A friend finds Sam Beckett endlessly humorous; the bleakly depressing characters become comic in his description of them; Beckett’s plots, a shout of protest against the futility of life. A stage performance of First Love transforms the lines on the page into a source of laughter, yet the laughter doesn’t change the reality of the character’s life, simply the way in which the reality is seen.
Perhaps laughing at reality is the best response; making it clear that whatever happens, you won in the end; perhaps it is a response rooted in times when life was lived for the moment, when no-one knew what might lie ahead so worry was a futile activity.
Perhaps feelings of angst are a luxury, only possible where life is secure and where reflection and nostalgia become a possibility.
In our democratic, consumerist, individualist age, we have grown into the idea that life should be ‘fair’ and if it is not whatever we judge to be fair, then there must somehow be some form of redress. Stoppard’s Guildenstern captures that feeling:
Our names shouted in a certain dawn … a message … a summons… there must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said-no. But somehow we missed it.
(He looks round and sees he is alone.)
(He gathers himself.)
Well, we’ll know better next time.
The next time? There is no next time. This is not a dress rehearsal. Yet life is often lived as though everything can be adjusted, as though the script can be gone through again and the desired amendments be made. It cannot, it’s a live broadcast, there is no chance of the script being revised, no chance of a second take.
An extraordinary memory of visiting Rwanda last year was the irrepressible happiness of the people; it seemed to defy all logic. What had they to be happy about? What was there to prompt so many smiles and so much laughter? A friend suggested that it was maybe because life was lived for the moment; if one’s future may never come, then worrying was a pointless activity.
The question of whether one would do things again is pointless, there is not going to be a chance to do so; and yet there are still the unresolved questions and the painful memories. Laughing at the absurdity of the world is one thing; laughing at the absurdity of oneself is altogether harder.