Friday, November 6, 2009

Forget it!

Our post the other day got us thinking… Thomas Carlyle wrote “Happy the people whose annals are blank.” This is another way of saying “Happy are those who have no history” or, even better, since we all have a history of some sort, “Happy are those who can forget.”

Forgetfulness has its absurd applications. As Camus pointed out, there really is no past or future… there is only a succession of present moments. That is why the absurd man focuses on living in the moment, an idea basically shared by many Eastern and Native American philosophies.

To think that way, though, one must have no regrets. One must be able to forget. One must be able to forget the stupid slip of the tongue at the party last night, the embarrassing mistake at work the other day, the pain of past errors and indiscretions, of old arguments, slights, rivalries… One must be able to look past all that and start afresh every day.

By contrast, a man of long simmering resentments, feelings of failure and regret, who stews over past actions, laments over lost opportunities would be the opposite… a sort of anti-absurd man.

We sometimes have this thought experiment where we imagine ourselves as men of, say, 85 years old, reflecting on our life. What will we remember? What will we forget? We think that an 85 year old man, reflecting back, finds that much of what he thought important when younger very unimportant – hence only heightening the sense of an absurd existence.

In fact, we don’t need this thought experiment to see that this will be true. Sitting here now and looking back over our life, we can point to times when we were upset or when we really wanted something and didn’t get it, and the disappointment we felt then…

What a waste! As we can see now looking back, these things really didn’t matter. They didn’t matter even then; it’s the passage of the years that make this very obvious today. Our life took different paths, things happened otherwise… things could always have happened differently, but they happened the way they did. We accept it and we make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Nothing really matters… that is the liberating insight. That’s why Sisyphus is happy, even in his ceaseless pushing. That’s what Camus so forcefully argued. It’s what this blog is all about.

The absurd man does not let his past hold his present in chains. He forgets and the chains fall away as if made of spider silk…


  1. Love your blog, but can “we” please stop using the editorial “we”? It’s very annoying and doesn’t make sense here.

  2. I for one like that you use the editorial "we". I suggest you stick to it.

    And now while I'm at it, I might just as well also let you know that this has been one of my favorite blogs for the past few months. Thank you for providing us all with a daily (well, almost) dose of sanity, if you may call it that. It's highly appreciated.

  3. I really needed to hear this entry today; thank you.


  4. In honor of not having a story, here is a link to Byron Katies movie coming out which you can download for free starting tommorow.

  5. Just bumped into this clip of Dinner with Andre talking about the same thing. The fear to forget...

  6. You say: "One must be able to forget the stupid slip of the tongue at the party last night, [...] One must be able to look past all that and start afresh every day."

    But looking past is fundamentally different than forgetting. Is it forgetting that we want here, or a sort of transcending care that it happened? I suspect the latter.

  7. Wasn't it Camus who called the Absurd Hero the man who comes to the realization that life is meaningless and that he has three choices - commit suicide, embrace religion or face the meaninglessness of life and go on living anyway?

    Thanks for your insights,