Tuesday, August 3, 2010
The difficult wisdom of the absurd
“Living an experience… is accepting it fully,”
- Albert Camus
We’ve often noted here how embracing the absurd can change your day to day life. It’s this interest in the practical aspects of the absurd that really drives our interest, as opposed to idle philosophy.
Over beers at our favorite local watering hole, which we’ve dubbed Absurd HQ, we often swap stories about how our absurdist ways helped us sail past shoals that would’ve snagged people who take themselves more seriously.
In our experience, the absurd has had a definite impact on how we deal with everyday life. Most recently, we returned from a big conference held by our employer. It’s a week-long event and very busy for all concerned. Most of our co-workers go on their summer vacations immediately after it is over, because it is so exhausting. And we thought it was exhausting, too. At least, we used to think so before the absurd soaked into our thinking.
This year, we were completely at ease. We felt like we were walking on air each day, without cares or worries. Perhaps another way to put it would be that we felt “light” – as if our minds were not carrying a load of concerns. And when the conference was over, we felt no such exhaustion.
We think it was because of our mental attitude during the whole event. In short, we kept the absurd in mind.
We lived in the present. “The present and a succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man,” the great absurdist Albert Camus wrote. We did not wish we were someplace else. We were here and not there and that was all. We did not think of it as working. We looked at each day as it were just another day. It just so happens we were at this conference. And finally, we looked at the whole enterprise – including our role in it – as ridiculous and meaningless.
Camus wrote eloquently about these ideas:
“Before encountering the absurd, the everyday man lives with aims, a concern for the future or for justification (with regard to whom or what is not the question)... He still thinks that something in his life can be directed. In truth, he acts as if he were free, even if all the facts make a point of contradicting that liberty. But after the absurd, everything is upset.”
After the absurd, one accepts a meaningless universe and revels in it. It is freeing once you accept it. The absurd man feels totally comfortable with the idea that all is for naught. Again, from Camus:
“To work and create ‘for nothing,’ to sculpture in clay, to know that one’s creation has no future, to see one’s work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries – this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions.”
Difficult wisdom, indeed, and so counter to the flow of mainstream cultural thinking.
We wonder sometimes… We’ve written often about the absurd here. Sometimes, we feel we are repeating ourselves. And yet, there are also times where we wonder if we have yet to find the right words to express just what we feel. We are having those feelings now… but to try to sum up this post, we’d say: When one embraces the idea that our lives are no more significant than those of the grasshoppers – and just as fleeting – then life’s burdens seem to lift.
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 3:59 PM