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50 Years Waiting For Godot

Fifty years ago today, August 3, in London, Waiting For Godot had its English-language premiere, directed by Peter Hall. It is as we all now know, one of the great post-war plays, and the sequence of events triggered by the August 3 production (at first being harshly reviewed then lionized) led to the less-than-well-known Beckett becoming the Irish Kafka of the 20th century - the bleak-yet-witty writer most likely to be associated in chrome-gleaming suburban Cold War households with a sort of Existenz-darkened Zeitgeist. He also won the Nobel Prize.

Today, the works seems more permanently a part of the canon than ever - and it is somehow astounding to realize it is only 50 years since Godot entered the public imagination. In a world where new episodes of Dr. Who are described as "edgy, dark" etc., the vision of this masterwork remains brilliantly opaque and ascetically lavish. I retain an unfair suspicion, however, that some writers ascend to the dizzy heights partially on the basis of what could be called The Gaunt Factor.

Beckett - long before the sort of pr photography that made Joy Division, Depeche Mode and U2 seem intensely profound and doomed in long-gentleman shadows - was blessed with iconic photographic images of himself equal to his stature - somehow, images were found to portray his language. No English writer, other than Auden, has ever used his own wrinkled visage to such effect. If we love Dostoevsky, it is despite his unpalatable portraits - if we love Beckett, it is at least partially because of his face.


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