Am I alone in thinking that we could all be reading too much into this search for meaning?

The appetite for conclusive explanation has always been provoked by certain kinds of art - as the recent correspondence in this paper about the "true" meaning of Waiting for Godot reminds us. Earlier this week, one reader advanced the highly ingenious theory that Godot should actually be read as "Go. Dot", in other words "Go. Full stop", the moral instruction of the play presumably being that movement in any direction is better than paralysis. Others talked of obscure French cyclists, Resistance fighters, Balzac characters and concealed homophones (God / Eau). This itchy compulsion to elucidate isn't exactly a mystery itself, of course. Enigmas do not suit our contemporary habits of mind; they are an affront to a culture of transparent meaning. But the impulse to explain arises, I think, out of a misapprehension - because all art is in some sense a coded message, it is an understandable, though false, assumption that there must be a single clear-text solution to that code. Even in works that are calculatedly ambiguous, the conviction that there is a privileged reading that has dominion over all others is difficult to dislodge.

Writers, including Beckett, can sometimes be mischievous about exciting this sense of a tantalisingly elusive clarity. Waiting for Godot, Beckett noted, would be perfectly comprehensible to anyone who managed to read it attentively, an instruction that has probably resulted in some hapless sap anagrammatising every other line in the search for secret messages. Martin Amis did something similar when he published his novel Other People - subtitling it "A Mystery Story" and announcing in interviews that its apparent opacities had a simple explanation. Julian Barnes, he said, had "got it" first time but others might have to read the novel twice to solve the puzzle. As a way of securing a certain knotted attention from your readers, this could hardly be improved upon and, for a time at least, there was a vigorous exchange of theories about how best to solve the mystery.

Nor is it just good art that provokes the audience in this way. Dennis Potter's last two television plays have generated a similar, if smaller, cottage industry of exegesis, because for the compulsive decoder there is no such thing as a loose end. That dangling thread is just as likely to be the handle to a trap-door, which, pulled open, will reveal a concealed chamber within the work. Authorial forgetfulness, waning powers, the hurried rush to beat death to the final page? Don't be so naive. Again, Potter has encouraged the process, filling both plays with sly allusions that hint at hidden treasure and I confess that I am guilty of code-breaking myself, arguing in one review that the name of the main character in Cold Lazarus, Emma Porlock, was a not-very-covert acknowledgement by Potter that this was his "Kubla Khan", a morphine dream set down in a moment of dazed inspiration.

Some of my correspondents have dug a little deeper: "Am I one of the few people who has picked up the message in Dennis Potter's Karaoke and Cold Lazarus?" writes Mr Robinson, noting that both plays end with the murder of the villain and that Potter joked in his final interview about shooting Rupert Murdoch. The plays, Mr Robinson suggests, may be a deliberate incitement to media terrorism. It wouldn't be beyond Potter, certainly, though you would have thought he could have come up with a less risible acronym for his secret army than RON - hardly an aid to recruitment.

Mary Rensten has another suggestion: "I wonder if I am alone," she writes, "in seeing another allusion... in the naming of his hero Feeld. Are we to interpret this as Potter's Feeld, or rather Potter's Field, a public burying place?" As it happens, she has company - Alex Burns advances a similar theory in the Evening Standard: "Has anyone else noticed that the writer in both plays is named Feeld. So Potter-is-Feeld and traditionally Potter's Field is the burial place of those who have failed, right? I wonder what other barbs may be buried in these texts?" he continues, unleashing the verbal metal detectors on that uneven terrain.

Alert decoders will have noticed a common theme in all these letters - the almost formulaic inquiry as to whether the writers have company in their conjecture - "Am I alone?", "Has anyone else noticed?" and so on. This speaks to the other fascination of gnomic texts, the promise they hold out of a kind of intellectual VIP lounge, accessible only to those who have worked out the password. The mass of the audience will be content to remain passive consumers, but some will attempt to penetrate backstage, to discover the tricks that animate the performance. But it may be that there is no secret room, in either good or bad art - that the struggle for comprehension by readers is itself the meaning of a great impenetrable work, and a charity we confer on those that are merely empty.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?