First reading of Sophia Le Fraga's 'W8ING 4' (2)
I considered Sophia Le Fraga’s “W8ING 4” as a conceptual video-poem. I immediately placed it as a contemporary revision of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the opening phrase, “nothing 2 b done.” Le Fraga’s work also seemed more play than poem in its use of the mobile phone screen as a stage and deployment of texting as a means to update Beckett’s famous exploration of meaning, modern alienation, and the nature of human bonds. Le Fraga dramatizes an exchange between the owner of the phone, “Soph,” and another while they are waiting for an unnamed third party. Whereas “Godot” in Beckett’s play referred to a source of meaning or truth that was invariably deferred, in “W8ING 4” “Godot” becomes either the word “word” or an icon of a figure that is unnamed, right up until the end where one messenger refers to “god.”
Used as a substitute for face-to-face conversation, SMS heightens the sense of alienation of Beckett’s original yet captures something of the snappy banter between his two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon. In Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon fill their days with endless mundane chatter while struggling to remember the past and desiring some form of resolution or closure. Le Fraga’s messengers fill their day with texting, similarly about nothing (“normal shit, nothing rlly,” “nothing in partic”). As with Vladimir and Estragon’s, their conversation could be taking place anywhere as the two messengers contemplate the passing of time and refer to “tonite” and “tmrw.” The conversation is a means to confirm existence even as there is a struggle with thinking; the Cartesian principle becomes transposed to “one texts therefore one is.” If anything, Le Fraga’s work is even more pared back than Beckett’s. In Beckett’s play, there were symbolic additions to the stage like a tree and a stone/low mound, as well as other characters like Lucky and Pozzo coming and going. There was a sense of development as the play divided into two acts with minor differences taking on heightened significance. In Le Fraga’s work, there is only the exchange between the two messengers, the audience’s attention being drawn to the arrow and their grammatical and digital selections. The choice of phrasing, spelling, and icons generates a sense of the personality of each, with one more prone to anxiety and the other more able to “chill.” Action is reduced to typing out and sending messages. Part of the sense of the poetic is the visual dance of letters as they are typed into a word or message.
I was reminded of Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid love” in which he sees affective relationships altered substantially by the social media age — sped up, shortened, and fractured through technologies like texting. In Le Fraga’s work, the messengers are disembodied, and the dialogue plays out in real time as a series of highly abbreviated messages packed with texting colloquialisms like “lol.” Colloquialisms like “lol” and the use of emoji (icons of facial expressions) condense emotion to a reduced, instantly recognizable range. Spoken conversation becomes simulated through the use of upper case to denote shouting or heightened tones. If viewing the work as a poem, each SMS could be read as a line. The continuation of sentences over several messages focuses attention on particular aspects of the conversation or slows it down such as “I guess/living is like/not enough” and the response, “We have 2 text abt it.” There is a generated sense of segmentivity, of being typographically registered in “bits.” While the messengers bemoan the feeling of boredom and having nothing to do, it is their process of messenging which demonstrates both meaning and creativity. Rather than “what’ll we do what’ll we do,” one messenger types, “What’ll we do what’ll we doOO0o,” using different keys on the keyboard to play around. While Beckett was a polyglot and slid humorously across punning and wordplay, the language in Le Fraga’s work is social media-speak, a shared mobile language that is less resonant with past cultural meanings, fittingly more empty. As with Beckett’s play, there are moments of mimicry and moments of both sly and farcical absurdity. There are light examples such as the jinx of both texting at the same time. Yet the black humor that marked Beckett’s work and theatre of the Absurd more broadly also creeps in as one messenger responds to “how about a little deep breathing” with the declaration, “I’m tired of breathing.”
Where am I as a reader in all of this? In “W8ING 4,” the audience reflects the messengers’ state of expectancy and is moved to moments of boredom by the circuitous, repetitious, and shallow nature of the messengers’ conversation. Such roundabout, endless exchange is broken occasionally by a pathos of recognition at its emptiness. The video-poem ends with one messenger questioning “Do you think god sees me?” and being directed by the other to close one’s eyes. The shift to the internal is registered through a zoom or magnification of the send space and a paste that then results in closing down the exchange. In this respect, truth or meaning is suggested to be off-screen.
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts (London: Faber, 2006).
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Oxford: Polity, 2003).
Ann Vickery is a Melbourne-based writer. Recent poems have appeared in Overland, Otoliths, Rabbit, and Steamer. She is the author of Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry (2007) and Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing (2000). In 2011 she published several poems in Jacket2.