Monday, February 15, 2010

Jerry Seinfeld, absurd man

Parade Magazine published its interview of Jerry Seinfeld over the weekend. Seinfeld, a comedian who needs no introduction, voiced a powerful absurd idea in the interview – one that we were, frankly, shocked to see in print. Few – especially one so famous – are willing to say the same thing about the death of a loved one as Seinfeld did. We’ll get to that below…

Seinfeld has always struck us as a man totally comfortable in his own skin. He always seemed totally at ease with the world and his fame. Part of that comes from his willingness to submerge his ego. Or maybe a better way to put this is that Seinfeld seems to successfully hold on to his sense of self with a light touch.

This probably helps explain why he is such a good observer, and hence a comedian. (We have a guess that humorists are closer to the absurd than the average man). Harlan Corben, the interviewer, begins by walking with Seinfeld through Central Park to the Upper West Side. “While he strolls,” Corben writes, “his eyes are always searching.” Seinfeld takes note of a man in a business suit on a bicycle far too small for him, an adept skateboarder, teens playing by a frozen lake…

“A born observer,” Corben writes, “Seinfeld enjoys commenting on what he sees. Whereas most celebrities like nothing more than to talk about themselves, he seems to find it tedious, if not painful.”

He is less focused on himself – his ego, his needs, his purpose, etc. This seems to help him in two ways. It helps him become more accepting of the world as it is and it helps make him a very astute observer of the world around him.

And the irony of this effort is to know yourself better than the navel-gazing crowd looking inward for meaning and purpose. “To know the self, of course, is hopefully to forget the self,” Jim Harrison once wrote, memorably adding: “The especially banal wine of illusion is to hold on tightly to all the resonances of what we see in the mirror, inside and out.”

And now we get to Seinfeld’s more shocking absurd admission. Near the end of the interview, Corben asks Seinfeld about the death of his father, “the first great loss of Seinfeld’s life.” ‘“Did it crush him?” Surprisingly, after a brief pause, he says no.’

An excerpt from Corben as to what follows…

“I tend to accept life as it is,” he says. “I’m not one of these ‘Life isn’t fair people.’ I tend to accept whatever the limits are, whatever the rules are.” He sits back. His love for his father is evident, but no more evident than his acceptance of the basic fact that the man is no longer around… “It’s okay.” Seinfeld says. And you get the feeling that it is.

How many celebrities would say that? We venture to say not many. Most would feel compelled to extol emotions of sadness and loss. Rather than go to pieces, Seinfeld has found acceptance.

This acceptance is the key to the whole idea of absurdity… and finding equanimity and contentment in life. And while not a uniquely absurdist keystone, it is connected to the absurd as a man’s head is connected to his body. One of our great inspirations on acceptance is Henry Miller. “Only through complete acceptance,” he writes, “does one arrive at emancipation.”

Miller goes one to say that “this doctrine of acceptance” is “the most difficult yet simple of all the radical ideas man has proposed for himself.” We agree… and the payoff for mastering it is immense.

How immense? We’ll end with the words of Herman Hesse, who gave such eloquent voice to the idea in Siddhartha:

“I learned… to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it… Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.”


  1. Wow especially good writing. Love that quote too. Arthur

  2. ...Makes we want to find a video of that Seinfeld episode in the Chinese restaurant where "nothing happens" again.

    I enjoy your blog. Please strive on, blogfully.

  3. Really enjoy your take on things - thanks -

    My husband keeps asking me "what's it all about?" - I keep telling him "nothing", but he keeps asking - think I'll suggest he read some of your stuff -

  4. Yes, humorists are closer to the absurd, because they're less serious. I'd say the less serious a person, the more absurd. And I'd guess the least serious/most absurd a person can get is to be indifferent to everything, with the exception of pain/torture/starvation.

  5. I love how this is all being referred to as "the absurd", because it is. That's been my latest source of comfort: that everything in the universe is delightfully strange and thereby fascinating. I'm very glad I found this blog, fer serious.