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.


  1. Hello,
    I just recently found your blog, and I like what I am reading. I am wondering, would you all have a FAQ, a manifesto, or a statement of principles, or something like that?

  2. Hi Sheldon,

    Well, we don't really. We've kicked around the idea of writing a book on the absurd, but can't get motivated.

    Until then, we'd recommend Albert Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. It's the best explanation of the absurd that we know of.


  3. Absurdist to pass along your way for future post. Kathleen Norris, in "Acedia and Me" (2008) writes . . .

    "It's easier and far more efficient to go about our daily tasks as though we were the sun around which the earth is spinning, and devote our attention not to divine mysteries but to whatever comes along: deadlines, e-mail, rush-hour traffic. And all of this is oddly comforting. While we complain about the stress, it reassures us to know we're busy--it means we're essential. We convince ourselves that we are far too important to die." (p. 224)

    Came across this passage in my reading, and reminded me of your blog.


  4. Hi, I am from Australia.

    Please find an introduction to a Radiant Being who was fully prepared and equipped (at birth) to fully investigate ALL of the propositions of humankind altogether--and to thus live on the basis of what he had discovered.




  5. I've just discovered this site and I'm delighted that you are commenting on some of my favourite writers, Camus and Henry Miller [in a previous post] and look forward to reading more of your posts. Miller's Stand Still like the Hummingbird is also one of my favourite books. And his capacity to find joy when he was in Paris, as you note in the earlier post, and when he had very little in terms of material possessions or security, is something that in itself, inspires.

    This has set off a trail of thoughts and associations which is too long I feel to post here, but which I will probably explore in my blog Rivertrain. In the meantime, I'd just like to say that re-reading your extract from Henry Miller's Quiet Days in Clichy, has brightened up an otherwise overcast day here in a northern outpost close to Ultima Thule – thank you! And a short quote from Camus - he said in The Enigma, in Lyrical and Critical Essays, talking about being back in Algeria:
    'Where is the absurdity of the world? In this shining glory, or in the memory of its absence? How, with so much sun in my memory, could I have wagered on nonsense? ....it was in fact the sun which helped me..'

    I'd have to agree there – the sun helps me too!

  6. We won't. We've just been on long vacations and haven't had much chance to blog. We're drawing up some ideas now...


  7. Looking forward to more of you ideas...

  8. love the absurd, but am starting to feel like there's a lot of posturing in this blog and a lot of trying to convince yourselves it is the best life. which is making me less sure. maybe that's not how you mean it and you were just saying how happy you are right now, and you have never experienced the more self destructive nihilistic side of the absurd