Friday, June 5, 2009

Work is Absurd

We could not help but note with interest the absurd's appearance in a book review in The Wall Street Journal written by Francis X. Rocca ("It's Only a Job, or Is It?"). Actually, Rocca reviews two books. The first is by Alain de Botton, titled The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. The second is by Matthew Crawford, titled Shop Craft as Soulcraft.

What caught our eye was this little passage:

"For Mr. de Botton, there is something absurd about the energy and anxiety that we pour into our jobs, given that even our most glorious deeds are destined to oblivion. Work has no greater value, he suggests, than as a lifelong distraction from the fact of our inevitable demise. Having allowed us to put a roof over our heads, work is finally a way of keeping us 'out of greater trouble.'"

So far this is all good. We find ourselves nodding in agreement. Yes, people spend a lot of worry on their jobs. And what good is that, given that the end is the same for all?

But can our observant reviewer, Mr. Rocca, take the next step into the absurd? Alas, he falls back, as most do. Here is the very next passage in his review:

"In contrast to Mr. de Botton's resignation, Matthew Crawford adopts a characteristically American attitude: practical, zealous and optimistic..."

No! Rocca gets it all wrong. Realizing the absurdity of work is not resignation. It is freedom. If nothing matters, if the end is oblivion, then there is no sense in worrying. There is no sense in all that anxiety. You are free!

We are always intrigued by how many people come right to the lip of the absurd, look in, and fall back depressed. It is anything but depressing. It is liberating!

One other thought: We read recently Christopher Ondaatje's book Woolf in Ceylon. It covers the life of Leonard Woolf, more famously known as Virginia Woolf's husband, while he was in Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) from 1904 to 1911.

Woolf is absurd. Ondaatje notes:

"Another defining characteristic of Woolf was his rationality. In the first volume of his autobiography, he says that he never truly worried about anything, because he could endure the cruel blows of fate with amused detachment, since he believed that ultimately "nothing matters.""


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