Friday, July 20, 2012

We must go on, we can't go on, we'll go on.

Samuel Beckett

In his novel The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett never discloses whether the interaction between his protagonist and the other "characters" is, in fact, a dialogue between the various aspects of the protagonist himself.  Through a disconnected sort of interior monologue, Beckett frees his narrative from the confines of conventional setting and plot elements as he explores  - among other things - the human will to survive.  I have read The Unnamable three times, at three very different points in my life, in search of answers.  And  each reading, though different from the ones before and always within the context of my life at that moment, always delivers a familiar sense of relief as I arrive at the end, once again remembering not only what draws me to this book, but what compels me to turn to Beckett during difficult times. 

With Beckett, the meaning is always in the ending.  That crisp, precious, all-too-brief release after pages and pages of tension followed by longing followed by grief.  And The Unnamable is a perfect example.  In fact, I would argue it is Beckett's most successful climb out of the depths of despair toward hope.  After he intensifies the ending's pace with brilliantly drawn run-on sentences that build upon one another and layer themselves on top of the solid foundation he has spent almost two-hundredn pages developing, he stops.  Abruptly.  As if taking a final breath before delivering his message, the point of the journey.  All of a sudden, it's as if he simply hands us the clarity and light we have been seeking:

 "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

I realize this seems a strange topic for Lighten Up, since even in its attempt to trace a darkness-to-light/despair-to-hope/can't-go-on to will-go-on trajectory like Beckett's, it is heavy.  But when I woke this morning to the story of the mass shooting in Colorado, I thought of The Unnamable, of Beckett's strategic ability to pull us up through tragedy and into some sense of resolution, and I felt that this could be my only response to an experience for which there really are no words.  My head, like Beckett's protagonist, is filled with an endless, spinning reel of interior monologue.  I hear what I feel: sadness for the lives that have been ruined, for the ones that have been taken away, for the ones that have been forced to watch human brutality adopt a life-sized persona as it invades our living rooms and our car radios and our internet homepages.  To turn away is indulgent and convenient, but to look is painful.  And talking about it seems overwhelming in its simultaneous longing for and lack of answers.

I rarely go silent on issues like this.  I have my opinions about gun legislation, the stigma of mental illness, even about the ways in which movies glorifiy violence to the point that it takes a mass shooting in a small-town cinema to get our attention.  We are desensitized to the slaps and the shoves and the verbal putdowns, the sexist comments, the racist jokes, the national conversations about whether two consenting human beings should be legally able to marry simply because they are of the same gender.  These forms of violence surround us so constantly that we no longer see them, we simply respond to them with more violence, never really knowing whether we are hurting each other, or ourselves.  Whether we are talking to each other, or to the various aspects of ourselves. The aspect that seeks peace or the one that acts violently. The aspect that wants to love or the aspect whose speech is laced with hatred.  The aspect that needs hope, or the one that gives in to despair.  I know nothing about the young man who took so many lives away from us this morning, and I have decided that I do not want to know.  Surely, I will be bombarded with media clips and nearby conversations, and against my will he will become a real flesh-and-bones human being with needs and wants and fears of his own.   Not unlike Beckett's protagonist, this shooter will present me with that aching conflict - Is he a person? Is he a dark representative of the human condition?  Does the concept of captivity, of life in prison, mean anything to him?

I don't want answers to these questions.  At least not yet.  Instead, I want to know who the victims were.  And what their lives looked like.  What they dreamed and what they hoped for.  Who their families were.  I want those people to replace the claustrophobic conversations erupting around me and I want to somehow believe that there is an end to this universal sense of grief and confusion and longing that we all feel.  And I want to wish that this conversation had a last page, an ending I could count on every time I held it in my hands.  And that at that end, Samuel Beckett would be waiting for me with his signature smirk and his penetrating eyes insisting that we must go on.  And that, somehow, we will go on.

~~ Peace

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