Thursday, September 17, 2009

Absurd flotsam and jetsam

Just a couple of things we thought we’d share. We are fascinated how people have been writing and thinking about man’s absurd condition for centuries. Today we present a couple of older passages of absurdity worth pondering.

Soren Kierkegaard is one philosopher who wrestled with the absurd – man’s desiring against an indifferent universe. Kierkegaard turned to faith, but his grasp of the absurd was as clear as anybody’s. Give this a look, from a student sermon Kierkegaard delivered in 1841, an account of emotions and questions that give rise to stepping over to absurdity.

“Was there not a time also in your consciousness, my listener, when cheerfully and without a care you were glad with the glad, when you wept with those who wept, when the thought of God blended irrelevantly with your other conceptions, blended with your happiness but did not sanctify it, blended with your grief but did not comfort it? And later was there not a time when this in some sense guiltless life, which never called itself to account, vanished? Did there not come a time when your mind was unfruitful and sterile, your will incapable of all good, your emotions cold and weak, when hope was dead in your breast, and recollection painfully clutched at a few solitary memories of happiness and soon these also became loathsome, when everything was of no consequence to you, and the secular bases of comfort found their way to your soul only to wound even more your troubled mind, which impatiently and bitterly turned away from them? Was there not a time when you found no one to whom you could turn, when the darkness of quiet despair brooded over your soul, and you did not have the courage to let it go but would rather hang onto it and you even brooded once more over your despair? When heaven was shut for you, and the prayer died on your lips, or it became a shriek of anxiety that demanded an accounting from heaven, and yet you sometimes found within you a longing, an intimation to which you might ascribe meaning, but this was soon crushed by the thought that you were a nothing and your soul lost in infinite space? Was there not a time when you felt that the world did not understand your grief, could not heal it, could not give you any peace, that this had to be in heaven, if heaven was anywhere to be found; alas it seemed to you that the distance between heaven and earth was infinite, and just as you yourself lost yourself in contemplating the immeasurable world, just so God had forgotten you and did not care about you? And in spite of all this, was there not a defiance in you that forbade you to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand?”

Also, yesterday, we wrote about Samuel Johnson’s novel Rasselas, which is a little gem of absurdity in many ways. Here is another clear exposition of the absurd condition of man, from Rasselas:

"What," said he, "makes the difference between man and all the rest of the animal creation? Every beast that strays beside me has the same corporeal necessities with myself; he is hungry and crops the grass; he is thirsty and drinks the stream; his thirst and hunger are appeased; he is satisfied and sleeps; he rises again and is hungry; he is again fed and is at rest. I am hungry and thirsty, like him, but when thirst and hunger cease, I am not at rest. I am, like him, pained with want, but am not, like him, satisfied with fulness."

The novel is a short one at only 140 pages or so and is available free on Google books.

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