The term deus ex machina refers to an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.
Americans’ hopes pinned on a coronavirus vaccine are an affective investment in an expected future event saving a seemingly hopeless situation. There is a lot of anxiety and fear tied up with the irrational hopes for a vaccine. Some leading scientists are skeptical that a vaccine can be developed in less than the 12 to 18 months the government suggests is feasible in Operation Warped Speed. William Haseltine, a professor at Harvard Medical School — where he founded two research departments on cancer and HIV/AIDS — has questioned whether a coronavirus vaccine will ever be developed.
In simple terms, with respect to a coronavirus vaccine, we have a situation where people are gripped by fear and anxiety and those fears and anxieties are propitiated or defended against by irrational hopes of a future event, namely, the development of a vaccine, hopes that eliminate the fears and anxieties — eliminate the threat of the virus.
Be that as it may.
In Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot two characters, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), wait for the arrival of someone named Godot who never arrives, and while waiting they engage in a variety of discussions. Godot never arrives. Godot is never identified. We don’t know who Godot is, Didi and Gogo don’t know who he is, why they are waiting for him, why the arrival of Godot would benefit them in any way; they simply wait for the mysterious and unidentified Godot.
Think of Didi and Gogo waiting for Godot as a variant of Americans waiting for the future development of a coronavirus vaccine.
But in the case of Didi and Gogo, Americans’ affects of fear and anxiety are replaced by meaninglessness. Also, Americans’ affect of hope for the future development of a vaccine is replaced by Gogo’s and Didi’s obliviousness as to why they are waiting for the future event (the arrival of Godot). Didi and Gogo simply wait for a future event without any affect. They simply wait. They don’t know why they wait.
Imagine Americans waiting for a coronavirus vaccine. Drain the situation of fear and anxiety and replace these affects with meaninglessness. Drain the situation of the affect of hope about a future event and replace it with obliviousness. Drain the situation of the feeling that the vaccine is a positive object — the vaccine is simply an object, neither good nor bad. You have Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The play is about two people simply waiting.
What is this in psychoanalytical terms?
Beckett was a patient of the British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion. Beckett fine tuned his thinking about meaninglessness — which he put into his writings — through his clinical work with Bion. (I wonder if Bion told Beckett he was “destroying meaning?”)
The psychoanalyst Bennett Simon wrote a paper about Bion’s clinical work with Beckett. Dr. Simon is a friend of Dr. Palombo; Dr. Palombo mentions Dr. Simon in his book, The Emergent Ego.
We read Waiting for Godot in Mr. Boni’s French class at Central High School. Fred Cohen, M.D. was a student in that class. I wonder if Dr. Cohen is interested in virology?
Dr. Simon’s paper:
The Washington Post has reported on the parallels between the play and the coronavirus.