Friday, 2 January 2015

Waiting for Camus

"Wear the leather jacket and the beret and say, hey: I am reconciled to the absurd."

Taking advantage of the storm outside (which seems to have wafted a good internet connection into my bedroom), I've been listening to a podcast about The Absurd. These guys from the USA are chatting about Camus' arguments against suicide. They are not totally sold on them: at the halfway point, I am worried one of them might shoot himself on air.

Because I always want to disagree with Kenneth Tynan, who serves as a substitute for God in some critics's theology of theatre, I embrace the absurd - at least in the theatrical sense. Martin Esslin's book is somewhere in my bed (I don't have a night stand), and I can't get enough Beckett before bedtime. A day without sardonic commentary on the meaninglessness of life is a day without laughter.

But before the theatre, there was the philosophy: Esslin tries to include Jarry's Ubu as a prototype of the trend, but the concentration of artists who get flung in the bucket came after WWII. The Myth of Sisyphus (and other essays) was published in 1942. 

Esslin's conceit was to link a variety of post-war (and mostly French) playwrights to Camus' description of the godless universe. He admitted that they didn't really make up a coherent assembly, but saw enough similarities, until everyone got sick of it and issued denials.

The chatty Mericans, meanwhile, are getting irritated by Camus' assumption that the lack of God and meaning inevitably leads to thoughts of suicide. They recognise that Camus was writing in a different time (erroneously citing Auschwitz as an influence on his pessimism) without fully appreciating how the intellectual rejection of God might have played out in an era when the divine defined meaning. I mean, these days, I wonder why anyone cares about Beckett - there's no God, so what? 

They do get to grips with Camus, though, between making jokes about his death in a car crash. And the big thing in Sisyphus is the tension between suicide and denial. They are rightly pretty confused about that dialectic.

Camus recognises that God is dead, and that the meaning of the universe died with him. The Absurd is the naked fact that reality has no laws, no purpose - it's all struggle against horror, with the occasional respect (like playing in goal at football).

He then considers the natural responses to this fact: either end it all, or make up some shit to pretend it's not true. Both of these, however, are selling out. Sisyphus, who represents the man performing a largely pointless task but with pleasure becomes the ideal. The trick is not to be distracted, but get on with stuff without forgetting that ultimately, it means fuck all.

Rather than Waiting for Godot, I presume. 

The main problem those guys find is that Camus acts like the Absurd is an alternative to God. He talks about living 'life without appeal' but the Absurd becomes the foundation of his entire thought - it is an appeal to a truth unknowable. As such, he is making a religion out of the lack of meaning. 

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