I'm just fresh from a protracted conversation over breakfast with my daughter Sarah, and the above quote came into my mind, I think, as a result of my recalling from our conversation a brief reference to the works of Joan Didion, and, particularly, to her novel (and subsequent movie) "Play It As It Lays." In both the novel and the movie, the major protagonist Maria sums up her ongoing resolution to continue living in the face of an apparent emptiness of purpose and aspiration, with the words "Why not?'
Somehow, this reminded me of the quotation that forms this post's title. My specific memory of it comes from recalling one of the Indiana Jones movies (or perhaps it was from the first Star Wars movie, in which the Han Solo character voices it in exasperated response to a question about why he is doing what he is doing). The line always seems to conjure up a delighted response from the movie audience, who are (rightly) to be suspected of being very familiar with the feeling that it expresses.
Why was I so reminded by the reverberations in my mind about the Joan Didion story, and the final line voiced by its protagonist? I think it was because, in my conversation with Sarah, I had been expounding upon the lack of any sense of positive direction in many human lives, and a general sense, not only of long-term meaninglessness, but also of the impossibility of transcending the angst of existence itself. Now, that really is a "downer"! The Han Solo quote, though, virtually celebrates the lack of both any coherent understanding, and indeed the possibility of it. It is the hero as ignoramus which is being promoted here, much as the phenomenon of "post modernism" celebrates it similarly. It is possibly fair to summarize the attitude as being one that accepts both the impossibility of coming to terms with the meaning of anything at all. and hence, too, the impossibility of actually being able to do anything significant about it. In sum, then, if you don't know what to do, at least do something!
Why am I so fired up about this? It's because both Han Solo's bloody-minded defiance, and Maria's self-effacing acceptance of the absence of meaningful choice are both echoes of Samuel Beckett's "I can't go on; . . . I'll go on." in Waiting for Godot. How I wish Han Solo, and Maria (and indeed Lucas, too!) had been able to read the last chapter of my book! You, too, Reader! (I think, possibly, Didion doesn't exactly need to; and Beckett almost certainly wouldn't, as a careful examination of the stage directions of Waiting for Godot will testify . . .)
More to come.
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