[FOUNTAIN]Our theater of the absurd

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[FOUNTAIN]Our theater of the absurd

April 12 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Mr. Beckett earned international acclaim with “Waiting for Godot,” an absurdist play that premiered at the Theater de Babylone in Paris, France in 1953, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.
With no clear plot or event, it is not easy to understand the play. On a desolate stage with a single tree, two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait in vain for “Godot.” The play never explains who Godot is, whether he is actually coming and when he will come if he does. Yet, Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait for Godot.
The complex play was presented to the inmates at San Quentin State Prison in the United States in 1957. Mr. Beckett’s play was chosen because it does not have any female characters and was less likely to sexually excite the inmates. While the play was being performed, the prisoners raved and shouted out, “Godot is the world outside the prison” and “Liberty is Godot!” The Algerians under French colonial rule in the 1950s thought Godot was to retrieve their land, and the Polish in the 1960s interpreted that Godot meant escaping Soviet influence. During the military regimes in the 1980s, many Koreans thought Godot was a metaphor for the vision of democratization.
“Waiting for Godot” is an open-ended play in which the audience can freely interpret the message depending on their own situation. Audiences around the world empathize with the play.
In “Waiting for Godot,” Vladimir says, “We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. But habit is a great deadener.” That line is considered to be a great representation of the absurd world.
Vladimir’s words remind us of reality. On April 11, Choi Gyeo-wol, an aging mother whose son went missing 28 years ago, learned from a Japanese government statement that her son had been abducted by North Korean agents, married a Japanese woman, who also was an abductee, and had a daughter. She does not have much time, but no matter how she pleaded with the government to see her son again, the authorities have kept their ears shut for nearly 10 years since the abduction was confirmed. How can we describe the reality without using the word “absurd?” To Ms. Choi, Godot means the end of this absurdist play co-produced by Seoul and Pyongyang.
Coincidently, yet fatefully, filmmaker Shin Sang-ok died that day. He had been alive through the absurdity that occurred when he was kidnapped by the North in 1978 and escaped in 1986. Let’s pray that Mr. Shin rests in peace in the world without absurdity.


by Chae In-taek

The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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