Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Impermanence of All Things

The absurd man does nothing for the eternal, Camus once wrote. In a meaningless world where our eventual death is the only sure thing, there is no point in legacy-building. Instead, the absurd man lives in the moment, happily relieved of the burden of making a lasting mark on his fellow men.

The absurd man appreciates the life cycle of all things and his place in it.

Recently, we read Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias.” We think it carries within it the spirit of the absurd and the futility of all man’s works, even those he dubs great…


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."


  1. An observation / suggestion on the absurdity quest thus far, opened up with a few quick Nietszche quotes:

    "There are no facts, only interpretations."

    "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."

    "Art is the proper task of life."

    Jack has quite enjoyed the blog thus far as a place to hone and clarify his own metaphysical beliefs. As those following the comment threads know, self-created meaning and the paradox of consciousness are central to this (in Jack's humble view).

    The primacy of the personal is further heightened by the plight of Ozymandias (and one of Jack's favorite sayings, of his own making, that "the dead have no regrets").

    With a smattering of Nietszche in the mix also (quotes above), the general idea seems to be living in the here and now... cultivating and creating a personal aesthetic... not concerning one's self with the inexorability of impermanence or other such things.

    And so, after that bit of rambling, here is the suggestion. Would absurdity perhaps be better considered as a lifestyle choice? Could this be, in essence, a lifestyle blog, devoted to the joys of living a certain way, seeing life a certain way?

    From Jack's point of view, the most glaring point of weakness in the absurd man position (as presented by the two official authors) are the continued assertions that 1) life is meaningless and 2) that the universe is meaningless on a grander meta-level.

    Or maybe it's even more subtle than that... part of the issue, perhaps, is that seeing life as meaningless is above all an aesthetic choice -- a point sometimes missed.

    Those who believe in absolute truth would dispute this aesthetic idea hotly, of course. Jack thinks it true that people choose religions for aesthetic reasons or convenience reasons all the time... but the "true believers" wrapped deep in the folds of such belief systems swear up and down that, no, their interpretation is eternal and absolute, a reflection of God himself (or Yahweh or Allah or Gaia or whatever).

    More rambling... trying to harder to cut to the chase now: Isn't this really all about aesthetics? And isn't that a good and noble and desirable thing, rather than a belittling or demeaning thing?

    Consider the "aesthetic appeal" difference between these two presentations:

    Presentation 1: "Life and the universe are meaningless. You must believe this because it is true... never mind that our definition of "meaning" and yours may differ by miles, or that we do not have the same compliment of experiences as you or the leper in Calcutta etc... if you fail to accept this assertion, re meaning and meaninglessness, then you are wrong, incorrect, naive, blind, etcetera."

    Presentation 2:"There is no absolute truth, which means there are no absolute value assignations one can apply... if life has meaning for you, so be it. If the universe has meaning for you, so be it. But given that, we assert that the absurd way is the best way to live... or, if not the "best" way, then a damned attractive choice at minimum. And, given that, here are the paramaters, the kaleidoscopic lenses, through which we as aspiring absurd men choose to view the world. The benefits are many, we believe, and so we extol them here."

    In Jack's view, Presentation 1 is arrogant, inconsistent, and quite possibly accidental!(Some messages are delivered between the lines.)

    Presentation 2, however, strikes Jack as more honest and complete -- especially in light of the "all is meaningless" overhang -- while having the virtue of being more practical and approachable as well.

    To wit: If all is absurd, then to speak of lifestyle and aesthetic is not to dwell on trivial things... it is, ironically, to dwell on ultimate things. To recognize, then, that lifestyle / aesthetic XYZ may well be wonderful for a lot of people (and worth extolling), while not absolute and making no pretensions as such, would perhaps be a further step along the path...

  2. Greetings Sparrow,

    Your favorite sparring partner Bomstein is on vacation, but humble Inigo carries on, though he is not sure of what you mean.

    The absurd is a contradiction, as Camus himself recognized. Absurdity eschews value judgments, for instance, but makes a great value judgment in declaring life worth living.

    This did not bother Camus and it does not bother us. The absurd, like Descartes' methodical doubt, is a tool. It is a way to dust away the accumulated and received cobwebs of thought and build something sounder in its place. (Perhaps this is an idea for another post...)

    And so, we spend a lot of time figuring out who is the absurd man, looking for him here and there, figuring out what he thinks and how he acts. The absurd man is a kind of ideal, we suppose.

    We repeat the assertion that life is meaningless because that is the basic absurd premise. The absurd man chooses to live in spite of it, and thereby place a high value on life, which Camus called his protest or rebellion. (This, too, might be a good topic for another post. Hmmm...)

    Is it about aesthetics? Sure. Is it about a lifestyle? We think so. A philosophy without practical usefulness is not a philosophy much worth having.

    We recognize we have many fellow travelers - people who share some or many of the same ideas. And we welcome those travelers, including you Jack.

    There is also something absurd about having a blog about the absurd, an irony not lost on us.


  3. Sparring partner, eh what? ;)

    That brings to mind a wonderfully absurd song:

    Contradictions, eschewing value judgments, practicality, recognizing absurdity within the absurd... methinks you've grasped the gist, even if Jack was obfuscatory and long-winded (as usual) in drawing it out.

    Cheers (and do give a listen to that song)...

  4. Sparrow-

    Some of your comments truly mystify us. Who ever said this was a blog about "truth"? As we have explained many times, this is about sharing our view of the absurd, which we find extraordinarily helpful in living a peaceful and content life.

    Do we believe it is "eternal and absolute"? Well...yes - that's why we decided to share it! Sure, we could be wrong - these are, after all, unprovable assumptions we are discussing. But we would point out that from the very beginning it has been you instigating this debate as to whether our view of the world is "right". You talk a good game as to being accepting of others' viewpoints, but why is it that you get so exercised that we have a view that differs from yours - and that we argue passionately for it?

    We are bemused by your "suggestion," since if you go back and read our initial posts you will see this has been the plan all along. This blog is about the freedom, peace, and contentedness that comes from living the absurd life. Do we also believe it is a consistent and accurate way of viewing the world? Yes we do. But the objective here has always been simply to share what we see as something of a Rosetta Stone with regard to life.

    Finally, we completely disagree that the absurd is about dwelling on ultimate rather than trivial things. The absurd is about all things being equally meaningless - the absurd man, therefore, dwells on nothing.

  5. Bomstein said: Some of your comments truly mystify us.

    Yes, that impression comes through quite strongly...

  6. Sparrow-

    Please. Such juvenile attacks are surely beneath you.

  7. Huh?

    Now it is Jack's turn to be "mystified"... you are the one who claimed a lack of understanding via your own comment!

    The reply was simply an acknowledgement that, yes, there does indeed seem to be a wide communication gulf between us. Were you or were you not "truly mystified" as stated?

    Is it not the case that Jack has had to correct multiple false assumptions on multiple occasions in, in regard to viewpoint presumed versus viewpoint stated?

    Jack finds petty confrontations (and especially the manufucturing of such) to boring and insipid, and certainly not absurd.

    Being supremely confident in his own intellect and wholly comfortable in his own philosophical skin, Jack is far less interested in "winning" arguments than intellectual conversation for personal edification's sake.

    Jack is also selfish enough to find posting comments on a blog to be a wholly self-interested exercise, in which the point of sharing and clarifying knowledge is actually gaining clarity and perspective for one's self through the working out of viewpoints.

    And so, as far as "juvenile attacks" go, Jack has about as much use for those as, say, a full grown man would for a Tonka truck.