constrains and hence, transcultural planetization of reading and reception is about breaking norms, courting the "unpeace" I have mentioned in the preceding pages. This is part of a "diatopical hermeneutics," which Raimundo Panikkar argues as overcoming the distance among cultures needed for any understanding, the voyage across different spaces that cultures have independently developed with their own "modes of philosophizing and ways of reaching intelligibility along with their categories." (18) Interpretation as "imparative philosophy" is about gaming with the other, which is what lends a freedom without the usual experience of constraints that the other ideologically and through cultural essentialism instills. Our experience of understanding, together with an experience that the desire to understand what the other can do to us, prompts transcultural poetics always to look for new units of thought, fresh figurations of meaning that disclose both the familiar and the alien: the meaning it makes is both within and beyond us. This is not without rules--rules that lend rationality to understanding and interpretive claims--but must take into account the ability of the interpreter to reframe new rules, reinvest his or her critical understanding to bend the game to his or her advantage, to rally home a point, or winsomely score from a deft perceptive nexus of ideas, leaving behind a trail of surprise and serendipity. Within such an imparative aesthetic, Beckett's Endgame has a restlessness that beckons transcultural momentum and movement, provocatively dislocating the play from its Eurocentric anchorage by relating it uncannily to a world with which its apparent relation looks contradictorily ambivalent. How pertinent is the paradigm of archetypal existentialism in our understanding of Endgame even after the play has crossed the borders of the Indian subcontinent and invited a renewed epistemic achievement? So let me begin by arguing that Beckett's works speak to or about the human condition and, hence, cannot avoid being dialogic with different worldviews; they bring in their wake an ambivalence and concept-split that only transculturalism, in its odd mix of congruence and contradiction, can generate. Thus, within the dynamics of "border-art," the play, when read and performed in India, can predominantly, albeit arguably, remap itself within a Hindu worldview.

Working within the ambit of Hindu ethics and philosophy, one may begin by arguing that it is the problematization of the dharma of existence that deeply informs many of the plays of Beckett, particularly Waiting for Godot and Endgame. It is worthwhile, then, to ask: what is dharma? The word comes from "dhr," which means to form, sustain, and support. "In its widest sense it refers to that which sustains and holds together the universe itself." (19) "Dharma is right action" writes Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. "In the Rg Veda rta is the right order of the universe. It stands for both the satya or the truth of things as well as the dharma or the law of evolution." (20) In fact, to hold and sustain order, the observance of the necessary acts becomes essential; it helps to keep the order of the world. (21) Hence, it is karman (action) that eventually becomes the determinant for the sustenance of order; every form of life cannot deny its dharma of existence, the law of its being. This concern with order or dharma--the order of being, the being-in-the-world, the ever-impinging world of alien entanglements, the order of values, existence--brings us to interrogate Beckett's Endgame (22) with a host of questions: to what extent have Hamm and Clov honored the dharma of their being as evolutionary and generative? Do Hamm and Clov suggest everything that life represents or does not represent? Within the limitations of their mutilated selves, how far can we consider them to be the representatives of all humanity? Are we to assume that there is no other side to this benumbing world of the play? Can we not look into the substratum of this enervating predicament and finger the nerves that evoke this hellish milieu? How can we perspectivize the prevalence of "evil" spacing itself out in such an existential configuration? Despite Hamm's self-reflexive moves to change the horizon of existence, the inherent immovability of suffering remains as the "unyielding sureness of reality" which does not fail to cross our will. Why is this suffering, and what is the suffering for? Why does suffering need to be so persistent as to affect the life of the self, the spirit, and the body? Does Endgame provide us with a means by which to judge the reality and vitality of suffering? How do we account for such a dismembered and disjointed world? Is it the collapse of dharma, the loss of order in every conceivable sphere of existence? It is worthwhile to see how ideas emerging from Indian knowledge systems argue a case for the play, putting forth a critique fairly removed from what we have come to accept as inherited modes of criticism.

The samkhya-karika sees three kinds of suffering, bodily or physical, environmental, and mental. It is virtually impossible to remove suffering: "From the torment by three fold misery arises the enquiry into the means of terminating it; if it be said that it is fruitless, the means being obvious to us, we reply no, since in such means there is no certainty or finality." (23) The point to be made here is that suffering in Endgame cannot end "the abject and indigestible husks of direct contact with the material and the concrete." (24) Spinoza, who had a great influence on Beckett, has this to say in his "On the Improvement of the Understanding": "After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile, seeing that none of the objects of my fear contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness." (25) Beckett's Endgame seems to be shorn of any "good"; sarvam duhkham (universal suffering)--the classically elemental unimpassioned ritual of agony--permeates every crevice of the play. This sarvam duhkham charts out value-bereft lives for both Hamm and Clov as it does to all of us on earth. If we take Patanjali's thesis in Yoga-Sutra (2.15) and Visuddhimagga we find that duhkha is born out of the agony of search, the dissatisfaction and the rebutted craving. But duhkha, as embedded in the searching conditions in Endgame, is not plain corporeal suffering or mental affliction. It is not a state of paranoia about a loss of pleasure; it is not a hedonistic concept that could be critiqued in conflation with pleasure or happiness (sukha). Duhkha in Endgame is, rather, a realization that we are essentially in a conditioned state where there is a complete lack of freedom (cf. samskara-duhkha of the Visuddhimagga). In our conditioned state there is a marked awareness of this utter absence of freedom, and it is what makes duhkha a profound realization. Buddhist philosophy would have us believe that everything is suffering because everything is conditioned and in a state of impermanence and flux. The Nyaya school would instruct us to judge everything as pain, for we do not have any experience of unmixed pleasure or sukha. The Hindu concept of suffering argues this phenomenon as an "eternal return of events" There is no harm either in being tempted to perceive a kind of eternal recurrence of the same monotonical life-activities in Endgame which, simultaneously, engender ennui and enigma. Arthur Danto elaborates: "Imagine having endless times to go through what we all have gone through once, the mastering of our bodies: learning to walk erect, learning to control our bowels and going through all the same stages of emotional awakening again and again with all its embarrassments, all the torments.... I think the knowledge would be shattering. The mere tedium of it all could not be borne." (26) This is the Hindu view of a despairing life that records the very depths of Beckett's world.

For Hamm and Clov there is no escape from this loop of duhkha. The absurdity of the situation is heightened by the fact that while they can take this view and realize what they do in life is arbitrary and meaningless, they cannot disengage themselves from life by this awareness. In the parlance of Hindu ethics, it may be said that we realize the truth while we remain, as we must, immersed in the ocean of untruth. This immersion in the sea of untruth is very difficult to rationalize: an inertial force powerful enough to defy systematic rationalization takes over. Even if they choose to undertake a self-transcendental step backward, they are regressed by the question about the available freedom to do so. Are they really "free" to make a move? But, also, is the truth of suffering the only reality that Hamm and Clov are faced with to experience? Can we argue that the submergence in a sea of untruths is what makes the experience of suffering for both a ceaseless and encompassive phenomenon? I would like to argue that the situation in the play is not as depressing and calamitous as it seems on the surface. The prospects of karma lie implicit within; it, thus, triggers karmic possibilities though, most often unrealized, of freedom and positive authenticity against the grain of a soul-deadening suffering conspicuously written into the very heart of the play. Could they then invent a transcendental meaning, a value within their arbitrary, hollow, and purposeless lives? One must admit here that when duhkha exists as a persistent and insuperable reality, the responsibility rests with man's weakness--what Hindu ethics would term as the "untruth"--and not with God. Is sarvam duhkham a child of man's incompetence to realize his predicament? Are the weaknesses and untruths enough of a hindrance to preclude the rationalization of absurdity?

Pain, argues Rabindranath Tagore in Sadhana, is the feeling born out of our finiteness, our incompetences: "It is what error is in our intellectual life." I shall argue from the philosophy of Hindu ethics that the embedded evil in the circumambient situation precludes Hamm and Clov from consorting with the "whole" or the dharma of existence. "Evil is ever moving;' writes Tagore. It becomes characteristic of man "to represent statically what is in motion" and "in the process things assume a weight in our mind which they have not in reality." (27) Evil and suffering are the manifestations of the imperfections in our knowledge, our available power, and in the application of our will. Beckett's protagonists have revealed their weaknesses to themselves, resulting in choking depression. Human life is drawn up within a narrow flame where miseries and failures are made to loom large, and limitations are allowed a dominant voice. Failing to hold the core of things ("Am I right in the centre?"[48] questions Hamm), they hit the self hard in a confounded state of understanding that brings them before an unavoidable "hollowness"--Hamm: "Do you hear? ... Do you hear? Hollow bricks! ... All that's hollow!" (23). They fail to realize that the ideal of truth is not in the narrow present, not also in our immediate sensations, but in the consciousness of the whole that gives us a taste of what we should have in what we do have (emphasis mine).

Hamm: ... Put me right in the centre!

Clov: I'll go and get the tape.

Hamm: Roughly! Roughly! ... Bang in the centre!

Cloy: There!

Harem: I feel a little too far to the left .... Now I feel a little too far to the right.... I feel a little too far forward .... Now I feel a little too far back. (24)

This wobbly, indecisive state informed by a struggle to remain at the center comes from an incomplete sense of the self. Beckett's world with its elusive focal point cuts at the root of a deep inner growth, which we may describe as the liberating enterprise to "work at ourselves." (28) Dharma in Hindu ethics demands a self that has a proper sense of the center, becomes the totality of our functional resources, and is not merely built on reason or feeling alone. It encourages the development of a self with the knowledge that can tell the right from the wrong, the beautiful from the ugly. (29) The "ought" of dharma gets appropriately responded to by an "I ought"--the answer emerges from one's awareness and conscience to explore the poise at the center--a belief that leads us back to the deep-welling foundations of life that I would like to ascribe to "being-needs." (30) It is the demand on the self to remain in accord with a wider system of values: a demand to look beyond survival needs.

One pole of Hamm and Clov's being, in the words of Tagore, is hitched to "stocks and stones." They are faced with a reality that has an inexpungeably dictative and compulsive presence. However, when the searchlight is on the other pole of their being, the identity of their existence takes on a kind of alethic truth. This pole is "separate from all." "There," as Tagore explains, "I have broken through the cordon of equality and stand alone as an individual. I am absolutely unique, I am I, I am incomparable." (31) There is a noticeable lack of individuality in the atmosphere that hangs grimly over the play; we notice that the characters within the ethics of their existence struggle to maintain themselves against the "tremendous gravitation of all things"--the centripetality of an abyss of dead matter. The individual is sorely out of place. But, can we perceive Hamm as being possessed with a discernible mission to trace his individuality? Is the struggle worth the isolation that provides the meditative space to rethink Beckett's man-world nexus? Hamm tries; at least, he dares to. He fails; he tries again. Beckett, it must be admitted, wills his failure to an appreciable extent. By willing it, however, Beckett unearths the need for a superstructure of the self that would revel in a karmic thrust, rising up to uncover its existential bearings on a significantly new scale. The drugged dimension of existence is willed to unconceal some vital promises which, thus, can encounter the regnant disabilities of a normalized inert existence. We may argue that this elemental-existential bankruptcy stems from a desiccation of individuality, something that we can call our very own. What Hamm and Clov do not (rather cannot) imbibe is a relation between the "I" and the "They," which, in its intersubjectivity, usually enriches our existence. Hindu ethics argues that the communion with the other, and the world at large, is sustained through continual reformulation of the internal laws of the self--configuring the "I." The predicament of every human is a misplaced understanding of "gaming" without "ends" when one is busy with nets but neglects fishing. As part of this philosophical rejoinder to the Endgame crisis, one can argue that the problem is in not being able to unlearn the knowledge of "imperfection"; there is no effort to burn up the error that could set free the light of unshackled existence. Consonant with the spirit of the Upanishad, we find that knowledge is one of the channels of our relation with the things outside us. Hamm and Clov are all too self; they fail miserably to encourage and establish such an understanding and knowledge with their "own" and outside of their own. The confusion springing from the struggle to come to grips with the state of things, thus, persists unabated.

Hamm: Do you know what's happened?

Clov: When? Where?

Hamm: (violently) When! What's happened! Use your head, can't you! What has happened? (47)

They fail to widen the limit of the self. It is the misconstrual and lack of understanding of the "life of the self" that cause all such complications and contradictions, upsetting the dharma of their present. Beckett's play hinges on a dialectical tension between the self trying to think positive thoughts and the persistent opposition that it faces to snuff out any semblance of hope. For me the text builds itself on this "growing out while collapsing in" principle that nourishes a tension and makes an oppressive life less tortuous in nature and potency. Hindu religious philosophy teaches us that the sense of self grows out of the consciousness of sin, of the benignity of grace and of the self's very "atmospheric" existence. Hamm's radius of the self is not defined on such lines of consciousness. How much does Hamm realize that he has been degrading himself, that his sense of the self has been inadequate and nondiscriminatory (viveka-yuktena-manasa)? The evil and ennui confronting Hamm emerge from his inability to redefine his self-identity. The contingent atmospheric stress dominates him in that the limit of contraction becomes the limit of blindness. In a dehumanized setup, tethered to the dead weight of the finite, Hamm fails both to evoke and participate in the peak experiences. These peak experiences (one needs to note what Hamm means by trying to have an "idea": a "bright idea!" [33]) shape the self into being decently volitional, strengthening it in the process. However, it is what could have turned the situation of Hamm and Cloy into both axiogenetic and axiosoteric. (32)

But the Hindu view of life prefers to see through Hamm in Endgame certain signs of a prospective generation of "values" indicative of a positive resistance to the great neutralizing enterprise of absurd existence. We may notice the attempt to render some meaning to his life--a sort of effort to endow it with self-consciousness that may not be crested with success. Hamm, for me, has made some meaningful efforts, the consequences of which may belie the initial thrust of will. Yet Hamm shoots through with a positive desire--hoping for a "gull," the "sea," the "sky"--amidst the crippling limitations of the present.

Hamm: No gulls?

Cloy: (looking) Gulls!

Hamm: And the horizon? Nothing on the horizon? (26)

In Hamm we record a certain fluctuation in mental attitudes--a waxing and waning of hope, desire, and effort. This desire is for a vital or higher existence that may offer a contrast to the profaneness of a soul-numbing finitude. Hamm says:
   If I could sleep I might make love. I'd go into the woods. My eyes
   would see ... the sky, the earth. I'd run, run, they wouldn't catch
   me (19).

Such an urge to romanticize, to sail beyond the repressive encapsulation of reality, must be read as a positive commentary on the need to reinterrogate the dharma of existence. Hamm's perennial "act of sitting" is the reflective part of our existence, the reflectiveness that chooses to impose questions on our predicament. Hamm evinces the human capacity of self-consciousness (karmic possibilities) as he takes a step backward to reflect on life and the futility, the absurdity of our strivings, hopes, aspirations, and evaluations. But the psychic state of Hamm, in its reflective awareness, radiates a reflexive dynamicity to find a place for imagination, a possibility of hope, and a curiosity for a horizon truly remarkable. The karmic propensities to rationalize a way out of the depressive undertow of events cannot be ruled out; despite depressive human circumstances, the Hindus would still prefer working away at the possibilities of self-transcendence. Attempts made by Hamm, even while abortive, are nonetheless attempts to determine a choice; these are attempts to look at the other side of hell to see whether the possibility of happiness can be raised. Hamm's effort to unleash himself becomes a truncated, though promising projection of an image of man repeatedly thwarted and disclaimed; being decisively dwarfed cannot avoid manifesting the culpability of silence and inaction. Hamm proposes to write out a meaning, thereby opening up the possibility of reframing the situation and repositioning the commitment to read into what was thought to be the normalized given or the reality of absurdism. It is this affirmation of some peak moments that I find quite redeeming in Beckett's pallid, claustrophobic world.

But such affirmations are sparse as they die out under the heft of a relentless surge of dead energy (the tamasic state in Hindu philosophy). Herman Keyserling, through the Hindu doctrine of karma, perceives the activism of the self, which in "what is free in it" becomes a significant component of the agent. Efforts made to overcome the given is a way to self-transcendence, the pathway to invent the objectified limitation of existence a bit creatively. (33) The Gita ascribes it as dhriti, the conative persistence, the rigor to signal a growth of being. But the karmic propensities in the play could not be realized in concrete acts; the world of the play lacks proper "navigators" whose growth, at best, is stunted, whose discourse of growth does not have the gestaltic self/world relationship.

Hamm: .... I am asking you is it very calm?

Clov: Yes.

Hamm: It's because there are no more navigators. (43, emphasis mine)

The anxiety of living in Endgame, traumatic for the will to navigate, is balked, and the freedom to step into the shoes of a navigator is decimated. Perhaps the specter of deindividualization in the soul-killing suffering sparks a propensity to dream of the gulls, the sail, the seas, and the urge to look down, over the window. When Hamm says--"Let's go from here, the two of us! South! You can make a raft and the currents will carry us away, far away" (28)--we realize their urge to experience "what is free" in the self, the desire to realize "being-needs" over "survival needs." It is the urgency to "build the raft" that matters (Hamm: "Get working on that raft immediately" [28]). Hamm and Cloy need to build the raft and learn to navigate. (34)

It may often be argued that the absence of happiness is unhappiness without ever choosing to determine the intertwining set of reasons that could have resulted in this state. As Thomas Nagel writes, "we cannot live human lives without energy and attention, nor without making choices which show that we take some things more seriously than others. Yet we have always available a point of view outside the particular form of our lives, from which the seriousness appears gratuitous. These two inescapable viewpoints collide in us, and that is what makes life absurd. It is absurd because we ignore the doubts that we know cannot be settled, continuing to live with nearly undiminished seriousness in spite of them." (35) Cloy does tend to live this absurdity with seriousness. But Hamm, entrapped by an overpowering disability, generates some energy to make a choice that purports to another version of seriousness. This seriousness interrogates the other side of the prevailing predicament but is countermanded by the "seriousness of absurdity" that Clov cannot avoid representing. This is what makes for the duhkha in life, resulting in dissatisfaction embedded in valuelessness. The value judgments that would otherwise have come from questioning life or existence "seriously" are annulled deterministically. Karma in Hindu thought is a spiritual necessity which, by making one judgmental and adjudicatory, helps him to make his way through the maya and avidya of life. Remaining inactive (niskarmakrita) means contravening dharma. Gita would describe karma as something that springs from guna (dispositions). It is, however, difficult to find gunas in Hamm and Clov strong enough to challenge niskarmakrita. Gunas have manifested in brief bursts; desire for karma raises, at best, a transient promise. But circumstantial immovability has not allowed the self to grow. The world of Hamm and Clov cannot produce the mechanism to raise the self by the self--the existent self raised by the karmic self. The Hamm-Clov ensemble puts forth a self that requires a construction through the establishment of another self; it is reinvesting one's prevalent self, says the Gita, through the karmic potency of another self, adding to a genuine sense of it and knowledge (vidya). In Hindu ethical parlance Hamm needs to keep Clov affected by the choice (as pointed out earlier) to extend the dimensions of his choices within the ambit of the existentialist enigma of dukkha.

So it is the way of life and thinking it out that count. Hindu ethics would argue that human existence that fails to combine the reflective karma with the dynamic karma is fated to get weighed down in schism and sickness. The karmic reflexivities, which we notice in Hamm, do not lead him to an orderly and poised dharma of existence and certainly not to any deeper realization of values and order. Addled efforts of Cloy, significantly under Hamm's direction, to reach up to the sight beyond the window (the symbol of the ladder is significant) can be ascribed as the bid to appropriate truth--an entity that lies beyond the world of appearances as incomprehensible and indescribable. In fact, what can be seen through Murphy, Moran, and Molloy is a perception of the core that, however, is a fugitive entity delimited by a mere glimpse of the Idea and the inability to realize it. Hamm's effort then becomes an emaciated ploughing of the surface without digging deeply enough into any formative stage of understanding. (36) Hamm's spasmodic efforts (a fleeting intimation of self-transcendence: "What? A sail? A fin? Smoke?" [25]) are hopelessly caught midway between an alleged determinism of circumstances (nothing can happen) and an ever-mounting self-thwarting conservatism of the individuals (since nothing can happen, inaction remains the only possible action). Such consciousness of an overpowering eventuality makes the absence of freedom the defining signature of their lives. Hamm and Clov also dread "waking" (an alive, alert consciousness of circumambient reality) and, therefore, cannot evade espousing the avidya(s); this allows the deception to continue unabated. (37) What lies amiss in the Endgame-world is jnana (the emancipatory wisdom) that is a "realized" experience. If the arrival of Godot is an eagerly awaited event, looking beyond the window for sights that would rejuvenate the prevalent levels of existence is an intense requirement. (38) Hamm and Cloy fail to reach the desired dharma because their will is not informed by the knowledge of the potential of the self; the self must act centripetally; it is pedaling within to wade across the muck that engulfs them from without; it is enjoining the sundered notes within, piecing the shards together to trigger an initiation toward some vital and redemptive moments. Both Hamm and Clov in their adharmic patterns of existence have chosen to flinch from the boy's presence, failing to explore a possibility of redemption and deliverance. Steeped in avidya (the ignorance springing from the lack of sense of self), it is like the Victorians crying "Fly our Contact Fly" in Matthew Arnold's "The Scholar Gipsy" for they are not ready to accept the generative impact of a new procreative force. The boy offers a possibility to mend walls. The boy is the beckoning to vidya that promises to replace the self-debilitating life of the mind and soul with a true emancipatory one--an Inner Emigration. Tagore, in Gitanjali, characterizes this situation poetically: "I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day, I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow." (39) Blinded to the reality and potential of true being, the Endgame-world awaits redemption. So the prevalent strains of adharma in Hamm and Clov's lives do not allow a wholesome perspective on existence, disrupting in the process the integrality that lies enshrined in the ways dharma is conceived. Within this aspect of Hindu thought we find a refusal to appeal to a whole human being, a denial to speak to an integrative worldview. The entropic disability in the predicament of Hamm and Clov points to an abuse of life, a life that leaves no door open for modes of liberation and enlightenment. Perhaps Beckett's world in Endgame has denounced the rebel in the human; it loses sight of, or rather denies the sight of, the internal revolution in every human; the betrayal of self, thus, is the violation of the dharma of existence.

Finally, I am tempted to refer to Gita (XVIII) again and analyze the five factors--adhishthanam (the matrix of action), karta (agent), karanam (the diverse instruments of action), chesta (coordinated well-meaning effort) and daivam (the wider expanse of action beyond the immediate). The disabled karta (Hamm and Clov) and their enfeebled chesta contribute to the tamasic state (the dark state of suffering). Inhibited thus, it fails to achieve the daivam, which I interpret here as the world beyond the immediate consequence of objective karma--the zone of being-needs, it is the karta or doer's intensive modes of action (karanam) that disclose a world beyond the causal existential web. Dharma through sukarma (good action) and svakarma (voluntary action) becomes the inner law of being. Hamm and Cloy prove a failure, and the failure signals the collapse of dharma and the consequent relapse into tamas. So the evil remains. The tamasic state continues. Hindu ethics would choose to look at the absurdity in Beckett's world as potential evil. This evil, unfortunately, does not allow suffering to be seen as positive: the positive suffering or duhkha that encourages self-moulting, the act of sloughing off the self that meekly surrenders to absurdity. Differently argued, it may be pointed out that the mere fact of our continuing in existence proves that existence is worthy of continuance. The Hindu view of life in the world of the play would seek to question and problematize this worthiness to continue living; the Hindu philosophy of dharma makes us think transculturally through the existential configurations in Beckett's world of the play with different accents and certainly with a fresh set of values.

University of North Bengal, India


Guest Editor


(1) David Damrosch, What is World Literature? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 6.

(2) Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), xiv.

(3) Wai Chee Dimock, "Literature for the Planet; PMLA116 (2001): 173-88 (175).

(4) Laurent Dubreuil, "What is Literatures Now?" New Literary History 38 (2007): 43-70 (55).

(5) Ibid., 58.

(6) Ibid., 59.

(7) See Jean Lamore, "Transculturation: Naisannce d'un mot," Vive Versa 21 (1987): 15-22 (19).

(8) Didier Coste, "Is a Non-Global Universe Possible? What Universals in the Theory of Comparative Literature" (1952-2002) Have to Say about It, Comparative Literature Studies 41 (2004): 37-48 (43).

(9) Ibid., 43.

(10) One may look up my edited volumes (In)fusion Approach: Theory, Contestation, Limits (Lanham: University Presses of America, 2006) and Romancing Theory, Riding Interpretation: (In) fusion Approach, and Salman Rushdie (New York: Peter Lang, 2012). Also see my "Aesthetics of Hunger: (In)fusion Approach, Literature and the Other," Symploke 19 (2011): 11-25; "Making Sense of Interpretation: Yes-ing and the (In)fusion Approach" Parallax 16 (2010): 107-17; "Institutionalised Theory, (In)fusion, Desivad," The Oxford Literary Review 28 (2006): 25-36.

(11) As quoted in Wai-Lim Yip, Diffusion of Distances: Dialogues between Chinese and Western Poetics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 4-5.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Rey Chow. "The Old/New Question of Comparison in Literary Studies" ELH 71 (2004): 289-311 (303).

(14) Wai Chee Dimock, "Theory of Resonance," PMLA 112 (1997): 1060-71 (1061).

(15) Terry Eagleton, Against the Grain: Selected Essays, 1975-1985 (London: Verso, 1986), 139.

(16) Vilashini Cooppan, "Ghosts in the Disciplinary Machine: The Uncanny Life of World Literature," Comparative Literature Studies 41 (2004): 10-36 (21).

(17) See Joseph Epstein, Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 119.

(18) See Raimundo Panikkar, "Eine unvollendete Symphonie" in Erinnerung an Martin Heidegger, ed. Gunter Neske (Pfullingen: Neske, 1977), 175; see also his "What is Comparative Philosophy Comparing?" in Interpreting Across Boundaries: New Essays in Comparative Philosophy, ed. Gerald J. Larson and Eliot Deutsch (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 130.

(19) John M Koller, "Dharma: An Expression of Universal Order" Philosophy East and West 22 (1972): 131-44 (134).

(20) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life (New Delhi: Indus, 1993), 56.

(21) J. A. B. van Buitenen, "Dharma and Moksha," Philosophy East and West 7 (1957): 33-40 (35-36).

(22) Samuel Beckett, Endgame (London: Faber, 1970). References to the play are all parenthetically provided in the body of the paper.

(23) Samkhya-Karika, Verse I. See

(24) Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove), 48. The problem is that there is no Russellian spirit as evidenced in "Free Man's Worship" or the spirit that Camus tries to foreground that suggests the effort to face agony, absurdity, vacuity, and "unpleasure" with stolid boldness.

(25) Works of Spinoza, ed. and trans. R. H. M. Elwes, 2 vols (New York: Dover, 1955), 2:3.

(26) A. C. Danto, Mysticism and Morality (New York: Penguin, 1976), 56.

(27) Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana (Madras: Macmillan, 1979), 40.

(28) See Karen Homey, Neurosis and Human Growth (New York: Norton, 1950). She clarifies the responsibility of consciousness where the "real self" forms the central inner core and becomes the deep source of growth. The question arises as to the extent to which Hamm and Clov have realized the significance of a generative center of being. A growth that combines both the vertical and the horizontal axes points to a harmonious development and unfolds itself sufficiently on the road of a self-enriching dharma of existence. For more pertinent references to Gita, see S. Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavad Gita (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2011); especially sections 14, 16, and 18.

(29) See Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978).

(30) William E. Hocking, Human Nature and its Remarking (New York: AMS, 1976), 118-23.

(31) Tagore, Sadhana, 57.

(32) See Abraham H. Maslow, Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (New York: Penguin, 1976); also by the same author, Further Reaches of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 1970).

(33) Herman Keyserling, From Suffering to Fulfilment, trans. Jane Marshall (London: Selwyn and Blount, 1938), 122-24, 250-51,257-58.

(34) Mario Puglisi, Prayer, trans. Bernard M. Allen (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 211.

(35) Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 14.

(36) For Beckett any perception of the "core" is problematic and very difficult to define. The "essence" of a thing remains elusive and defies formalization. Instances of this order are plentifully available in The Unnamable, his 1953 novel. The sense of a fundamental unity is sorely lacking, which means that the metaphysical experiences of several of his protagonists are devoid of stability, permanence, and a transcendental joy. There is, thus, a relishing of passivity, an aspiration to revel in the freedom from the cardinal compulsion to cogit--"the great classical paralysis" (Molloy in Three Novels by Samuel Beckett [London: John Calder, 1956], 140). The inability to define the nature of reality and the virtual inexpressibility of the core of reality are the two issues that have primarily troubled me here; this means that the two characters cannot have the strength of the intellect to thrash out a significant view of the world. It is the "ordering" of the experiences and formalization of the chaos within that cry sorely for attention; despite the dim prospect of its eventual realization, the dharma of existence demands this inner reconstruction, which is what I ascribe to the Inner Emigration.

(37) For a lucid exposition of ideas related to judgment, freedom, and truth, see Gary Hatfield, Descartes and the Meditations (London: Routledge, 2003), 71-97 and 183-201.

(38) In the English translation the boy is feared as "a potential procreator" There is a fearful possibility of his living on as the boy pushes at the horizons of a refigured dharma of existence where the possibility of a new order of life, a new cycle, and a new earth come to the fore, threatening to obviate the hitherto adharmic existential coils. I believe that the significance of the "small boy" is more emphatically expressed in the French version. = (39) Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (London: Macmillan, 1921), 23.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Ghosh, Ranjan
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Previous Article:Rosamund Bartlett and Sarah Dadswell, eds.: The World's First Futurist Opera: Victory over the Sun.
Next Article:Zen and the art of self-negation in Samuel Beckett's Not I.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters