Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Catatonically Speaking

Ever the ambivalent one, I often struggle between finding deep poignant meaning in life and discerning it to be a collection of utterly inane events. Until I discovered Buddhism in my early 20s, I don’t think I probed the proverbial “meaning” of life too critically. I always knew subconsciously that compassion was at the core of who we are - and yet it took Buddhism to truly elucidate that idea for me.

So in my view, we are, at our crux, beings who wish to engage fully with others in a selfless, joyous way.

At the same time, sometimes I bitterly eschew this notion and think, “Does any of it fucking matter?”

So all day long I basically volley these contrary ideas back and forth in my mind: Life takes purpose in acts of kindness; life is a pointless parade of futile events... and so on. I am not sure how to reconcile such tensely opposed notions.

And I suppose it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s fine to feel as though life lacks import one day, and is full of mirthful meaning the next. And maybe it’s fine, too, to cherish life as deeply meaningful and yet patently absurd simultaneously.

Absurdism the philosophy, of course, asserts that there is no inherent point to life, and that to pursue any glimmer of meaning is to chase ghosts, essentially. Philosphers from Camus to Kierkegaard embraced the absurdist philosophy, and of course existentialism gave birth to such notions.

And from absurdist philosophy, of course, the Dada art/anti-art movement took many of its cues. The Dadaists revolted against the vulgar ideals perpetuated by the bourgeois and aimed to decimate our illusions about what constituted “real” artistic expression.

Several years ago - make that many years ago, as I am aging more rapidly than I care to concede - I read a few plays by Eugene Ionesco. Ionesco, of course, was the father of the Theatre of the Absurd. Ionesco’s plays bascially evince the inconsequentiality of humanity through vicious mockery of it - and there are bold political undercurrents present in his works as well. In the play Rhinoceros, for example, the protagonist’s friends all transform into rhinoceri - except for him. This shows us the perils innate in “ideological comformity.”

The painting I posted at the top of this page encapsulates the absurdist notions of imperialism quite brilliantly, I think. The giant slithering skull-creature in the middle, the mocking, grotesque facial expressions of the parade participants, the bulging eyes of the naked, emaciated, swollen-bellied masses looking on with helpless horror - everything in cartoonish adornment - drive home the futile terror of imperialistic war in a way that perhaps any news show drenched in the imagery of dead soldiers never could.

Issue Ten features a scintillating array of absurdist fiction and poetry. You will notice in each of these pieces the paradoxical pursuit of meaning. It is my belief that even as we celebrate the futility of life through humor and horror, we are always going to be tethered to a search for significance. I do not think it can be otherwise. Humans are eccentric creatures cursed with conscience - and it’s this conscience, amazingly, that can also reveal that the JOKE is very much on us indeed.

May your days be bravely absurd and your nights be filled with luscious meaning.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” (Albert Camus)

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