Messianism and the Age of Senility: Perpetual Expectation in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

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Author: Paul Corey
Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 21,196 words

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[(essay date 2008) In the following essay, Corey examines Waiting for Godot in relation to Saint Augustine’s and Jacques Derrida’s approaches to eschatology.]

Augustine, Derrida, and Beckett—Waiting

Waiting for Godot presents characters who wait passively for an eschaton that never arrives. The eschatology of patient, deferred expectation is frequently advocated as a remedy for the impatient, radical, and murderous eschatology symbolized by Caligula. Those who expect that an “end” will be brought to them by a transcendent power at an indeterminate point in the future are less likely to try to realize the impossible for themselves through an immanent revolutionary program. In other words, living in constant expectation of a future eschaton that can only be actualized by a superhuman force minimizes our inclination toward personal and political excess in the present. It is in light of two such arguments that I want to consider the situation in Waiting for Godot. The first is by Saint Augustine; the second is by Jacques Derrida.

Saint Augustine advocates a life of constantly deferred eschatological expectation on the basis of his reading of history. In Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees, Augustine charts the progressive spiritual development of humanity since the fall of Adam.1 He divides biblical history into six distinct epochs and compares these epochs to the six days of God’s creation in Genesis 1, as well as to the six stages that constitute a full human life. The division runs as follows: Adam to Noah (infancy), Noah to Abraham (childhood), Abraham to David (adolescence), David to the Babylonian exile (youth), the exile to Christ (maturity), and Christ to the Second Coming (old age).2 Christ’s Second Coming initiates a series of eschatological events that bring the sixth age to a close. For Augustine, the sixth age will be followed by a heavenly “seventh age,” an age that corresponds to the “seventh day” when God rested after his creation of the world.3 With the arrival of the seventh age, the saved will rest with God in his Kingdom on a “day” that “has no evening.”4 And the damned will be tormented in a hell without end.

At present, humans live in the epoch initiated by Christ’s first coming. This epoch is the saeculum senescens—the “old age of the world”—which is the sixth and last age before the eschaton.5 Augustine writes:

The Sixth Age. Morning came with the preaching of the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the fifth day ended. There begins the sixth, in which the old age (senectus) of the old man (veteris hominis) appears. … In this age … like the old age of the old man, a new man is born and now lives spiritually.6According to Augustine, the historical event of Jesus is an absolute event that changes human beings and their relation with God; it gives birth to a new “spiritual man” in the old age of history. For the spiritual man, the old age...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420123155