« Life is crazy « , I remarked with a smile, observing the human vacationing wave strolling on St.-Denis Street where I was happily sipping a juice on the terrace of Aux deux Marie.
It’s summer and the weather is fine enough to make you feel sorry for being mortal. But my remark didn’t sit well with the two acquaintances I was sitting with: an astrologer and a fortune-teller who both rely on the orderly and the foreseeable. The reading of cards and of planetary transits rests on such mysterious processes that no one can really challenge the oracle’s plausibility. Yes, life is crazy in its unrelenting and irrational pursuit and every day reawakens kings as well as beggars.
Absurdity is only defined by situations. And only those in which the balance of powers makes no sense at all. A rebel, for instance, jumps right into the traffic at rush hour, bearing a sign denouncing industrial society’s inhumane rhythm. Enraged, he tries to curb the vehicles’ circulation, setting himself up as an obstacle to their blind racing. In his rebellion, he is waging an absurd battle. At best for him, he’ll cause a monstrous pileup. At worst, the driver of an 18-wheeler, distracted by his CB radio, will think he’s only hit a pothole. Neither the protester, nor his project, nor his hatred, and not even his ridiculous sign, can be considered absurd in themselves. But it’s the disproportion between his admitted goal and his action that is. When the gap between one’s resources and claims makes a project unrealistic, to persist into pursuing it leads right into the “theatre of the absurd”.
Sentenced to Repetition
Greek bards told of a myth in which the gods had inflicted a punishment upon Sisyphus. The sentence had his fate tied up to a boulder – round and compact as boulders are – which he must day after day painfully roll uphill. Once the summit is reached, the unstable boulder rolls back down again for Sisyphus to walk down the hill and repeat a task forever unfinished.
Such a myth illustrates the obstinate crusade of any life caught in the rut of routine, a course that leads straight to death: work, rest, enjoyment to their bitter end of the fruits of one’s labor and then starting all over again. For each particular life, the sentence is the same: reproduce even though the process of dying starts from the cradle. And thus shall we go, from one death to the next without ever reaching eternity.
Convicts were once forced to break rocks. The gravel thus produced was spread on roads to make them stronger and smoother. Since prisons’ administrations expected their tenants to work, all convicts were assigned to that task, whether there was a need for it or not. Such slave work was eventually judged inhumane and abolished.
And that’s where Sisyphus and his boulder bring us: to a string of generations forever sharing the same obstinacy to survive, life’s gnawing rebellion against an end that cannot be reasoned with, persuaded or subdued.
A Relay Race Without a Finish Line
Theoretically speaking, the concept of infinity is a fine one. But, from a practical point of view, the material, physical and intellectual capacities necessary to the existence of any concept at all always end up wearing out. If, in theory, one can conceive an infinite succession of cycles, the time we are allotted to live through them isn’t. One day, the Sun shall extinguish itself. One day, our galaxy shall disappear and, one day, the universe shall cool down into total indifference, unless it decides to condensate itself, thus smashing its atoms into smithereens of something-that cannot-be-seen-but-only-calculated.
Now, don’t you take your end-of-the-world signs out of the closet yet, we still have a few billion years ahead of us. But still, practically speaking, the humane epic will one day come to an end and vanish without a trace. And not even the stone used to engrave our epitaph shall remain. Of course, it’s always possible to conceive history without a conscience, but then any meaning we might have given to our life, or to life as an entity, would be sinking into absurdity.
A Smiling Silence
As for those who feed both on the « invisible » and on pep talks, their hopes seem to me outrageously self-centered; not that my being a non-believer alters in the least my faith in what Bergson coined as the “vital impulse”.
However, deep thinking about the meaning of life has a way to tarnish the radiance of a beautiful afternoon. So, what could I possibly answer to those two scrutinizers of the occult?
I didn’t answer. I only smiled with indulgence at my table companions. Yes, life is inevitably absurd. And yes, its impulse inevitably throws you in one crazy adventure. Reasoning it would mean being able to contain it in one’s mind. But, being no Baron Münchhaussens, we can’t live in a fishbowl and change the water ourselves.
So, there I was, on St.-Denis Street, watching the mad dash of life-carrying torches setting other torches ablaze before dying themselves in a little heap of ashes, while children laughed and frolicked about, flickering lights playing in their eyes.
Is there one tarot card saying anything about that?