It is because it is based on nothing,
because the very shadow of an argument
is lacking that we persevere in life.
I watch as the waves of human vacancy circulate on St-Denis street while sipping a juice. It’s summer and too beautiful a day to regret my mortality. “Life is crazy,” I comment with a smile. Crazy because of its irrationality to pursue, to put kings and downtrodden back on their feet
My remark did not please the astrologer and tarot card reader, two acquaintances of mine, seated at my table. They claim order and predictability ― a way forward that is witnessed by the cards drawn and the transit of the planets. The strangeness of this bond being the guarantor of the plausibility of the oracle.
An Absurd Fight
Absurdity helps qualifies situations. But only where a senseless balance of power is present. A rebel jumps into traffic during rush hour, a cardboard sign in hand, protesting the inhuman rhythm of industrial society. This enrages society ?, this stopping of progress, of obstructing these vehicles—in their blind run. This rebel is fighting an absurd battle. At best, it will cause a monster pileup. At worst, distracted by his CB radio, the driver of an eighteen-wheeler will think he’s passed over a pothole. Neither the protester, nor his plan, nor his hatred is absurd; not even his sign. It is the excess between the intended goal and the gesture that must be considered. When the gap between resources and pretensions project an unrealistic persistence of the rebel’s objective, his act becomes part of the theatre of the absurd.
Sentenced to Rehearsal
The Greek bards preserved in myth, the punishment the gods inflicted on Sisyphus. His condemnation bound him to a rock, which he struggles to roll to the top of a hill day after day. As soon as he reaches the summit, the rock becomes unstable and descends to the other side. Sisyphus must go down and repeat his task, never able to fulfill his objective.
This myth illustrates the stubborn crusade of life, caught in the rut of every day, one which inevitably leads to death. In life, there is the need to feed, rest and reproduce. And on it goes, from one death to the next, without ever reaching eternity. This is the conclusion that Sisyphus and his rock lead us to a series of generations that constantly repeat the same obstinacy to survive. The silent and repetitive rebellion of the living against an end that cannot be reasoned, coaxed or reduced.
A Wireless Relay Race from the Finish
In principle, the alchemist claims that if you brew a liquid long enough, something will happen. This remains true, in the sense that the brewer, either gets sick or dies long before the results are verified. If a succession of generations can be envisaged indefinitely in theory, the time we have to live them can never happen. One day, the sun will go out; one day, our galaxy will disappear; one day, our universe will cool down to global indifference; or condense to the point of crushing atoms into crumbs of something-that-can’t-be-seen-or-calculated.
Don’t take out your end-of-the-world signs, just yet, we still have a few billion years to tell our stories about how we’re going to get by. The fact remains that in practice, the human epic will end one day without a trace: like everything else for that matter. Everything will disappear in the Forgotten, this terrible offspring of Death. Even the basic material needed to engrave our epitaph will disappear. In short, we have a credible and soulless scenario that makes absurd any claim I make, to my life, even to life in its entirety.
As for those who fuel the invisible with pep talks, with their arms raised and their gizmos demanding we shut up, forbidding us to critique, their understanding seems to me outrageously navel-gazing; even the unbeliever pretends to know. Yet these lethal considerations in no way detract from my episodic experience of a vital impulse that can be summed up as «so what ».
Back at the Ranch
On the other hand, let’s face it; the profound reasoning to the meaning of life always tarnishes the brilliance of a radiant afternoon. So how do I respond to my two inquisitors of the occult? I simply smile indulgently at my two table companions. Yes, I think life is necessarily absurd. Yes, its momentum is a crazy adventure, but a necessary one. To reason with it, I’d first have to contain it in spirit. But you can’t live in your jar and pretend to be able to change the water in it— like Baron Munchhausen, who claims to be able to lift himself from the ground by pulling on his shoelaces.
What I observed on the rue Saint-Denis was the mad rush of torches carrying life, which set new ones ablaze before falling asleep in the ashes of their dreams. It was the laughter of children frolicking; a feast of will-o’-the-wisps in their assembled eyes. Is there a tarot card that speaks of this?