Sometimes we just lose it. We dive into the banality of life, repeating the same mundane tasks every day. Camus used to say that life is necessary absurd, because whatever you do, you die in the end. Therefore shall we go through our life adapting Buddhist doctrines of non-attachment? Or rather, we should care and hence make our lives necessary tragic?
In Samuel’s Beckett play “Waiting for Godot”, we encounter two protagonists –Vladimir and Estragon – who seem to be expecting a character named Godot. Strangely enough, they have no real knowledge who Godot is, when, or why he might be coming. Nonetheless, all their decisions are influenced by this arcane persona. In one of the scenes they are even eager to hang themselves:
“Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!”
But they decide to wait and see what Godot has to say about it.
Vladimir: Well? What do we do?
Estragon: Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer.
Vladimir: Let’s wait and see what he says.
Estragon: Good idea.
Even though the theme of death is omnipresent in Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon do not have a serious views about it. Their existence is ameliorated by the absence of Godot. This purely existentialist approach towards life is also explored in 2001 movie “Waking Life”. Soon after the main character starts his journey of understanding the universe, he stumbles upon a philosophy class, where Robert C. Solomon introduces him to existentialism:
“The reason why I refuse to take existentialism as just another French fashion or historical curiosity is that I think it has something very important to offer us for the new century. I’m afraid we’re losing the real virtues of living life passionately, in the sense of taking responsibility for who you are, and the ability to make something of yourself. And feeling good about life. Existentialism is often discussed as if it’s a philosophy of despair, but I think the truth is just the opposite. Sartre, once interviewed, said he never really felt a day of despair in his life. But one thing that comes out from reading these guys is not a sense of anguish about life so much as a real kind of exuberance, a feeling on top of it. It’s like your life is yours to create.”
In this fashion, the protagonists’ of “Waiting for Godot” create a meaning in their lives. The mere action of waiting, transmogrified their existence into something meaningful. However, what would have happened, if Godot actually arrived? After all the very essence of waiting is inherently transitory.
This is what Sigmund Freud tries to deal with in his essay “On Transience”. He describes a conversation with a poet Rilke, as they were walking around botanically rich garden. Wherein at one point the poet experienced a sudden presence of doom, brought by the fact that all diversity of flowers and trees will eventually decay. That impermanence of life and its moments is indispensably the reason why Buddhist monk live a life of detachment.*
However, is impermanence necessary bad? Don’t we actually value something more because of its transience? In Japanese aesthetics, a phrase “mono no aware” (pathos of things), refers to the impermanence, beauty, as well as a gentle feeling of sadness that we encounter towards things. A traditional example is the cherry blossom, widely celebrated in Japanese culture. The blossom itself is no more beautiful than that of an apple, or pear tree, but is more valued because of its transience and its tendency to last only for one week.
Nonetheless, the theme of “mono no aware” is not only present in Eastern culture. Many of the Western films explore the notion of impermanence. In 1995 movie “Before Sunrise”, two protagonists meet on the train and spontaneously decide to spend a day together in Vienna. Knowing that they only have one day, they fill it with interesting moments and characters. Similarly, in 2003 film “Lost in Translations”, the protagonists bond after meeting in Tokyo. Aware that both of them will soon have to leave to continue with their everyday lives, they built short, yet special relationship. Relationship of transitory moments.
Therefore isn’t this idea of transience inherently meaningful to us? After all, at some deeper level we are always aware that everything is fleeting. This feeling of resound melancholy, feeling of nostalgia towards people that we love and care about, isn’t it the most profound example of our existence? The key to feeling alive? Doesn’t it make us grab the loved one and not let her go? Doesn’t it make us rapturous, yet so certain of the impermanence of the moments?
Yes. It does.
If we really create the meaning of our lives, then this meaning is only meaningful paired with transience. Therefore, what would actually happen if Godot arrived?
You tell me.
*. In Buddhism detachment means as much as much as not seeing oneself as being detached from an object. Non-attachment is the unity with the entire world.