Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More absurd moments

“To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others.”
- Albert Camus

We were driving to make a 10 am meeting today… We were an hour away, but it was raining and the traffic was bad. We knew we wouldn’t make it the moment we rolled out of the driveway. We would be late… not only late, but royally late… late by maybe as much as an hour…

As we rolled along the beltway at 15 miles per hour, we reflected on this predicament. We could feel a part of us did not want to be late and worried what others might think. But our inner absurd man told us not to worry. We knew being late would change nothing really. It meant nothing. It didn’t matter. It was not worth getting upset over.

And yet still there was this part of us that was annoyed at being late. We had to fight it down, like trying to wrestle down a petulant younger brother.

But in thinking about it on the way, we realized again how much of the absurd goes against the hard wiring in our brain. There is something there that pushes us in anti-absurd directions. The absurd does not come naturally, we admit. It takes a conscious effort to retrain the mind to think differently.

By the time we arrived at our meeting, we were feeling very absurd… Nothing mattered. We were relaxed and cool. Life was good. The absurd, if nothing else, is a great mechanism to cope with life’s petty frustrations…

One other anecdote from the weekend… We were meeting with our family for dinner. Mom and dad, brother, wife and kids… And the conversation at dinner, as it often does, turns to matters of utter inconsequence… Whether or not my brother’s bathtub was as white as it ought to be… Whether or not we should get new cabinet hinges to fix the squeaks in the old hinges… Whether so and so go the job he was looking for… It was the usual riff raff of family get togethers.

We pined for some more interesting conversation… This trivia and effluvia had us wanting to walk off a pier… but again, the absurd kicked in. If nothing matters, then nothing matters – not even the things we think are important or more interesting.

We’ve talked about this before… about how, viewed through an absurd prism, a presidential election, for instance, is of no greater importance than a Sunday NFL game. And though we’d much rather pay attention to the latter than the former, we have to admit the game means nothing – win or lose. But neither does anything else…

In fact, this whole post is inconsequential, as is this whole blog… But we digress… We pounded out this post only to illustrate the absurd in action in every day situations. And, in fact, this is what interests us most about the absurd – not the abstract, but the concrete. Not the pie-in-the-sky ideals, but the usefulness in daily living.

We are particularly interested in examples of the absurd life - flesh and blood examples, living and dead, but also absurd depictions in books and film and art and more. (We encourage you to send us your favorites.)

In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the old saying goes. We find the absurd helps us push our rock – even if, as with the absurd hero Sisyphus, the rock only rolls back down the hill again – and be happy in the ceaseless and meaningless pushing.

It as the great Albert Camus put it: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”


  1. I recently saw A Serious Man by Joel and Ethan Coen. A great absurdest movie.

  2. If you really believe it's all meaningless, why go to the meeting at all? Or why not show up to the meeting in a chicken suit? Or why not walk around sayin "nee!" all day?

  3. Curious,

    Meaninglessness does not necessarily presuppose carelessness (unless, of course, you want it to). In other words, just because the absurd states that it's ultimately meaningless to eat, it doesn't mean we should forsake eating. But, should we find ourselves dying because we're unable to eat, we must remember that none of it matters - including our approaching death. Inigo's example of being late for the meeting is simply a less drastic instance of this.

    I assume that to continue living a lifestyle he has chosen for himself, he chooses to continue to attend meetings required by his job. If he had chosen a lifestyle of simply walking around and saying "nee!" he could do that as well. The point is that both lifestyles are equally meaningless.

  4. Well said, Modern Man. That's it exactly...

    And thanks Thomas for the "A Serious Man" pointer. We will check it out.


  5. Great blog, I found you guys off a comment link on a NY Times article about Kierkegaard. Anyway, I'm interested in the discussion regarding universal absurdity vs. personal meaning. Seems like the two are mutually exclusive, it all seems meaningless and yet I know if my wife had an affair it wouldn't feel that way. :) Neither did being late to your meeting. So? Anyone figure it out yet???

  6. Drew,

    That's a great question, and I'd be interested in hearing what Inigo or Rick answer. My guess is that we should all try and make the universal absurd and personal absurd non-exclusive. I think Inigo actually achieved this when he reminded himself that his meating really didn't matter, and consequently became more joyful and lighter in mood. Thus, he made the universal absurd his personal absurd.

  7. Well said, Modern Man. To give another example - we were supposed to have lunch with Inigo today, but were unable to due to family obligations. In the past, this would have been very disappointing - we were looking forward to lunch, and hated to miss it. In fact, in the past we would have probably been angry with our wife for causing us to miss lunch, since this was what we wanted to do.

    But now that we have accepted the absurd, it was of no consequence. We did not have lunch with Inigo - we attended to our family. It made no difference. While we might have preferred to have lunch, we realize a preference is merely part of the overall illusion of meaning. It was what we preferred, but it did not matter - to us, that is the epitome of the absurd.

  8. Hey guys,

    I really appreciate your thoughts and blog. If you are in the New York area, I would love to have a few drinks with you and talk about life some time.


  9. Thomas-

    We are occasionally in NY - send us an email so we can get in touch with you - our addresses are listed on our profiles.