Monday, March 29, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines

"I see dead people...Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead."--Cole Sear, The Sixth Sense

First, a mea culpa. We apologize profusely for our (in retrospect) short-sighted and misguided most recent post, in which we fell victim to the affliction we have spent much time and effort railing against--the notion that circumstances matter, and certain experiences are better than others. What can we say? To err is indeed human; still, we are more than a bit embarrassed we let ourselves be seduced by this delusion.

As often happens, however, this brush with non-absurdity has actually strengthened our commitment (as it were) to the absurd--seeing how easily we fell into this trap, despite the fact that we spend much time discussing and writing (some would say obsessing...) about this very topic...well, let's just say our eyes are open a bit wider today than yesterday.

The experience also got us thinking (again) about the difficulty of maintaining one's absurdity in a non-absurd world. Not so much that it is easy to lose one's perspective on reality (although clearly this is so), but instead about devising ways to maximize our ongoing recognition of the meaninglessness of existence.

Our error the other day was in naively assuming there truly was something "different" about living a simpler life--that such a life was somehow more in line with the absurd. But as an astute reader pointed out, "the absurd man doesn't 'belong' anywhere, and certainly not in one place over another...The absurd man gone bamboo represents one style of life playing the absurd. But so does the hard-working dad, should he prefer that. Going bamboo and sitting around in the sun all day long is, albeit perhaps very pleasant, indeed at best a useful trick."

At best a useful trick...We have discussed the concept of tricks in the past, and the more we think about it the more useful we find such ideas. In short, human nature being what it is (most notably the incredibly powerful illusion of the self), we doubt many individuals can sustain true equanimity without resorting to some form of trickery now and then. Indeed, this is true even of "professional" absurdists--we understand some monks move every two or three years lest they get attached to their surroundings.

One trick we have developed of late is the concept of being "behind enemy lines." Let us explain. Since recognizing the absurd, we often find ourselves bemused at the actions and comments of others, but bemusement can quickly turn to frustration or annoyance at the (for lack of a better term) absurdity of others' concerns. One way we deal with this is to treat dealings with non-absurd individuals as we would enemy encounters on hostile ground.

We find playing such a role (akin to an absurd "spy") to be tremendously entertaining; further, it allows us to feign interest in virtually any subject. Coming environmental catastrophe? Fascinating! (And deeply troubling...) Your daughter's field hockey game? Wonderfully elucidating! Features on your new car? Amazing--what will they think of next?!?

You must be cautious, however--playing such a role requires total commitment to the character, otherwise one will simply appear insincere and irritating. (A role we also play on occasion...) Further, one must always be cognizant the other characters likely don't know it's a play (although they may--the absurd lurks in strange places...). Above all, have fun with it! While we sometimes take pleasure in extolling the virtues of the absurd to the uninitiated, we also enjoy playing different roles--the absurd man in disguise, if you will.

We leave you with a quote from Ludwig Bemelmans (originally posted by Inigo):

"People such as I live by rules of their own. We are not happy with the comforts that the group offers. We are off-horses, misfits… In the design that has been imposed upon humanity we are solitary, self-appointed outcasts. Outcast is too dramatic a word; let’s call us alonegoers. That also is not quite true, for I seek people and like them, but still in their midst I am alone…"


  1. "That also is not quite true, for I seek people and like them, but still in their midst I am alone…" Here, like many of the other terrific posts, I'm reminded of the absurdist themes underpinning Stoic philosophy. This quote sounds as if it may have been lifted right out of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations (a wonderfully absurd read that I recommend to all).

    Also, I appreciate this final quote in your post, for it foregrounds eccentricity. Because they reject anonymous authority (the "tyranny of the majority" that causes many to feel uber-anxious because they define themselves primarily upon what others think of them), eccentrics are truly free, for they retain their authority. More importantly, eccentrics are truly *healthier* than the masses pumping anti-anxiety meds into their systems like Pez because they are trying to adjust to an insane society that is regarded as "sane." For a terrific follow-up read, I recommend David Weeks's delightful research on eccentrics . . .

    Cheers :)


  2. I like the concept of playing an absurd "spy".

    Here's a short clip with Bill Hicks, which I find helpful to watch when I need to remind myself of the absurd:

    Not an elaborate "trick" or anything, but I thought I'd might just share it.

  3. Right on Brian, I echo your mention of Marcus.

    And thanks Rick for posting Bemelmans' quote again. Very insightful, especially in hard times.