Shane Vogel Lecture: “Waiting for Godot and the Racial Theatre of the Absurd”
Date / Time
April 22, 2021
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
UIC Dance, Theater and Performance Studies Working Group
Thursday, April 22, 2021 from 4 – 6 PM, via Zoom
Shane Vogel, Indiana University
“Waiting for Godot and the Racial Theatre of the Absurd”
This talk takes the little-known 1957 Black-cast Broadway production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as an occasion to explore a deep tradition of an Africana absurd that found an interlocutor in European philosophies of absurdism. While the European absurd developed as a repudiation of Western philosophy and aspired to a universalizing assessment of the human condition, the Africana absurd is situated in the historical formation of racial slavery and its afterlife. More specifically, this Africana absurd is a response to the formal meaninglessness—the incoherencies, paradoxes, and arbitrariness—of Western racial logic, and most often appears in an aesthetic idiom. The 1957 production of Waiting for Godot inaugurated a long line of racial Godots, including the Free Southern Theater’s production that toured across the US South in 1964 and Paul Chan’s 2007 Waiting for Godot in New Orleans. The relationship between Blackness and Beckett exemplifies how an Africana theatre of the absurd develops within and against the European theatre of the absurd, toggling between the experience of the human condition and the situatedness of the Black experience in the New World, ultimately confounding the boundary between these two registers.
Shane Vogel is Ruth N. Halls Professor of English at Indiana University. He is the author of Stolen Time: Black Fad Performance and the Calypso Craze (Chicago, 2018) and The Scene of Harlem Cabaret: Race, Sexuality, Performance (Chicago, 2009). His research has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University. He is co-editor of the Minoritarian Aesthetics series at NYU Press.