An old man. Inexorably nearing expiry. Hoary, aged, holding on, barely. To what? He doesn’t know. Not exactly. Not in any true sense of what it means to ‘know’ something with all the conditions of one’s own body, alive. A body that has been reduced to shuffling along the floor. Feet captive to forces he can no longer name. Sometimes he forgets his name. So, he listens. Avidly. To voices. On tapes. The crackle of magnetic spools.

Krapp listens to a retrospective of Krapp. Chronologically. Through time marked by voice. His own. His last tapes.

*

How do the two current images of Osama bin Laden (ObL) put forward by the American authorities not cancel each other out? Is contradiction now the very kernel of ideology? Clearly so. Or, opaquely more. On the one hand, ObL’s this still-active, evil master-mind, holed up in a fortress like mansion, “plotting mayhem.” On the other, he’s this washed-up, has-been from the old part of the 21st century, “…wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV, like an aging actor imagining a comeback.” i.e. He’s basically Beckett’s anti-hero from Krapp’s Last Tape. One of his sons, Omar, “described his father as constantly listening to the BBC.” Occasionally, “[ObL] commented on the writings of Noam Chomsky, the leftist professor at M.I.T.” Which might go some way to explain Chomsky’s latest side-winding semi-coherent splurge. Just.

*

I’m quoting lines from this article in the New York Times (May 8, 2011). I’d urge you to read it, as its tone, its adjectives, its strange attendance to even stranger details seems to capture the ambivalence of how exactly to portray Bin Laden in the war that’s left now that he has (corporeally) died: The War with Words and Images (WwWaI)

The writers of this piece take a pulpy pleasure in itemising imagined quotidian life:

“[Bin Laden’s] once-large entourage of Arab bodyguards was down to one trusted Pakistani courier and the courier’s brother, who also had the job of buying goats, sheep and Coca-Cola for the household… He did not do chores or tend to the cows and water buffalo on the south side of the compound like the other men.”

Chided for failing in his farming duties. Did he not read his Heidegger? Great galoshes! Yet another subtext is summarily invoked. Another one familiar to Beckettians.

Boredom.

The dull drudgery of domestic banishment.

“[what emerges about bin Laden is] …a portrait of an isolated man, perhaps a little bored, presiding over family life while plotting mayhem—still desperate to be heard, intent on outsize influence, musing in his handwritten notebooks about killing more Americans.”

Delusions of former grandeur cave in. The article, in fact, goes on to suggest, through the opinion of Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, that boredom may well have been ObL’s downfall:

“There was no escape route, no tunnels, not even false rooms in the house in which to hide,” Reed said. “It makes you wonder: at what point did that extra degree of vigilance [ObL] had get dulled by routine?”

Boredom and narcissism. Power and impotence. Howard Hughes hideaway, who seldom slept and spent nights watching old movies aired on the channel. Occasionally Hughes would nod off and miss parts of the film in which he appeared. So, he bought the station so that he can have chunks he missed rebroadcast.

Oh, Krapp.

TAPE: “Here I end this reel. Box–(pause)–three, spool–(pause)–five. (Pause.) Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.”

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