As Rome Burns…

“Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo”  traces Susan Sontag time in Sarajevo during the siege of the country, and her desire to create art during such a critical time. Sontag puts on the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. In the article she examines what it meant for her as an outsider to produce “Waiting for Godot” and what it meant for civilians. A particular experience of Sontag’s kept replaying in my head, long after I was done reading the article. Sontag had finally granted access to journalists to the play’s rehearsals and  one posed the question to an actor, “Isn’t putting on a play like fiddling while Rome burns?”. Rightfully so, Sontag is offended by the question even though the journalist claims to simply be doing his journalistic duty by asking provocative questions.

I think this question (and more accurately, the wording) stuck with me but it is a question that Sontag aims to answer throughout the article, and ultimately through her production of “Waiting for Godot”. Art can be so many things; it can be inspiring, transformative, escapist or realist. Sontag comments on what the act of producing this play means for Sarajevo and its citizens. It is more than an opportunity for them to leave their war torn realities behind for a few hours per day. In fact, if anything, it underscores this reality. It reminds the actors of the life they have lost and the life they must now live in order to survive. Furthermore, the parallels between the characters in the play and the citizens of Sarajevo is not lost on Sontag. It is this parallelism that also provides consolation to the people of Sarajevo, for “there is sometimes no better feeling than having one’s sense of reality affirmed and transfigured by art” (89). When Rome is burning, it is the creative process that often times helps one maintain his/her sanity. For the people of Saravejo, it is art that helps them cope with the fact they too are waiting for their own version of Godot.

 

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