Monday, December 7, 2009

Go ahead, soil your legacy!

Last night we watched the 40-year-old quarterback Brett Favre on Sunday Night Football. Though his Vikings lost to the Phoenix Cardinals, Favre is still having a great season, the best in his long career.

Favre became the butt of numerous jokes in recent years for his on and off retirements. To recap: He played for many years with the Green Bay Packers. He retired, but then came back to sign with the Jets. He played a season with them, then retired again. But then came out of retirement again to play for the Vikings.

Whenever a great athlete is in the last stages of his career, there are a bunch of people who call for his retirement. It’s always some variation of the basic argument that they do not want to see the player soil his legacy by ending his career as a mere shadow of his former self. This was certainly the case with Favre.

With Favre, there was the added drama of playing for different teams. There was also a chorus of people who found Favre in a uniform other than the green and gold of the Green Bay Packers as some kind of tragedy.

These attitudes are all illustrative of un-absurdity. If Favre enjoys playing and can get in someone’s lineup, then he should play – and not care a whit about such nonsense as his “legacy”.

The absurd man believes that life ends in death… and that it is final. There is no doorway to another world beyond it. Therefore, the idea of a legacy strikes the absurd man as… well… ridiculous. Certainly, it’s not worth fretting over.

And yet, this attitude that one’s reputation after death is important pervades society. Terry Teachout wrote a column about this in the Wall Street Journal titled “When Artists Dry Up.”

He wrote about a number of artists who achieved some kind of excellence and then quit or didn’t produce anything after reaching those heights. He mentions Jean Sibelius, for instance, a great Finnish composer. Teachout writes:

“I doff my hat to Sibelius, who knew that it’s better to quit while you’re ahead than to sully your posthumous reputation by continuing to ‘create’ after you no longer have anything new to say.”

Gee, what a sad and pathetic outlook on life… We say to hell with one’s posthumous reputation. If Sibelius wanted to compose but didn’t out of fear that his performance might sully his posthumous reputation, then we say Sibelius was a misguided and anti-absurd fellow. The absurd man’s advice would’ve been to compose to his heart’s content and damn what other people think.

We are of a mind much more like the great Samuel Johnson, the 18th century critic, wit and sometime absurd man, as we’ve noted.

Johnson said: “I am not obliged to do anymore. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life for himself.”

Pressed by the pesky Boswell as to why he didn’t enjoy writing more rather than less, Dr. Johnson said: “Sir, you MAY wonder.” (Teachout quotes this exchange at the top of his column, but misses the point entirely.)

We doff our hat to those who live their life as they wish (as long as they do not infringe upon our equal right to do likewise) and give no worry to their posthumous reputation!

So go ahead, soil your legacy!


  1. "The absurd man believes that life ends in death… and that it is final."

    I find this belief rather curious for someone who believes in the absurdity of one's own existence. Wouldn't it be absurd if your belief turned out to be in error (this is not meant to be a claim to existence after death).

  2. Enjoyed this piece a lot, especially your views on legacy. I think artists often suffer from a failure to deal with this principle, and the strive to be the best often stops us achieving anything at all. I once heard a saying, "The forest would be very quiet if only the most talented bird chirped"