Monday, September 28, 2009
To Live Without Hope (And Not Despair)
“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”
- Henry Miller, The Cosmological Eye
We puzzled over this idea about hope when we first read it some years ago. Miller was one of those who helped nudge us along the path of absurdity.
But we’ve since learned what Miller was talking about. And he is not alone. Nietzsche went so far as to write that “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of men.” And Albert Camus wrote that carrying absurd logic to its conclusion “implies a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair.)”
Camus parenthetic comment is key. Lack of hope doesn’t mean despair. The absurd man accepts the world as he sees it and finds happiness in whatever circumstances he finds himself in. (Easier said than done, we know). For the absurd man, happiness is about being aware of and accepting the absurdity of existence (the meaninglessness of it all).
Accepting is also key. Miller says as much, later on: “I am absolutely indifferent to the fate of the world… I accept. I am – and that is all.” To live without hope is to not make unrealistic demands of life. It is to “live without myths, without consolation” as Camus put it.
Happiness, in a sense then, is more about fitting your foot to the shoe of the world rather than the other way around. Hope – or wishing things were otherwise – would seem to be an emotion counter to that line of thinking.
In thinking about hope, we wondered too about all kinds of anti-absurd emotions. Envy, for instance, becomes a rather ridiculous emotion in light of the absurd. Self-pity is another. It reminds us of the D.H. Lawrence poem of the same name:
“I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
Only man creates these problems for himself, it seems. The good news is that we have some control over those emotions. And we can develop better controls over time, like a hot-tempered youth that learns to curb his anger. Ultimately, casting these anti-absurd emotions aside is freeing, in the same way the absurd idea itself is liberating.
Camus had a poetic point about absurd freedom in Myth of Sisyphus, and we’ll end with that:
“Is one going to die, escape by the leap, rebuild a mansion of ideas and forms to one's own scale? Is one, on the contrary, going to take up the heart-rending and marvelous wager of the absurd? Let's make a final effort in this regard and draw all our conclusions. The body, affection, creation, action, human nobility will then resume their places in this mad world. At last man will again find there the wine of the absurd and the bread of indifference on which he feeds his greatness.”
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 3:41 PM