Farewell, Fountain Street

Selçuk Altun, translated by Mel Kenne and Nilgun Dungan

Why Godot Wouldn’t Come

With a clear head, I turned my attention to Beckett’s interviews and memoirs, and tried to clarify his dry and mysterious answers, word by word. By ‘memoirs’, I mean anecdotes related by people who knew him. When Waiting for Godot was first performed in London in 1953 and Peter Woodthorpe was cast as Estragon, he was twenty-two and studying chemistry at Cambridge University. He impressed even Beckett with his performance. During rehearsals, they attended a party and left it at the same time. They were both going in the same direction, so they shared a cab. Woodthorpe said to Beckett, ‘Everyone’s marching to a different drummer. What’s Waiting for Godot really all about?’ Beckett—who disliked discussing or explaining his plays, and only spoke when he had to—exchanged smiles with Woodthorpe. Then the playwright offered a rare explanation: ‘It’s all symbiosis, Peter.’

I assume you’ve never seen Waiting for Godot and don’t know what symbiosis means. Briefly, it’s a biological term used to express the interaction between two different organisms that live in the same environment. When I read the word ‘symbiosis’ I was as delighted, for I had solved a riddle that had puzzled people for half a century! Of the two main characters in the play, the commanding Estragon was GOD, and the goofy and ingenuous Vladimir was (idi)OT. In the course of the play, the adjectives switched places. Yes, Estragon plus Vladimir equalled GODOT, but there was no need to wait for him, as GODOT was already on the stage. When the absurd pair joked with each other, they were also setting a trap for the audience.

Except, when Beckett set his trap, he was kind enough to provide the audience with three hints. Estragon’s nickname was GO(go) and Vladimir’s DI(di). If we look for them in the words, ‘god’ and ‘idiot,’ the results are GO(d) and I(DI) ot. Estragon and Vladimir exchange hats several times during the play, and time after time they try to exhibit symbiosis.

Near the end, Vladimir, sure that the trap they’ve set for the audience remains undeciphered, says, “We’re magicians.”’

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Beckett, surprised when philosophical speculations continued despite his dropped hints, went quiet, retreated, and enjoyed the chaos in silence. Unable to stand it after a group of critics insisted that Godot meant God, he famously turned to actor Ralph Richardson and said, ‘If I had wanted to say God with Godot, I would have been content to say God.’ Just now, I remembered that during the 1950s the play couldn’t be performed in Turkey because the Democratic Party government maintained that Godot stood for communism.

My theory is supported somewhat by the last three lines of the play:

Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
(They do not move.)

Waiting for Godot is the Hamlet of contemporary theatre and if my theory was accepted, I would have been recognised globally. I checked online but couldn’t find anything that came close to my idea. I consulted my friends who were theatre experts and followers of Beckett. They agreed with my conclusions. When I became a professor the following year, I sent copies of my paper to leading academicians, editors and authors, as well as to the Samuel Beckett Foundation and the journal it publishes.

An abstract was published in the letters to the editor section of the Foundation’s journal The Beckett Circle, and my theory was embraced by the professor who presided over the board of directors, along with a few editors and academicians. Others, however, didn’t even respond to it, although I was surprised when a daily newspaper in Turkey picked it up as a front-page story. I was proud to see the paper mentioned by a serious American investigative reporter in the Times Literary Supplement. Otherwise, my discourse made no impact in literature or theatre circles. If those findings had been the work of Jacques Derrida, George Steiner or Harold Bloom, they would surely have earned a place on the agenda. While the media had ignored the discourse of an unknown Turkish academician, at the very least I had come up with an appropriate aphorism for this case: ‘Whoever tells the truth also matters!’

Justice and fairness were forgotten inside sacred books as was tolerance in Mevlana’s Masnavi. And in the twenty-first century, academicians of philosophy, literature and art were rotting in the grip of jealousy and prejudice. This was my first professional breaking point. I’ll leave you with one last anecdote about what made me averse to my profession and then never return to my academic past.

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A few minutes ago, I said Jacques Derrida’s name out loud. Born in 1930, he was a French academician and supposedly a philosopher – the pioneer of deconstruction theory, which is a method of critical thinking. His theory involves a way of reading developed to explain the structural failure of a text, based on inconsistent uses of concepts within that text. I’ve tried to simplify the definition, but if you’re still unable to understand it, I can’t say that I blame you. This temporal movement peaked in the 1970s and influenced some disciplines, particularly architecture. If its Don Quixote was Derrida, then its Sancho Panza was the dubious academician Paul de Man.


From FAREWELL, FOUNTAIN STREET. Used with the permission of the publisher, TELEGRAM BOOKS. Copyright © 2022 by Selçuk Altun.

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