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Endgame by Samuel Beckett
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Sep 16, 09

bookshelves: plays
Recommended for: Nihilists
Read in February, 2010, read count: 1

This is a tough one to understand, never mind review. Not much really happens--there is only one act--except that Clov the slave leaves Hamm the blind, seated master for a small boy and Nell dies. I have to admit that a lot of the dialogue--like in Waiting for Godot--made no sense to me and certain pages seemed to have been written by a crazy man. I suppose there is some coherence to this little play--it means that all is meaningless; it means that it is meaningless.

And indeed there are a couple lines of real black humor here, especially since
NELL (without lowering her voice):
Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But—
NAGG (shocked):
Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more.

As to the significance of the title, it is clear that this is a play about the end--civilization doesn't exist anymore, probably more from environmental degradation than war ("There's no more nature," Clov says.). Hamm clearly wants to die (that's all he talks about) but Beckett doesn't give us a reason why he doesn't commit suicide.

Beckett compares the history of the universe to a game, particularly to a chess game, yet he and Hamm explicitly deny order to Clov who wants to clean up and follow orders and impose order on the world.

Hamm, Harold Bloom says, is Hamlet (as nothing happens in this play and Hamlet is always hesitating). That still doesn't really explain why Hamm doesn't kill himself, since Hamlet didn't kill himself because of the possibility of hell. I somehow doubt Hamm believes in hell. I wouldn't be surprised if Beckett was trying to say that Hamm was already in hell!

Others say Hamm is the accursed son of Noach. Perhaps he has been accursed to live forever? This would make better sense of Hamm's not killing himself.

From Wikipedia: "Hamm could be short for Hammer and Clov be clove (etymologically nail)." Beckett never tells us why Clov obeys (even Clov asks this out loud several times). I am reminded here of Heidegger (following Nietzsche): the slave needs the master (who is Being for itself) and the slave is being for the master. The slave needs the master as much as the master needs the slave. I'm not sure if I believe this crap but it seems Beckett does.

I don't know what to do with the father-son relationship of Nagg (from Nagel, German for nail, I'm told) and Hamm. Also, is Clov Hamm's son? Is Clov the little boy in the story whom Hamm adopted from the poor beggar? Beckett doesn't answer these questions. All he tells us is
"CLOV (dismayed):
Looks like a small boy!
HAMM (sarcastic):
A small... boy!...
No? A potential procreator?
If he exists he'll die there or he'll come here. And if he doesn't...

According to Wikipedia, this is about the characters' static lives. They do seem to have real pasts, as Nagg and Nell reminisce about the Ardennes, I believe, Nell always saying, "Ah, yesterday!" But then, when Clov tells Hamm he oiled the casters yesterday, Hamm shouts, "Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
CLOV (violently):
That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don't mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.

So not only is there no nature, no civilization, no tides on the shore, no tomorrow, but no yesterday either. If nothing changes, it makes no sense to speak of a "before." It almost makes sense, but it doesn't. It is absurd.

My complaint with Beckett and with absurdism is that it doesn't seem to require much in the way of skill or talent--anyone can write literal nonsense and say that it means nothing. This is an unimpressive trick. I see a lot of 5 star reviews on here and a lot of people who think the writing is like-totally-amazing(!1). It seems like one of those books/movies everyone pretends to understand in order to look really deep. Unfortunately, there's nothing deep about nihilism. It's sort of funny, but intentionally shallow and therefore not profound.

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